In 2009, Jerry interviewed Michel St-Père, founder and leader of Mystery, and founder also of the record company Unicorn Digital. Six years later, Jerry and I thought it was time to get in touch again with him to take stock of his situation as a musician and businessman.
Jean Roby – Delusion Rain was released in 2015, but the line-up of Mystery isn’t the same as it was for One Among the Living (2010) orThe World is a Game (2012). Would you care to tell us how these changes came about and what impact they’ve had on the band ?
Michel St-Père – In fact, the changes didn’t come by chance. The line-up on Delusion Rain is exactly what Mystery has been – and is – on stage since 2010, save for Jean Pageau replacing Benoit David. The line-up on stage has been different from the studio line-up since 2007. On Beneath the Veil of Winter’s Face (2007), we were four in the studio, but when we hit the road again in 2009, we added two guys. Also, in 2007, death sadly took away our bass player Patrick Bourque, who wasn’t part of the live band because he was on tour with Emerson Drive. So, for One Among the Living, we ended up being three in the studio with a bunch of guests, but we were still six on the road. Then, our drummer Steve Gagné couldn’t be there for The World is a Game. So I asked Antoine Fafard (who had played bass on One Among the Living) and Nick D’Virgilio to pitch in, but we kept on being six on stage. For Delusion Rain, I really wanted to have the live line-up in the studio. The guys had already been together on the double album Tales from the Netherlands (2014), then Jean Pageau replaced Benoit David, and so there you have the six guys forming Mystery since 2014 who can be heard at last onDelusion Rain. Such an impact is tremendous for the band : after the live album, they were quite eager to be in the studio, because it had become so natural for them to play their part on stage.
JR – On One Among the Living and The World is a Game, Benoit David co-wrote several lyrics. After he left, how was it to be again the sole lyricist and composer on Delusion Rain ?
MSP – Benoit always added some words here and there on previous albums, but on One Among the Living and The World is a Game he contributed many verses. Delusion Rain was our first album with Jean Pageau, and we didn’t have any demos, so we went directly in the studio and the lyrics needed just minor adjustments. I didn’t think differently, I just did what needed to be done.
JR – In 2009, Mystery was about to play live with Saga at the now defunct FMPM and you said : « Artists who can tour have a better chance to sell more than those who do not perform live. » Since then what have been the highlights of the live events for the band ?
MSP – Well, after three tours in Europe, the ROSfest in the USA and BAJA Prog in Mexico, we have more and more fans and contacts with them are just great. Things are on the bright side – Mystery album sales are rising steadily and so are concert opportunities. People need to see artists live, to feel their emotions in full action. In turn, it has a tremendous effect on us.
JR – In 2014, Mystery released its first live album – and a double one for at that – recorded in the Netherlands. What prompted you to do so after your European tour ? Also, some fans have said that the album comes out as a sort of overview of the highlights of Benoit David’s contribution within Mystery : would you agree with them ?
MSP – Yes, exactly. We wanted also to release a DVD but, since we wanted to show the band with our new singer, the double CD option was a great opportunity to make the transition between the two singers. It was also to commemorate the work done with Benoit. He’s a great singer and what he’s given to the band is invaluable. The double CD was our way to thank him and, at the same time, it gave us an opportunity to make the transition without puzzling our fans or keep them waiting for too long.
JR – Mystery always devote great care to album design and layout. Is it particular to the band or is it a Unicorn Digital policy ?
MSP – It’s kind of strange to answer that, since I am also Unicorn Digital ! I think the band would agree with me that it’s important to give the fans a perfect object, at least as best as we can when we make the album. We put everything we have into our music and the visual aspect must coincide with, or even enhance the musical content. Also, with the on-going decline of album sales, it’s important to offer the consumers – who are also, and above all, fans of our music – the best they can get for their money. For that matter, it should be a top priority for every self-respecting record company that also respects its customers buying the musical output of its artists. Many labels cut their album production costs (packaging), but the public isn’t fooled. Rather than being cheap on packaging, you might as well go digital all the way.
JR – The graphic work of Lesjek Bujnowski on The World is a Game and Delusion Rain is so complementary from one album to the other that it suggests that their musical contents are the same opus in two parts. Is such a view right ?
MSP – Yes, it’s partly the angle we wanted to give to those albums, even though they aren’t related musically. For us, The World is a Game was the album that was to allow us to reach farther horizons and enable Mystery to become a beacon of Canadian prog. After its release, it seemed as if nothing could stop us on our way, but then Benoit left and that put the brakes on our ambitions. We had to step back, way back, and question a lot of things, and that also put a lot of pressure on the band’s moral and confidence. The artwork on Delusion Rain is how we look at our ambitions at the time of The World is a Game – as if we wanted to point out that things didn’t happen like they should have –, but still we’re further down the road and we’re still alive.
