He’s known for his unifying, luminous anthems, his love of poetry, and his references to Duras or Falardeau. Ever eclectic, Alex Nevsky ventures down new paths on Chemin sauvage (Wild Road).

We reached him at his cozy home, surrounded by apple trees, in the small town of Rougemont, about 45 minutes east of Montréal – where the Granby-born ex-Montréaler is readying the release of his new album. His move to the countryside has had an effect on his writing, because Nevsky’s prose has become even more flowery than when he started his career; his lyrics are now strewn with bucolic images, smelling of lilac and hydrangea. “I wrote ‘On dérobera’ during Gilles Vigneault’s writing workshop in January of 2018,” he says. “To be honest, the bulk of these new texts truly reflect the call of nature. I hadn’t moved here yet, but it’s what I wanted; I was projecting myself here.”

Without going as far as to say this is a break from what the singer-songwriter has released to this point, this new album – released on the Musicor imprint (he was previously signed with Audiogram) – clearly feels like the start of a new, distinct cycle. This new direction wasn’t, however, influenced by his new-found family life, with toddlers. He promised himself that would never have an impact on his music.

“I was really afraid of repeating myself, which is common on one’s fourth album, or when artists become parents,” says Nevsky. “I was really afraid of becoming the kind of artist that starts writing about their child… I’ve seen too many people I really like fall into that kind of creative pattern in their late thirties… It’s something I was really apprehensive about, so I surrounded myself with a bunch of people I find inspiring.”

Gabriel Gagnon (Milk & Bone) and Clément Leduc (Geoffroy, Hologramme) are among those people, and they co-produced Chemin sauvage alongside Nevsky. The talented singer-songwriter went from regular airplay on the charts of CISM (the Université de Montréal radio station) to the set of the immensely popular TV talent show La Voix (the Québec franchise of The Voice) in record time. “Loto,” a song he recorded with the prodigious rappers of Alaclair Ensemble is about the luck he feels he’s had so far, professionally.

He hooked up with the Lower Canadians, as the band call themselves, in “a match that wasn’t necessarily natural,” but that he’d wanted to undertake for a long time, and Eman penned the flow and lyrics of the first verse on the track. Then, on “Courir à deux,” there’s a sample from Boule Noire’s repertoire, and Nevsky reveals an unexpectedly soulful side of his singing. “That came at the very, very end,” he says. “That song was initially much more nervous because of its piano lines, and [it was played at] a much faster tempo. We’d done that one with Étienne Dupuis-Cloutier and Gab, but we ended up throwing it away. When we realized we needed more songs at the end of the summer, I wanted to give it a second chance.”

Going out of his comfort zone, in other words. That was his leitmotif. Now, for the first time since “I’m Sticking on You,” from his 2010 album, Nevsky revisits “Frenglish” in some of his choruses – his duets with Claudia Bouvette and Sophia Bel being prime examples. “After ‘De Lune à l’Aube,’ I felt it was too easy,” he says. “But at the same time, I also felt like it was admitting my defeat when it comes to the challenge I gave myself to make an effort to honour the French language more. Now, I don’t know, maybe it’s more of an era thing. I don’t want to make an English-language album, but one thing’s for sure; when a sentence comes to me naturally in English, I make a conscious effort to give it some breathing room and be less restrictive.”

Free of complexes about linguistic issues, and ready to ignore the naysayers, the musician closes this new album with “Tout,” which he calls “almost a parody of Alex Nevsky.” The song is very likely to make it on commercial radio charts, thanks to its “ooh, ooh, ooh” chorus. Says Nevsky: “I was like, OK, I know I could use words here, because people are going to say all I do are songs with fucking ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs,’ and that’s all I know how to write, yada yada… I needed to make a decision, and it was a very conscious choice. I decided to go for it… That hesitation comes from a lot of comments I’ve received since I became quite popular, and a ton of jokes about me. But you can’t avoid the road you’ve travelled having an influence on your creations.”

Four years after Sun Leads Me On, which opened the gates to Europe, Montréal-based quartet Half Moon Run is poised to release its third album – one that will become, whether the band likes it or not, a test. Will A Blemish in the Great Light be the vessel through which the title prophecy becomes true, namely, to break into the American market and headline an arena tour? After all, they only need one big radio hit… “That’s exactly what our label’s people tell us,” says HMR’s Devon Portielje.

