From heartbroken rocker to film music producer and composer, this musician and businesswoman now feeds her passion for short-, medium- and feature-length films.

Anik Jean“Be a good boy, my love” are the words spoken by Anik Jean’s character to Nathan, her six-and-a-half-year old son, as she’s leaving for the evening with her husband (played by Jean-Nicolas Verrault), and before the little monster gives his stupid babysitter the hardest time of her life. That’s the set-up for Sois sage, the 12-minute short film she recently directed and presented at the Fantasia Festival as part of the Fantastiques Week-ends du cinéma québécois. The film was produced by her production company, Nathan Films, which she co-manages with Milaine Gamache. She is also partnering with her husband Patrick Huard in Jesse Films, a company that creates feature films and TV productions.

“I’m producing for TV and film, I’m going through a creative boom,” says Jean. “It’s mind-blowing. I’m playing ping-pong with my projects. And I want to prove to the film people that I’m not an imposter.”

Anik Jean became known thanks to Bon Cop Bad Cop 2. “Patrick wanted me,” she says. “’Find yourself a Plan B,’ I told him, but in his pigheadedness, I was the one. With 72 cues for an 85-minute film, it’s a big load. For instance, I had to use the score to get cars that were too slow to sound like they were moving faster. I added lots of percussion instruments to bring out the high-speed effect. Sometimes you need 12 seconds of music, sometimes you need 47. It all depends on the scene. In Bon Cop 2, you know there’s music, but you don’t hear it.

“I love being in the studio, the process is a blast,” she continues. “I enjoy the group work, among others, with the producer and the editor. The communication is non-stop. But the hardest thing is to take the plunge. For a film like Bon Cop Bad Cop 2, I worked with digital sound effects software that reproduced the sounds of explosions or revving engines, but for Sois sage, it’s me at the piano and Catherine Ledoux on violin. There are creepy moments that only two instruments are capable of portraying. I was in my element, because I love the horror genre, but it’s important to calibrate the music properly, otherwise it’s going to ruin the film.”

Sois sage is the third film that Jean has scored. In February of 2019, as an opener for Les Rendez-Vous Québec Cinéma, she presented La Porte, a 15-minute short film in which Huard plays the part of an agoraphobic painter. In 2016, her 62-minute Lost Soul, a musical film without dialogue, launched her filmography. The artist is now busy writing two feature films, including one with the horror maestro Patrick Sénécal as a screenwriting advisor, as well as the music of a well-known TV series which she’s not yet allowed to identify by name.

“Martin Léon helped me with Bon Cop 2,” she says. “Whenever I was freaking out, I’d call him, because I needed someone to reassure me. I was receiving edited film scenes as an inspiration, and after viewing them, I would sing melodies over the phone to him, and he would transcribe them into music scores. He added eight violins, four brass instruments on some parts, and working with him is awesome. Same thing with guitarist Guillaume Doiron, a childhood friend who has a full arsenal of pedals that he uses knowledgeably.”

Is she not, however, neglecting the singer-songwriter career that she launched in 2005 with her Jean Leloup-produced first album Le Trashy Saloon (winner of the JUNO Award for Francophone Album of the Year)? A career that was boosted by her performance opening a January 2006 Rolling Stones concert? Isn’t she turning her back on her Keith Richards- and Ronnie Wood-autographed Gibson Firebird, and her Ron Wood Signature Telecaster (she owns 19 guitars)? And on her Discovery of the Year ADISQ Award?

“I was sick and tired of doing an album, then a tour, then an album, then a tour,” says Jean. “But now, I’ve just started writing my next record. And you know what? I attended the release of Jean Leloup’s latest album in April, and I feel like making another album. I have a concept in my head of blending a ‘Best Of’ and collaborating with the singer-songwriters that have inspired me to make music. I’ve called, and they’ve accepted the invitation to join in the adventure. So together, we’ll co-write some new songs.”

“Let’s sing together” is an invitation that’s been extended for three years now in Atikamekw language by the Nikamotan MTL event. Being presented as part of the Présence autochtone (Montreal First Peoples) Festival, this new edition (dubbed “Nicto”, the Atikamekw word for “three”), remains faithful to its original mission of bridging cultures by promoting Indigenous artists from here and beyond.

