Daniel ROA

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By Jen Zoratti

Daniel ROA wants to make you dance and think — and his second album, the propulsive francopop explosion Hyperbole, effectively rejects the notion that the two are not mutually exclusive.

“There’s a political edge to the stuff I write, but I wanted the music itself to be fun,” the Francophone singer/songwriter explains. “Mixing words that are intelligent with music that makes you want to shake your thing — and I think we achieved that.”

Hyperbole, which was released in late 2011, is not only a more dance floor-friendly outing from ROA, it’s also a more focused one.

“The first album (2009’s Western Canadian Music Award-winning Le nombril du monde) was exploratory — I’d discovered songwriting x-number years ago and that record was a sampling of my best songs,” he says. “It was an all over the place record.

“With the second record, it was shaped by some of my best live experiences, period. The most fun gigs I’ve had are when the house is hopping and the energy is palpable. I wanted to re-enact that on record — not to make a party record because that’s not what I write about, but I wanted the groove to be omnipresent.”

With that defined vision in mind, the making of Hyperbole was in sharp contrast to the recording of Le nombril du monde.

“It was nice to have a direction,” ROA says. “It was done within about 14 months and there wasn’t a huge spread of repertoire. I also demoed the crap out of all the songs. It’s a self-produced record and I had a really clear picture. All the bedtracks were done live off the floor and then we went crazy in production land. Don Benedictson mixed it and I gave him the green light to go nuts.”

Indeed, Hyperbole is pure pop perfection. Album opener “Dance/Pense” is one the fluffiest songs on the record according to ROA, but it’s also one of catchiest (think Prince en français). From there, ROA serves up everything from rock ’n’ roll stomp (“Les Égouts de Paris”, which translates to the sewers of Paris) to neon electropop (“Alphabête”). It’s a sexy, slickly produced album whose tracks could easily find a place on Top 40 radio but, unlike most commercial pop music, ROA’s vocals are refreshingly unadorned. Lyrically, it also digs deeper; Hyperbole is a testament to how much ROA, a former session musician, has grown as a songwriter.

“I started playing music in my early 20s and I’m 35 now,” he says. “At the time, Iwas Mr. Drummer. I was a session drummer and I went to McGill and did the jazz school thing. But I was also playing guitar and writing down ideas. I was probably 24 when I started writing seriously, actually committing to things. I caught the songwriting bug at some point.”

Writing gave ROA an outlet through which to rage against the machine; while predominately in French, his lyrics have a strong political bent. It also allowed ROA, a singer/songwriter with a fondness for wordplay, to experiment with — and subsequently rekindle a love for — the French language.

“I discovered the richness of the language,” he recalls. “And that’s true of English, too; I’m thinking about writing an English album. But that love of language fueled my passion for songwriting and the fact I can play with language. I love the whole process, too. You have no idea what you’re going to end up with.”

ROA’s love-affair with the French language has led to challenges when it comes to carving out a career in an overwhelmingly Anglophone music industry. Still, on the strength of his electric live show — which includes backup dancers, multi-media projections, and ROA’s hilarious, bilingual “newscasts” that skewer current events — ROA has performed at most of the big Francophone showcases in North America and is making major in-roads in Europe and beyond.

“Before the album came out we did Contact Ouest and Francofête en Acadie. Post new year we did MIDEM in France and la Bourse Rideau in Québec City. And now, we sit by the phone,” he says with a laugh.

“Obviously, we want to get to South by Southwest eventually, but for Francophone acts you need to be at another level. MIDEM was killer — it opened up the horizon quite widely. As a Francophone act living in a minority city, we always look to Quebec and France — but Quebec can be a tough scene to crack, so MIDEM was great. We made a bunch of contacts in places like Germany and Argentina.”

And Hyperbole, with all of its live-show swagger, is a record with legs. It’s a confident, assured effort from a newly confident, assured songwriter.

“After the second record, I consider myself a real songwriter,” ROA says with a laugh. “It’s official — there’s no turning back.”

Originally published in Manitoba Music’s newsletter vol. 21.1

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