Going to Chernobyl to take heed of the devastation. Visiting Auschwitz to remember. Exploring the site of a plane crash. Setting down one’s folding chair near the Gaza Strip to watch the bombings…

“Dark tourism” is booming around the globe, as a strange way to assuage our voyeuristic side and face death as a way to reassure ourselves that we, at least, are still alive. This phenomenon piqued Antoine Corriveau’s curiosity so much that it became the creative spark for the creation of his third album, the aptly titled Cette chose qui cognait au creux de sa poitrine sans vouloir s’arrêter (“The thing that beat incessantly deep inside his chest”).

“I heard about this type of tourism while reading a story by filmmaker Denis Côté in the Nouveau Projet magazine,” says Corriveau. “I was totally fascinated. Not in the sense that I wanted to visit various disaster sites, but it just made me want to reflect on this morbid attraction of humankind.”

Corriveau researched the subject. He visited the past and imagined the future. “I wrote what I imagined visiting those places could elicit inside people,” he says. “Then I wrote from the victims’ perspectives. How does a pilot feel 30 seconds before crashing? Then I imagined the future. With everything we see in the media – disasters, genocides – we can already predict what places in the world will become [dark] tourist attractions 30 years from now. That’s quite worrisome.”

“There is death itself, but there’s also the death of a relationship, or of a period in your life.”

“Croix blanche” (“White Cross”), one the first songs Corriveau wrote for the album, is about such a pilgrimage, in the footsteps of the Grim Reaper. And, just as on all the other songs on this album, one feels a personal touch, a kind of intimacy that created between the artist and the listener. Dark tourism left its influence, but there’s something more. There is a sense of daily nocturnal life, through which the narrator celebrates his existence. “‘Croix blanche’ refers to those crosses that are often erected on the site of a deadly accident as a memento,” says Corriveau. “But the more I wrote, the more I realized I needed to transcend the theme and make it mine. I didn’t want to end up sounding like all that I read on the internet. I needed it to come from me. As if I wanted to transpose these tragedies onto a more personal level. There is death itself, but there’s also the death of a relationship, or of a period of your life.”

Corriveau won the 2015 Prix de la Chanson SOCAN for his song “Le nouveau vocabulaire” and he makes no bones about it: the two years that went by during the gestation of Cette chose qui cognait au creux de sa poitrine sans vouloir s’arrêter were marked by a separation, his own personal train wreck, that he re-visited over and over. “When you end up on your own, you don’t owe anyone anything anymore,” he says. “I wanted to rub shoulders with the unknown, the same way one would visit Chernobyl. I pushed the boundaries back. I toyed with that fine line beyond which one loses any kind of stability. I was alone with myself. I was trying all kinds of stuff. I met new people. I found out how far I was willing to go, and also where I didn’t want to go. The euphoric effect of discovery acted as a counterweight to the darkness and imagery of death.”

Needless to say, this new album isn’t exactly mellow music. With his gravely voice and solemn delivery, Corriveau remains true to his subject matter. With the help of his core musicians (Marianne Houle on keyboards, Stéphane Bergeron on drums, and Nicolas Grou on guitars and production), he gave birth to ethereal, refined compositions, augmented by string and brass arrangements.

“It does sound big with those orchestrations, yet the songs are much simpler than on the previous album [Les Ombres longues, 2014],” he says. “I wanted to be able to play the album live with a limited number of musicians. On tour, Marianne plays a synth, and even without the brass and strings, the songs don’t end up de-natured. This album was written much more with the stage in mind,” he says, and it’s a place where Corriveau will spend a considerable amount of time in the coming months. A place where, once more, he’ll connect with the members of the audience, one by one, shooting a musical arrow straight through their hearts.

Matt HolubowskiWhen we reach him on the phone, Matt Holubowski is in his favourite place in the world: the tour van. He might not be very far from Montréal (tonight’s concert is in Sorel, about an hour by car northeast of the city), but hitting the road, even for just a few kilometres, makes him feel at ease. He’s always loved to travel and visited several continents – sometimes as a humanitarian volunteer – and is only now starting to realize that his trade as a musician could take him to places he’s never even thought of before. “My God! If you only knew…” he says. “That’s my ultimate dream. For now, I’m focusing on concerts in Québec, so we rarely leave for more than a few days at a time, but I’d love to be on the road for weeks, or even months.”

