French-Canadian Musician Hubert Lenoir Plays by His Own Rules

And we’re taking notice.

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.”

August 9, 2019
A portrait of Hubert Lenoir in a white dress shirt
   Makeup & hair: Carole Méthot

Though the musician loves his francophone hometown, he’s comfortable on any stage. “I’ve performed all over the world and crowds react to the same things. If there’s a spark, we can understand each other, and music is the common language.” Despite his disenchantment with the American Dream, one of his favourite shows was at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas: The French-Canadian nightmare stage-dove seven times into open American arms.
 

Three albums for the road

Ambient 1: Music for Airports by Brian Eno “It’s perfect for the plane.”

Stokeley by Ski Mask the Slump God “Aggressive SoundCloud rap gives me courage on tour.”

Station to Station by David Bowie “I love listening to this album from start to finish while sitting in a van.”

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