Al Tuck was at a party in 2012 when a friend suggested he write a song about Stompin’ Tom Connors.  For Prince Edward Island native Tuck, who’d already written a tribute song for legendary PEI songwriter Gene MacLellan (Tuck was married for a time to his daughter, fellow singer-songwriter Catherine), the timing was right: his young daughter had recently discovered Connors’ music, and the two were enjoying listening to it together. “Sometimes it just takes a little encouragement,” says Tuck.

The song, “StompinTomConnors.com,” is the second track on his latest album, Fair Country, which also kicks off with a cover of Connors’ 1973 hit “To It and At It.” Because while Tuck may be known for his genre-straddling, this album, his ninth, plants him firmly in old-school country with a mix of originals, co-writes (a number of them with Alex Rettie) and covers, including “Fly Right on By” by Rita McNeil and “Always on My Mind,” made famous by Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson, among others.

“My other albums have had drastic mixtures of styles,” says Tuck, admitting that he wanted to do something that would be more accessible to a broader audience, who would know what to anticipate from start to finish. “And it seems to be going up the charts finally out there,” he laughs. “So maybe I was on to something?”

Tuck, who’s been performing across the country for more than two decades, first came to music singing in a boys’ choir. When he was 15, he picked up a guitar and taught himself to cover tunes by Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. “It took me a while to find my voice,” he says, describing early experiences trying to channel the blue”. “I realized I didn’t know how to present that, being a skinny white boy,” he says. “I found my voice by easing off the contrived style I was working off of, and trying to be more myself.”

It was in Halifax, where Tuck was based from the mid-1980s until he moved back to PEI in 2004 to be closer to family, that he first formed Al Tuck and No Action, a band with a rotating cast of musicians (in St. John’s, Tuck says, it’s referred to as “Al Tuck and No Filter”). He released his early albums through murderecords, the label formed by the members of Sloan, later earning gigs opening for bands like Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, among others.

“I didn’t know how it was going to go, exactly. But this is exactly what I always wanted to do.”

And yet, for many Canadians, Tuck still flies largely under the radar. “I live anonymously, largely,” he says, “but every now and then, there are moments of glory or gratification.” Among them must surely be the fact that he remains beloved among higher-profile singer-songwriters, many of whom cite him as one of the very best. For example, Broken Social Scene’s Jason Collett has dubbed Tuck “the greatest songwriter of his generation.” Feist calls him “a living legend in our midst.”

While he shies away from defining himself as a mentor, Tuck, who’s been nominated for an impressive array of awards – including a spot on the 2013 Polaris Music Prize long list – treasures what he calls his “eye for talent” and enjoys supporting artists as they find their feet. He counts himself lucky, for example, for having been among the first to hear Old Man Luedecke’s early songs. Nor has he ruled out the idea of moving into the role of producer down the road. “I suppose I’m open to it, if it was for the right person,” he says.

But Tuck admits that he hasn’t necessarily oriented his own career on getting ahead in the industry. “I’ve never been happy with the status quo, exactly, but I guess I haven’t had the kind of driving ambition you need to break out,” he admits. Even Fair Country, risked not getting the attention it deserved after Tuck, intrigued by an idea, released it in June 2015 as a red wooden match box featuring a download code. It was released again more recently on CD, and Tuck remains hopeful there will be a vinyl pressing. “I’m just grateful for giving it this second wind,” he says.

Miraculously for such a non-careerist as Tuck, Fair Country reached No. 1 on the Earshot National Folk/Roots/Blues Chart, thanks to the campaign work of award-winning promotions and publicity firm SpinCount, who also handle Joel Plaskett, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Amelia Curran and Donovan Woods.

For Tuck, the goal these days (beyond the playful fantasy of having a band that could double as a baseball team) is simple: to keep writing and to keep playing – though he admits that writing has taken a backseat in recent years, simply because of the backlog of songs he’s already amassed. “Every so often there’s an urge, you know, or an itch [to write], but it would have to really get under my skin for me to want to pursue it – but that’s how I can tell that it’s really going to have some value.”

No matter how his path may have meandered, Tuck says he’s never doubted his decision to pursue a life in music. “I didn’t know how it was going to go, exactly,” he says, “but this is exactly what I always wanted to do.”


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It is easy to understand why it took A Tribe Called Red two years to put together their upcoming third album We Are The Halluci Nation (to be released Sept. 16). The Ottawa-based trio of producer/DJs has earned international acclaim (and a JUNO Award) for their inventive blend of EDM and elements of First Nations music, and they’ve now taken things up another notch.

The group assembled a large and formidable cast of collaborators for the project, then wrote and recorded the tracks in locales around the globe. Group member Tim Hill (a.k.a. 2oolman) tells us that creative collaboration with outside musicians, vocalists and lyricists was the key to the project.

