The Never-Told Story Behind the Song "The Hunter"!
Nov 21, 2020
I hope you are doing well!!! I’m very happy to announce that these are the lucky ones who have seen their names be picked by Alex earlier today during a Facebook Live session, amongst all the people who wanted a chance to get one of the last copies of the limited and collector edition of the lathe cut vinyl “The Hunter”. Congratulations to you all!
That being said, I know that for every single happy person on that list, there are many more disappointed people. I want to thank you not only for your participation in that unique way to determine who’s gonna get a copy but more importantly for making the whole process such a very special moment to be a part of. For Alex and me, it’s always about finding ways to simply gather, share, and create memorable and meaningful moments around us all and music! That’s why we didn’t want to go for a first-come, first-served basis nor to do some sorts of a bidding war.
And don’t forget, no matter if you were able to put your hands on “The Hunter” lathe cut vinyl edition or not, you’ll have another opportunity real soon! The next limited and collector lathe cut vinyl edition will be for “Lavender Sky”, available starting November 30, at 10am (ET).
BY THE SEASIDE WINDOW
I’m presently at our label's HQ in Drummondville, where I’m looking by my office windows as the sun slowly sets down before it hits 5pm. It’s strangely peaceful at the office for what is usually very enthusiastically noisy and alive.
I’m having a hard time putting into words what I would like to share with you. The song “The Hunter” represents for me and us all something way more meaningful than the song itself. The thing that comes to my mind is the very special feeling that goes through my whole body and spirit every time I start the song… Whether it is a rehearsal or a live concert, the song vibrates and transforms, encapsulating our whole story as a band, our constant struggles and battles to feel alive, the perpetual doubts I used to have about being “qualified” enough to play with the band (I used to play guitar in Your Favorite Enemies and hated every second of it until Alex made me switch to bass for The Long Shadows) and Alex’s heartbreaking journey to find himself again.
As I’m looking outside, I can’t but remember the night of July 5, 2019, when Alex headlined the Montreal International Jazz Festival to a sold-out venue. Besides the fact that it was the most hyped and talked-about concert of the 40th anniversary of what is regarded for many as one of the most prestigious festivals in the world, the most important element of it all for us was that it would be Alex’s last homage to his father who had passed away 5 years ago, almost the very same day as the event. It would be a very poignant moment he wanted to share with his family, his father's loved ones, our long-time friends, some of who came all the way from Japan, Germany, UK, France, the US, and all over the province of Quebec to support him and to see what has become a highly upgraded version of what used to be Your Favorite Enemies live for the first time in 3 years… no need to say that the emotions were amazingly deep.
All those emotions were made of so many things and so many layers of reality for each and every one of us. At the heart of it was the soulful meaning of the concert, but the undertone was nothing short of intense as well, as it was made clear by Alex that this would potentially be a one-off event and that he hadn't made a decision about coming back into the light just yet. He had been very honest from the initial stage of the project, so it wasn’t a matter of “let’s make the concert great, so he will stay” type of thing. It wasn’t even nostalgia. It was indescribably “real”… it’s hard to explain other than I seriously felt we were about to experience something so unique that it would be a foundation on which we could build the rest of our lives, nothing less… But I didn’t want to spoil a miracle in the making with any of my wishful thinking, because that's usually the moment when it becomes about yourself and everything around you collapses in grand pathetic style. So I was more focused on being in the now than anything else. We then heard "Ok, 5 minutes and you're on, guys!"
Everything was absolutely stunning... The emotions, the performance, the vibe, the ambiance. I was in the zone, totally connected with Alex conducting rhythm and perfectly locked with the rest of the band, playing to Alex’s dynamics and uplifts. Then comes the song “The Hunter”, a song that I start on my own, but on Alex’s cue. It's at that moment that I had a little panic. There is no place to hide when you start a song, and you don’t have a second chance… It’s just how it is! Do or die! You might have played that part thousands of times, but if you have a split second of hesitation, the whole house of cards collapses on your sorry and shameful self. Yes, there’s a lot of things that can spin in your head in a single second when you are on stage, probably even more so with Alex!
So, as I was about to get started, I just closed my eyes, took a very very very deep breath — which felt like it lasted forever — and I remembered the day I dropped Alex at the airport on his way to Tangier, alone, for the first time since we both met back in 2001… I remembered how things were between us within the band, how there was nothing in front of us but a very thick fog in the middle of the night, how we all felt uncertain, even frightened that maybe this was the end of the road. It was a place we had all promised ourselves we would never stand in. Blood brothers, we were… But I wasn’t so sure anymore. I then slowly started to open my eyes and Alex was looking at me, with this gentle and very confident smile, winking at me, as if he was saying “Let’s do this, brother! We’re right there! And this is happening!”
As I started to play the very first notes of the song, everyone in the crowd started to scream knowing we were starting “The Hunter”. I looked around the stage and beside Alex, I was able to see Ben, Sef, Miss Isabel and Moose through the smoke, the lights and all the other musicians. I had that image of the moment we all landed in Tangier, more than a year after Alex had left on his own for a few weeks but became something else. Nobody knew what to expect. We were all conflicted inside, some feeling more guilty than others of what we had made Alex endure all those years before he finally felt like he had to leave what he had built in order to survive. That was the hardest part for me to take as his best friend… So we hoped for the best, as we all personally wanted to believe that such a trip could potentially lead to reconciliation if not forgiveness… But we also all knew how a year apart could be long enough for someone who had been emotionally bullied like Alex had to realize life is a whole lot better without your usual tormentors. And since he had invited us all to talk, it gave a more solemn tone to that one week trip… So much reparation needed to be done, and we were all arriving into Alex’s North African universe, with his new friends, his new life and renewed reality, about to find out what was truly left of us… I was so fearful not to recognize him at all. But there we were, on stage with him 3 years later.
