Les Paiens Turn 20

Photo by Martin Cormier
Photo by Martin Cormier

What a long, interesting trip it has been for Moncton group Les Paiens.

The group celebrated its 20th anniversary with a performance at the Aberdeen Cultural Centre Saturday night. The five-piece band has morphed from a musically adventurous yet precisely undefined band willing to explore many musical roads into one of the most dynamic jazz-fusion groups to emerge from the Metro Moncton area.

With eight albums and two Music New Brunswick Awards under their belts, the universal musical appeal of Les Paiens has no doubt played a part in their impressive longevity.

Asked if he envisioned the group going strong two decades after they played their first show, Paiens drummer Jean Surette says they have never truly been in the habit of looking back. This doesn’t mean that the milestone does not humble him and his bandmates, however.

“We have just kept ourselves busy. It’s a bit like having a huge lawn to mow,” Surette says. “You’re never really looking back, you are only focused on getting it done. It’s not until you turn the motor off that you look up and take in the bigger picture of what you’ve accomplished.”

When it comes to their longevity, perhaps the most eye-opening thing for Surette has been the personal and professional growth that each of the bandmates has undergone over the last 20 years.

“To go from guys being in their early 20s with no ties to one by one settling down in relationships with kids and jobs and what not, music is precisely what has kept us together all these years. There were times that I seriously thought the band was done but then things settle down and you realize that at the end of the day, it’s just music. It’s not as though we are responsible for the negotiation of international borders.

“We are at the point with this band that every decision we make is being done for the right reasons, first and foremost. That is definitely one advantage of us having gotten older. It is something that we balance out by working with younger musicians,” Surette says.

Comprised of Surette, Marc “Chops” Arsenault on bass, Denis Surette on guitar, Sebastien Michaud on brass and a multitude of other instruments, and Jonah Hache on guitar and electronic effects, the lineup of Les Paiens has involved a myriad of members over the last 20 years, all of whom have revolved around founding members Surette, Arsenault and Surette.

In 1994, the band released its debut effort, J’ai dit bon, following that up with the well-received release Cougar slices a vendre the following year. It was their 1999 release EP Phonde where their sound became a little more crystallized compared to previous efforts as they incorporated progressive tendencies into their music.

“It wasn’t explicitly jazz that we were pursuing at that point. Our music was all over the map, incorporating the likes of King Crimson and the Mahavishnu Orchestra to Frank Zappa and Ween. The funny side of our personalities was coming out around this time,” Surette said.

The turn of the century proved to be a transformational time for the group. It was at this time they decided they would be strictly an instrumental band moving forward, while also bringing Michaud into the fold.

Not long after, the group set about releasing an ambitious album trilogy starting with Zrn’t’trn: Épiphonde 1 in 2001. They further refined their sound with 2004’s Sphère: Épiphonde 2, indulging in what Surette calls a “jazz-rock, post-rock vibe,” and expanding upon this even further with Pyramyd: Épiphonde 3 in 2008.

The final piece of the modern day Paiens puzzle – Jonah Hache – joined the group in 2011, helping the band incorporate electronic music in their sound. Hache made his recording debut with Les Paiens on last year’s full-length release Carte blanche.

Despite the fact that Les Paiens are not typically in the habit of looking back, Surette shares that the group’s look in their rearview mirror isn’t exactly done once the lights have dimmed following their show Saturday.

“We have some outtakes from Carte blanche that we may look at releasing in the New Year in addition to re-releasing some songs and collaborations that we have undertaken over the last 20 years,” he says. “On top of that, we want to start writing fresh material in 2015 as well, understanding that we have no release date or time frame in mind for a new album.”