Jesse LeBourdais on grief, intensity, and friendship

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      As you might expect, most of the bands at the Rebels Sing record release at the Rickshaw in late September delivered high energy punk in tribute to the Rebel Spell—a much-missed Vancouver band whose singer, Todd Serious, died in 2015 in a rock climbing accident.

      There were some stellar moments, with Soiled Doves, the Reckless Rebels, and ATD all delivering particularly kickass sets, although none got the mosh pit stoked quite so enthusiastically as Freak Dream, Elliot Langford's new band, which unleashed a particularly kickass cover of "Pride and Prejudice". Plus fans of the Rebel Spell got to see the large-venue debut of Alien Boys, the all-girl, Discharge-influenced new band led by Rebel Spell guitarist Wretched Erin, who—if what I saw was any indication—was likely the most-hugged person in the venue that evening.

      Some of the most potent moments of the night, however, came from the acoustic sets, as when the Rebel Spell's frequent producer, Doug Naugler, did a quiet, intense take on "All We Want", from the Naugler-produced It's a Beautiful Future. He very nearly got the ubiquitous talkers in the venue to shut the fuck up for the song. As you might expect, most ended up singing along on the choruses. 

      There were a few even more emotionally-charged moments a bit later on during Jesse LeBourdais' performance. LeBourdais opened with his folky take on "Sit With Me Anger"—which, to be a bit blasphemous, I've actually come to prefer to the original. (You can hear it on the Rebels Sing bandcamp.)

      That song was Todd Serious's meditation on how, as he put it when I spoke to him in late 2014, "as you get older, you start to think about things more, you start to see all the nuances... You can't just split good and bad." Which, he said, leads to a kind of "despair" and loss of potency. 

      "'Sit With Me Anger' was always my favourite Rebel Spell song," LeBourdais tells the Straight. Serious "did have a very visible anger," he remembers, picturing the singer sitting in some dive along the road, nursing a terribe cup of coffee and "having a very tangible and logical conversation with his anger." 

      LeBourdais is an intense, smallish, and somewhat talkative dude, who just may be East Van's next great singer-songwriter. You get the sense, however, that he can talk himself into trouble at times, maybe better than he can talk himself out of it. 

      allan macinnis

      Case in point: when he performed his song about Todd at the show, "You Were a Rifle"—playing on the Rebel Spell title, "I Am a Rifle"—he prefaced it with a lengthy introduction, talking about his guilt feelings about not having gone to Serious's funeral. His anecdote was cut a bit short by a call from the audience to just shut the fuck up and get on with it (an exhortation, if vision served, that actually came from a member of the Serious family). 

      Once LeBourdais actually performed the song, screaming at times into the microphone that Todd was a rifle that "will never fire again", it elicited some powerful responses, unlike anything I've previously witnessed. Girls up front sang along with it, crying and smiling, then screamed "Fuck you, Jesse!" when it was over. Not simple stuff, really. 

      "The song seems to really brings out a lot of emotions in people, and it certainly does for me," LeBourdais observed afterwards. "I never want it not to. I wrote it very specifically in the first three weeks after Todd died, so it came really easy, as a way to process my own feelings." 

      Grief, he says, "always travels well inside of songs... and it's inherent in human nature to want to share it with others. It becomes this easy way to just bask in the sadness of others, which I think is an important part of dealing with loss." 

      LeBourdais—who also has been known to perform the odd Tragically Hip cover since Gord Downie's cancer announcement—first met Todd Serious when he was thirteen. "We are both from the same town in the Cariboo. He was older than me," he says, adding that Serious was the subject of "a lot of idolization" on LeBourdais's part. Serious didn't particularly care for him so much, as the younger man recalls—not at first, at least.

      "I was just some hippy kid that didn't know much about much, so I don't blame him. But as time passed and we spent more time together, it was clear we had very similar and firm views on all kinds of things that mattered, plus a lot of similar music interests and mutual friends, so eventually I wore him down to being my friend when I was about 19. After that it was 15 years of him just handing me down knowledge and providing an example to follow. We didn't always see eye to eye at all, but conflict makes for good friendship. I can never repay him for all he helped me with in life, and that sucks."

      "You Were a Rifle", he assures the Straight, will be on LeBourdais' set at Lanalou's on Sunday (October 16), and will also be on his next album, which he will begin recording at Rain City Recorders with Jesse Gander (who produced the Rebel Spell's Last Run) in a few weeks time. The gig is a "last minute fundraiser" for that recording session, which will see the singer performing in full-band mode. 

      Does he ever burn himself out with the emotional intensity of his live performances? 

      LeBourdais laughs at the question. "I'm usually exhausted and sweaty," he says, "but also fairly euphoric and dizzy. I don't specifically try to be intense or anything, but I do really like to put it all out on the floor. Coming from being in punk bands in my 20s, I never really dropped the intensity when I switched to acoustic, because that was always the most cathartic and fun part of it. Yelling into a microphone is great therapy, and I learned that very young, so I think it is just part of me now. I want people to leave a show feeling like they participated in something collaborative and personal and exciting."

      The Rebels Sing double LP, featuring Jesse LeBourdais, among many others, is still available through Not Yer Buddy records. Meantime, catch LeBourdais's 300th show—and probably his final until after the new album is done—at Lanalou's (362 Powell) this Sunday, also featuring Winnipeg's Mobina Galore and Calgary's Meisha and the Spanks.