“I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out. The hunter is coming. The hunter is coming” Alex just screamed at the top of his lungs at a fired-up crowd that was flipping out. It’s crazy to think that it was the very first time we were playing in so many years, let alone that we had never played those songs live at all before. Hearing the crowd so enthusiastic was so humbling for me… I was able to see so many images... From our broken friendship being miraculous rekindled in that traditional Moroccan riad where Alex shared with us how he felt in the last couple of years of Your Favorite Enemies, to him inviting us to stay in Tangier for 6 months to heal what had to be healed, him coming back to the Upper Room Studio in Drummondville and inviting us to be part of his album, all the way to all those new significant sharings at his house in the highlands of Virginia… Alex’s lyrics were resonating in a different way.
I don’t want to tell you all the details, as Alex is presently working on a book about that period of his life… Even though I feel like I’m saying a lot already!
I would later see on some of the concert pictures that I had a peaceful smile during that whole part of the concert. I often cried on stage as well, Alex’s music being so emotional and the degree of self-implication being so deep, that I can't always manage all those intense emotions at the same time… I must admit that it is puzzling for me sometimes. There's such a large spectrum of sensations that if you’re not able to let go within it, you’ll be rejected from it all, like a storm would wave you back to the shore knowing you don’t belong anywhere close to invisible element floating around. But there are other types of intensity, like when Ben, the Long Shadows' guitar player, puts his guitar asides and slowly walks toward the second drum kit, which for that show was on the second story riser behind me. Yes, when you are 11 musicians on stage, you need a second floor on stage!
One of my favorite parts of the concert was about to be lived and shared...! And as the place was about to reach an even higher level of decibels and screams, I winked at Ben as we both knew how that two drums crazy idea came up and how symbolic it became for our new creative nature going forward… “Everything impossible is a new possibility waiting to take form when we decide to free ourselves from our limitations.” That is Alex conducting a rehearsal session...! You either resist or are invited to go for a walk, just like that moment when the 2 drums idea happened. After days of very hard labor working on The Hunter, as we were about to get something solid that was around 20 minutes, Alex went to talk with Ben as he told us to keep going. We then saw Ben take his guitar off and sit behind a second drum kit Alex had just assembled for the occasion. Ben was looking at Alex who now had his guitar on and was starting to do some controlled feedbacks and swelling drones of noise AND singing lyrics we had never heard before… What?!
Ben, the guitar player and Alex’s songwriting partner for more than a decade, is an outstanding musician who would be able to have a table sing if he believed there could be any possible melody to be made out of. He is as excellent at playing guitar as he is at playing bass, drums, piano, singing, recording, mixing, and so on… He eats sounds for breakfast, and he is the best at being able to musically decode what Alex has in mind or what he explains in colors sometimes (true story!). They are not only complementary to each other artistically, but they know how to make the other even better than when they are alone. And even if Ben was tremendously supportive of the “new” Alex post-Tangier, let's simply say that he had never been challenged creatively as he has been ever since music came back in our lives.
Alex doesn’t have any problem with going to talk to you in the middle of a rehearsal or even live, just to explain an idea, to the extent of literally putting his fingers on the neck of your instrument and hitting the drums. It’s always very organic and instinctive. So when Alex realized that Ben was completely stuck on guitar at a certain section - Ben kept making signs of “no” with his head to tell Alex he just didn't know what to do, that he was still digging to find something… And there we were! All playing, keeping the noise and the vibe alive, while Alex and Ben were kinda trying to communicate/argue about parts, until we all saw Alex jump off our rehearsing stage, run across the church, bring back a drum kit piece by piece on stage while telling us to keep playing. We were all like… "What is he up to now?" He then quickly built back the drum kit and invited Ben to jump on it and play some drum solo or whatever he told him to trigger the whole thing.
So after Alex signaled Ben to start playing while the musical atmosphere was suddenly transforming itself into something... new, for lack of better words, we all tagged along, collectively giving life to something we had never done before, all inspired by the spirit of the moment, and letting go of everything that gets in the way of our creative channeling disposition… And we kept on playing way beyond the already generous mark of 20 minutes the song already had before Alex started calling section after section, part after part. He looked so into it that we didn't have time to hesitate or overthink. Alex kept pointing the drum kit non-stop calling out ideas, doing all sorts of signs - a lot of new ones! - hoping this would be enough of a reason for Ben to let go but he just stood there, moving his head from left to right and right to left, as if trying to say “I’M LOST! HELP!” or something maybe a little less polite… That’s the good thing about playing loud; we don't necessarily hear all the whispers! So guess what happened?
I’m sure you guessed it! Alex went behind the drums himself! And the guy never played drums before! He just looked at Moose and screamed 1-2-3-4! And started to hit the floor tom super loud, telling Moose to complement his pulse, and for us all to keep playing what we were playing before we got confused...! It was amazing to watch Alex just hitting the tom with so much passion! We all laughed at the beauty and the purity of this child-at-heart moment, which brought Ben to drop the act and the pride and just let go into the vibe so we could embrace it all… So Ben started playing, and what followed was just magical! We played that part for hours again non-stop. Alex wasn't too worried about our other musician friends who were set to join us later that night to keep rehearsing. They didn't know they were about to find out a new 20-minute section of an already pretty long song! It must have been ok, as here we were all that night of July 5, the 11 of us playing as one, all being the vectors of pure emotions designed to invite others to dwell on. And what a moment The Hunter has been…! Magical!
And just like that, as I’m looking through my office windows thinking about what I can share with you… I hadn't even realized that it was now late at night… remembering.
See you all again soon...! I’m sure!
Your Host and Friend,