Omnipresent hip-hop collective the Alaclair Ensemble released their fourth official album Les Frères ceuilleurs on Sept. 2, 2016, just a few months after the fun and bouncy album by Rednext Level, Maybe Watson and Robert Nelson’s side-project, and just a few weeks before KNLO’s highly anticipated first album, Long-Jeu. The Alaclair fountain clearly isn’t about to run dry of the suave grooves and captivating rhymes that we all love to consume in great quantities.

Leaning over a table on a sunny patio, Ogden Alaclair, a.k.a. Robert Nelson, enlightens us with a bit of Québec history to explain the new album title.

“Strictly speaking, it is a direct reference to the Frères chasseurs, a society founded by Robert Nelson,” and he doesn’t mean himself, but the real one, whose name he has adopted: A revolutionary patriot who declared the independence of Lower Canada in 1838, and who died in 1873 after returning to his medical practice following his militant (and military) political years.

Les Frères chasseurs? “The idea came from the Masonic lodges,” says the current Nelson. “They used hunting clubs in Québec and the American Northeast [as a disguise] to have meetings to plan the second patriot revolution, which ultimately failed.” Nelson was a Lower Canada guerilla whose goal was to get rid of the colonial power. “As for us, the hunters have become gatherers…”

“A voice, a beat, it’s still something special to us, and despite our apparent minimalist approach, it’s still a very rich way of making music.” — Robert Nelson of Alaclair Ensemble

“Our album title is true to our many references to Lower Canada,” adds KNLO, adding his own, more esoteric, explanation to it all, something that won’t surprise those who know him even a little: “There’s an underlying global concept: gather, bring bread home, put butter on the bread… Or better yet, gathering ideas from the ‘musicosphere.’ This notion becomes apparent, now that I listen to the finished album: keeping an open mind [while creating].”

The album was created as a tribe, in a cabin, under the direction of beat-maker Vlooper, who was the de facto producer, composer and musical director for Frères cueilleurs. “Of all our albums, it’s the one where one person really took control,” says Nelson. “He wanted to take on that responsibility and the idea was well received within the group.”

His productions are delectable, fresh, slightly experimental at the onset, and funkier towards the end of the album, notably on the over seven-minute closing jam, “DWUWWYL.” And it’s all interspersed with grooves that hark back to the classic New York jazz-funk sound of the ‘90s. Above all, though, the overall atmosphere of this effort isn’t as crazy as its predecessors: Les Frères cueilleurs is, almost surprisingly, the most reserved of the band’s albums, as if there was some desire to get back to their roots.

“Yes, but not a return to the roots of rap, a return to our roots,” Nelson explains. “As Alaclair, we’ve done a lot of things, we’ve explored a multitude of musical styles, and it was very liberating. But in the end, what we’ve been doing from the get-go is making beats and rapping over them. We really love making good ol’ rap. A voice, a beat, it’s still something special to us, and despite our apparent minimalist approach, it’s still a very rich way of making music, and there’s still room to be original and creative within that framework. It’s our way of celebrating rap as a medium, this thing we grew up with.”

Here’s another example of how these guys don’t do things like everyone else. Says KNLO: “I think these songs will simply tag onto to the couple of hundreds more in our repertoire, and that’s what we’ll perform on stage. Roughly.” Nelson adds: “It took us a long time to admit to ourselves that it’s not out of laziness that we never prepare set lists. As a matter of fact, when we do, it’s generally not a good show. So we just turn the V-shuffle on.”

The what? The V-shuffle, as in Vlooper shuffle. The album producer is also the DJ in charge of their concerts, a conductor who feels the atmosphere, takes the audience’s temperature, and decides what the next song will be. Each concert is absolutely unique. “We don’t even know what the next song will be,” says KNLO. “We have just a few seconds to recognize the song that’s just started and know what to do next. The idea being that each audience is different; you can’t give the same performance in an après-ski chalet in Sainte-Adèle and in Cap-aux-Meules. As a matter of fact, it’s in Cap-aux-Meules that we learned that lesson…”

“We traumatized a lot of people that night,” remembers Nelson. “We made some people very uncomfortable. That’s when we understood that we’re able to play like a boy-band as much as a punk band. It’s the audience that decides, to a certain extent. The best thing to do is still to start the show and see where it’ll go. And that’s Vlooper’s job!”

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Jaren Cerf is a Montréal-based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.

She’s also an author. And an actress. Oh, and a filmmaker. Don’t forget dancer. Add vocal coach to the list, as well. And, of course, she’s a mom to two young kids. That’s a big one.

Okay, let’s just say it boils down to two main roles: Mom and Multi-Disciplinary Artist. And in these, she is a true Wonder Woman: as in, one wonders how this woman manages to do all that.