One can easily imagine that Holubowski’s music could travel around the globe. His ethereal folk rock has often been compared to that of Patrick Watson, and has a universal and timeless quality. It surely can’t hurt that folksingers are quite popular of late, to wit the fact that Bob Dylan recently won the Nobel Prize in Literature. “It’s funny, we were just listening to Dylan’s Desire in the van,” says Holubowski. “I’d be lying if I said he hasn’t been a major influence! To me, he’s right up there on a pedestal, a role model for any aspiring songwriter.”

As a matter of fact, it was by singing a Dylan song that Holubowski most impressed everyone when he was a contestant on La Voix in 2015. Mind you, he didn’t pick an obvious song, such as “Like a Rolling Stone” or “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” but the lesser-known ballad “Girl from the North Country.” “It’s funny you should mention that,” he says. “Initially, the one I really wanted to sing was “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” but it’s a hard song, and it’s almost seven minutes long. That’s when someone suggested “Girl from the North Country,” which is better known because Johnny Cash covered it. They told me it would connect with the audience more.”

Nowadays, this type of issue doesn’t bother Holubowski anymore. When he recorded his album Solitudes, the people at Audiogram gave him carte blanche, never trying to make him more “radio-friendly” or commercially accessible. “I have nothing against light pop music, but to me, a song must have a certain depth,” he says. “You don’t have to be Baudelaire, but you can surely do better than ‘Baby, baby’… It might be Dylan’s influence, since we’re on the topic, but to me, lyrics are vital; that’s always what I notice first in any music.”

If there’s a thread in the songs on Solitudes, it’s the theme of identity. The identity of the artist who questions the concept of notoriety – notably on “L’imposteur,” one of two French songs on the album – and the identity of a young Québécois, whose father was a Polish immigrant and whose mother was a Francophone Québécoise, and who grew up almost exclusively in English in the town of Hudson. The album’s title is a reference to Hugh MacLennan’s novel Two Solitudes, a book that was a mainstay on his nightstand for a long time. Holubowski even evokes a third solitude: his, the solitude of bilingual Québecois who are sitting between two chairs. “It might sound strange, but it was while I was abroad that I started thinking about our identity here,” says Holubowski. “Especially during a trip to Serbia where, let’s be honest, the question of national identity is quite heavier than it is here!”

Yet identity is a fluid concept. Even though he readily admits he didn’t know much about Francophone Québécois music up until very recently, he’s actually catching up in an almost bulimic fashion. “My first contact with music was Eminem, and I do think it has influenced my writing,” says Holubowski. “I think my French isn’t that good, but I’m getting to love that language through the lyrics of artists such as Richard Desjardins, whose writing just blow me away. I also listen to a lot of Martin Léon – that man is a genius at arrangements – and also Safia Nolin, Philippe Brach, Antoine Corriveau…”

Might we expect to hear more French songs on his future albums? Possibly, but for the time being, Matt hopes his songs will travel, no matter in what language he’s singing. And based on the positive reaction to his music, especially in English-speaking Canada, there’s very little chance that he’ll actually be doomed to a life of solitude.

Kevin Churko wears many musical hats, and has worn them to hit-making effect. The multi-instrumentalist/producer/engineer/songwriter first broke through via his work in the hard rock genre, with major acts Ozzy Osbourne and Disturbed – the kind of stuff that’s won him four JUNO Awards and two Grammy nominations, so far. Churko’s best known as a producer and engineer for talents as diverse as Five Finger Death Punch and Shania Twain.

Truth is, his first love was writing songs with brother Cory. Saskatchewan-born Kevin left school after Grade Nine to tour Canada in the family band Churko, which mostly played country music. It was also the situation in which he became interested in the recording process, becoming the band’s equipment guy, which eventually lead to his emergence as a top-flight producer.

