“In life, if you don’t go forward, you go backward.”
The adage is familiar to Maxime Morin, advice commonly bestowed on him by his father while growing up in Québec.
It was with that maxim in mind the Montréal-based DJ, who performs under the moniker Champion, approached his latest album Resistance. The followup to 2004’s Chill ‘Em All certainly does reflect progression in the electronic artist’s oeuvre, with heavier rock influences and wholly different vocal fronting.
But forward movement didn’t come easy to Morin.
“When I started Resistance, after the first six months, I really felt I was going backward. I wasn’t evolving, challenging myself, or going anywhere other than where I was,” he said. Stuck in the musical mindset he’d perfected over three years touring Chill ‘Em All, Morin trashed the initial tracks he recorded for Resistance and went into seclusion, an act he said was key to start recording as himself, without external influences.
“When you isolate, you give yourself the ability to be a loser, to cry. Musically speaking, you allow yourself to compose bad songs.” Morin said he was able to purge the scraps and make strides by acknowledging his personal weakness. “We are always trying to avoid it in our lives, with our ego, trying to be good, tough and come at the world in our best fashion. But weaknesses are in us all the time.”
To wean weakness, Morin focused on his strength: live performance. Knowing most people discover his music from Champion’s energized live sets — always more rock-focused than his albums — Morin aimed to capitalize on the style.
“Rock is a song but it’s also a structure. Rock is lyrics-oriented,” he said.
“In techno we have long tracks with no chorus. It’s very primitive and I love it very much. That was a challenge for me, to compose music that was oriented on the lyrics and not the music or repetition.”
Rock is also fixated on the frontman. So while Morin’s decision to replace Chill ‘Em All’s unflappable baritone vocalist Betty Bonifassi (who’s since made her own mark with Montréal electronic duo Beast) with Pierre-Philippe “Pilou” Côté may seem genre-discrepant, he justifies the switch on the basis of emotional equivalence.
“At the first concert I did with Betty, people were telling me, ‘Oh, she looks like a junkie on stage. That’s awful’,” said Morin, “That’s not awful, that’s her! To look at her being so weak, that’s gorgeous. I like that.”
That’s how Morin said he knew audiences would latch on to Pilou. “He can put his soul into it. He is intense, he’s not lying and he’s all there. If you’re fake and trying to be rock stars or cheap pop crap, of course you have to be good liars or actors. We’re not.”
Champion plays The Mod Club in Toronto on Nov. 27.