While Vancouver-based film, television and video game composer Adam Lastiwka is heavily influenced by contemporary electronic music, his compositions inevitably include a wide range of acoustic and electric instruments as well.

As for the appeal of digital sources, he says, “It’s utilizing technology in a way to create new, exciting sounds that people have never heard before, and a way of approaching music that’s not totally conventional… But I really enjoy and appreciate world music, and on my projects I’ve always made it a point to play as many instruments as I can. I have a room in my house with, probably, 40 different instruments from around the world. I play them to get ideas.”

Some of those instruments are rare, or even unique: Among them, a lutekulele (a lute/ukulele hybrid), various Togaman GuitarViols (boasting a range that takes in everything from Cello to Viol), and a ten-string South American charango made from the body of an armadillo that still has – naturally – the fur and ears on it.

 “You sit down, look at a project and, if you’re really listening to everything, it tells you what to do.”

“Stringed instruments come easily to me,” he says, citing the similarities between instruments from different cultures. “I don’t think I’ve come close to mastering any of them, but I can pick one up and think, ‘What are we working on today? Can something be inspired or derived from this?’”

The more sources he can draw on, the better he’s able to serve his clients and create a unique product with signature sounds and textures.

Like many a screen composer, Lastiwka didn’t start there.

Adam Lastiwka“I got into music pretty late,” he says. “It wasn’t until I was about 16.” Immediately, however, he made up for lost time; signing a three-record deal with an indie label, completing his debut record at age 17, and releasing it the next year.

For many people, being a solo artist, or being in a band, is what lights a fire under them to go after a career in music, but for Lastiwka the spark was scoring and soundtracks. “So instead of… trying to be a rock star, I started focusing on making music for licensing projects.” Consequently, Lastiwka’s first album was intended as a showcase for his compositions.

Roughly 10 years ago, after releasing three records, Lastiwka moved from his hometown of Lethbridge, Alberta to Vancouver. “I thought I could be a film composer just like that,” he says, laughing. But it wasn’t quite as seamless a transition as he envisioned, and Lastiwka soon found himself working “practical jobs” – and more or less quitting film composition for a time.

“It was the cusp of home recording,” Lastiwka says. “You had digital studio technology, but it was the first time you could record on your computer utilizing affordable technology. So what was great was, while I was simultaneously failing as a film and TV composer, I was working for music stores, setting up their digital recording departments, and got to see what was new, how to use it and what was coming down the pipe.”

Roughly a year after moving to B.C., after struggling and almost giving up, a track from Lastiwka’s first record was tapped for use in Ridley Scott’s movie Body of Lies. “At the time I was barely making rent, but that gave me a glimmer of hope that I could do this for a living,” says Lastiwka, “and that sustained me for a long time.”

He soon landed a gig assisting film composer Shawn Pierce (The Dead Zone, Recreating Eden) and, for several years, honed his chops and made numerous contacts in the industry. Since then, Lastiwka has contributed music to more than 500 episodes of TV series, multiple documentaries, as well as feature films and video games, including Batman Arkham City, various Discovery channel and CBC documentaries, reality shows, and features such as the aforementioned Body of Lies and Foreverland.

One of his most recent projects is providing music for Travelers, a sci-fi offering from Netflix and Showcase, on which he worked with Stargate producer/creator, Brad Wright. “What’s really exciting about Travelers is, because it’s this time travel concept, it allowed me to bring in and use all these unconventional instruments,” says Lastiwka.

Initially, he says, Travelers allowed him to draw from a very wide-open palette, sonically; but as the show progressed, he “weaned it down.”

Scoring for film versus television presents different challenges, says Lastiwka. “You sit down, look at a project and, if you’re really listening to everything, it tells you what to do,” he says. “With TV, it can span years, so you get closer to refining exactly what’s needed. It’s a very instinctive thing; first episodes are always a nightmare, but by the time you reach the end everything is very well established.”

Every production requires a different approach. “In the process, you’re watching and taking things apart technically and you develop an instinct and approach, but you need to play to the audience,” says Lastiwka. “When I’m working with a director or producer, I want to find a way to communicate with them, to find out how they communicate their emotional ideas, and how [best] to capture that.”


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Le Verre BouteilleOpened in 1996 and Licensed to Play by SOCAN from day one, bar and club Le Verre Bouteille, which can comfortably host about 80 people, has established itself as an institution for local music creators. For two decades, songwriters have headed to 2112 Mount-Royal East, assuraed that they’ll find a friendly place they can call home.

Originally opened in 1942 as Buffet de Lorimier, a restaurant, by Nathalie and Sylvie Rouleau’s grandfather, the sisters gave new life to the Plateau Mont-Royal establishment by re-christening it 20 years ago. Well-established musicians, like Daniel Boucher, Éric Goulet, Luc de Larochelière, Michel Rivard, Mountain Daisies, Damien Robitaille, Marc Déry and Vincent Vallières all saw in Verre Bouteille’s mission a kind of laboratory where one can explore, and try new songs, before an audience, while provoking unique and stimulating encounters.

