Sometimes, in times like these—with all the varied turmoils going on in the world—all you can do is laugh.
This is where Les Hôtesses D’Hilaire come in.
“What we’re trying to do is provide a relief,” said frontman Serge Brideau. “We poke fun at it all to disarm it a little bit.”
The Moncton-based band plays psychedelic francophone rock that blends politics and parody, all delivered with a theatrical, impossible-to-predict live show.
“We work a lot on presentations between songs,” Brideau explained. “I play a character, and I go way off.” This character varies show to show: though he has developed six or seven reliable figures over the years, each with their own name—ranging from “a power hippie that loves animals too much” to “a very depressed guy who apologizes in-between every song.” Brideau is also constantly developing new personae and tells the band pre-show who he’ll “be” that night.
No matter which character he decides on, though, one thing remains constant: “They’re always funny.”
Brideau is fond of characters; his band’s name, which is a play-on-words for “flight attendant” in French, is also an homage to his father’s name—a man the singer describes as “a real character” who celebrated his 80th birthday with a huge party at which “bands were playing, people were eating mushrooms, there were $1,500 worth of fireworks set off”—and he walked in on Les Hôtesses D’Hilaire’s first band practice in his underwear, carrying a bunch of beer and asking, “Who’s thirsty?”
Indeed, the singer has always embraced the unconventional. Before forming the group, he worked as a paramedic and released a solo album, but ultimately grew discouraged and quit music. A few years after, Brideau ran into an old acquaintance at a local sports bar, who asked him if he was still playing.
“Music’s gotten too boring,” Brideau told him, and pointed to a plaster airplane hanging from the bar’s ceiling. “If I had a band I’d jump in that plane up there and try to rip it down. That’s the kind of band I want to be in.”
The acquaintance said that was the kind of band he wanted, too, and like that, Les Hôtesses D’Hilaire was born. Since then, the group has put out three releases, with a full-length concept album due next year. The album itself is about a guy who wins a Canadian Idol-esque competition and reality show, develops a coke problem, becomes a judge on the show and finally becomes the frontman of a broke French Canadian rock band that is auditioning for the contest.
When asked if the tale is autobiographical, Brideau laughed.
“I’ve never met anybody interesting on coke. It’s always, like, three o’clock in the morning and they always wanna start a podcast!”
Despite the band’s strong sense of humour, there is a legitimate urgency to the messages they are trying to convey. Brideau identifies himself as a “very, very proud Acadian,” and his French lyrics often skewer the relationship between speakers of Canada’s official languages: a track like “Super Chiac Baby,” for instance, sends the message that, as Brideau says, “Bilingualism works well … when French people speak English.”
However, their eyes are also turned to the politics beyond our country’s borders.
“We’re living in funny times, I think, in 2017,” Brideau explained. “Everything is bubbling over. I mean, pick and choose what cause you find alarming: from global warming to the extreme right, white supremacy—there’s so many things that are very, very dark and very depressing.” He even admitted that although he’s been a regular consumer of the daily news since he was 12 years old, at one point last summer, he found that “for the first time in my existence I actually had to turn it off.”
That said, Brideau’s aim is not to discourage audiences, but to inspire them.
“That’s not what I wanna do, is depress people when they come to the show. These subjects are inspiring. All these things are inspiring … For it’s time more than ever to walk in the streets and take command of our system, or else it’s gonna crash and burn.”
Les Hôtesses D’Hilaire will take over the Toyota Barracks Tent on Sept. 16 at 10:00 p.m, sharing a bill with Hollerado and Brookside Mall, both previously profiled. For tickets and more information, visit Harvestjazzandblues.com.