“Learning how to live on less sleep has been a bit of a challenge, but it’s working,” she says with a laugh.

The former Jaren Voight grew up in Laramie, Wyoming, with music in the family. From a young age she performed at talent contests, singing country songs with her father and sister, even yodeling competitively. But Laramie was too small to contain her aspirations, so she followed her dreams to Los Angeles, attending classes at The Musicians Institute and eventually landing a gig as a personal assistant to a Hollywood actor, all the while working on her music.

It was at an L.A. party in 2005 that she met Montréal-based trance and electronic dance music (EDM) producer/DJ Matt Cerf. She had been dabbling in the genre, and he suggested they try working together. Her distinctive voice seemed a natural match for his productions, and before long their work had made her one of the genre’s biggest stars, and one of its most successful composers and lyricists. She and Mr. Cerf also proved to be a match, as they were later married.

Trance hits like “Man on the Run,” “You Never Said” and “Beggin’ You” won her thousands of followers around the globe. She topped the Billboard EDM/Trance charts and received numerous award nominations for her work with her husband and other collaborators, such as Shawn Mitiska and Dash Berlin. In 2008, her song “Unforgiveable” was picked up by renowned Dutch DJ Armin van Buuren, and became a gigantic dance hit.

“I feel like I was fortunate enough to fall into the dance music limelight,” Cerf says, “[but] there was no intention of me sticking around in there.”

In 2010, the boom-boom of big dance beats was joined by the pitter-patter of little feet as she and her husband welcomed their first child. The following year she moved to Montréal, her husband’s hometown, and in 2013 their second child was born.

But becoming a mom didn’t derail her music career one bit. Since re-locating to Montréal and becoming a Canadian citizen, she’s co-written songs for Canadian artists such as Andee, Lukay, Maiarah, Eva Avila and Michelle Treacy. In 2014, she co-wrote Andee’s “We Are Gold,” which became one of the theme songs for the Sochi Olympics.

Then in the summer of 2015, this newly-minted Canuck landed the most Canadian gig of all: A major role in the music production Oh Canada, What A Feeling! And not just any role – she would be performing as Sylvia Tyson, Joni Mitchell and Céline Dion! No problem, eh?

Sylvia Tyson was a joy to play. Céline took a bit more work. “The thing I learned about playing Céline Dion is to make sure you’re well rested,” she says with a laugh. “She’s a tough one.” But the biggest revelation was learning to be Joni.

“Learning to play her stuff, and to try to sing it, that was a total trip in and of itself,” she says. “That was really a challenge, but that was probably one of the most gratifying experiences ever. And she has just an incredible story, too. She’d be someone I’d love to interview for the book.”

Ah yes, the book. Performing in Oh Canada, What A Feeling! meant being away from her children for a month at a time, and it made Cerf start to wonder how other showbiz moms handle their career-family balance.

“I wish there was a rulebook on how to manage all of this,” she says. “I’d get frustrated not seeing my kids. They miss their mom. Obviously, if the production’s bigger you can afford to take your kids on the road with you, but what about the moms that can’t? So I started asking these questions. I want to know how do they get through this? How do they manage career, motherhood, celebrity, all of this stuff, and is there such thing as a balance?”

To answer those questions, she began interviewing mothers with show business careers, which turned into a book project titled Bravura: When Motherhood, Career and Celebrity Collide, for which she’s hoping to find a publisher. The roles of Mom and Artist each carry the gravitational pull of a planet – such that some women are torn to choose one world over the other. But Cerf seems to have found her orbit, and it’s one that encompasses both worlds, even if the ride is sometimes a little wobbly.

“It’s an emotional experience, because, obviously, when you don’t spend enough time with your kids, they pick up on this. They know when I’m feeling distracted,” she says. “And by the same token, if I am not fulfilling myself and my creative needs in my work life, that affects them as well. So it’s trying to find a balance in there.”

Her struggle to find that balance has led her to try to help other moms who are dealing with the same dilemma. “My larger calling in life for now is to try to encourage moms to stay in the business,” says Cerf. “To not totally give up on their creative dreams or desires. It’s not a very stable career to have sometimes when you’re raising children.”

Meanwhile, she’s also just released her sophomore “folk” album, 7 Year Itch, the title reflecting the number of years since her debut album, Fixin’ It Upright. The new album is co-produced by Sebastien Lefebvre of Montréal pop-punk band Simple Plan. Cerf calls 7 Year Itch the “premonition album” because its songs of relationship strife and life changes were written about a year before her split with her husband. (The two remain very good friends who co-parent, and still work on music together.)

“My larger calling in life for now is to try to encourage moms to stay in the business. It’s not a very stable career to have sometimes when you’re raising children.”

