by Kaitlin Ruether
Even when Gregory-Yves Fénélon (better known as NOVEMBER) is caught off guard by a question, it only takes him a few seconds of reflection before he offers a poignant answer. His SoundCloud page reads “Songs about boys and a strong desire to eat poutine,” so, over the phone, I ask about his favourite poutine joint. He laughs, surprised, then compares the Guac poutine at Poutine La Banquise with the duck poutine at the place near his house.
This is the kind of artist he is—always hyper-mindful, even when thrown into a new situation. With the video for “Too Many Omens”, I catch him at a turning point in the way he’s thinking about his music. “I am well aware that a lot of how we interact with our favourite artists is visual, and I’m well aware that videos tend to deliver a song more efficiently,” Fénélon says. “My songs are always long, and while I have no problem with that on my EP, I knew that I couldn’t start the introduction to my face with a five minute song.”
It’s clear from both his EP, OLYMPIA, and from the way Fénélon speaks, that this is a person who puts careful thought into every second of what he wants to share with the world. The first album that he bought for himself was Gorillaz’s Demon Days, and he places that as a kicking off point. “I had never listened to music where I was in it,” he says. “After a certain point when you have every little thing memorized—I was like, I want to do this. I want to make music.” This attention to detail carries forward into both his musical and visual endeavours.
“Too Many Omens” was the first song that Fénélon wrote for OLYMPIA. For the first time, he is thinking about his music in terms of digestibility and ability to draw new audiences. “These have been the first few months where strangers that aren’t part of my friend circle—people outside of my country—are playing it,” he explains. “I’m being booked for things that I was being rejected for one or two years ago. It’s the first time I realize that if I do this in a certain way—if I fuck it up in the exact right way—I could make this happen somehow.”
Beyond starring in and editing “Too Many Omens”, Fénélon also directs the video—his screen directorial debut. “I had the camera and we had one light because I wanted this distinct look to it. We had this one portable light and this one portable camera, and that day it had rained,” he recalls. “All day in Montreal. Everyone kept texting me asking me if we were still doing it.” The crew showed up to the field late, but thanks to a generous groundskeeper who gave them just enough time to finish, they brought NOVEMBER’s concept to life.
The video is stark — the solo light is used to its full ability. Fénélon uses space and emptiness to bring the emotional intensity of the track to a peak, but he also plays with statuesque poses and minimal movement until the final shot, when he breaks free and turns his back on the camera. “Want more?,” the video flashes throughout, perhaps a tease, perhaps a comment on consumer culture. Watch it below and come to your own conclusion:
Fénélon announced that he will be performing at Montreal’s POP Festival in September, which fosters his growing love of performing live. “I would love to perform more outside of the places I’ve played, to see a lot more,” he says. As we spoke, Fénélon was getting ready to travel to Ottawa where he would finish editing the video for “Too Many Omens”. Though he’s currently on a hiatus to regroup after OLYMPIA, his life is still swirling around the project and you can hear the excitement for it in his voice as he contemplates future videos and new venues to play in.
Fénélon pauses for a moment near the end of our conversation – one of his longer pauses – and then says, “There’s so many fucking cool artists that fall through the cracks. It can be an overwhelming thought sometimes, but you can’t let it be your driving thought. I don’t want that to happen to me. I don’t believe in backup plans. This is what I do. I’ll keep doing it.”