When Nuance released the single Vivre dans la nuit (Living by Night) in 1984, its lyrics reached the entirety of the labour force: security guards wandering through empty office towers at night, bartenders having shared one shot too many with their customers before closing, female dancers having to oblige faceless customers in booths, taxi drivers frequently having to clean up a mess left by drunken passengers on the back seat. All people who don’t typically inspire poets.
Sandra Dorion (vocals), Denis Lalonde (guitar), Mario Dubé (keyboard), Daniel King (drums) and Mario Laniel (bass) became the voice of those who were experiencing the same things they were going through themselves. Frequently confined to the stages of the then highly popular “super clubs,” the Nuance musicians performed gigs that lasted from 8:30 PM to 2:30 AM, playing set after set in smoke-filled rooms such as Québec City’s Dagobert club and other venues—because people were still allowed to smoke indoors at the time.
Sandra Dorion, the soul of the band, remembered “the smoke was so thick you were swallowing it. On tour, I would stop by a drug store in each town the same way I would go to an emergency room. Sometimes I would lose my voice for three or four days. It was crazy. They used to put me on antibiotics, they prepared remedies for my sore throat. I have a whisky voice today because nodules developed over time. I teach, but I can’t sing any longer.”
Selling 88,000 copies in the middle of a tough period for Francophone music in La Belle Province, the single Vivre dans la nuit helped the Gatineau, QC, musicians remain on the Billboard chart for 52 weeks. Not bad for a song written under pressure. “In 1983,” Sandra recalled, “we quickly went into the studio because our song Amour sans romance (Love Without Romance) had been a chart success. Soon afterwards, we were asked to write another hit.”
The Vivre dans la nuit LP came out later in 1984. While the public loved the songs and would sing along when the band was performing onstage, intellectuals sharply ridiculed the language being used by the five lyricists from the Ottawa region. That seemed to come with the territory. Sandra Dorion, who is now a primary school teacher, still cringes when she remembers the harsh criticisms that came from Nathalie Petrowski and other columnists. “The quality of our French was severely condemned. Personally, I am basically an English speaker. I am from Aylmer, and I used to teach English. They asked me to sing and write in French in a band that was basically Francophone. [. . .] Obviously, some of our lyrics were a bit awkward. I agree with that today, I recognize it.” Awkward or not, their lyrics truly resonate. Their performances are deeply felt, lively, and memorable.
Instead of dwelling on malicious comments, Nuance members take pride in their two Juno nominations and their three ADISQ awards for Best New Artist in 1986, and then Best-selling Single and Francophone Group of the Year in 1987. Approached by no other than Luc Plamondon for a part in the Starmania rock opera, Sandra, being a real trooper, turned down the offer and went back to work. Along with the two Marios, Denis and Daniel, Sandra released the 1988 Journal in time album, a final effort that would bring the musical careers to a close for everyone in the group. Well, almost everyone.
Mario Dubé remained in show business as a tour manager for a variety of musical groups. As for Sandra, she allowed herself to come back to music briefly in 2011 with the release of the Sandra telle quelle album before leaving her life as an artist behind her for good. Mario Laniel is now working for the government as a computer expert. Denis Lalonde has become an insurance agent, and Daniel King has opened a daycare centre. None of them are living by night any longer. The Nuance members are all working for a living, and they all have normal jobs.