“I hope it doesn’t sound too dry when I say it, but what we’re after is good songwriting,” continues Portielje, Half Moon Run’s main composer, singer, guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist. He adds, to flesh out his statement, “Does our songwriting evoke the right emotions? Is the listener quickly bored by what they’re hearing? It’s a very delicate balance between a song that’s just repetitive enough for people to remember, and a song no one will remember.”

And that’s why, he goes on, “we rehearse our songs tirelessly, play them live and endlessly re-record them before we release them on an album; we want to eliminate anything superfluous and focus on the more emotional sections… [I write] 95% of the songs, but I often ask Conner [Molander, multi-instrumentalist] to choose between two lines in a verse, and he has the last word. I write on guitar and piano; mainly on guitar, because I’m not as talented on piano. I’ll often transpose a guitar melody on the piano to see what effect it has on it, and how it sometimes provokes new chord ideas.” The ideal scenario occurs when Devon already has a verse or two, a chorus, a melody, and then the rest of the band grabs that proto-song and fleshes it out with arrangements and rhythms.

Half Moon Run is currently touring Europe, but the band has never actually stopped touring since the guys spent the whole summer testing new material on their audience. Half the songs on A Blemish in the Great Light, for which the recording was completed last spring, have been played live. “It’s a critical phase of an album’s creative process, and it was much easier before we became popular,” says Portielje. “We played the songs on our first album extensively before recording them. People had no expectations since they didn’t know us. That’s how we test our material: ‘Ah! this passage of that song doesn’t seem to move the audience.’”

“I realized that when they were played on the radio, our recordings lacked depth; they came across as too soft.” — Devon Portielje of Half Moon Run

“I’m discovering that I’ve become a lot more unbiased about our songs when we’re playing them live,” says Portelje. “It’s very different from playing them in a rehearsal space. We can feel the energy level go up or down while we’re playing. After each show, we take about 15 minutes analyzing it, and how the public reacted to our songs.” One could venture the band’s fans have an influence on Half Moon Run’s songwriting, “but we could never say it officially, because of copyright issues,” laughs Portielje.

On A Blemish in the Great Light, Half Moon Run has adopted a more dazzling lyrical approach. “I remember being in a store at some point,” says Portelje, “and the radio was playing softly in the background… Then I thought someone had turned it off, but it was one of our songs playing. I realized that when they were played on the radio, our recordings lacked depth; they came across as too soft.” “Oomph-up the production” was the mission that HMR gave to veteran producer Joe Chiccarelli, who’s worked with the likes of Broken Social Scene, Eleni Mandell, The Strokes, Mika, White Stripes, and many more.

References to classic pop-rock songwriting are plentiful on this third offering, with many a tip of the hat to The Beatles and James Taylor, to name but a few. “Issac [Symonds, multi-instrumentalist] listened to a lot of soft-rock from the ’70s, we love that style of music,” says Portelje. “It’s very studious songwriting; there are thousands of influences and micro-references on the album, so it becomes hard to say one is more important than the other.

“Take [the single] ‘Favorite Boy,’ for example; I really wanted it to sound like Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams.’ That drum sound! I found an old magazine article online, where the engineer who recorded ‘Dreams’ explained, and even provided a drawing of, how he set up and mic-ed the drum kit, and how he built plywood walls around it to give it a live sound. We tried and tried, but we couldn’t replicate that sound!”

SOCAN honoured Jennifer Mitchell and Jana Cleland of Red Brick Songs; Tenille Townes; and Matthew Angus and Kirty of Fast Romantics, with SOCAN No. 1 Song Awards for Townes’ “Somebody’s Daughter” and the band’s “Do No Wrong,” each of which topped the charts earlier this year.

“Somebody’s Daughter,” co-written by Townes, Larry Laird (GMR), and Barry Dean (BMI), and performed by Townes, topped the Nielsen BDS Country Chart on Jan. 28 2019. “Do No Wrong,” performed by fast Romantics, and co-written by band members Angus and Kirty, scaled the peak of the CBC Music Top 20 on Aug. 8, 2019. Both hits are co-published by Red Brick Songs.

SOCAN’s Rodney Murphy, Kathryn Hamilton, and Aidan D’Aoust presented the awards to the honourees during a luncheon at the La Carnita restaurant in mid-town Toronto, at noon on Nov. 4, 2019. Also in attendance were the other Fast Romantics members,

Kevin Black, Nick McKinlay, and Lisa Lorenz, as well as Brendan McCarney of Double Denim MGMT.

SOCAN congratulates all the co-writers, and co-publishers, on these great achievements!