“It’s all about understanding the artist’s reality,” said Nathalie Rouleau during the launch of the 20th anniversary program on Oct. 12, 2016. She was referring to the main reason that led Verre Bouteille to become licensed by SOCAN from its very beginnings. “We wanted to contribute. We never thought that the adventure would last so long, though!”

The owner’s best memories? “Monday nights with Luc de Larochelière in 2001,” she says, without skipping a beat. “He invited so many Québec artists, the likes of Roch Voisine, Laurence Jalbert and even the late, great Claude Léveillée. That was a huge hit. There’s also the Abbey Road nights that happen once or twice a year where The Ringos (Éric Goulet) and their friends play the entire Beatles classic album.”

“By being Licensed to Play by SOCAN, we wanted everything to be on the up-and-up. We want all the parts of the songwriting machine to work seamlessly.” – René Flageole, Verre Bouteille programmer.

René Flageole, himself a musician, started as a waiter before rapidly becoming Verre Bouteille’s programmer. “We’re 100% on the artists’ side,” he says, explaining the venue’s allegiance to SOCAN. “Yes, we manage a venue, but I’m very sensitive to the artists’ reality, so being a musician myself, I’m a bit between a rock and a hard place. We wanted to be Licensed to Play by SOCAN so that everything was on the up-and-up. We want all the parts of the songwriting machine to work seamlessly.”

The licence fees paid to SOCAN ensure a fairer split of copyrights, especially since covers are a common occurrence at Verre Bouteille. Arianne Ouellet and her colleague Carl Prévost, of duo Mountain Daisies, were also at the launch of the anniversary program. “In our context, we do a lot of covers,” says Ouellet. “Artists often feel like singing stuff other than their own material. They treat themselves by singing these covers, so it makes total sense that the rights holders [to the cover songs] are paid accordingly.”

Does she have a standout memory at Verre Bouteille? “We hosted a night dedicated to Michel Rivard (see main image), a regular at our Open Country nights,” says Ouellet. “He had a blast playing what he called his teachers’ music – Dylan, Neil Young, etc. – and followed up by playing country versions of his own songs. As a finale, we played our very own version of “Un trou dans les nuages” (“A Hole in the Clouds”). That version has stuck, since we now play it in the Sept Jours en mai show.”

“The stage is perfect; not too big, not too small,” says Carl Prévost. “To me, Verre Bouteille isn’t a bar, it’s a small venue. We’re on stage and in the crowd at the same time. People buy fewer records, so it’s important to us to play in venue that’s licensed by SOCAN, like Verre Bouteille is.”

Le Verre BouteilleWhen asked what Verre Bouteille means to him, Daniel Boucher doesn’t hesitate: “I can’t tell you everything (laughs). I’ve been coming here for 20 years. I played many shows here before Dix mille matins came out in 1999. We jammed with a lot of people, it quickly became the ‘Chanson Française’ spot in Montréal. It’s a place where you can try out songs. And with SOCAN, Verre Bouteille leads the way. There are more and more establishments that are Licensed to Play by SOCAN, but there are still too few, especially with the direction the music business is taking. If it’s no longer worth buying a record, we need to find alternatives. The world is evolving, technology is giving us access to everything, but it’s just as bad as it is good. While we wait to sit down with the Videotrons (Internet service providers) of the world, we still need to put food on the table.”

And drinks; Verre Bouteille has an enviable selection of Québec-brewed beers, the ideal companions to the newly-announced anniversary program, chock-full of surprises and exclusives. Pascale Picard will kick off the celebrations on Oct. 24 and 25, 2016, and mainstays such as Yann Perreau, Damien Robitaille, Daniel Boucher, Antoine Gratton, Jordan Officer and Marie-Pierre Arthur will also be featured. For the full program, visit verrebouteille.com.

 


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Here’s the latest in our series of stories on the creative meetings of songwriting duos. But rather than looking at a collaboration between two singer-songwriters, we met with one of our most brilliant and consistent songsters, Luc de Larochellière, and one of Québec’s most ingenious producers of late, Philippe Brault, who’ve recently worked together on the album Autre Monde.

Luc de Larochelière“My albums were sometimes like song collections. With this one, I wanted something more musical, more thematic. From that point, the production work was there to ensure there’s a common thread through it all,” says Luc de Larochellière during our interview, at the café around the corner from his place.

Autre Monde (Another World), his  eighth solo album, is a turning point in his career, while at the same time harkening back to Un toi dans ma tête, released seven years ago. The common thread here, if we look beyond the delicately crafted lyrics and graceful melodies, are the string arrangements on which his 12 new songs rest – hence the link with the soundscape of the magnificent Un toi dans ma tête.

As for the turning point, it’s named Philippe Brault – the prestigious producer renowned for being open-minded; being able to adapt his style to the musicians whose albums he fine-tunes (from Koriass to Philémon Cimon); and who came to the forefront of the scene thanks to his work with Pierre Lapointe. He caught up with us a little while later than de Larochellière, after dropping off a bass that Michel Robidoux had lent him.

