When Hubert Lenoir performed at the Polaris Music Prize gala in 2018, he dissed gender norms and the American Dream before yelling, “I’m your French-Canadian nightmare!” His debut was the first French-language record to be shortlisted for the Polaris in seven years, and it earned three Juno nominations last April. The rising star’s first album, Darlène, came out last year (alongside his partner Noémie D. Leclerc’s book of the same title), mixing pop, 1970s rock and jazz – and making English Canada’s ears perk up. This month, after a year of touring in Japan, the United States and Europe, the artist is finally playing his first full shows in Ontario.
Lenoir resists categorization and is indifferent to the chatter. However, what truly sets him apart isn’t that he claims not to care what people think – you’d expect that from most twentysomething artists. He’s different because he doesn’t belong to a big music scene, and the suburbs are in his blood – he proudly claims that his childhood multiplex cinema is a part of his DNA. Unlike Montreal, where you can’t throw a stone without hitting a musician, Quebec City doesn’t have as many bands with shadows to live in. Lenoir grew up in Beauport where music was from the radio, English was from the Internet and there was a whole lot of space for him to create whatever he wanted. He mixed influences, recording a cover of Québécois singer-songwriter Jean-Pierre Ferland’s “Si on s’y mettait” and borrowing inspiration from Donovan and Brian Eno: “Those sounds are a part of me and I always go back to certain elements, like including saxophone even if the song isn’t a typical fit for it.”