Bilingual Songwriting and Adapting to Toronto’s Shrinking Live Music Scene—An Interview with Desiire

By Isaac Fox (@1nikofox)

Desiire is one of Toronto’s most promising new artists, whose use of bright, organic instrumentation sets him apart from the city’s signature brooding R&B. I first heard Desiire’s music a year ago at Kensington Market’s Poetry Jazz Cafe, where he stunned the room with an unreleased acoustic track that he casually mentioned he had written just that morning. Desiire spoke to Demo over coffee about his dream styling gigs, the role that bilingualism plays in his songwriting, and how Toronto’s indie musicians are adapting to the ongoing epidemic of live venue closures.

Your unique sense of style makes you stand out even before you sing. If you had to style any three people – living people – who would they be?

Andre 3000 from Outkast for sure. Growing up, I always thought his style was so wild, and now that he’s older, it’s obviously a bit more subdued, but it’s still so vibrant. I remember when they did the Outkast reunion tour, and he had the long-ass hair, the striped overalls and the hoodies, he just seemed so fearless and unafraid to be himself. Like a black Bowie, and I feel like he’d be open to nearly anything. And the other two would be Erykah [Badu] and Lauryn Hill; their styles are both really out-there-experimental but classic at the same time, and I’d love to style either of them.

You mentioned in another interview how being a Francophone in an English-speaking part of the music industry motivated you to change your stage name from “Monsieur Desire” to “Desiire”. I wanted to go a bit beyond that and ask if your bilingualism plays any role in your creative process, and if you think you’ll ever write music in French?

Well, to fully explain to those who don’t know me, I’ll need to give some background on my story. I was born in the Congo, so the first part of my life was completely in French as far as my environment. But even as a kid, 95% of the music that I listened to was in English, and so my introduction to music was done in English, even before I fully spoke it. When I moved to Scarborough at age 12, I was able to adapt really quickly to the new environment, and I think it was partly because I’d been learning English through music beforehand. I didn’t really start singing until I was about 14 or 15, and by then, English was my native musical language, even if it wasn’t my first spoken language. And now, the only person I really speak French with is my mom; I don’t even really think in French anymore, and I’ve always written music in English.

And so it’s funny you ask that because I actually just wrote a song in French for the first time yesterday. I was freaking out over it, like “this is crazy, I’ve never done this before.” I’ve always had this artistic block when it came to writing in French, cause I just felt like my French wasn’t all that great anymore. But once you start doing it, you realize there’s some things you can just say better in another language. It’s literally never been a part of my process until then, but I’m definitely open to it, especially now that I’ve written that first song. And music’s a universal language, so if it connects, it connects, no matter what language it’s in. So look out for that!

As one of Toronto’s most active live performers, you’ve surely been impacted by the wave of music venues closing over the past year. How do you think you and other indie artists can adapt to this change in our city’s musical landscape?

I think that at this point, we’re all still just starting to figure out what works. What I can say is that the closing of all these venues is forcing musicians to branch out, to find new ways and new spaces to give their music to audiences in. And that’s not a completely bad thing. For me, I know that over the past year, as I’ve been really developing my live show and playing live, I know the shows I’ve enjoyed the most have been in small spaces like The Spot, or the Poetry Jazz Cafe. It’s tiny, it can get hot as hell, but the vibe is so unique and there’s less randoms. Everyone’s really there for the music. One of my other favourite shows was actually at a friend’s birthday recently – he’s got a band too, and the space was tiny, but we turned it into a party until 2:00 AM and shut it down. So from my experience, I think that indie artists are taking control of live performances and venues the same way that we took control of labels, and it’s because we have to. If the venues aren’t accessible or simply don’t exist anymore, we’ll shine wherever we can.

Desiire’s latest track “No Feelings” can be found online here. It’s a vibe.

Interview edited and condensed for publication.

 

 

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