DJ Champion aka Maxime Morin is definitely not a newcomer to the music scene; a Montreal staple for over fifteen years, the talented musician has been around the block more than once so this time he’s ready to bring it back to his roots, the spark that first led him on this incredible journey. In this interview, Maxime shares his thoughts on the current music landscape, some unanticipated help he received from Plants & Animals, and his conscious decision to return to his musical beginnings on Best Seller (Bonsound).
Northern Transmissions: Congrats on your latest release, Best Seller. How has it been received so far?
DJ Champion: Thanks a lot. Well pretty good I guess [laughs]. I was quite uncertain. When you have a track like “Life Is Good” on an album, of course some people are going to like it. I’m not a newcomer so I know that kind shit. What I wanted to do for the album was put in some tension in the musical style here and there instead of just going pop, going a little more left, [laughs] so I didn’t know how well I adapted that. Did I do a good job, or do people not recognize themselves in the album? But so far people are getting the point, understanding my signature. So that’s one thing having a concealed idea, but also recognizing the artist, I think it’s important. I have no problem doing b-sides or side projects, it’s great, but when you do something under one name it’s a challenge, a great challenge to be able to take people somewhere else, and go on a journey with them.
Northern Transmissions: I’m sure those people who have been there from the start recognize that this one is a shift back to your musical beginnings.
DJ Champion: Yeah, yeah they feel it.
Northern Transmissions: What initiated that shift?
DJ Champion: Fun [laughs]. Just fun. Something that you’ve probably read here and there is that after Chill ‘Em All, the first album I wrote an album before Resistance. I wrote an album and I thought it was the easiest follow-up to Chill ‘Em All and at that time I thought it wrong, I just thought it was just the easy way, and so I resisted the easy way and that’s why the album is called Resistance. Now looking back on it, I think it was a bad choice, I was wrong, because simplicity or the easy way doesn’t mean it’s tasteless. Emotions can translate to many aspects in life, but most certainly it will travel in the easiest of ideas, or concepts. So complexity can only take away emotions, but on the other hand sometimes you have complex structures that are very emotional. You can take something ugly and make it beautiful just by making it complex, and people will think, “Oh, he put a lot of energy into it, it must be good,” but that’s not always the case. We all fall for this!
With the album, Best Seller it was to re-do this album that I flushed down the drain. So of course it was a return to my roots because it was the obvious follow-up to Chill ‘Em All. But this changed a little during the composition of the album, because there are only four tracks from that period.
Northern Transmissions: Did it ever bring up any memories/nostalgia from your first release?
DJ Champion: I didn’t take every track, because some songs belonged to that time, and that time only. One of them, a super nice track, with good riffs, but I couldn’t find the right drums. I did fucking six versions of the track, and it didn’t work out, the glue didn’t stick together, so I just decided to flush it. Sometimes songs just belong to a specific period and you just have to leave it there.
The song “Yea-Eah” is a failed attempt to do trap music, literally. Something also that I dislike very much in EDM are, not only the drops, but the rises. That’s why I did it like that with the guitar, in the most awful way, like a “fuck off, I’m gonna do it my way” and it’s a joke. That’s the new stuff, that’s literally connected with the new stuff I hear here and there, so I wanted to explore those things too. So that is not related to the old stuff at all. So you hear a song like “Impatient,” that’s just new stuff, new experiments I tried two years ago. When you are putting music on vinyl there’s no way you can put the bass in reverb, you cannot do that because the vinyl doesn’t take it, it will skip the groove, there’s no way you can do that. So I did an experiment where I was systematically putting the bass in reverb, that’s one track of those experiments. So yeah, no nostalgia at all. If there were any nostalgia there would have been more tracks from that period than just those four.
Northern Transmissions: Best Seller showcases your wide-reaching tastes in music; electronic music, rock, pop.
DJ Champion: Yeah, I love my tribute to Foreigner. I found that track “What A Life” through listening to “Black Betty”. When you listen to “Black Betty” it pretty much sounds the same. There was another one, “Jukebox Hero,” I had to buy the track because when I was composing that track, “What A Life” I was looking for a certain sound. I went to listen to all these tracks and I came across “Jukebox Hero,” I was like “Wow.” The whole album sucks, but that track is really good [laughs].
Northern Transmissions: Do you think the album speaks a lot to your immersion in the music scene in Montreal?
