Described as one of the brightest, charming and charismatic singers of the francophone world, Garou is immediately likeable and has the power to evoke emotion from his audiences – including those that don’t necessarily understand French, simply through the power of his music.
For those unfamiliar with Garou, he is the enigmatic musical artist best known for his role as Quasimodo in the stage musical Notre-Dame de Paris, a collaboration with Celine Dion, shows with Cirque du Soleil, and being a coach on the French and Canadian editions of The Voice, just to name a few defining moments in his career. However, those moments don’t define the humble singer as a person; experimental and versatile with his sound, Garou makes it clear that fame was never on his agenda as much as being able to share his distinctive music with the world.
With a world of musical history behind him, spanning two decades within the industry, he is celebrating the milestone with his 20 Year Jubilee Tour – and is set to perform in Dubai for the first time ever this month.
AboutHer.com took some time out with the star to talk about his passions and inspirations, as he gave us an insight into his world.
Garou as Quasimodo in the musical, Notre-Dame de Paris
In all your years being a singer and songwriter, have you managed to realize any childhood dreams about collaborating with any artists you were inspired by from a young age?
For me, it was probably the highlight of my career, and much more on a personal level, it was the biggest achievement in music was when I played the whole evening with George Harrison. We were playing in front of like 60 people, it was a little party and we were not supposed to sing together but my band was there and George Harrison said “I’ll be very happy to listen to you but I don’t play music anymore” and after my third song he was looking at me making a sign saying “can I play with you?” and we played for two hours together! I felt like a Beatle! It was fantastic!
I remember for 20 years the Beatles were not talking to each other and the band had separated and one of my closest friends, Guy Laliberté, who is the founder of Cirque Du Soleil, and they made a show with the Beatles after George Harrison passed away. He had passed away 3 months, I think, after I had sung with him and at the premiere of the show, his wife Olivia, came to me and said “Ah, you are Garou! George told me so much about that evening you played together!” She said, “Do you realize that you were the last person to sing with him and do an entire evening like that? He was so happy!” So, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, his wife was telling me that I gave him the happiness of music and I was the last person to do that, when he was the first person to do that for me! Because when I was in that band at 13 years old, I was the guitar player and was the George Harrison in the group that I wanted to be and it’s amazing to know that I was the last person to sing with him and shared music with my idol. It’s fantastic.
This year the music industry suffered the loss of French musician, Charles Aznavour. How did his music influence you and why did you find him so inspiring?
He was one of the first to sing French songs in many countries because he was strong, and conveyed the emotion of what he was doing, even if people didn’t understand every word they understood how strong the words were because he was an incredible interpreter. That’s amazing, I respect this man so much and it’s a big loss but it’s hard to say it’s a big loss because he was 94 years old! He had a great life! I remember when he was 77 and was not doing lots of shows, and he did a big TV show for his 77 years and they asked me to sing “La Boheme”, which is one of his greatest songs and they asked me “we want you to do La Boheme in salsa like you do in your concerts” and I told the TV production team “are you crazy?! People will kill me if I do a salsa out of La Boheme! I cannot do that!” and they said, “well it’s Mr Aznavour who asked for it because he went to see your concert and he loved your version so he wants that for the show.” I said “no! People are going to kill me and the only way I’ll do that if he comes to sing it with me!” And he came to sing it with me and we met a bunch of times, I saw him a few times when he came to Canada, we shared lots of moments and I believe that he always stayed very simple and childlike. The most important thing about being an artist is to stay childish, and naïve and I believe even at 94 years old, he had that little smile and twinkle in his eye like a little kid.
Being an internationally acclaimed artist, you are currently touring the world to celebrate your 20 year jubilee in the music industry. What has been your most defining moment over the last 2 decades?
It’s a lot about the way of enjoying life, career, shows, and to stay naïve. For me in general, I feel like I’m the same person I was 20 years ago and I really enjoy music the same way I did back then. Maybe because for me it wasn’t about being ambitious or being a star- because I never wanted to be a star so my career was a happy accident in a way. It’s fun because I play music because I love music and like to share it with people. I’ve seen too many young people that want to play music because they want to be a star, which is so wrong I think. I’m very lucky to have a crowd that even if there was nobody coming to my concerts, I would probably take my guitar and go out and play in the street because I just like to share music.