“We wanted to have a conceptual record. That was always the plan, and it began with us working with [Toronto singer/songwriter] Lido Pimienta,” says Hill. “Our first song was ‘The Light,’ and we did that about two years ago. It helped set the tone for the record, and that’s when we decided to turn it into a collaborative project. We sat and wrote things together with Lido and her band in the studio for two days.”

“We’ll always be an indigenous band and we’re happy with that. But we just wanted to grow and mature.” – Tim Hill (a.k.a. 2oolman) of A Tribe Called Red

Direct personal contact helped fuel many of the jointly-written compositions here, Hill explains. “Much of this project was about working together in the studio,” he says, “whereas a lot of the music on the earlier albums was created through sampling of a cappellas and tracks. Having the artists right there in the studio with us rather than having files sent to us, has been awesome.”

The list of collaborators on We Are The Halluci Nation is an impressive and stylistically diverse one. It includes Pimienta, Shad, Tanya Tagaq, Black Bear, Yasiin Bey (a.k.a. hip-hop icon Mos Def) and Narcy, Saul Williams, John Trudell, award-winning Canadian Indigenous author Joseph Boyden, and OKA.

One track that did involve online file-swapping was “Sila,” featuring fellow indigenous musical explorer Tanya Tagaq. “We had always wanted to work with her and she’d been a fan of our work,” recalls Hill. “We sent her beats and she recorded over them. When we got the files back we tried to work with those beats but it wasn’t quite fitting with the sound of the record. We went back to the drawing board and re-worked it. We made it a little darker, and we wanted the song to sound as if we were going back and forth with her. I think we accomplished that, and it’s one of our favourite songs on the record.”

A creative catalyst for the album was noted Native American poet, activist, and musician John Trudell. “We played a show in Santa Fe and John said some beautiful things about us before we got on stage,” says Hill. “That was crazy to us, we were huge fans of his. He suggested we should do something together. What he didn’t know was that we have a wish list of people we’d most like to work with, and he was on it! Here was a real life super-hero of ours wanting to work with us.”

Trudell went into a San Francisco studio to record a poem for use by the group. “He then e-mailed us and said ‘I threw in another poem for you,’” says Hill. “It was ‘We Are The Halluci Nation.’ When we heard it, we looked at each other and went, ‘This is the one.’ That poem helped make the ideas for this record a lot bigger.”

A Tribe Called Red later visited the ailing Trudell, but he passed away last December as the group toured Australia. “It was amazing that our hero could drop so much knowledge and wisdom on us,” praises Hill. “We’re happy we’re able to share his vision with the rest of the world.”

Hill describes the resulting album title as reflecting the record’s concept. “It’s basically about like-minded people that want change, and they band together as a nation, without any cultural affiliations. We want to take it back to human beings as one.”

Befitting that vision is the fact that the album was created on many different continents. “We did the first parts of ‘R.E.D.’ [the collaboration with Bey and Narcy] in a hotel room in France, we worked on songs in a fishing cottage in northern Norway, and did work in L.A., Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, San Francisco, NYC, and Australia,” recalls Hill.

“When we were in these other places, it wasn’t that we had an obligation to get the record done. It was just that we wanted to do the music because there was so much around us that was inspiring. When these inspirations hit, we pulled out the gear and started working. I’m hoping people will get a sense that this is world-shaped.”

The group’s extensive international travels have had a real impact, he observes. “We’ll always be an indigenous band and we’re happy with that,” says Hill. “But we just wanted to grow and mature. That has honestly come from touring and meeting all of these people from all over the world, and having our eyes opened to other indigenous peoples we’ve had a chance to be with.”


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Éric LapointeThe year is 1994, the city, Montréal. Picture Le Hasard, a now-long-gone pub during the afternoon and a disco at night, at the corner of Ontario and St-Hubert streets. An artist and a Canadian Press journalist are sitting in the empty pub, mid-afternoon, talking about the first album the singer-songwriter has just released.

This music journalist is listening to the young twentysomething talking about his songs and aspirations with a passion that’s a close second to the fervour with which he downs a pint. Things aren’t going well for him, though. The record has only sold a few hundred copies, his songs haven’t been picked up by radio stations, and music journalists from all of the major dailies in Montréal have declined the invitation for an interview with him, despite the best efforts of Gamma, his label at the time, and its representative, Patrice Duchesne.

Twenty-two years later, things have changed quite a bit. Éric Lapointe is now a major, A-list star. He’s sold more than a million records, and has lived the rock-star life like very few others on the Québec scene, regardless of the era. “N’importe quoi,” “Terre promise (poussé par le vent),” and “Marie-Stone,” three singles from his album Obsession (1994), will officially be consecrated as SOCAN Classics* at the Gala de la SOCAN on Sept. 12, 2016, at Montréal’s Métropolis.

