NOVEMBER Confronts the Beautiful and Ugly Parts of Life on ‘Bedroom Eyes’

After a summer collaboration with Japanese indie stars Frasco for Sapporo’s “Sapporo Duos” campaign and recent recognition from Exclaim!, singer-songwriter and producer NOVEMBER is keeping the momentum going with the release of his second EP, Bedroom Eyes, out on November 20th. NOVEMBER is the alias of Ottawa-born, Montreal-based artist Gregory-Yves Fénélon, who recorded what became the six-song EP in his apartment and childhood bedroom. So far, two singles of brooding yet cinematic pop, “Jerome” and “Soft Metal,” have been released from the EP. Immersed in music at an early age, Fénélon quickly bathed in various forms of artistry, professing a passion for theatre, choir, dance, and music. When it came time to begin recording his own music, the recent Concordia BFA Acting alum was influenced by artists with a taste for the theatrical, like Depeche Mode and Lady Gaga. CJLO spoke with Fénélon about his new EP, missing live performances, and being a crier.

You’ve said that you “recognize that this project will be many people's introduction” to your work. Do you feel then that, compared to your previous releases, Bedroom Eyes is the ideal encapsulation of your music up to this point?
I absolutely do, but I also feel like Bedroom Eyes is a projection of concepts and sounds my music could explore in the future. Genre has always been a hard concept for me, because I’ll use whatever bits can come together to tell the story and sometimes I’ll reach across that line. Save for some guitar parts by my friend Dylan, I made these songs on my own from start to finish, and I was very much influenced by shit I found cool. I felt less afraid in all the ways that I find make for great music. So, what came out is a diverse set of songs, but I’m the thorough line linking them, and so are my words. It’s not meant to be jarring – the opposite actually – because I start all projects thinking of track list flow and stuff; but it is a journey with different stops and one that introduces us to each other.

You’ve also said that Bedroom Eyes is “about evolving and coming to terms with some of the more beautiful parts of living but acknowledging what can happen during the harder ones.” Is it just a lucky (or perhaps unlucky) coincidence that the EP will be released just as most people on Earth have to come to terms with the same sentiments because of everything to do with COVID-19, or did some of the current real-world events seep into your songwriting process?
Definitely an unlucky coincidence. I started working on this in mid-2019, so the songs have been with me for a bit now and have changed with the times. My songwriting is always influenced by everything that I’m perceiving and feeling, not just romantic stuff and relationships. So, many of the things I’ve felt over the past year, watching the world shake and catch fire in more ways than one, changed what the EP became. It opens with the lyric “eyes wide shut, want more though I’ve seen enough,” which is about disassociating because sometimes life just swallows me up. It goes on to explore seeking feelings in obviously incompatible people, while never really solving your own shit and snapping as a result. It ends with realizing that you can’t escape yourself, and all of that comes to a head in one’s room, giving an opportunity to heal and regroup. I’m being very general here, but that last part feels very connected to the now.

As I host a show focused on pop music, one of my favourite questions to ask artists is this: at its core, what is it that makes a perfect pop song to you?
Pop music is like a feeling; it’s a set of conventions that’s less about a specific sound since the definition of pop is ever-changing. At its core, the perfect pop songs give me literal shivers.  The melody, lyrics, vocals, production – the whole set just comes together in a way that should make you feel something. I’m a crier, so stuff tends to make me tear up inadvertently sometimes when it hits just right. I think that experience is also what makes it timeless.

Spotify has been in the news recently when it comes to their practices in (barely) paying artists for their work.  What are your thoughts on Spotify and the age of streaming, as an artist but also as a fan and consumer of music?
As a consumer and someone who’s constantly playing music, streaming has really changed the game for me. I’ve been using Apple Music since its launch; it’s helped me rediscover things and opened my eyes to so many new artists through its playlists and radio. However, I do also think streaming in general replicates a lot of the trends we saw in radio. I was reading up on all this stuff when I was around 14 years old. It’s ironic to see the same kind of gatekeeping happening and artists still unable to live off of releasing music, which is a problem bigger than them. The huge labels still have a big hand in what's brought to the forefront. Ultimately, it’s amazing having most of the world’s music available whenever, but I see them as tools to discover and do research. Once I find people I like, I’ll try to support them on other platforms too, especially if they’re not on a major label.

Since I imagine you didn’t picture a global pandemic preventing you from performing these new songs on stage when you started writing them, how have you been coping with not being able to see how an audience responds to your latest music?
I honestly can’t fully express how much I’m missing live shows and crowds. Between music and acting, I’ve been performing since I was about 11, and I’ve never had a year where I’ve done just one show. I’m finding comfort in the fact that when I’m making music, I think of making the experience a full one even if you’re sitting in a room by yourself. So I’m hoping people will create their own space with the music. I’m also holding on to these [songs] for the future when we’re allowed to literally rub elbows again at clubs and such. People always do this very soft exhale whenever I start my set that lets me know they’re letting go at least for a bit and we’re connecting, and I really can’t wait to experience that again with new sounds. So, I guess I’m coping by acknowledging the present, but living in the future.

We all have had to develop our own coping mechanisms to deal with the current COVID-19 reality. What have you done to get by for these last several months? I figure music is something you’ve had a chance to work on even more now than usual, but do you also have things outside music that you focus on?
Ironically, these last few months have been very busy just at home. Between finishing my BFA, making the EP, and even stuff like the Sapporo Duos project I did, I’ve spent most of the quarantine just letting my Aries moon boss me around and constantly working. I do work out at home, love a good show or movie, and got a Switch Lite a while ago, and that’s been a very cool escape. I love weed, which needs to be said. I’m getting back to reading for fun now that I’m not in school anymore, and I want to read up on some subjects I’ve been circling for a while, like abolition. Honestly though, music has always been my main hobby and it could be argued I should separate more aspects of my life, but my love for it and just making it never wavers. That shit is fun for me.

Lastly, what have you got planned for the NOVEMBER project as we get ever closer to 2021? In our first interview together, you said that by the time you’re sitting down to make a record, “everything is ready to just be vomited out of my fucking head.” Do you feel you’re anywhere near that stage at the moment, or are you taking a break from the creative process to enjoy the release of your new EP?
I wanted to shoot some videos for the EP, but that’s mostly touch and go as government alerts change. I do have more music, including another track with Frasco, but I want to let this EP just be for a while. I do want to start at least loosely thinking of an album at some point next year, but that won’t be for another minute and won’t happen until a lot of factors are different. I don’t think I’m ever fully on break from that process because I’ll be making mental notes for melodies and lyrics and stuff at the weirdest times. I will for sure take a moment to really enjoy the songs just finally existing and seeing what people think, but I have too much to say right now to take another two years between releases.

Bedroom Eyes is out now (Blood Moon Records). 

Alex Viger-Collins is the host of Ashes to Ashes, your home for modern pop in all its forms, every Tuesday at 8:00 PM EST.