Jean-Pierre Mercier, member of the Canadian electro band Handful Of Snowdrops, granted me an exclusive interview for Subte Rock. The band from Quebec, Canada emerged in 1984 and defined its style as Alternative-Melodramatic-Progressive-Electro-Pop-Rock. His first lineup featured the Mercier brothers, Michel (drums) and Jean-Pierre (guitar), Jean-François Plamondon (voice), Jacques De Varennes (bass) and Marlene Sinclair (keyboards). The band split in 1993 and returned to the music scene with its own label, NanoGénésie®, in August 2009.
Handful of Snowdrops – Sometimes I
Jean Pierre, it is a real pleasure to be able to talk with a founding member of Handful of Snowdrops. It was hard to find information about your band on the Internet. Tell me the story of how you got together as a band? Why did you choose this name?
You’re right. Since we took our old website down it is hard to get actual information about Handful Of Snowdrops. We came about like a lot of bands of that period. I use to hear my brother Michel, and a friend of his, Jacques DeVarennes, jam in the basement of my mother’s house. It was only a cheap drum machine and a bass guitar played through a cheap amp with the worst spring reverb you could imagine, always turned up to high. Every time they would touch a dial a bust of spring like explosions would come through the speaker, it was horrible, but in a an industrial kind of way. At first I didn’t make anything out of what they were doing, but at one point I though, they suck so much, it couldn’t be worst if I joined them. So I crashed their party and we just went on jamming some more. But of course, we still sucked.
The thing is I have an obsessive compulsive disorder, the size of the solar system, and I just wouldn’t let us stop till we made some noises arranged in such a way that it would make some sort of musical sense! Not having the slightest clue how to play our instruments or how to build a song wouldn’t help. And when I say no clue, I mean none whatsoever. This was probably early 1983. None of us could make the difference between an E and C, or even less figure out an actual chord. But as I said, obsession is a madness that won’t ever let you rest. So we went on and on, until one day, surprise, we sucked a little less, got real instruments, and some additional members so we could record and play live. The basics of the Do It Yourself (DIY) punk attitude. We dived head first without giving a second thought to what anyone could or would say about it. And since we never though someone would actually care, it was a win-win situation.
Fortunately or not, we lived, and still do for that matter, in a provincial town of unbearably cold winters where nothing ever happened musically. Quebec City was not known for its strong music scene, to say the least. It gave us a kind of freedom and infused us with a carelessness that I’m still grateful for till this day. Years went by, members went by, demos went by, then records went by, opportunities went by, but the only thing that remained the same was two brothers and their our home town. That was our choice, and wouldn’t change a thing to our fate.
Now, about the name. I told this a couple of times but it came from a drawing that was carved into a wood desk in one of my college classes. It was a fist holding flowers. Somehow it was appealing to me. Snowdrops are small little flowers that are blooming in the early stages of spring. They break right through this ice. Small but headstrong.
Handful of Snowdrops – Gabrielle
Why did you stop playing after doing Mort Et Direct in 1993?
We felt there was no point anymore. The people we were working with didn’t really like us in the first place. They wouldn’t let us evolve, and even at that we always had to fight and justified our music. I can see how this could be the case with major labels, but with independents? Feeling your entourage is always holding you back with negative input comments slowly wears you down over time. When the demo for our third album was turned down, I felt it was the time to let go of “the dream”. Our options were limited to either that or starting all over again, looking for management, the dreaded posting demos K7s worldwide routine and so on. There was just no way we could gather the energy to go through this hell again. You have to understand the world was much bigger and pretty different before the Internet. So my brother, Michel, came up with the idea of making a live record with mostly songs we didn’t have the opportunity to put on either of our records. So we recorded those two last concerts you were referring to in your question, and they became our final output, Mort Et Direct in 1993. And that was it.
What were your activities in the years when you weren’t playing? Did you produce other bands?