DJ Champion: There was a certain period where I had a flood in my studio and I had to take the studio out of my house. I rented a studio on Casgrain, and in the rehearsal room there was Plants & Animals rehearsing tracks for their album, or tracks for their concert, I can’t remember exactly. But on one track – I’ve listened to the album but it seems I didn’t hear it – but during the rehearsal the singer was experimenting with his voice in a very interesting way, I’ve never heard anything like it before. Straining his voice a bit like Kurt Cobain, mixed Sex Pistols, mixed with something melodic. It was a very melodic punk attitude, like “I don’t give a fuck”. You know when your voice is literally breaking? I thought it was genius, you need guts to sing like that! That made me feel way more comfortable with my own singing [laughs]. When you listen to the first track off the album, “I Can’t Let It Go” at the end Lou [Laurence] is doing it, her voice is breaking off and she sings off pitch. I pushed her in the session, like “you can sing higher!” and she was willing to go there. She was extremely uncomfortable, but she did it. I fixed it justttt a little, so that the emotion is still there. That’s a perfect example of what I’ve learned, especially from Plants & Animals, from their singing.
Northern Transmissions: Let’s continue with that. Tell me a bit more about some of your collaborations, and Lou [Laurence].
DJ Champion: Well it was a great encounter. I’m not with lyrics, I’m terrible, but I’m good with ideas. I’m with simple ideas, “What A Life” is my idea, but the lyrics are all Lou. I’m a one-liner, and the one-liner is good with the philosophy but not good with the details, where Lou is the complete opposite. That’s not to say Lou isn’t good with one-liners, but she is good with words, not the philosophy, the original idea of the track, and that’s what I’m good at. So together, we’re a perfect match, everybody benefits from the other person. Like for the track “What A Life” I found just the melody, a rough idea for the chorus and then I wrote down my philosophy, how do I see life in that context?
Northern Transmissions: You’ve mentioned before that you wanted the album to really have a raw feel to it.
DJ Champion: On “Claustrophobic” there was a long delay on the vocals the whole track. It was sort of filling the gaps and making it much easier to listen to. I thought it was too much, so on the very last day I said, “take it all off, I want it dry.” When I listen to the track now I miss it, but sometimes you listen to the track on it’s own and it’s okay, but once you place it in a succession of tracks, where she was on the setlist it was just a little too poppy, and I was uncomfortable with that. The funny thing is at that time I thought I had a very pop album, which is not the case. Yes, some of the tracks are pop, but it’s not that poppy of an album.
Northern Transmissions: Talk to me about some of the irony behind the title, Best Seller, what it represents and how it speaks to your motto this time around and the current state of the music industry?
DJ Champion: Well the original idea was just a very obvious, and cheap marketing scheme [laughs], like wouldn’t it be funny as a joke to have an album called Best Seller. But it’s not very much a statement about the industry. You know, like nuclear energy is a great tool, it can save lives but it can also kill people, and it just enhances the good and the bad in people, and technology does that. The internet is a super powerful tool, social media is a wonderful tool, but it will exacerbate the good and the bad, and I always see a lot of the bad. We are not strong enough or mature enough to deal with a tool like that. So for the time being we see lots of bad things, it’s sad but it’s going to be like that for a while. That’s how it is with every great, or every invention. I don’t think we’ll see the end of it, or a big change any time soon.
There’s always a new blogger, or a new specialist who’s going to tell you that’s the thing “in thing” now, everybody is looking for the new “it” and sometimes it’s real, but most of the time it doesn’t last. It always based on a narrow view. It’s always extremely narrow. The specialists are saying, “oh yeah the internet is good, it makes more people come to your shows,” but that’s a perspective from a blogger, or a specialist but they’re not on the road! They’re not eating fucking Tim Hortons every fucking morning, and getting sick, and not sleeping. When you’re 20 years old it’s great, you’re having a good time, you get laid, you see the world, you come home you have no money but it’s okay you have the energy to do it again and again until you’re 30 or 35 and then you’re like “man, I’m tired. I’m not getting any younger. I need to make some money.” It’s great, it’s a beautiful life but it’s not sustainable. Going on tour costs money, if you come back and you don’t have money well it’s a fail, and that’s what it is now. When you’re a kid, and you know you won’t make any money with your music, you have nothing to lose, and you go crazy, and that’s when you make genius stuff.
Northern Transmissions: What are you most looking forward to this year? You’re playing the Montreal International Jazz Festival, right?
DJ Champion: It was the release that I was most excited for this year [laughs]. We’re going back on stage, I haven’t done that sort of concert in years, so getting the team back together and doing it again. Meeting the people is always great, and festivals…I love festivals. Most of them are outside, you feel the crowd, and sometimes you have an audience where some people are coming to see you but not all of them. So it’s a challenge, you get to see kids, you get to see different people, you get to see people that you’d never see at your own concerts, so it’s really a great time for meeting people.
Interview by Sean Carlin