You've won countless awards for your music, and each of your songs and albums must be extremely special to you, is there a song or album that you hold particularly dear and why does it mean so much to you?
Actually, I cannot say that I’m crazy about my songs because I never listen to myself. So the magic for me is when I see people enjoying my songs and performing for people and seeing them happy. But it’s all fun because you know currently I’m working on preparing for my concerts and I want to take risks. There are a lot of songs that I’m changing and I want to do mashups with other songs, mixing them all together and I’m having fun with them but I’m always a little stressed because I wonder if people are going to like them or not, maybe they’ll be disappointed? So I’m always a little insecure but I believe that when I enjoy playing, I’m like a kid, I always consider myself as a child playing music and having fun with my toys, I believe it’s contagious and that if I have fun on stage people will feel that and they will have fun.
Growing up, which artists or bands were you most influenced by?
From when I started my very first band, it wasn’t very serious but I was 13 years old and half of the songs that we would play were by The Beatles, I’m a very big fan and I believe that they bought so much, and they were so talented and they were complete artists.
Garou on The Voice
You've been a coach on The Voice in both France and Canada, which of the artists have you enjoyed mentoring the most?
I believe that I learnt a great life’s lesson when I had the winner of last year, her name is Yama Laurent, and she won the competition and she was in my team. She’s from Haiti, and she’d been living in a nightmare, she’s seen her whole family die, including her sisters because of the earthquakes and natural disaster, she had an abusive father, and all of her life that you believe has been stolen. When we first heard her singing she was so strong and I’d never seen anything like it in my whole life, and I’ve heard so many singers, but when Yama sings, she has the ability to make you cry. It’s unbelievable and I was very fortunate to be her coach and mentor for that fabulous singer. I remember when we did the battle part of the competition in The Voice, where you put a duet together and when she sang with another singer, they sang “Let It Be”, and if you have a chance you can catch it on YouTube, it’s totally worth watching, and even Paul McCartney saw it and he tweeted about it and said it was amazing. It makes you cry, and you’ll see me cry, everyone was crying, I thought “I can’t believe I’m crying on the TV show like this”, and I looked around me and everybody around me was crying, including the camera man, the production team, everybody! It was fantastic!
The Voice is an extremely entertaining and often intense show for viewers, what has it been like to compete against the other celebrity coaches?
Well, I never saw it as a competition and if there’s something that I want to teach the contestants is that they should be there for the right reasons. Music is something fantastic, you want to play music, you want to sing, it’s fantastic, I will help you, I will give you tips but don’t do it because you want to be a star - it’s the wrong thing. This Yama Laurent that I was talking about, she did the competition because someone told her to do it but she never wanted to be a star, she just loves to sing and it’s probably the main reason why she is that amazing, because you never feel when she sings that she’s there to become a star because that’s ridiculous and with a lot of contestants you can feel it right away, that they just want to be a star. So I tell them “no, you have to sing because you love to sing and you want to share music with people that’s it!” That’s why it’s so good to share moments with someone that just wants to be genuine and give music to others.
Are there any current musicians you'd like to work with?
There are some electronic DJs that I’d love to try working with because that’s something I didn’t do enough. And I’m laughing because it’s funny I just thought of a time when, you know David Guetta? He was playing in clubs in Paris when I was there and clubbing a lot, and he was just a little DJ just playing music in the clubs, and I remember he would tell me “I would love to work with you and can you come to my studio” and I would say “yeah, yeah, maybe one day, we’ll see,” but he was not known, and then he made these incredible hits and I was like maybe I’ve missed something, maybe I should have said yes right away? But I never went to the studio with him!
Could you make it happen and could we expect any collaborations in the near future?
It’s just that right now, the music industry is changing so much that I don’t know! For me, the right idea is to make an album now. My next project is more about filming and documenting music and being in my studio, by the forest in Canada, and I would love to invite people to perform in my studio and film it to share with people. That would be my next goal after the tour and I really hope that it’s going to work out. In that moment I’m thinking to host special guests in my home and studio and could also work with artists who make electronic music!