Autre Monde is also de Larochellière’s first solo effort recorded without the help of his “big brother,” producer Marc Pérusse, who’s responsible for Serge Fiori’s comeback record, among other recent projects. One hopes that Pérusse didn’t take the news badly when de Larochellière’s told him he’d be looking elsewhere for the producer on this project. “I gave him a call and we had breakfast. I didn’t just tell him via text!” says de Larochellière.

“It had nothing to do with competence,” he quickly adds. “As a matter of fact, I personally think that my previous album, and the one with Andrea [Lindsay, C’est d’l’amour ou c’est comme, 2012] are my best. My decision was simply based on the fact that we’ve been working together for almost 30 years.

“When I started out,” says de Larochellière, “I wasn’t a very good guitar player, I was still green, and Marc was my mentor. He did all the arrangements, all the programming. There were a lot of machines involved on my first two albums. Then we explored working with session musicians on Los Angeles [1993], and especially Vu d’ici [2000]. We explored so many things, really. And precisely because I believe the last album we did was the best, I became convinced that it was time to look elsewhere and try something new.

“As a matter of fact, Marc told me, ‘You know, Luc, when you always work with the same methods, you always end up with the same result.’” Moreover, de Larochellière’s recent musical ventures, especially the Sept Jours en mai project, stimulated his desire to be in contact with new ideas and different influences.

So de Larochellière wrote up a list of producers he’d like to work with and contacted them. He already had ideas, certain musical colours and emotions in mind, but he didn’t share those initially. “It was kind of like a test,” he says. “Philippe came to my place and I played a few songs for him.” There were about 40, “but his favourites were also my favourites.” The producer picked two that were going to be recorded as a first demo: “D’état en état” and “Dis… tu te souviendras?,” recorded in simple guitar-and-voice form.

The first demo is very quiet, and was supplemented with electric piano, muted drums, strings, and a gorgeous melody played on the oboe. The second is more raging: electric guitar, funky drums, a rock song that keeps on growing right up to the bridge, which hangs from the strings of violins.

It sounds like classic de Larochellière, but with the elegance and intelligence of Brault’s orchestrations. The producer clearly listened to his “client” and never seemed to impose his own signature. “He called me a few days later to listen to his versions,” says de Larochellière. “I listened and I loved it. I immediately felt like he totally understood what my songs needed,” says the songwriter, at the very moment that his producer, Brault, enters the café where we sit.

“You really let me run free with your songs,” he tells de Larochellière. “That’s quite a vast creative expanse. After those two demos, Luc gave me 20 songs to work with for the album – quite a luxury when you produce an album, something that doesn’t happen often enough. Usually, artists give me, like, 14 songs, and keep a dozen in the end.” Separately, they established a list of their 12 favourite songs. “When we compared our lists,” Brault recalls, “10 out of the 12 Luc picked were also on my list.”

“Philippe chose songs that mattered to me, and that’s a good start,” de Larochellière, who only expressed his own ideas later. For the most part, they matched those of his producer: a sense of classicism (“almost like classical music, which I’d done on the previous record. But I also felt these songs needed a drumbeat”); and a more robust, rocking feel that serves the lyrics, which are less cutting and less cynical than those to which the eagle-eyed singer-songwriter has accustomed us.

“I try not to shoot blanks with my songs,” says de Larochellière. “I feel the atmosphere [in our society] is quite aggressive lately, so I didn’t want to throw oil on the fire. I also feel a sense of urgency: I’m a father again at 50, and my older daughter is 21, so I feel I have to offer more than simply, ‘Life sucks.’ I wanted something more open, hence the title, Autre Monde.”

Philippe BraultBrault totally picked up on that. Autre Monde is a record of rare elegance, yet very contemporary in its rhythms and guitar sounds, as well as in its dynamic and timeless lyrics. Says de Larochellière: “When we’d meet, I’d say stuff like: ‘This one needs to open up at this point, it needs to go big,’ and all kinds of details on the songs, and he would take notes…But it turned out he wasn’t taking many notes after all!”

Brault grins. “You weren’t very annoying!” he says. Their both agree that their collaboration happened organically. “It was quite easy,” says an almost surprised de Larochellière. Using the basic guitar-and-voice tracks, Brault crafted the songs to his liking in his Mile-Ex Masterkut Studio. All the string tracks were recorded in one afternoon; additional voice tracks were laid down in another afternoon. “I’d heard about Philippe’s knack for understanding the artist he’s working with,” says de Larochellière. “Even if we didn’t see each other that much throughout the process, he came up with the album I was looking for.”

“Luc’s composition work was perfectly respected, even more so than on other albums I’ve produced, because we started from the basic guitar-and-voice tracks and we built on them,” says Brault. “The song is there, at the core, in its simplest form… The heart of the album is his voice, even though the finished product is quite orchestrated.”


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