NikamotanNikamotan MTL is the main showcase of Musique Nomade, an organization created in 2006 by filmmaker Manon Barbeau on the same model as her famous Wapikoni Mobile. That mobile studio endeavoured to bring filmmaking and visual creativity to remote communities, and Musique Nomade is doing the exactl same thing for music. Their mobile studio brings equipment and resources to Indigenous communities in oder to create professional-quality recordings, but it mostly contributes to the creation of an emerging Indigenous artist network.

“We have three main mandates,” says Artistic Director Joëlle Robillard, also the Artistic Director of the Nikamotan MTL show. “First and foremost, we’re working to promote emerging artists from indigenous communities. There’s also a preservation role, through the building up of a kind of digital memory, for the broad purpose of keeping alive a culture that has been transmitted orally from time immemorial. Finally, we do representation work in festivals, which is another way of promoting talent both locally and internationally.”

Networking is being done both at the provincial and country-wide level, and also internationally as part of large folk music gatherings being held all over the world. It was thanks to her presence at events such as WOMEX and the Folk Alliance International that Robillard met the members of the Finnish group Vildá, a female duo that proudly carries the cultural torch of the Samis, an Indigenous people from the Laponian area. Vildá will be performing at the 2019 Nikamotan MTL festival. “Setting up an event with so many different parts is always stressful, particularly since we’re bringing together artists who sometimes don’t know each other, but it can produce magical matches. Sometimes, the artists themselves impact our programming: when I contacted (2017 Polaris Music Award winner) Lido Pimienta and asked her who she’d like to work with, she immediately suggested Pierre Kwenders.” A meeting between Africa and Latin America at a festival dominated by our own Indigenous cultures – that’s a great example of the kind of eclecticism being promoted by Musique Nomade.

Thanks to her involvement in the organization, Robillard is in a good position to attest to the strength of what Wolastoqiyik Nation and 2018 Polaris Music Award winner Jeremy Dutcher famously called the “Indigenous Renaissance.” And while the abundance of talent has never been in doubt, Robillard also noted that the audience is increasingly eager to discover new artists. “Music and the arts are powerful cultural reclamation tools for indigenous peoples,” she says. “So many unique voices are emerging, but one must know how to listen. And I’m not talking about the audience only: the entire music industry, which has often excluded Indigenous artists, must de-construct itself and start from scratch on a more inclusive basis.”

Still, one must admit that things are changing for the better. As a sign of the times, ADISQ will be presenting their first-ever Best Indigenous Artist Award during its next gala ceremony, a move most welcomed by Robillard. “I think ADISQ did the right thing by contacting communities and organizations such as ours,” she says. “They also adapted their selection criteria to make it possible for indigenous artists compete.”

Throughout our conversation, Robillard repeats that she sincerely hopes this renewed interest for Indigenous First Nation, Métis, and Inuit artistic productions will amount to more than a passing fad. “When you see the talent being deployed in the various Indigenous communities, there’s reason for optimism,” she says. “The first step in our work is to bring walls down; but we must move further and build solid foundations upon which that culture can grow.”

August 9, 2019,
at Place des Festivals, Montréal

Three Nikamotan MTL festival performers to reckon withMatt Comeau

Matt ComeauMatt Comeau

“We discovered him while travelling through the Maritimes, and he’s one of the most luminous and engaging people there is,” says Joëlle Robillard. A member of the Mi’kmaq Nation, New Brunswick singer/guitarist Matt Comeau is featured on the All my People EP that was created during a workshop set up by Musique Nomade at the Metepenagiag Heritage Park in in 2017. “He has the warmest voice, and he’s an outstanding guitarist who writes blues-tinged pop songs,” says Robillard.
Soleil LaunièreSoleil Launiere
This Innu multi-disciplinary artist, originally from Mashteuiatsh, is, above, all “multi-talented,” according to Robillard. As the Indigenous artist-in-residence at Montréal’s National Theatre School, Soleil Launière works variously as an AUEN band member, an actor, and primarily as a performance artist. “Her movement performances are heavily influenced by the Innu culture and mythology,” says Robillard, “particularly through her evocation of the half-man-half-beast creatures depicted on our poster.”

Quantum TangleQuantum Tangle
Originally from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Quantum Tangle won the 2017 JUNO Award for Indigenous Music Album of the Year, for Shelter As We Go. “I had wanted to schedule them for a long time,” says Robillard, “because I love their fusion of tradition and modernity, and their really cinematic sound. They use throat singing, usually performed a cappella by two women, in a completely different context. We suggested that they prepare something with Lydia Képinski, and they immediately went for it.

