The songs on Alex Cuba’s new album, the aptly-titled Sublime, were created in both the warmth of Mexico and the chill of northern B.C., where he lives. On a recent promotional trip to Toronto, the JUNO, Latin Grammy, and SOCAN Award-winning singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist explains that “the inspiration for this album began on one of my writing trips down to Mexico.

“I’ve been finding good audiences down there, and I also have a publishing contract with Universal,” says Cuba. “The A&R for Universal Music Publishing Mexico do a great job in putting me with some amazing talent. I started writing songs there, and finding incredible inspiration. A few of the songs from that trip, about 18 months ago, ended up on the album.”

Further writing took place at Cuba’s home in Smithers, B.C. “There, I would go into my garage/studio, until 3:00 a.m., in the cold,” he says. “The studio has a gas furnace, but it’s sometimes too noisy, so I put on a small electric heater. It is still very cold, though!

“I do love that moment of creation, with just myself and the guitar. I was a musician for a long time before I became a singer and songwriter, and Thank God I’m fortunate enough when I write a song to immediately hear the arrangement. Then I go right to the studio and record it. I call that the moment of truth. That is something I pay a lot of attention to, so the music doesn’t come out over-produced or over-arranged.”

The resulting material on Sublime is warm and personal, a mood Cuba was determined to capture. “I knew from early on, when I started to craft my demos, that this album had something different in it. I wanted it to be more intimate, naked, and more vulnerable,” he says.

“I do love that moment of creation, with just myself and the guitar.”

To achieve that, Cuba decided to both self-produce (alongside acclaimed engineer/mixer John “Beetle” Bailey) and play every instrument on the record. “I had the way I wanted it to sound so clear, I felt it would be best this way,” he explains. “You can have amazing musicians, but in communicating what you want, sometimes things get lost. Some instruments I recorded [myself playing] for the first time in my life, like congas, but John made it so comfortable for me.”

The music on Sublime is fully  DIY, but the album does have a strong collaborative component. Four of the songs are co-writes, and Cuba recruited some notable Latin artists as guest vocalists on six tracks, including emerging star Silvana Estrada, Pablo Milanés (a founder of the Nueva Trova sound), and Cuban legend Omara Portuondo, of Buena Vista Socal Club fame.

Lessons Learned: Three Songwriting Tips
“I think it’s important, when you’re writing with other people, to be prepared to see things from their point of view. Be very open to what they have to say, and embrace the vibe of the moment.”
* “Don’t be afraid to create something unique with the chord progressions to your songs, because that will make it sound different. I always feel proud if I’ve written a song with cool chord changes happening. A lot of music we hear today has all the same chords. No need for that!”
* “I always try to store melodies in my phone. If I get to a songwriting session, and the co-writer and I haven’t come up with anything new in the first half-hour, then I bring them out. Sometimes we find chemistry with another person quicker than others, and doing that sparks the chemistry, so go in armed!”

“I’m so proud to have sung with one of my heroes,” says Cuba of Portuondo. “She’s 89, and almost had more energy than me in the studio!”

Sublime is Cuba’s seventh solo album, and he’s proud of the fact he’s never made the same album twice. Earlier records have drawn upon rock, funk, pop, and Latin styles, making the Cuban-raised, Canadian-based artist impossible to pin down stylistically. “It took a lot of courage to get to this point,” he says of the new release. “I’m coming out with a somewhat quiet and very melodic album. That may not fit this climate of music, but it’s exactly what I wanted to do, and perhaps it is something that sets me apart.

“I want people to feel the honesty in what I do, and to know I do music because I love it, not from any desire to be rich and famous… I’ve never seen myself as an urban Latin music artist. For me, it’s about staying loyal and truthful to who you are.”

He’s pleased, however, to see that sound break big internationally, especially in the wake of the global smash-hit juggernaut of “Despacito.” “I never thought I’d listen to Latin music while having coffee at Tim Hortons in Canada,” Cuba laughs. Then adds, more seriously, “The game has changed, and this is our moment!”

According to Wikipedia, Apophis is a near-earth asteroid approximately 340 metres in diameter. It’s on a near-earth orbit that sees it cross our planet twice in each of its revolutions. It also happens to be the title of the most recent Choses Sauvages single, which is 3:41 long in the radio-edited version, but nine minutes long on the album, for their fans. Paroles & Musique met the band at 180g, a record shop and restaurant in Montréal, a year after the release of their first, eponymous album, to talk and share a plate of bacon and potatoes.

PHOTO For the guys in Choses Sauvages, the crux of the past year has been live shows. “We solidified things and took them further,” says Félix Bélisle, the singer and bassist. “We know our strength is the stage.” Tommy Bélisle (keyboards, vocals) agrees: the band is at its best when it’s band playing for a crowd. “The songs had been written for awhile when we started touring,” he says. “We wanted to go elsewhere, to explore and adapt our show.”