Making a career in music isn't always an easy path, if you could go back in time, what advice would you give your 16 year old self?
Stay yourself, and don’t fall into the trap of making too many confessions and don’t be too ambitious. Just enjoy the moment, live the moment, and enjoy the music. I believe that I met myself 16 years ago and I told myself that!
You are going to be performing in Dubai for the first time, are there any songs you are most excited about performing and what can fans expect?
Well, it’s really weird because I’m coming on a tour that celebrates 20 years of my career, and I’ve never been to Dubai before. So I feel like I did 20 years ago, going to Dubai for the first time and it’ll be kind of a test because I’m kind of stressed about it! I’m thinking “are they going to like it? Or are they going to be disappointed?” Because they probably have expectations but what they should expect is 20 years of my songs, 20 years of songs that I’ve been travelling with, that are not even by me – so lots of covers, lots of mashups and mixed up songs. For example I do Sous Le Vent, which is my duet with Celine Dion, which is a ballad that I do a version of mixed with Zombie by The Cranberries. It’s really rock, so I don’t know people might be thinking “What is that?! What is he doing?!” So I’m hope they will understand what I’m doing, I’m having fun with music and I would like to share.
What are you most looking forward to about being in Dubai?
I don’t want to have too many expectations, but of course I do because everything I’ve heard about Dubai is the opposite. People have told me “you have to go to Dubai, you will love it” and at the same time others have told me that I will probably be disappointed. So I don’t want to have too many expectations but the best travels of my life have been doing tours like this and discovering new places. So I hope it’s going to go well in Dubai and I’ve heard it’s a very impressive place. But I can’t wait, it’s going to be very amazing and I want to take a few days there to really feel the place.
What has been your experience of Arab culture so far and is there anything you enjoy about it?
I love to be shaken. I love people, so I always love to exchange different mentalities, languages, philosophies, so for sure I will love it right away because it’s a culture that I know but not in Dubai- so probably it’s different. You know when I was a kid, my dream was to become an archaeologist and now I say when I go on tour that it’s my quest of anthropology. So more than being in the past of archaeology, I’m into understanding different crowds because the emotion that you feel on stage is very strong and from one city to another city and one country to another, it’s different so I can’t wait to be on stage, performing, exchanging emotions, and feeling what it is!
There have been a chain of reforms taking place in Saudi Arabia, which have made major global headlines, including Saudi women now being able to drive after decades of a longstanding ban. What was your take on this news in particular?
You know when you’re so far, and when you’re Canadian, like everywhere in the world we have issues, but I think in Canada we are well known to be very easy going, but we don’t have the same background because we don’t have any history. Saudi Arabia has a long history and this is also why I’m excited to go to Dubai because it’s a very new city, that’s been built up so quick, so fast and so big because there’s a lot of money, a lot of ambition, and a lot of people willing to build and do things but with all that being said, they still have a lot of history. In Canada its totally the opposite, we don’t care much about building big things, and we’re very close to nature, and we don’t have much of a history because it’s a pretty new country and we don’t have the history of architecture, of literature, of culture, religion and all that. So it’s going to be interesting to understand even more because there are a lot of places where I went, for example, last year, I made a trip to Peru, and to meet with people in Peru and understand them was so different from what you are, but actually in the background you see that they’re very close to what you are too. This is also the magic of music, this is why I’m so fortunate to be a French speaking artist that can perform in many countries, because there aren’t a lot of French artists that have the chance to perform in many non- francophone countries, and it’s a great chance because you realize that the emotion sung is so strong, it’s an international language that bonds us and it makes us believe that we are different – but not that different.
If you could send out a message to the future women of Saudi Arabia, what would it be?
The message I would like to send is to understand, believe and never forget that we are citizens of the world, and the world is big and there are many different cultures but in the end we are all citizens of the planet, so you are free to do whatever you want on the planet in a certain way because if you believe that you are a citizen of the world, you can choose the way you want to live.