On July 16, the Polaris Music Prize unveiled the 10 recordings on the 2019 Short List for the Canadian Album of the Year, the winner of which will be determined on Sept. 14, at the Polaris Music Prize Gala in Toronto. This year’s nominations included a big surprise: Le Mal, the FET.NAT quartet’s first full-length release, after six EPs spaced over the past decade. “This is something we hadn’t anticipated at all, and even being on the Long List was astounding to us,” says multi-instrumentalist Olivier Fairfield.

“In fact, we’ve never really operated with that objective in mind,” he continues. “We’ve now been releasing recordings and performing live for almost 10 years, we’ve got our own fan base, and everything is working fine. But it seems that since the release of our latest one, it’s… it’s as if the reality surrounding the way we do things had changed. All of a sudden, people are fascinated [with our work], and not just the fans and those who like this specific type of music. Everything has suddenly become larger, and that’s something we really hadn’t seen coming.”

The fact is that the Hull, Québec-based musicians have always produced their music primarily for themselves, and their own way, without trying to “fit the mould” – an expression that’s anathema to FET.NAT’s four do-it-yourself advocates: self-taught musicians Pierre-Luc Clément on guitars, Linsey Wellman on saxophone, lead singer/lyricist JFNO (Jean-François Nault), and Fairfield on drums, onstage synths, and studio production.

Describing their sound is a challenge, and that alone should be a good reason to listen to Le Mal as soon as you can. Imagine punk attitude and energy, set against intriguing sound collages, contrasting textures, while electronic rhythms belch out free jazz, thanks to the improvisational style that’s an integral part of the band’s approach. “Every time we set a concrete goal for ourselves, and agree that we should explore such-and-such esthetic, or musical direction, it’s a complete failure,” Olivier laughs, underlining the imprecision of their open-minded approach. “What ends up happening in the studio is that we pick up scraps of ideas, generally improbable, and follow them. And it ends up producing interesting results.

“So trying to delineate our style, or the kind of method we use, is a bit difficult,” says Olivier, who, besides his duties in FET.NAT, also works as a producer (for Medhi Cayenne Club, among others), and as an accompanist (for Leif Vollebeck). “What we can say, though, is that we’re open to everything, even to styles that make people laugh, and that’s the fun part of it. The very bad, strange, and zany ideas we come up with can become serious pretty quickly.” A regular feature of the Festival international de musique actuelle de Victoriaville and of the Suoni per il Popolo festival, FET.NAT produces blatantly free and experimental recordings that wouldn’t normally end up on the “best of the year” short list as, say, the latest Jessie Reyez album.

FET.NAT’s compositional work is powered by that same instinct, and that same will to go where the band has never gone before. Everybody pitches in, but JFNO deals primarily with lyrics, “although the others contribute also,” says Fairfield. “For instance, here’s one of the ways he writes lyrics: he opens a private Google Doc where he puts what he’s writing, so we can access it. I select some of these lyrics, and put them through a text-to-speech application that reads it aloud. I could then modify the flow velocity, the computer’s voice register, stuff like that. Bringing that tool into the creative process generates new ideas.” Some of the synthetic voices were kept on the album, or as JF re-performed the lyrics in the style of the vocal synthesis.

The band’s inclusion on the Polaris Short List has shaken FET.NAT to the core. From day one, the Ottawa-area musicians have identified with the Rock in Opposition movement of Fred Frith’s avant-garde/experimental and militant anti-capitalist British group Henry Cow. Rock in Opposition was created in the late 1970s to protest against the music industry, which was turning its nose up at their uncompromising music.

“Since the first days of FET.NAT, we’ve been doing things to please ourselves, but we’ve also been self-producing everything we do,” says Fairfield. “We’ve never applied for subsidies – we produce everything ourselves, from the recording sessions right up to the record pressings. Among others, this is one reason why we’re astounded to have been considered for the Polaris Music Prize. This said, our identification with Rock in Opposition doesn’t mean that we loathe everything that’s different from what we do ourselves. It’s simply that we’ve always insisted on doing things our own way. It’s part of the band’s nature, and above all, it’s part of the nature of the personality of each one of the band’s members… for better or for worse!

“The Polaris Prize therefore places us in a funny situation. In fact, it forces us to take a look at ourselves, and to ask, ‘What is it that we do, and what’s our place in the scheme of things? Are we still “Rock in Opposition”?’  We’re going through a minor identity crisis – but we’re still taking it lightly…”