Conversation with Erich Létourneau
Discussing the production of Viva Elvis
01 - There is Viva ELVIS-the album and the Cirque du Soleil Viva ELVIS production in Las Vegas.
     Is the album the soundtrack to the show or are there differences?
The album is the soundtrack of the Viva Elvis show with many variations. This show is a 90 minute tribute to the life and music of Elvis Presley.
As the Musical Director and Arranger of the show, I revamped about 35 Elvis songs.

As for the album, there are 12 cuts for a total of 45 minutes. I was asked by Cirque du Soleil to contemporize the Elvis repertoire and bring it into 2010. In
fact, the idea was to re-create the music as if Elvis were recording the songs for the first time in 2010.

During the process, Cirque, CKX and Sony were excited enough by the music to start talking about making an album with my new arrangements. That being
said, there are a lot of differences between the album and the show. For starters, you have to know that arranging songs for a live show and producing an
album are 2 different things. Funny thing about this project is that I'd worked on the live arrangements before producing the album. Usually it is the other
way around! The main difference between the Viva Elvis show and the album is an esthetic one. I was able to bring many more historic sounds and samples
from the Elvis world on the album.

For instance, I've kept some guitar parts for the guitar players of the show to play live, instead of using samples of Elvis' band playing that very part. On the
album, my goal was to use as much historical moments as possible - having Scotty Moore's guitar instead of a new guitar track. So the esthetics on the
album are more diverse and precise than in the live version.

In the live situation you have generally more energy but on an album you have more precision, more nuances, and better, cleaner sound. What makes it
really interesting is having the tools to push the envelope by clashing and mixing sounds of different styles and different periods to get a cool mixture. On
an album, you can easily hear the difference between a drum feel of DJ Fontana coming from 1956 and a drum track recorded in 2010. This what makes it
interesting.

02 - Before working on this project, did you listen to Elvis' music and think of ways to re-imagine it?
Not really. I listened to Elvis mostly before I was 10 years old ... My parents are hardcore fans. Elvis music was always playing around the house or at my
uncle's place, where the 1968 comeback was playing in a loop. {?} Somehow I feel that my "detachment" to his music combine with an unconscious
knowledge of what kind of artist he was helped me a great deal in my "mission"!

03 - You mentioned that the idea was to re-create the music as if Elvis were recording the song for the first time now.
     Was there a general style or vibe you centered on?
Elvis Presley was a real music lover and was open to a lot of different genres of music. His taste in music was very eclectic. As is mine. My goal was to bring
all his roots into the picture instead of concentrating only on rockabilly for instance. Elvis was a lot of different things. But one thing is for sure; He was the
King of Rock and Roll. And the album embodies that rock attitude. My focus was more on an attitude than a style. The dangerous Elvis from the early years
or the rock & roll, charming and dangerous one in the black leather suit from the '68 comeback were my inspirations.

04 - Can you tell me about the cataloguing work that you did before starting work?
To be truly respectful of the artist that Elvis Presley was - a man that devoted his life to music - it was essential to get familiar with all of his work. It was
imperative for me to have access to about all that exists on the subject (thanks to the collectors around the globe!) so I could understand and recognize all
the nuances of the repertoire. I went through 914 albums (studio releases, live recordings, 33 feature films and many unreleased home recordings), a
grand total of 3000 hours of work.

During my listening sessions, I was always looking for something special; firstly in Elvis' vocal but also in instrumental samples or original parts (a laugh, a
chord, a sound etc...). I really got a chance to get to know Elvis; not only his music, but also his intensity in concert, his sense of humor, and his
perfectionism in the studio. But most of all I got to distinguish Elvis' different incarnations. He reinvented himself several times during his career (Sun
Studios and Hayride period, the RCA VICTOR period, the 1968 Comeback and early Vegas). Needless to say that it was a gigantic task, but also a very fun
and educative one.

05 - What lead to the song selection? Were there tunes you really wanted to include on the album?
As far as the song selection goes, Elvis has a tiny catalogue of only 837 songs!!! So I was very limited! @#$%?&*#! And with quantity ... comes quality.
Elvis always worked with the best songwriters of his time. Leiber -Stoller, Pomus-Schuman and Otis Blackwell are only a few of the best songwriters of that
period. There are so many classics that we could certainly do 10 albums of new arrangements.

So the idea was to have an album that represents the arc of the show. I had a Pop-Rock album in mind, with a strong rock feel. Elvis is the King of Rock and
Roll after all! I've made my choices according to this parameter. There is still the eclectic side to it, but I think the album is coherent and fluid. As a result it is
a very dynamic album! You'll probably be drained after listening to it!!!

