When Queer Eye for the Straight Guy came into our lives in 2003, it came with a fab theme song called All Things (Just Keep Getting Better). The dance pop track was written by Canadians Ian Nieman and Rachid Wehbi, who also record under the name WIDELIFE, and featured vocals by Toronto’s Simone Denny.

As the TV makeover show became a smash hit, so did All Things – scoring club and dance radio plays around the world and a JUNO Award for Dance Recording of the Year in 2005. It even got lampooned on South Park. In 2018, Netflix re-booted Queer Eye, giving Nieman and Wehbi’s track a second life.

We’ll just start at the beginning. What led the producers of Queer Eye to ask you to submit a theme song?
Ian: In 2002, Rachid and I produced a song called “I Don’t Want U,” which got picked up by Nervous Records in New York. That song went Number 1 on the Billboard club charts in the US. One of the people working at Scout Productions was a fan of our song and contacted us wanting to know if we’d be interested in submitting for this brand new show.

This person was a music supervisor?
Ian: He was actually a graphic artist at the company. My understanding is that he just took it upon himself to seek us out. We beat out more than 10 other submissions to get the gig.

How much direction did you get?
Rachid: They just told us the name and the theme of the show. Neither of us had done a TV show before. I remember clearly sitting down with Ian and discussing how we could put in our best shot. I know we wanted to write something with lyrics. We just thought about the idea of the show and came up with, “When you are around, all things, keep getting better.” Originally, we only wrote what people call the TV version, just the first verse and a chorus.

How did it become a radio single?
Rachid: There’s a radio station called KTU in New York, and I think what KTU and other stations around the country were doing is they were playing our 58-second show open – playing it twice back-to-back. Like, to create a two-minute pop song. Because people would call in, ‘We love that show. Can we hear that song?’ And I think that’s what made the record companies take notice and ask for a full single.
Ian: The single got picked up by Capitol Records in LA, and then from that they made a soundtrack and then we made a music video. They shut down the Brooklyn Bridge in New York and Rachid and I are in the video having a great old time. That’s when it became more than just a TV show theme. We’d had success before but this was another level.

The song got a second life in 2018, when the Queer Eye show was resurrected by Netflix. How did the new version with Australian singer Betty Who come about?
Ian: I found out about that the day I watched it on Netflix.

That’s another part of the business, isn’t it?
Ian: Unfortunately, yes. If I could go back in time to 2003 with my knowledge now, hopefully I’d be able to do things a little bit differently. SOCAN has been excellent from the beginning to help us out, and I do want to thank them for that.
Rachid: We still own 100% of the writers’ share. But the publishing share went to the TV production company.
Ian: Which is fine. Sometimes you have to go for an opportunity rather than keep 100% of everything.

Why do you think the message “things keep getting better” still resonates?
Ian:  ‘Cause it’s hopeful. We need that positivity, whether you’re gay, straight, married, single. I think it’s a tribute to us that Netflix decided to go with the original theme song [for the reboot] because our message still rang true in 2018.

Jonathan Personne takes his leave from reality on Disparitions, a collection of 10 dark, orchestral tracks. With hints of rock, garage and “yé-yé” (for the older crowd) music, it offers a somewhat improved vision of the time-period extending from the end of the 1960s through the next decade. An exercise in nostalgia for an era Personne missed entirely.

“Terre des Hommes” [the French version of Man and His World, from Montreal’s Expo 67] presents a certain idea of Parc Jean-Drapeau, and the ruins of Expo. “Alone before history,” Personne sings, in a voice full of echo, on the song – which sounds like it was molded in equal parts by the naiveté of an bygone period, and the disenchantment of our own time. It’s as if Personne was able to unearth the latest traces and artifacts of a lost Montréal, and turn them into something perfectly current, vaguely sci-fi, and ecologically committed.

“Sure, I wanted to come back to subject matter had already covered on the first album, namely the end of the world,” says Personne. “I still wanted to use fairly graphic stuff, like people embarking on space ships to leave the planet before it blows. It’s a tragedy, I know, but I was having fun trying to visualize it.”

An occasional music video producer and illustrator, Jonathan Personne (born Robert) is driven by elaborate arrangements, loaded with flutes, Fender Rhodes keyboards, and animal sounds – like those of the birds and the dog that can be heard on “Disparitions.” He’s created a sonic universe whose surprising instrumentation and rich textures approximate film music. The multi-disciplinary artist is looking forward to being able to create the soundtrack of his own film someday. Even now, he’s creating a short film – but refuses to say what it’s about at this time.

Personne’s ability to mix sounds and sights in such a natural way can probably be explained by the fact that he is a synesthete (one who sees sounds as colours), as are Philémon Cimon, Thom Yorke, and Billie Eilish, among others. Synesthesia is less rare among professional musicians than we think it is.

“The album cover isn’t purple, but that’s the colour I associate with this opus,” says Personne. “I also see some green when I listen to the songs. For Corridor’s Junior album, the main three colours are blue, a shade of burgundy, and a sort of slightly ochre yellow… I think that synesthesia, a word I learned two weeks ago, is feeding me as an illustrator. Music and the visual arts always influence one another, and I don’t tend to see things in black and white. Strong visuals are very, very important for an artist, particularly if you don’t have an outsized personality.”

