Four years since the ar­rival of vo­cal­ist Jean Pageau and three years after Delu­sion Rain, Mys­tery re­turn with their most ac­com­plished al­bum yet.

Prog - - Contents - Words: Nick Shilton Images: Claude Dufresne

Canada’s melodic prog rock­ers re­veal tri­umphant new al­bum Lies & But­ter­flies.

“We just try to make the best mu­sic we can at that mo­ment. We don’t set goals to achieve any par­tic­u­lar new sound. We just keep go­ing the way we’ve al­ways been and make sure we do the best we can when we’re writ­ing and record­ing.”

That’s the Mys­tery man­i­festo enun­ci­ated by founder and driv­ing force Michel St-Père. And while it may sound sim­ple in the­ory, the ex­e­cu­tion of that man­i­festo has his­tor­i­cally proved con­sid­er­ably harder in prac­tice.

Hap­pily, 2018 finds the veteran Cana­dian pro­gres­sive rock band – St-Père founded Mys­tery way back in 1986 – on a roll with an ap­par­ently sta­ble line-up and a splen­did new stu­dio al­bum, Lies And But­ter­flies.

“It’s hard for me to say right now,” St-Père cau­tiously par­ries when in­vited to con­firm the view that Lies And But­ter­flies is Mys­tery’s mag­num opus, “but we’re cer­tainly very proud of what we’ve done with this al­bum.”

It tran­spires that Lies And But­ter­flies is the first al­bum to which the whole band have contributed. Its pre­de­ces­sor, Delu­sion Rain, marked vo­cal­ist Jean Pageau’s recorded de­but with Mys­tery, and some of the Mys­tery live band mem­bers played on it too.

“It was a com­pletely dif­fer­ent line-up from the al­bum be­fore it, The World Is A Game,” St-Père notes.

Sim­i­larly, while pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity for writ­ing Lies And But­ter­flies fell to St-Père, the al­bum sees con­tri­bu­tions from other mem­bers, with the mu­sic for Dare To Dream and Where Dreams Come Alive penned by Pageau and gui­tarist Sylvain Moineau re­spec­tively. St- Père doesn’t re­gard him­self as hold­ing a mo­nop­oly over the writ­ing for Mys­tery.

“When we start com­pil­ing new mu­sic for an al­bum, ev­ery­body sends ideas in if they have songs to sub­mit. We just go with the best songs. Dare To Dream is ac­tu­ally a very old song Jean wrote,” St- Père re­veals, adding that the vo­cal­ist sent it to him more than five years ago be­fore au­di­tion­ing to join the band. “I kept it in mind all the time, think­ing that it could be a very good song for a fu­ture al­bum. Now was the right time to do it.”

Fol­low­ing the re­cent in­flux of tal­ent to the band, St- Père can be­gin to imag­ine not be­ing the main writer in Mys­tery. “I can’t write on de­mand and it could hap­pen in fu­ture that my in­spi­ra­tion is low for a while and other mem­bers have a lot of ideas.”

St- Père isn’t afraid to raid his song­writ­ing vaults for ma­te­rial and ex­plains that some of the tracks on the al­bum date back to the 1990s.

“I keep writ­ing all the time and put ev­ery­thing aside un­til the tim­ing is right. I wrote the be­gin­ning and main part of Chrysalis maybe 25 years ago,” he says of one of the al­bum’s two length­ier tracks. “I’ve al­ways had it in the back of my mind but was wait­ing

”We’re cer­tainly very proud of what we’ve done with this al­bum.”

for the mo­ment to be able to do it the way I could hear it in my mind.”

Equally, St-Père is at pains to en­sure that a Mys­tery al­bum con­tains com­ple­men­tary ma­te­rial. As such, Pageau’s Dare To Dream was con­sid­ered for the Delu­sion Rain al­bum but ul­ti­mately failed to make the cut.

“It just wasn’t the right time to do it. We make sure all the songs fit to­gether as an al­bum. If I write two songs that are sim­i­lar, I might put one aside for a fu­ture al­bum, even if it’s a good song.”

Un­usu­ally for a stu­dio al­bum, Lies And But­ter­flies opens with the sound of a live au­di­ence, though there’s some logic be­hind the ap­par­ent in­con­gruity.

“The last al­bum we re­leased was our live al­bum and DVD Sec­ond

Home, recorded at the Bo­erderij in Hol­land. The au­di­ence sound on

Lies And But­ter­flies is to achieve a con­tin­u­a­tion – if you play the al­bums back-to-back, the crowd you hear at the be­gin­ning is the crowd you hear at the end of Sec­ond Home.”

Lies And But­ter­flies was about a year in the mak­ing, with the cen­tre of oper­a­tions be­ing St-Père’s own Stu­dio Il­lu­sion III in Mirabel near Mon­treal, while the band’s other mem­bers recorded re­motely. “I do the demos of the songs here in my stu­dio,” St-Père says. “Then ev­ery­one has the struc­ture of each song and they can record in their home stu­dios.”

Work­ing on this ba­sis re­sulted in all six mem­bers of the band, bar drum­mer Jean-Sébastien Goyette, play­ing key­boards on the al­bum.

While pre­vi­ously Mys­tery have em­ployed as­sorted well-known guests – Big Big Train and for­mer Spock’s Beard drum­mer Nick D’Vir­gilio, Gen­e­sis side­man Daryl Stuer­mer and key­boardist Oliver Wakeman to name but three – on this oc­ca­sion St-Père es­chewed guest mu­si­cians.