06 - What were the first steps in the process? Did you start with the voice, a guitar line, the beat?
For technical reasons I had to define the tempo first. Then each song called for a different approach. I've used different techniques; sometimes I would sit at
the piano, sometimes I would start with a mash-up or a break-beat, and then refine it as the inspiration came. In desperate times, even prayers were
considered!!! Some songs were re-interpreted philosophically and harmonically, some only played with a different attitude.

07a - What are some examples of adding more musical material into a song?
New chord changes, beats, counterpoints... I brought a new chord progression into “That's Alright’s” verses that gives a vibrant mood to the lyrics. There
are new changes in the chorus also. I've created the intro which comes back in the bridge to support the famous ''Dee Dee Dee's”. I've put new drums in to
have an alternative rock feel. I've added a new bass -- very dirty -- and new fat guitars to muscle up the rhythm section.

But I kept in some nice stuff from Scotty Moore when it was possible. “Love Me Tender” gets folky with a new chord progression. With the new chording in
the chorus and the strings section, the song now has a cinematic twist to it. “King Creole” gets a dance-hall beat. And the list goes on ... In some cases
arrangement flirts with composition. I've created either new beats, new chord changes and/or new instrumental segments for each and every song. It was a
bit like using the Technicolor technique that was used to "contemporize" existing black & white movies. I've painted some new colors (music) over Elvis'
original recordings, some of them dating back to 66 years ago.

07b - There are many interesting samples used on Viva Elvis can you share some of them with us?
One of the coolest samples I used is in “Can't Help Falling in Love”. The intro contains a sample from an old gospel song that Elvis liked a lot called "Known
Only To Him". In fact I've used different stuff coming from different eras and it blends nicely together. The voices that we hear are the Jordanaires singing
some superb heavenly background vocals. I had to transpose the sample to match the key. This sample is coming from an outtake in which, after a bad
start, everybody was clearing their throats. It makes you feel like you are there with them in the very same room at this very moment.

So it is raw... I like the idea of having historical moments on the track, even if it sounds a bit dirty. To me, it brings more life into the song. I think it is a true
homage to Elvis to incorporate what he really liked -- in that case Gospel music -- and to incorporate regular moments of his life -- like when he was
jamming or singing songs that he liked with his friends, at home or backstage. Because I sampled everything Elvis did, the stuff was always hanging in my
head. So when I was jamming with my guitar, these hooks would rise up to the surface, very naturally. It was never forced.

For instance, that sample of Elvis singing "Love Survive" towards the end of “Can't Help Falling In Love" comes from “Suspicious Mind’s” original bridge.
One of the things that came to me so naturally and that I am very proud of is the ending of “Can't Help Falling In Love”. I was always jamming at the piano in
a soulful way and one day I began to insert the ending of “Love Me” (this great song from Leiber and Stoller). So I had the idea of using the very end of
“Love Me” (Oh Yeah sample) and the end of “Can't Help Falling In Love” became gospel. To me it is kind of a blend between Mahalia and Coldplay. And I
used Elvis ad-libbing some charming and moving "Please Love Me"'s. You can really picture him in front of a gospel choir singing this.

08 - What are some examples of musical material in the original that you think are essential and could never be changed?
For me the centerpiece of this project is Elvis' voice. I think what really resonates in people first and foremost upon listening to Elvis, is his voice. The heart,
the soul and the essence of his music comes alive through his voice. The atomic powered singer had a unique tone, very rich and soulful, and a melodic
energy through which emanated his mood, his energy and his coolness. Since the voice is the driving musical factor, the one thing I tried to keep intact was
the melodic line of each song. I could modify and change a chord structure and try to create a new vibe with it, as long as the melody stayed more or less
unchanged. I think in that way I was able to refine, or maybe intensify, some of the emotional contents of each song.

09 - Did you end up realizing at any point that you had changed the original song too much?
I never felt that way throughout the whole process. Maybe that's because we share the same musical influences. At the end some may think I have changed
too much, some may even say I have not changed things enough ... It is only a matter of opinion.

10 - Elvis' voice is always recognizable, but is it possible to alter everything else to the point of brand new?
Yes, without question. His music used many musical genres of his era that are the foundation of today's music. So it is possible, I believe, to show this
evolution while keeping the ''Elvis-ness'' untouched. I think that a lot of the vocal tracks recorded by The Memphis Flash are still valid today. With the right
producing he can sound timeless or definitely modern.