Wow! I’ll try to make it short, but still informative. I went on to play strictly instrumental electronic music inspired by the early 90s rave scene, occasionally performing under the name Spaceful Of Astronauts. I was interested in the more progressive aspect of that era. In 1995, I decided to record a “proper” album, but without the needed resources to release and promote it stayed on the shelves. I released the album by myself in 2009, Nanomusique. Next I felt I had no choice but to go back to school and finish the damn thing. That system spitted me out as a graphic artist. That’s how I earned my life until I had to leave it behind for health issues. Then came the realization of an old persistent dream, a French record, Prochain Épisode that was released last spring.
Production work? Yes. I arranged and produce the album Au Delà Du Délai for a Montreal band called French B in 1996. I also produced and recorded the self-titled first EP of a band called Standing Waltz, then went on to produced and arranged their only full length LP Non-Sens in 2008. And finally, I produced the one and only EP from my brother’s late band 21 Grams. As for the future, it’s like they say, it has yet to be written, I’m afraid.
I have only been able to listen one track of 21 Grams, track that I love. Are you planning to continue with this project? And who is in it?
Sorry, it looks like I was way ahead of you on this one! I believe this EP is still available, but exclusively from iTunes and probably unavailable outside Canada. But I hear Steve Jobs’ estate is on the verge of starvation, so please go ahead. This was to be their only release. It was my brother Michel. After he left the band for “musical differences,” the name was changed to Mal Fantôme and took a radical change in musical direction. I only heard a demo and honestly didn’t think much of it.
Are you involved in other musical projects?
At the moment, I am not. The new Handful Of Snowdrops album is already taking more time than I have, but in the future I would really, really love to be involved in a minimal electronic project. And when I say minimal, I don’t mean it like the labels they put on the many modern techno sub genres. I mean “actual” minimal, like John Foxx’s Metamatique, Adult, Throbbing Gristle, Normals, Asmus Tietchens four Passport Records of the early 80s, Thomas Leer, Robert Rental, Kas Product and so many more. That would be another dream of mine. I can imagine, three members with only one monosyth each. That would be glorious, but one step at a time.
When you got together to play after 16 years, was it something natural, or did it take a while to get used to it again?
You are probably referring to our attempt to bring Land Of The Damned on stage a couple of years ago. Natural? No. But we never actually stop playing music on our own, and Michel was now handling bass instead of drums. But you see, the thing is we only had the opportunity to rehearse a couple of times before realizing that project wouldn’t come through, so my impression on the matter is quite limited. I personally never felt good on a stage, and playing the same songs over and over again is very boring unless, of course, you are unnaturally in love, or in awe of your own songs. That would be alarmingly pathetic! But we don’t know what the future holds for the band. That being said, we did record Scream, Cry Or Fall from those rehearsal and we recently released it as a EP along with Terroir I and II, also from this aborted project.
Handful Of Snowdrops / Scream, Cry or Fall Again (2012)
In 2009 you re-released the album Land Of The Damned in CD. Why were the next re-editions only released in digital form?
Simply because I had just gone through a very stressful situation where the sales of Land Of The Damned were very, very slow to take off, which I didn’t want or could afford to go through again. Since the explosion of the web, people from everywhere have been asking us to re-release the album. I was shocked at the sheer amount of demand. I though only a few people knew we even existed! I though I would be crazy not to do it. But when it was actually released and promotion made on every major social network, forums, and newsletters. Damn, it even made it to Side-Line Magazine! After the first few mounts of its release, sales were next to none. Suddenly, all those who repeatedly asked for it year after year went silent. I panicked and had to approach record shops myself sell them at a rebate. I guess most were just hoping it would show up on an illegal download site, like most people get their music these days pretending they are promoting a band.