“I de­cided to make it more like a band. Pre­vi­ously Mys­tery was more of a stu­dio project and we didn’t play live much. For Lies And But­ter­flies ev­ery­one was ca­pa­ble of do­ing ev­ery­thing.”

How­ever, he doesn’t rule out us­ing guests again for sub­se­quent al­bums. “It’s al­ways fun to play with peo­ple you re­spect or who were some of your in­spi­ra­tions, like Daryl Stuer­mer. I wanted to work with Nick D’Vir­gilio for a long time and it was great to work with him.”

While Lies And But­ter­flies ben­e­fits from an abun­dance of strong ma­te­rial and shows Mys­tery fir­ing on all mu­si­cal cylin­ders, it’s per­haps Pageau’s pow­er­ful vo­cals that make the strong­est im­pres­sion. “We’re very happy with him and I’m very for­tu­nate to have found Jean after Benoît David left the band,” St-Père en­thuses.

David had first sung on Mys­tery’s third al­bum, 2007’s Be­neath The Veil Of Win­ter’s Face, ap­pear­ing on two fur­ther stu­dio re­leases, 2010’s One Among The Liv­ing and 2012’s The

World Is A Game. Lat­terly, of course, he re­placed vo­cal­ist Jon An­der­son in Yes be­tween 2008 and 2012.

“Benoît was singing with Yes at the same time as Mys­tery and ev­ery­thing was boom­ing,” St-Père re­calls.

But then came the bomb­shell:

David told St-Père he was leav­ing Yes and that after hon­our­ing ex­ist­ing live com­mit­ments, he would also be step­ping down from Mys­tery. “We’d done The World Is A Game with Nick D’Vir­gilio on drums, and Benoît was at the top of his game. The fu­ture looked very bright, but all of a sud­den we had to start ev­ery­thing again.”

Given that Mys­tery were cop­ing with David fronting Yes, and ar­guably rais­ing the Cana­dian band’s pro­file in the process, it was dis­ap­point­ing to see Mys­tery’s progress ar­rested dra­mat­i­cally shortly af­ter­wards.

“It was a com­plete shock,” St-Père says. “I de­cided to give Benoît more time to think ev­ery­thing over and see if his voice would come back.”

By mix­ing the live al­bum Tales From The Nether­lands, ul­ti­mately re­leased a year after David left the band, Mys­tery bought them­selves some breath­ing space to find the right singer. Hav­ing seen Mys­tery’s mo­men­tum sud­denly halted, St-Père was faced with what he thought for some time was an in­sur­mount­able prob­lem. “After Benoît left, we went through a pe­riod where I thought Mys­tery was fin­ished.”

St-Père re­calls send­ing in­stru­men­tal ver­sions of songs from The World

Is A Game and be­ing de­cid­edly un­der­whelmed by what he re­ceived in re­turn. “All the demos from other singers sounded like a bad karaoke night. It took 18 months to find Jean.”

The in­ter­reg­num be­tween singers was masked by Mys­tery de­lib­er­ately pub­li­cis­ing David’s de­par­ture a sig­nif­i­cant pe­riod after the vo­cal­ist had re­signed from the band.

Aside from the chal­lenge pre­sented and ul­ti­mately over­come in re­plac­ing David with Pageau, like so many other pro­gres­sive bands of as­sorted eras, Mys­tery have en­dured plenty of other line-up changes, with St-Père be­ing the only con­stant. But to put per­son­nel changes into con­text, no fewer than three sui­cides have af­flicted Mys­tery over the years. The cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect of nu­mer­ous de­par­tures and deaths brought St-Père close to bring­ing the fi­nal cur­tain down on the band. The day was saved by Pageau’s ar­rival.

Aside from his voice, Pageau has great stage pres­ence, which ben­e­fits the group. “He’s an in­cred­i­ble front­man, which has changed the dy­nam­ics of the band,” St-Père says.

It’s no co­in­ci­dence that Mys­tery have con­sid­er­ably in­creased their live ac­tiv­ity in the years since Pageau’s ar­rival. Now they have two stu­dio al­bums with Pageau un­der their belt and they’re back on an up­wards curve, play­ing live across Europe.

“We could see the in­ter­est was there in Europe so we de­cided to keep go­ing and see where it could take us,” St-Père re­veals.

Mys­tery have at last be­come a proper tour­ing band. This year, in ad­di­tion to four UK dates, the band have also gigged in France, Nor­way, Spain and Ger­many, where they made their de­but in July at the pres­ti­gious Night Of The Prog fes­ti­val in Lore­ley. An ap­pear­ance at Prog­stock in Amer­ica is also in the di­ary for Oc­to­ber. The band hope to play a cou­ple of Cana­dian shows too, be­fore re­turn­ing to Europe, most likely in 2019.

“We’re start­ing to turn down gigs, which isn’t some­thing we’ve ever been able to do be­fore,” St-Père ex­plains.

How­ever, the band’s prin­ci­pal mar­ket re­mains Europe. “We get plenty of of­fers but the chal­lenge is that we need to travel from Canada, es­pe­cially if it’s just for one gig.”

So are Mys­tery in their rud­est health ever? “Def­i­nitely, be­cause we all share the same goal and have been play­ing live con­stantly for the last five years,” replies St-Père with­out hes­i­ta­tion. “Over­all it’s the eas­i­est time right now; ev­ery­one knows what they have to do. It’s not easy all the time – go­ing on tour can be rough some­times – but the team is very solid.”



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