Four years since the arrival of vocalist Jean Pageau and three years after Delusion Rain, Mystery return with their most accomplished album yet.
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.”
FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY: MYSTERY LOOK SET TO REACH NEW HEIGHTS WITH LIES AND BUTTERFLIES.
THE BAND’S NEW ALBUM, LIES AND BUTTERFLIES.