“At this point in my career, the songwriting thing is somewhat of a full circle,” says Churko. “I’m doing a number of country music projects, including Canadian act [and SOCAN member] Cory Marquardt, who’s just signed a worldwide recording deal with our parent company, Advanced Alternative Media.

“I feel songwriters fall into two main camps: those who write from passion and those who are commercial writers. If you’re writing from passion, you write whatever you want. I rarely write something close to my own heart. I’m writing for the people I’m working with. I write with other voices in mind. Be it male or female, aggressive or passive, my job is to write something that makes them feel passionate. It’s a situation where I’m really there to serve them, and that dictates the writing.

“With Cory, the songs are very personal to him. Pretty much every song, Cory starts and then [my son] Kane and I come in and work to capitalize on what he has, trying to make every section as good as it can possibly be. Almost all the songs on the album are co-writes by the three of us.

“I’m a very goal-oriented producer and writer. We’re currently working with a rapper and the responsibilities are very distinct. He comes up with the verses and we contribute the choruses, and make sure it’s hooky.”

Churko made his mark producing and engineering, and allows that his involvement with songwriting for major acts was a gradual, almost organic process.

“I’m not one to push myself into a situation,” he explains. “When a project comes to me, if the songs are solid as they are, and they don’t need anything from me, I wouldn’t get in the way. I respect those songs but I’m ready to help in any capacity I can. At the end of the day, the projects where I contributed to the writing were the most successful ones I’ve had.

“I tailor a song to the client. Be it metal, rock, country, or what, a good song is a good song.”

Kevin Churko“I tailor a song to the client. Be it metal, rock, country, or what, a good song is a good song. I’ll just say, ‘This song could use a better chorus. Let’s see what we can do.’ So I do this and that and see if they like it. Sometime I do more, sometimes I do less. It’s all in the service of getting the song at its best.”

And, he might add, at its most successful. Churko co-wrote all but one of the songs for, and produced, the Disturbed album Immortalized, which debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Top 200 album chart in 2015, and scaled the peaks of four other Billboard charts: U.S. Top Hard Rock Albums, U.S. Top Rock Albums, U.S. Top Alternative Albums, and Canadian Albums. The same year, he also produced and co-wrote the Got Your Six album for Five Finger Death Punch, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, and sold 114,000 physical copies within the first week of its release.

In the two-year period from December 2013 to January 2016, Churko co-wrote (and co-published, via his company Gumpofwump) no less than six songs that reached No. 1 on the Mediabase Active Rock charts in the U.S.: “Battle Born,” “Wrong Side of Heaven,” and “Wash It All Away” by Five Finger Death Punch; “The Vengeful One” and “The Light” by Disturbed; and “Face Everything and Rise” by Papa Roach. He recently moved his Las Vegas studio, The Hideout, to new digs, decorating them with his multiple SOCAN No. 1 Song Awards.

Churko’s burgeoning reputation as a maker of bespoke tunes has taken him to the stage where acts come to him for a specific type of song, and he’s only too happy to oblige.

“Artists will come in and say, ‘I need a song like one of your bands, so-and-so. Will you help me write that song?’” he says. “My son Kane and I work in collaboration lots of the time, and when we get one of those, we can start working it out ahead of time. It’s almost ‘skeletoned’ when the artist comes in for the fleshing out.

“Kane is a songster in his own right. He’s already co-written on some of the hits we’ve had, and has his own band, Modern Science – so he’s well along the songwriting road. I don’t show him the ropes, any more than he brings fresh stuff to me. He wrote a couple of hits off the last Papa Roach album by himself. I work with Kane not because he’s family, but because he’s the best I could find. He brings a new generation’s ideas and often he guides me along.”

In 2013 Kevin and Kane were jointly JUNO-nominated as Producer of the Year, for their work on In This Moment’s “Blood” and “Adrenalize,” and won the Recording Engineer of the Year honours for In This Moment’s “Blood” and Five Finger Death Punch’s “Coming Down.”

“Early in my career I was hired to write dance songs,” says Churko the elder. “It was a very educational experience, and it was interesting to put myself outside my comfort zone, away from my interests. I scoped out the genre and got down to writing songs that were good when stripped to the core. That project was where I proved to myself I could do this songwriting thing.”