By | May 5, 2018

Jean-Michel Blais Blatantly Lifts from Radiohead on 'Dans ma main' but Avoids a Lana Del Rey Moment

If parts “roses,” the first single from Jean-Michel Blais’s forthcoming sophomore album, Dans ma main, sound familiar, it’s not by design, but it is on purpose. According to the Montreal pianist/composer, the single contains chord references to Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song,” but that wasn’t the original intention.
 
In an interview with Exclaim! regarding the followup to 2016’s breakthrough Il, Blais insists he didn’t write the piece with the lead single from the band’s 2001 album Amnesiac in mind, but the chord progression found its way into his work anyway, so he preserved it on record to reflect a journey musical memories and the interpersonal synchronicity our individual influences. In fact, “roses” also includes references to chords from Eric Carmen’s “All by Myself” and a sample late Romantic Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninf’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
 
Reflecting on the composition the song, Blais says he arrived at it through a process structured improvisation he turned to in processing feelings after a friend’s mother died from cancer.
 
“I was there and I was trying to help, but I didn’t know what to say,” Blais explains. “Back home, in the meantime, I needed to talk about that to someone, and this is what came out me, slowly, piece by piece.”
 
Note by note, Blais says, “roses” unfolded like a prism refracting the myriad people, situations and memories he was inundated with at the time, and the external sources found their way in unconsciously.
 
“‘Pyramid Song’] is like my best friend’s — one her favourite tracks. And Céline Dion’s version ] ‘All by Myself’ is one her mom’s favourite tracks,” Blais explains.
 
Blais originally released the song less than a month after Lana Del Rey tweeted about an alleged copyright infringement lawsuit Radiohead had served her with, regarding apparent similarities between her Lust for Life song “Get Free” and their iconic “Creep” — rocky waters to be wading into, it would seem.
 
It’s not even the only place on Dans ma main where Blais calls on others’ work to deliver his own: “a heartbeat away” shares chords with Leo Sayer’s “When I Need You.” (That song was written by Albert Hammond and Carole Bayer Sager, the former whom, alongside Mike Hazlewood, sued Radiohead over “Creep” for its similarity to the Hollies’s 1972 song “The Air That I Breathe,” a case that was resolved in an out–court settlement that earned the two co-writing credits on Radiohead’s song.) There’s also a sample audio from an archival interview with neo-expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat which features prominently at the beginning “outsiders.”
 
Blais is up front about all the borrowed work, teasing it in all the press materials for the new album and fielding questions about it with excited generosity.
 
And why not? He put in all the work, after all.
 
“We cleared everything,” Blais exhales, but not without venting some frustrations over the hoops he had to jump through to do it. According to Blais, “many” samples and references had to languish on demos because he and his label weren’t able to license the rights — “and not for a reason money, but just for a reason time.”
 
“You need to reach out to five people on the publishing side, two on the master side, and you have one year to do that, and you still can’t reach those people, because they’re so busy and probably because I’m not big enough and I’m not saying, ‘Hey I have one million dollars to buy this,'” Blais explains. “It was a lot work and wonders on Arts & Crafts’ side to figure out.”
 
For him, the interruptive culture bureaucracy lording over the music industry is especially frustrating when you consider how ingrained contemporary music is in centuries’ and cultures’ worth music history.
 
Circling back to “roses,” he traces the genealogy its primary influences back even further, with some blunt musicology.
 
“Those chords remind us Radiohead, but they were there long before that, and they don’t belong to them neither,” Blais points out. “Somehow, those three chords will remind you Radiohead, but it’s just a basic progression chords that’s been played for decades and centuries. You’ll find it all the time in flamenco music.
 
“Digging into it, you find some Rachmaninf in there, because that was the inspiration behind Eric Carmen’s original version ‘All by Myself’],” he says, referring to the main melody Carmen’s song, which comes from the second movement the composer’s concerto.
 
For Blais, that song has effectually come to function as a critique the absurdity the notion that anyone can “own” art anyway.
 
All the more reason to put the disclaimers out there, then.
 
“I don’t want to say this is my idea — ‘I found it’ and all that. I don’t believe in that. I think we just reinterpret pieces and things we find. There is no ex nihilo.”
 
Dans ma main comes out May 11 on Arts & Crafts.