AliochaHe popped onto the scene, last fall, with his first EP: an engaging calling card, but one that could have used a few finishing touches. I got the same impression when I saw Aliocha onstage during M for Montréal last November. He was a mix of likeable ingenuousness and genuine enjoyment, yet the project still felt a little wet behind the ears.

Now, Aliocha is on the verge of releasing his first full-length album; in a very short time, his music has matured, his ideas have gelled, and his songs now seem sewn with a common thread. It’s a real pleasure to listen, again and again, to the heavily Dylan-influenced folk offerings – especially “Flash in the Pan” – on Eleven Songs.

Aliocha has just returned from Europe, where he was warmly welcomed. On top of his recording contract with Audiogram, the young Montréal-based, France-born songwriter has also signed with the PIAS label in France, and is still buzzing from his performance at The Great Escape, in Brighton, U.K.

“We’ve come a long way in the past year, I’ve gained a lot of experience since my first show in March of 2016,” says Aliocha. “Right from the get-go, I opened 15 shows for Charlotte Cardin. At first, I acted very mysterious, but now my approach is simpler and more natural, my songs have evolved from one concert to the next.”

But to really move people, Aliocha – whose acting career involves feature roles in movies such as Le Journal d’Aurélie Laflamme 1 and 2, Bon Cop, Bad Cop, Ville-Marie, and, on TV, in Feux and Les jeunes loups – had to shed his acting reflexes. “At first, I was trying to deliver a performance, I was too in control,” he says. “I learned to let go and make room for the music, and the unforeseen. I unveiled myself to the audience, but also to myself, because I had no idea how I’d react.”

“I was approached, and offers were made to me, by a lot of people. Everybody seemed to know which way to go better than I did.”

Music was part of Aliocha’s life very early on. He remembers family road trips with Cat Stevens and Neil Young as the soundtrack. Around the age of 10, he signed up for singing lessons, wanting to follow in the footsteps of his big brother. A few years later, he picked up the guitar. “I would play by myself, in my room, and for a few friends,” he says. Until one day when he met Jean Leloup in a café. Leloup took Aliocha under his wing, and invited him to jam with The Last Assassins. “One thing Jean taught me is the importance of having musicians so that your project can come to fruition,” says Aliocha. Their jam session turned into a recording session for eight demos, that allowed him to sign a record label contract. That’s one generous Leloup!

Another crucial encounter was the one with producer Samy Osta (La Femme, Feu ! Chatterton), with whom Aliocha shares many musical references: The Band, Beck, John Lennon. “I was approached, and offers were made to me, by a lot of people,” says Aliocha. “Everybody seemed to know which way to go better than I did. Then Samy came into my life, took some time to visit in Montréal to get to know me. We talked for a long time before deciding to go ahead. We didn’t know exactly where we wanted to go at first, but we quickly discovered we shared a love of the same flagship albums. Then we worked as a two-person team in studios in Paris and Gothenburg, Sweden.”

They recorded on tape, with vintage guitars, to achieve the modern yet old-time sound that, at its best, yields little gems like “Sarah.”

Aliocha’s third lucky star is the brightest and the one to whom the album is dedicated: Vadim, his big brother, who passed away tragically in a car accident. “He’s the one that introduced me to music,” says Aliocha. “I lost my brother Vadim in 2003, when I was 10, and that’s what drove me to sing. My first songs – “Milky Way,” “As Good As You” – are disguised as love songs, but in truth, they’re for him.

I just can’t believe that you care for me
You know I want to be moved
By the music that has moved you
Talking about your sunny soul,
You know I’ll never be
As good as you…
Everyone, look at the sun

– “As Good As You”

Nowadays, the musical adventure is being written before our eyes, alongside his other brother Volodia, who drums in his band, and younger brother Vassili, a budding photographer – all three of whom share the same characteristic curly blonde locks.

Eleven Songs is released June 2, 2017.  Aliocha will perform at the 2017 Montréal International Jazz Fest on June 29 and 30 at Metropolis’ Savoy Room.