If only one track could be used to sum up the career of Montreal pop artist Antoine Gratton, it would be the Frank Sinatra-sung, Paul Anka-written “My Way.” Since his 2003 debut, Gratton has emerged as a unique artist from the fertile music scene in La Belle Province’s largest city. With a flair for the world of piano-driven pop music (think Ben Folds), Gratton has marched to the beat of his own drummer over the course of his four studio albums and one live record.
Antoine’s relationship with music began early in his life. Growing up in a household where music was omnipresent,the self-proclaimed hyperactive Gratton joined a choral school at age seven. While there, Antoine learned how to read and write music and was given the opportunity to play roles for children in productions put on by the Montreal Opera.
“Then I became the angry teen, just like countless others,” Antoine laughs. “I picked up a guitar and just wanted to play Metallica songs all of the time. And then I got turned onto the Beatles and my life was changed.”
Moving from choral music to Metallica and then onto The Beatles might seem a strange musical progression, but Antoine’s diverse taste and appreciation for so many styles of music was something instilled in him by his father.
“My father was a big music collector. As far as he was concerned, you didn’t need to concern yourself with genres or classifications. He listened to jazz, heavy metal and almost everything else under the sun and so, in my head, I never looked at bands as having a specific style or belonging to a specific genre. I think it’s ultimately what has helped me be as versatile as I am.”
Antoine’s newest show, taking the stage on Wednesday night at Moncton’s Empress Theatre, is unlike anything that he has artistically undertaken in the past.
Together with the Orphee String Quartet, Antoine’s show will consist of two distinct parts. The first portion of the show will feature Gratton directing a four-movement piece that will afford each of the members of the quartet the opportunity to shine. The final portion of the show will feature Antoine accompanying the string quartet on piano and vocals.
‘The movements contained in the first portion of the show are pieces of music that I uniquely wrote for the girls. Each movement is dedicated to one specific girl,’ Antoine says. ‘In the second portion of the show, we will be performing songs from my catalogue; however, each of the songs has been rearranged for piano and the string quartet.
“Consider them the soft, romantic side of my work,” he laughs.
Antoine’s work with strings is a fairly recent endeavour for the artist but is one that he intends to fully explore. He tells The Times & Transcript that he began working with the Orphee String Quartet approximately two years ago when he began writing music for strings “just for fun.”
Antoine hit it off with the group so well that their work together soon snowballed into a significant quantity of songs that they then became intent to see through.
“We enjoyed working together so much and were so excited by what we were doing that we decided to do a show in Montreal to let people in on what we were doing. The reaction was so amazing; there was no denying that we needed to continue performing together.”
Antoine says that it is a seemingly rare occasion that he would play a song live exactly as it was recorded. Performing with the string quartet without having drums, bass and big arrangements helps bring songs back to their very essence.
“When I perform with the string quartet, there is really nothing to hide behind and so we have to approach the songs in a more sensitive kind of way. The songs end up sounding considerably more emotional as a result of the lack of instrumentation. It brings a quality to the song that perhaps gets overlooked or put aside for the sake of the arrangement or rocking out, for instance. It allows both the listener and I to rediscover the emotions behind the song.”
Asked when fans might expect to hear the follow-up to his last studio record, 2011’s La defense du titre, Antoine admits that those wheels will be slow to get moving. Rather than feeling that he has to get a new release out to satisfy his record label, management or fans, he would prefer releasing a new record when inspiration strikes him.
“I hate the feeling of writing new music because I have to,” he says. “I reached a point where I began looking at the quality of releases that were coming from Quebec. I have been so impressed at what I am hearing that I made a decision to hold off on writing new songs for the time being. I just haven’t felt the inspiration to write nor do I feel I am quite ready to go back to writing. I would much rather my work be focused and ensure that I am putting my best foot forward.”
What: Antoine Gratton and the Orphee String Quartet
When: Wednesday August 14, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Empress Theatre, Robinson Court, Downtown Moncton
Tickets are $23 plus service charges. Advance tickets are available at the Capitol Theatre Box Office, by phone at (506) 856-4379 and online at www.capitol.nb.ca
Article published in the August 12, 2013 edition of the Times & Transcript