Two decades after that first sit-down, the two men meet again to carry on with their 1994 conversation, but this time, with no filter, and solely to talk about the creation of those three songs.

“N’importe quoi”

“That record was my first production and it took a long time,” Lapointe remembers. “It took a year and a half… They were asking me to write ‘ballads for teens.’ Those were the exact words of [Gamma Records boss] Mr. [Jack] Lazare.

“I already knew Roger Tabra, by then. We met often… I was writing songs, but nothing appealed to the record label. I was about to give up. And it was right after I split with Marie-Stone. But we’ll get back to that.

“That’s when Tabra said, ‘We’ll write you a ballad.’ He said, ‘What do you want to sing about?’ and I said, ‘N’importe quoi’ (Anything). He said, ‘We’ve got a title!’ That was the first of many collaborations with him.”

“Terre promise (poussé par le vent) »

“I wrote ‘Terre promise’ when I was 16, when I left home to go West. I was homesick. Then I just left it in a drawer. When I entered the studio to record Obsession, many years later, I brought about two dozen songs of mine.

“Aldo Nova was producing the album, and he picked up only five of them. And on top of that, he told me to work on them some more… Crazy! I’d play my songs for him, and I wouldn’t even have time to make it to the chorus or bridge, and he’d say: ‘No, it’s not on point!’’

“That’s when I dug through my old stuff and pulled out ‘N’importe quoi.’ I sang it for him, and, again, before I made it to the chorus, he said: ‘Now that’s on point!’ Aldo had spotted the hook. It’s thanks to him that the song saw the light of day.

“It’s ironic. I wrote that when I was 16 and I’m now 46. It’s a very symbolic song for me. I can’t avoid playing it in my shows. But at some point, I didn’t sing ‘N’importe quoi’ for a good five years. And when I dusted it off, it had become a nostalgic song. I can’t do that with ‘Terre promise.’ Besides, it ages very well.”

Normal, isn’t it? On the 1994 original version, it begins with a discreet acoustic guitar. It’s timeless. It’s usually a token of longevity.

“If you can’t sing a song with just a guitar and a voice, or a piano and a voice, it’s simply not a song. After that, you can sing it any way you want, country, jazz or heavy metal.”

“Marie-Stone”

“Marie-Stone was in fact Marie-Pier. My girlfriend. And my first major heartbreak. When I was writing ‘N’importe quoi,’ I’d just moved from a three-bedroom flat in Outremont to a one-bedroom in Centre-Sud. I didn’t even have a mattress.

“Marie-Pier smoked weed, which is why I called her Marie-Stone. But she wasn’t a stripper, contrary to popular belief. She was doing her Master’s degree.”

But regardless of the song’s quality, you have to admit that in this case, the video (a stripper in a bar crowded with drunk guys) goes a long way to explain the song’s popularity.

“The video was directed by Alain DesRochers and Podz, who have both become renowned movie directors. We couldn’t miss. Everybody watched Musique Plus back then. Radio had turned down ‘Terre promise.’ It took CKOI a whole month before they decided to give it a try. Guy Brouillard [the station’s musical director] just didn’t want to have anything to do with it. But when Musique Plus put ‘Marie-Stone’ in double rotation, radio had no choice but to follow suit. Musique Plus had kick-started the machine.

“Was it an image issue? I don’t know. Man, they even turned me down at L’Empire des Futures Stars [a now-defunct talent contest sponsored by CKOI]. Yet the demos I’d submitted were for ‘Terre promise’ and ‘Marie-Stone.’ And four years later, I was presiding the jury for that same contest!” [laughs]

So what’s the difference between Éric Lapointe then and now, besides the obvious age factor?

“Well, that’s it. I’m older, I’m a father, and I’ve settled down. But I’m just as passionate as when I was a teen, especially when it’s time to go onstage. And I’m just as nervous now as I was then. It’s a good thing. Besides, it’s a privilege to touch people’s lives. and still sing to sold-out venues with a bottle of scotch nearby.”

* To earn the title of SOCAN Classic, a song must have recorded at least 25,000 radio plays since its launch, at least 20 years ago.

“Terre promise (poussé par le vent)” and “Marie-Stone”
Written by Éric Lapointe, Stéphane Campeau, Stéphane Tremblay, Adrien Claude Bance
Published by Avenue Éditorial, Les Éditions Gamma ltée., Les Éditions Clan d’Instinct inc.

“N’importe quoi”
Written by Éric Lapointe, Roger Tabra, Aldo Nova
Published by Éditions Bloc-Notes, Éditorial Avenue, Les Éditions Gamma ltée. , Les Éditions Clan d’Instinct inc.

 


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