“As we were going through the separation process, I was listening to these songs all the time,” she says. “I realized at that point there was sort of a subconscious thing going on. It really helped me to get through that period of time, and also kind of find my footing and figure out who I am as a person and an artist, outside of being a mom.”

Cerf continues to follow her creative dreams. At the end of July, she had “the experience of a lifetime” filming her role in a feature film called Song of Granite, an Irish/Canadian biopic about traditional Irish singer Joe Heaney.

And while she works on the book, there are also more music projects on the schedule. She’s working on an acoustic album of her trance hits, and she’s also been “secretly” recording an album with Canadian/Czech duo Lesko Cerf (her ex-husband, Matt, and Czech producer Petr Lesko) that should be finished by the end of September.

But we’re still left wondering how this woman does it all. Turns out she draws inspiration from her Wyoming upbringing.

“It’s like crop rotation in a way,” says Cerf. “I’ll do the songwriting for a stretch, and then when I feel like that is exhausted, I have to rotate crops. So then I have to focus on production or maybe working on this book project. That’s why I have a lot of different things going on, but it’s all art and it’s all music-related, and it all has that common core of what I want to do and how I want to help people. That’s the goal.”

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“Had I known Avec pas d’casque would last more than 13 years, I’d have chosen a different band name…”

On the eve of the release of the band’s fourth full-length album, Effets spéciaux, Stéphane Lafleur reminisces about its beginnings and its evolution. But try as he might to disavow the band’s very name, the guitarist, singer and songwriter can’t change the fact that the expression “avec pas d’casque” has become part of Québec’s vernacular. Thanks to the success of 2012’s Astronomie, the band’s audience has exploded.

“Initially, this band was almost a farce, an accident,” explains the multi-talented artist, who’s also a movie director. “There was a lot more humour in my lyrics. I truly was not expecting this to last so long. Joël Vaudreuil [drums] and I would get on stage to scream our songs as the opening act for punk band La Descente du Coude. To me, humour was a form of protection, because if people in the crowd laugh or don’t like what they hear, you can always hide behind your joke. It was much harder to stand behind my more serious lyrics, because I knew that if people thought it was corny or sucked, I couldn’t hide from it. Luckily for us, the audience jumped right into our more serious stuff. It clicked.”

The opposite would have been quite surprising. Their stunningly beautiful imagery is carried by a refined minimalism, and Avec pas d’casque’s songs express a peaceful strength that’s both modest and disarmingly sincere. “I’ve never been a stories kinda guy,” says Lafleur. “Not in my songs and not in my films, which are renowned for their ambiance. That’s what I’m into. For this record, I wanted to simplify my lyrics even further, in order to make more room for the music. There are still a lot of metaphors in what I write, but I’m really proud to have eliminated the adverb ‘comme’ from the album’s lyrics. Sounds silly, but it was a really helpful exercise. So instead of writing ‘tes yeux sont comme des diamants’ (‘your eyes are like diamonds’), I now write ‘your eyes are diamonds.’ The image is much trippier that way. It almost becomes like a graphic novel, where you actually picture diamonds instead of eyes. The universe expands before you.”

“No matter what stirs your days and mind, seeking calm will always catch up with you.”

Despite the fact that its title is a nod to the world of cinema, Effets spéciaux [Special Effects] isn’t a flashy album. Aside from the increased presence of synths (courtesy of Mathieu Charbonneau), the sound hasn’t changed drastically. “I see the title as referring to personal relationships,” says Lafleur. “There are special effects that occur when people communicate, or when bodies touch. Just before kissing someone for the first time, something happens, there’s something in the air. That idea is the basis for the concept of the album’s cover and the video for “Derviches Tourneurs” (“Whirling Dervishes”). This kind of light trail that connects the characters’ faces.”

And even though Lafleur’s lyrics are cryptic, it still comes across quite clearly that those special effects had a beneficial effect on him. Astromonie’s success (Critic’s Choice Award at the 2012 ADISQ Gala), directing the movie Tu dors Nicole, and a tumultuous love life directed him through an exhausting emotional maelstrom. “This record is about seeking calm and peace,” he says. “The most recurring words in the lyrics are ‘lenteur’ and ‘lumière’ (‘slowness’ and ‘light’). No matter what stirs your days and mind, seeking calm will always catch up with you. Whirling dervishes are dancers that spin and spin until they’re in a trance. That’s how I felt. I felt like I constantly needed to be on the run. Having a ton of exciting projects is good, but it’s easy to forget that one needs to stop and take a step back every now and then, just to understand why we do what we do. I found peace again after meeting certain people. Some people are more reassuring than others.”

And so are certain albums…and Effets spéciaux is definitely one of those.

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