You see, I wouldn’t have any problem with people getting my music for free, if I could feed both my child and I for free and my rent was being taken care of. Unfortunately, it is not the case. It seems that pop music has been render a simple disposable good and considered only for some relative entertainment value. Music has no value anymore. The only way for an artist to survive is to “perform”, just like we expect from clowns. Yes, now we are willing to pay four times the price of an album in which you have put years of hard work and your whole heart in exchange of you entertaining us for an hour. But let be clear, most relatively unknown band tour without making a single dime and loosing some. Touring the world in private house shows before ten or fifteen persons, sleeping in the same room and heating junk. But there are still a lot of people performing to fulfill their disproportionate ego with applause. They crave it. They will make a record in two days, then tour it for a year in a dying car, just for a few applauses a night. But that is another story. The message we receive is that composing and writing is worthless. And that is pretty much how we feel as music creators nowadays, worthless. This is not some rotten rich rant believe me, I live well below the Canadian poverty line. There was just no way I could afford to go through the same ordeal with the subsequent releases. My brother had to pay for the physical CD release of Prochain Épisode, simply because I couldn’t afford it myself.
I see now in your webpage that you are asking your fans for some collaboration. What is it for? Are you thinking about releasing another cd? I must say I would look forward to that!
Oh! Yes, that’s right, we never learn our lesson. Our love of music is too strong to withhold. We did announce that 2014 should see the release of the first new Handful of Snowdrops album in over 20 years, and approximately 25 years after the release of Land Of The Damned. There is no way I could allow myself to go through the same alienating experience that was the making of the Prochain Épisode album. So we, Michel and I, decided to co-write the forthcoming album, which will be the first time anyone else but me will has composing music for a Handful Of Snowdrops album. That should speed up the process, and make it a less stressful experience. Incidentally, Land Of The Damned will also see a see a re-release next year, scheduled for next spring. This time as a double LP, featuring demos from the same era on the second LP. It will be a vinyl only release and made possible by Jordi and other awesome folks of Domestica Records from Barcelona .
Do you have any plans to do some tours in Canada? Or other countries?
Honestly, none whatsoever. Not that we would not LOVE to visit other countries, who wouldn’t? But touring for small and unknown band like us is extremely complex. But you never know, we’ll see what happens with the forthcoming album first. But I would not raise my hope too high, if I were you.
Do you like any new Canadian bands, like The Organs or Mode Moderne?
You are talking of the relatively short-lived Vancouver band, The Organ, I believe. Well, apart from the fact that they were an all girl band, which we unfortunately don’t have enough of in this male dominated macho world of ours, I was never too drawn to their music. I have nothing bad to say about them, I just wasn’t into it. As for Mode Moderne, apart from the fact that they are from Vancouver, I don’t know enough about them to make any kind of relevant comments. But people from outside Canada have to understand that it’s a big country. Quebec has as much in common culturally with Vancouver than Berlin and Tokyo have! We share the same passport and that’s about it. Handful of Snowdrops is absolutely unknown to Canadians outside Quebec.
To finish, could you say something for the readers of Subte Rock?
Ha-ha! Like I haven’t said enough already! Thank you? Ok, here it is. Not for the readers of Subte Rock but to absolutely every one who will care to read this. Always second guess what your read or hear in mass media. Don’t ever let the constant repetitions of lies become truths because intellectual laziness. READ, READ, AND READ SOME MORE. Never ever lower your guard. Question everything, and most importantly yourself. Segregation, racism, misogyny, homophobia and any other kinds of bigotry sucks the life out of people. And last but not least, stop worshiping money and wealth. Austerity policies are a load of ill-fated stinking crap forced down your throat by corporate lobbies with distorted facts that have as much to do with the actual truth as astrology does! Oh, and one last thing. Get your faces of those cell phones of yours once in a while. There is an actual world around you, and actual people. And never grow so old that you would feel obliged to say things as: “when I was young, things were so much better.” Never stop loving music and support those who bring such grandiose joy into your everyday life. That was more that one thing right? More like three I guess!
Of course don’t forget to join our party on Facebook, and pay a visit to our label for some of that much needed support we can’t go on without, here. Does it sound like I’m begging? Because I am actually begging and wouldn’t want that part not to be clear enough. Cómo podría dejarte ir sin agradecerte por no pedirme cuál es mi color favorito. Te agradezco aún más para darnos esta oportunidad.