11 - Were you stumped by a song at any point? Something that made it difficult to re-work it?
As I mentioned before, the heart of the project was Elvis' voice, but it was also the most complicated aspect to deal with. I've made the artistic choice of
going with the strongest historic moments of Elvis' career, most of them coming from the 50's. Even if I had access to better sounding tracks coming from
the mid-70's, I preferred the vibe and the general esthetic grain of the early stuff. You need to understand that when Elvis was recording back then, the
whole band, along with Elvis, would be in the same room tracking at the same time.

The king was doing this to preserve the intensity of a live show in the recordings. But it also meant that all of the band's instruments would bleed into Elvis'
microphone, making all audio tracks of his voice very dirty. Also, fact is that some of these sessions date from 60 years ago and more, and were mono
recordings. So my biggest challenge was to find and isolate Elvis' voice in these recordings by editing, EQing and be very creative to hide the undesired
bleeding instruments.

12 - Were there moments in songs - or the project as a whole - when you said, "oh, this is too iconic to change"?
I think that to respect Elvis and the influence he had as a pioneer in the music industry, one has to think like Elvis to pay him tribute; to be a rebel, to push
boundaries as he once did. So in that way I tried to respect the songs while trying to push them somewhere different. But I have preserved what I believe is
the flux of every song; his voice.

13 - Tell us about “Suspicious Minds” and how the song came together.
First off, “Suspicious Minds” is one of the most iconic Elvis songs! The first thing that came clear to me was the tempo; I wanted to stay as close as possible
to the original studio version of the song instead of the many live versions I came across.
After that, I sat down at the piano and began, very naturally, to change a chord here and there while humming the melody. The intro then became a bit
gospelish and very introspective.

The first thing that really hit me when I listened to Elvis' master vocal track is the fact that he sounded like he was about to cry. It was very poignant. To me,
that was his real forte; he was living and breathing each word he was singing. As usual, my goal was to respect the melodic line of the song, but at the same
time I wanted to bring a more modern color to it. It also became clear to me that the song would have to build, like a crescendo, from beginning to end. The
original studio version of the song had a beat that was very Motown, but also very similar to an Indie rock feel.

So I've decided to use that simple but strong beat to build the core of the song. In the end, the biggest modification is the bridge; it does not drop down to a
slow tempo. I've rearranged “Suspicious Minds” on the piano to have that introspective feel only the piano can bring. I was picturing Elvis sitting at the piano
by himself, on a very early morning at Graceland ... What I am most proud of is the subtle balance between a touching heartfelt vibe mixed with this very raw
and very hard rock feel. It rocks as it touches you.

14 - Tell us about “Love Me Tender”, who is Elvis's duet partner?
“Love Me Tender's” female voice is Dea Norberg. She is part of the Viva Elvis show in Vegas. What I liked about having a female voice on “Love Me
Tender” is that it allowed me to change the sensibility of the song, and create a more modern melody line.

15 - Do you feel that this music will build a bridge to a younger generation?
I really hope so.
Elvis deserves it.
Elvis is not really known, or even understood by younger generations other than as an iconic symbol... But he was much more than that!
He was a rebel, a controversial figure that re-shaped the musical landscape of his generation.
I hope the Elvis fans will appreciate and be happy with my efforts to make Elvis's music accessible and mainstream for today's music lovers, while at the
same time making the older generations re-discover him in a different light.
Like Elvis said, ''Music changes every 6 months ... you gotta change with it.''

16 - How does being part of the history of one of the world’s best loved icons make you feel?
I feel absolutely privileged. Can you only imagine how having access to the master recordings of Elvis Presley feels like?
It is like having access to the Holy Grail of rock' n roll!

To deal everyday with the man responsible with rock n roll's emergence in mainstream America has helped me deepen my understanding of the political
and cultural climate in that era of U.S history. Also, I must admit that I've been truly blessed on this project, because the project managers in this adventure
gave me the most precious thing in the world for an artist: freedom to create!

17 - What song are you most proud of and why?
I'm proud of every song for different reasons. But generally, I am very proud of the fact that this album really represents the love of Elvis for every kind of
music.

18 - In a general way, what are you most proud of and why?
I am proud of having approached this project in a very respectful, almost reverential, way. I have listened to every recording Elvis ever made. It was natural
to do so... it was a privilege to do so.

I've put a lot of heart into this, a lot of energy too... In the same way I believe, Elvis would have approached his music. My goal was to touch people and
surprise them with a new vibe, a new way of looking at him. Like looking at the same picture for years, and all of a sudden getting a different angle of it...
Another side of the story... Another side of the person you thought you knew. I hope I achieved this; paying tribute to the past by the present.
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