So the band has spent the past year on the road, alongside Foreign Diplomats and Half Moon Run – the latter, a band whose notoriety took the boys away from their usual crowd. “There were a couple of times when we played for nothing but white-haired people,” Tommy explains. “We played shows in 100% seated venues,” which led the band to explore the malleability of their material. Nothing is set in stone in the music of Choses Sauvages; it’s a jigsaw puzzle that’s constantly re-inventing its pieces.

After their debut recording, the band quickly started thinking about their sophomore album, because of the new electronic direction the band was exploring – and thoroughly enjoying. “Everything is different onstage,” says Marc-Antoine Barbier (guitar, vocals). “The next album will be closer to the way we actually play. It won’t be as slick. We really liked Manu’s [Emmanuel Éthier’s] production, but our dance-punk-party attitude is what we’re into right now.” “We’re really exploring the whole kraut electro thing right now,” adds Félix.

With that exploratory mindset facing the future, Choses Sauvages will go into full experimentation mode during Coup de cœur francophone, a week after winning or losing their first Félix Award at the ADISQ gala, where they’re nominated for Album of the Year – Alternative. Their “rewerk” show on Nov. 8, 2019, at Club Soda will see them de-compartmentalize genres, and stylistically stretch themselves as far as they’ll go. “We’re re-visiting the album with a more electronic approach,” says Marc-Antoine. “Some of the songs will likely make it on the next album. There’s less drums and more drum machines and we don’t want to stop to say, ‘Hello Montréal.’ It’s going to be 90 minutes of non-stop music.”

With their new sound, the band feels as if they’re killing two birds with one stone: there’s an audience for everything, and there’s an audience for what makes them happy. “We make music for ourselves, but we also there’s a hunger for this sound,” says Thierry Malépart (keyboards, vocals). “A lot of stuff was going on when our first album came out,” adds Félix adds. “Hubert [Lenoir] and Les Louanges were just starting to make it. We weren’t really hearing what we wanted to in the Québec music scene.”

Maladie d’amour [by Jimmy Hunt, 2013] was our point of reference, but we weren’t exactly there either,” says Tommy. “Québec has had its folk, its rap. Now it’s happy to have something else.” “Did people ask for that? Maybe,” says Thierry. “We knew that was where we were going.”

The band is very autonomous on this trip to the heart of the music scene, and the guys love being up to their eyeballs in their own product. Which is why their record label is a perfect match for them. “Audiogram truly gives us free rein,” says Philippe Gauthier Boudreau (drums, voice). “They jumped in when the album was completely done.”

One might conclude that their unfruitful attempts at music competitions was a good thing, in the end. Their DYI attitude shooed away all the bad news. “Francouvertes didn’t want anything to do with us,” Félix remembers with a smile. “Nobody wanted anything to do with us,” says Philippe. “That meant that once we got into the real game, we’d already self-produced our shows with no supervision. We only had Marie-Clarys [their manager] on our side.”

The band’s next album should be out in the fall of 2020, and it should feature the fruits of those endless nights of infinite jams played in apartments around Montréal, for a handful of friends who know how to party. “Drum machines are a big plus,” says Marc-Antoine. “It’s going to make a difference.” “We’re also going to allow ourselves to step out of the ‘song’ formula and make tracks that are six minutes long,” says Tommy.

The boys will hibernate together and figure out each of the band’s next tracks before setting out to conquer Europe. “And make new friends for life, too,” chuckles Félix. You read that right: friends. For life.

Mallory Johnson has always known what she wanted; it was just a matter of when she would achieve it. When asked if there was a moment where she realized she wanted to become a musician, the Newfoundland native can’t place a pinpoint on her timeline. “I don’t think there was ever a moment where I didn’t know,” she says confidently. “It’s just always been a sure thing.”

Having grown up around a musical family (“it’s hard to find an aunt, uncle, or cousin who doesn’t play an instrument”), Johnson absorbed the music of Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn in her household. By 11, she’d co-written her first song with her family band, The Cormiers,.

And her resumé only grew from there: she was the youngest person ever to perform the national anthem at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, she toured around the world with The Cormiers, and was crowned the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) Spotlight Performance winner in 2017.

As with many other country artists and songwriters, Johnson knew what her goal was: to move to Nashville and work alongside the genre’s biggest names. After a brief move to Toronto, Johnson relocated to the U.S. “Nashville is a bigger pond,” she says, comparing her new base to her Canadian East Coast home. “The writers are there, the publishing houses are there, the labels are there. It’s not a matter of if the right person hears you, it’s more a matter of when.”

And the opportunities did come. She’s opened shows for Rascal Flatts, Blake Shelton, Carolyn Dawn Johnson. Last year, she released her debut, eponymous EP, which was packed with rollicking guitar solos, heartfelt storytelling, and catchy melodies – all supporting Johnson’s voice, a controlled, fierce, and empathetic instrument at the heart of each track.

With more new music on its way this fall, Johnson has proven that the right people she alluded to have heard her music in Nashville. Now, the rest of the world can, too.