JR – In general, Mystery’s look at the world (via its lyrics) is seldom lighthearted : there may not be anger, but there’s more disappointment, bitterness or nostalgia than joy and hope – even though you lay such lyrics on magnificent melodies. Isn’t it a paradox ?
MSP – Yes, even though the lyrics don’t focus on specific issues, they do involve the world we live in. And quite obviously for many of us, this whole masquerade is disappointing. Music rises directly from that feeling, that sadness caused by events occurring around us. Why it isn’t dark, I can’t say. I compose but, at the same time, I follow somehow the spur of the moment.
JR – The last time I saw you live, it was at the Terra Incognita Convention 2015 – but then it was Huis you were with ! What can you tell us about this new musical chapter ?
MSP – Huis is a prog rock project I got involved with as a guitarist, and I like it very much. The guys are terrific, and their music is very interesting and enjoyable to play. Also, it’s good to do something else than playing my own music. With Huis, my involvement has more to do with arranging, and I like that a lot. Actually, I’m mixing their second album and everything is going well. Neither in Heaven should come out in the Spring of 2016 if everything turns out as planned.
JR – Given your decades of experience in music and the business of prog rock, how do you see the renaissance of the genre we’ve been witnessing for some time ? Is it here to stay ?
MSP – I don’t believe it’s a renaissance, but rather an easier access to the medias that gives the impression of a renaissance, and it doesn’t concern only the prog realm, but many other musical genres. But all this is an illusion and reality will hit a whole lot of artists soon enough. Young artists will take the brunt of it, because their ambitions are inordinate compared to the work you have to put in to succeed. Making an album has never been easier, but the work involved to reach out to the fans and secure their loyalty hasn’t changed – it may even be harder today. People have come to believe that artists didn’t need labels, managers or producers any more ; therefore the quality of music has decreased strongly, and supply is greater than demand. The impression of a renaissance stems from the fact that fans can access their kind of music more easily.
JR – Now that the Terra Incognita Convention is the only progfest in Québec and Canada, are the chances for Québec bands to play live still as numerous ?
MSP – I don’t believe North America is hostile to prog rock – but hostile to any music or art form that isn’t mainstream. It always has been the case and it’ll go on being so. There aren’t venues open to new artists anymore ; they bet on nostalgia and copy any winning formula. Tribute bands can easily fill small or large halls, but it’s not so for artists creating their own music, for the same reasons given in my previous answer. To fill a concert hall, an artist must have loyal fans – and here I’m not talking about clicks or LIKES on Facebook. I mean real interactions with fans. To fill a concert hall, you need a team, and promoters don’t have the tools they used to have to assess an artist’s popularity, and so they aren’t willing to take chances, unless they’re sure they’ll have a significant audience.
JR – Is it different then in Europe or Mexico where Mystery has toured ?
MSP – Unfortunately, I think it’s the same everywhere. In Canada, if you’re in prog, you’re much better off in Québec, because there’s a larger fan pool than in the rest of the country. The prog fans of the ‘70s and ‘80s are now sitting on the board, and they can make decisions, even if prog isn’t part of their mandate, because it’s the music they prefer and so they’re more open-minded and might give prog a chance to make it through the medias.
JR – In 2009, downloading was usual, but iTunes wasn’t yet the biggest record store in the world. How does that state of things affect you as a lyricist, composer and musician, and as a record company boss ?
MSP – As an artist, I find it quite beneficial, but then Mystery album sales are on a steady rise ! On the other hand, it’s altogether another story for the company, because CD sales in general have been dropping year after year and it’s getting tougher to find artists that have a long term vision and a clear path they want to follow. Young artists want more clicks – and quickly – and they think that record companies are there to exploit them, when in fact we’re there to work hand in hand with them. I think that this is actually a great period for music. The tools to create and communicate music are really accessible and music-favorable.
JR – I borrow my last question from Jerry : If you were stuck on a deserted island and could only have 5 discs with you – what would they be and why those ones ? In 2009, you answered : GENESIS – A Trick of the Tail (1976) ; MARILLION – Seasons End (1989) ; RUSH – Hemispheres (1978) ; ENYA – Watermark (1988) ; OPETH – Watershed (2008). In 2016, is your selection the same ?
MSP – Yes, exactly the same. As a matter of fact, I’ve just been listening to Opeth’s Watershed… Even six years later, I’m telling you : the same CDs. Lately, I’ve been impressed by Haken’s The Mountain, but I stand by my previous list.
JR – Thank you so much Michel for taking the time to share your views.
PS For more information about Mystery, please visit : www.therealmystery.com ;