His first project for Lyric Street Records, it comes a full five years after his promising debut, and emerges from a period as fruitful as it was trying, as enriching as it was difficult.
"I matured so much between these albums," he says, describing a time in which he lost his record deal, went broke, lost two close family members, and witnessed a fatal accident. All of it went into his art.
"These arent songs pitched to me by publishers," he says. "I wrote them and theyre from personal experience. This CD is my life."
The process that led ultimately to Believin normally derails those whove been through it. Marcel hit the charts with his first single, "Country Rock Star," in 2002, and followed it with "Tennessee," a song that failed to chart but that lingers as an underground favorite. The subsequent loss of his deal shook him to the core.
"Everything goes through your head," he says. "What am I going to tell my parents? What am I going to do for money? Ive spent the last ten years trying to get this, and now its over."
He began talking to other label executives about the possibility of a new deal, but finally thought better of it.
"I decided to do it the way it probably would have been best to do in the first place," he says, "which is to write and write and write, until youve got some great songs and someone talks to you seriously about a record deal. So I went into songwriter mode again, but it wasnt like I was going out being a staff writer, writing stock country songs with someone every day. I was writing songs in my bedroom about what I was going through."
I had no money and I borrowed enough from my parents to keep the rent paid--and the rent was only $300 a month," he says.
But the hard work and patience paid off. Other artists were recording his songs--Josh Gracin went to #1 with "Nothin To Lose," and Rascal Flatts, LeAnn Rimes, and Big & Rich all cut songs. Through it all, he kept fans up to date with his blog and played select gigs.
"Mentally," he says, "it made me feel like, Im still doing this. Im still an artist. Im getting ready to get another record deal. Im not quitting."
Finally, Marty Williams, who produced Rascal Flatts first three records, called and said hed be interested in working with Marcel. Within a month, they were talking seriously to Lyric Street. When he was finally offered his deal, Marcel was overjoyed.
"I get goose bumps just talking about," he says. "It was such a great feeling. The first time was great and everything, but theres something about this time around. Its something I wanted to do and I wouldnt quit until I did it. Its just my personality. I guess its from all the hockey days, the coaching, making you think you can do anything. Youve just got to put your mind to it."
The can-do aspect of his personality that hockey nurtured has been with Marcel since he was 3. Born Marcel Francois Chagnon, he was descended from a physician who was part of the first French settlement in North Dakota and named for L.A. Kings hockey player Marcel Dionne. He grew up in Michigan, the son of parents who ran a professional photo lab. Both were big music fans, and early on he was exposed to pop and rock music ranging from Dan Fogelberg to AC/DC. In eighth grade he joined and then was fired from a band whose repertoire included Guns N Roses cover songs. Then came his skateboarding phase--"I remember the day I got 30 stitches in my butt," he says.
He was 16 when he heard Garth Brooks "Friends In Low Places."
"I know Id heard other country songs," he says, "but that was the first song that really made me go, Holy Moly, this is cool!" He dove into the genre, listening to all he could of George Strait, Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Clint Black, and Dwight Yoakam.
All the while, hed been playing hockey, practicing twice a day, honing his skills. After high school he began playing for semi-pro teams. He took a guitar with him when he joined a team in Anchorage and spent his free time singing songs by Brooks and Poison, among others. His buddies enjoyed his playing and singing and when he played a song hed written--his first--the reaction was even better. Chris McDaniel, a member of the country group Confederate Railroad heard him play and encouraged him as well.
Marcel was traded four times in one year, and one of the few constants in his life was the music he took with him to Dayton, Macon and Memphis. The girlfriend of one of his teammates heard him sing a song over the phone and was enthusiastic enough to record three of his songs and take them to friends in the music business.
"I called my parents up and said, Mom, Pa, Im going to L.A. Im going to be a singer."
They resisted, but it wasnt long before Marcel was on his way.
"My last game, a kid on my team got his four front teeth knocked out right in front of me. He picks them up like Chicklets, puts them in his hand and skates to the bench. I said, This is it. I am over this. So I went to L.A."
His first singing gig there involved rollerblading with a microphone and guitar during breaks in professional beach hockey games. He began waiting tables, writing and doing demos, and acting, doing commercials, including one as a double for hockey great Wayne Gretzky. He was playing clubs too, edging the country he loved with the rockers hed heard as a kid.
Four years into it, though, he was making precious little progress. He had seen "The Thing Called Love," a movie about the Nashville music scene, and wanted to play at the citys famous Bluebird Cafe. He lucked into a performing slot on an open mic night and Barbara Cloyd, the woman who ran the show, gave him a card and told him to call her. The next day she gave him the contacts that eventually led to his first record deal.
"I realized, Ive been in the wrong town for five years," he says simply.
After the first deal ended, he went through his toughest times. His aunt and his grandfather died, as did his much-loved, 13-year-old black lab Maggie. Then, while driving on a rural road in New Jersey, he and a friend witnessed a fatal car crash.
"Having this guy die in my arms, its been a hard pill to swallow," he says.
All of that became part of his music.
"The gift Ive been given is to be able to express how I feel through writing," he says, "because I cant talk for squat. Its how I am. Its funny."
His progress as a songwriter since the first record has been noteworthy.
"I didnt write anything solo on that first record," he says. "I didnt know I could, but I learned from the best. They taught me a lot and I took it all in and soaked it up and I guess I graduated from the last record because I listen to my first and second record and I notice a definite difference in the songs."
As for the recording process, he reports that the last records laid-back sessions with producer Byron Gallimore were replaced with a much tougher process.
"Marty is a maniac in how precise he is," says Marcel. "I would think I had it done on the third pass and 30 passes later I am still singing the same line. He is a perfectionist. It was like hockey training. You dont enjoy your training--you enjoy the game. But, Im thankful for what he was able to draw out of me and how good the record sounds."
In the resulting CDs 11 songs, breezy joy and clear-eyed sadness battle for ascension as the music weaves its way through life in all its tangles and contradictions. He wrote "Believin" when he was doing remodeling work for one of his co-writers, James Slater, with every word coming straight out of his struggle. "One Big Church," with its look at connection and forgiveness and its assertion that "Sometimes youve got to get lost to find yourself," takes a sweeping view of the human condition. "The Good Life" is another bittersweet overview of life, while "In God We Trust" tackles the large and small of day-to-day living. "More Careful Each Day" and "Goodbye" detail the complexities of romantic love, and "Glory" and "Baby Breathe" take haunting looks at the preciousness of life. The light side is brought home with "Lose Yourself," a rollicking look at romance, and "I Love This Song," the infectious first single. The latter was co-written with Jeffrey Steele, one of several world-class writers who collaborated with Marcel on songs for the project--others include Anthony Smith, Darrell Brown, Chris Wallin, and James T. Slater.
In addition to songwriting, he still makes time to pursue interests like video editing--he put together his current electronic press kit--and remodeling, this time for his own home. The latter helps keep him in shape, something important to a man who spent so long as an athlete. In fact, he still bears the aches and pains of his years in hockey.
"I pop an 800 milligram Motrin every day because of my shoulders and knees," he says, "and I wake up as tight as you can possibly imagine, cracking everywhere. But the music business has definitely beat me up more than hockey. Its a hard business."
As rocky as its been, though, he would not trade the journey or where its led him.
"I have been so fortunate for all the things that have come into my life," he says. "Dont get me wrong, Ive worked my butt off for it, but Im grateful for the friends and everything else God has given me. And Ive learned that if you want something, you can have it if you put your mind to it and do it. Anyone can."
And Marcel, at that point where labor and blessings come together, is living proof.