Jonathan PersonneDisparitions was put together in the wake of the release of the album Junior, by Personne’s band, Corridor, on the prestigious U.S. label Sub Pop Records. This collection of solo songs reflects the burnout Personne was going through, at a time when all his dreams seemed to be coming true. While that whirlwind has proven creatively beneficial, he’s planning to slow down somewhat from now on.

“The story of that album is still rather unusual, and that was what caused it to be written in the first place” he says. “I was experiencing a massive work overdose, a contradictory period, during which I was fighting fire with fire by throwing myself into one more project at a time when I had overextended myself… It was also a lesson. In future, I’ll be able to say no.”

Immortalized on tape and alongside Guillaume Chiasson (Ponctuation, Bon Enfant), whose trademark as a technician is analog recording, Disparitions is the result of a fair level of risk-taking. Producer Emmanuel Ethier then had to deal with the occasional small bit of feedback, or mistake, that make the tracks sound even more organic.

“‘A mistake that sounded good,’ that’s Corridor’s motto since we recorded our first album,” says Personne. “We reserve the right to fail. To err is human, so that way we don’t sound like we’re robots.

“When it’s too pretty,” he adds, “it becomes ugly.”

Onstage Sept. 23 as part of Pop Montréal

As an actor, Noah Reid (Schitt’s Creek) plays a part; with each new role, he adopts a character and follows a script. As a songwriter, the 33-year-old creates songs from his heart. No acting. No script. Honesty and life experiences drive these narratives, though many reflect his acting experiences. Summing up his common approach to both acting and songwriting, he asks, “If I’m the character, how do I explore that world?” It’s a rhetorical question, posed from his Toronto home, just two weeks after his wedding, attended only by close family, socially distanced, on a beach overlooking Lake Huron.

Reid grew up in Toronto, but these days the dual citizen splits his time between T.O. and L.A., depending on where his work takes him. From a young age, he took piano lessons, and recalls enrolling in the annual Kiwanis songwriting competitions, always making up songs at the keyboard. Acting overtook his life, then became his chosen artistic path, but his love of creating and playing music never waned.

“For a long time, I was writing songs and not doing anything with them”

In 2015, Reid met JUNO nominee, industry veteran and fellow singer-songwriter Matthew Barber at an event in Stratford, Ontario; the pair clicked. While Reid jokes that he was just a “hobbyist” at that point, Barber convinced him to make a record. The pair spent two days in the studio together, resulting in the Songs from a Broken Chair album (2016).

“I was like, ‘Wow’ I want to do more of this,” says Reid. “For a long time, I was writing songs and not doing anything with them. They were just places to put my thoughts and feelings.”

The success of the award-winning TV comedy Schitt’s Creek’s – on which Reid plays David’s boyfriend Patrick – left little time to put out another record. But with the show coming to an end in 2019, Reid called up Barber and returned to the studio. On May 29, his sophomore record Gemini was released. The dozen songs on it are arresting, piano-driven compositions that show the other side of Reid’s talent. Unsurprisingly, the balance between his two passions, and other dualities,  is something the songwriter thinks about more, now that he’s in his 30s.

“The Best” Cover Ever
One of the most poignant moments on Schitt’s Creek came in Season 4, when Reid, playing Patrick, serenaded David (played by Dan Levy) with an acoustic version of Tina Turner’s “The Best.” A digital single of the performance reached No. 3 on the iTunes Canada Top 10 singles chart. What’s more important to Reid is the lasting legacy of that made-for-TV moment. “I never expected it to be so impactful for so many people,” says Reid. “I knew we had an opportunity with the audience that watches that show, and knowing moments like that are few and far between in the LGBTQ community… It was incredibly rewarding to be part of that moment for a community that doesn’t feel represented much on TV.”

“I’m not as concerned anymore with being cool, and all the ‘social stuff,’ as I was in my 20s,” he says. “Balance is something I’m striving for now, as the dualities in my life are being made known. There’s a sweet spot between letting it happen and making it happen… a lot of the songs find equilibrium between two things, and show that two things can exist at the same time, and that’s OK.”

For Reid, the songs and songwriters he’s drawn to are those that show a human side: a rawness and “realness” often lacking in some of today’s auto-tuned pop. Touchstones include singer-songwriters of the 1970s like Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Carole King, and Paul Simon.

 One of Gemini’s most earnest songs is “Underwater.” It’s one of Reid’s favorite compositions, and received an early rave review from a certain Schitt’s Creek co-star.

“The recording feels super-dynamic,” he says. “When I wrote that song, it was a step up for me in terms of songwriting… I hadn’t heard that sound coming out of me before. It just felt so honest. The world of the song expands as it goes along. I remember playing an early mix to Catherine O’Hara at an airport somewhere. She took her headphones off and said, ‘Noah, that is amazing! The lyrics are very sad, but the arrangement is so hopeful.’”