Welcome to the latest in our series of stories on the creative meetings of songwriting duos. Paroles & Musique met with Gabriel Louis Bernard Malenfant and Jacques Alphonse Doucet – better known as the voices of Radio Radio – to discuss the state of exile required to create their special brand of debonair, tongue-in-cheek rap.

Radio RadioEven though it’s a cloudy Tuesday afternoon in a Mile End café in Montréal, the guys are dressed to the nines, as always. “For Jacques, it comes naturally, he dresses like that every day,” whispers Gabriel Malenfant in my ear while we wait to order, staring his bearded acolyte (who’s wearing a navy pinstripe suit with a butter-coloured shirt and tie). We didn’t ask if they dress that way on days when they isolate themselves from the outside world to work on new tracks.

Whatever the case may be, Light the Sky is the latest result of such sessions. It’s the duo’s fifth album, but their first without the help of the longtime sidekick, DJ Alexandre, who left to pursue a solo career as Arthur Comeau after tinkering with other pseudonyms, notably “Nom de plume.”

But let’s get back to our coffee, and the event that prompted this meeting: the release of this new album of party anthems, their in English only. And even though that means no more of their amazing linguistic acrobatics – where French, English and the regional Acadian dialect of Chiac was as typical as poutine râpée – the core of their appeal remains: electro-pop party anthems. For this album, they tapped the production talent of Shash’U, J.u.D. and Alex McMahon as well as Champion for the song “‘Cause I’m a Hoe.”

“As on the previous albums, there is that unpretentious, fun first degree,” says Jacques Doucet. “But there are also deeper themes. That’s kind of the idea behind the title, Light the Sky, which symbolizes that the conversation we want to have can go very far.” One needs to scratch the surface very little in order to find some songs whose themes are deeper than leisure and dancefloors. “We also want to write songs that touch on subjects people don’t expect us to touch,” says Malenfant.

“We are so good at feel-good stuff – that ‘Acadianness’ of which we’re emblematic – but you need to go beyond the hooky choruses to find our depth.”—Gabriel Malenfant of Radio Radio

The least we can say is that they have a rather unusual workflow, for rappers. Despite being wordsmiths, they’re not the type to carry a notepad and pencil in the breast pockets of their stylish blazers. For them, writing is neither something spontaneous, nor a daily routine. All their albums followed the same work plan: “We extricate ourselves from our friends, families, lives, and we furiously work on writing and recording the album,” says Malenfant.

But despite that, some ideas are born on the road during tours. “We jam on ideas, hooks, we laugh at our stories, we are constantly arguing about everything, says Malenfant. “We record everything in our phones; we’re perpetually researching song concepts. But once the album project is on track, we go for a solid recording session, preferably outside of Montréal.”

Work on Light the Sky started almost a year ago during one of those work sessions in Cuba. Ah, the life of the rich and famous! “We had just launched the previous album, but we immediately went to Cuba to ‘re-focus’ and start thinking about our next album,” says Doucet. “A little time at the beach, then back to our rooms to write, or make beats, for an hour or two.”

The idea of making an English-only album had been in the air for a while. Which explains a change in the work venue: Brooklyn, last September. Says Malenfant: “We wanted to be part of the local culture, of this Mecca of rap. Turns out we were surrounded by French people and Québecois,” he laughs. Shash’U’s and Alex McMahon’s productions were pretty far along, so all that was left to do was to write the lyrics and record the vocal demos.

The guys each write their own lyrics, but each heeds the other’s comments. “We have our themes, we brainstorm, and within a week, we have a general idea of the album’s direction,” says Malenfant. Everything comes together in the studio. “We do it all at the same time; I can’t write without the music,” continues Malenfant. “Once we have a good hook, everything else comes naturally: the theme, the verses, the chorus. When we went to Brooklyn, we only had Shash’U’s instrumentals; everything else was done in Montréal.”

For Radio Radio, an album is a snapshot in time, an initially spontaneous thing that’s then elaborated on and polished to perfection. “The music that inspires us has to be dynamic, bouncy, happy,” says Malenfant. “And then we simply elaborate on them.”

The party-anthem side of Radio Radio’s music stems from their work method, but doesn’t entirely summarize its spirit, the rappers warn. Let’s go back to the meaning of the title Light the Sky. One can approach star-gazing in one of two ways: “You can look at the sky and take in the moment, be grateful for what we’re getting out of it,” says Malenfant. “Or we can study the stars, observe them intently, look for answers.” That’s what Doucet calls the astrophysical aspect of Radio Radio’s songs.

As Malenfant concludes, “We are so good at feel-good stuff – that ‘Acadianness’ of which we’re emblematic – but you need to go beyond the hooky choruses to find our depth. Our choruses are often light-hearted, but the verses veer off in a completely different direction. Like on “‘Cause I’m a Hoe,” we talk about the issue of prostitution in our society. People don’t expect us to be talking about stuff like that. Party tunes are all well and good, and we like them. But look a little bit further and you’ll see there is a subtext.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Donovan Woods is very aware that he currently enjoys the best of both worlds. The highly respected, country-folk singer-songwriter has a successful solo career as a recording artist, one about to be boosted by the late-February 2016 release of his fourth album, Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled.

He’s also an increasingly in-demand songsmith, whose compositions have been covered by high-profile U.S. country stars and many Canadian country acts.

“I feel lucky that I can always be working,” Woods says of his double life. “If you’re just an artist, then between album cycles you feel really lost. Once the tour and promo cycle for this new record is over, I’ll go back to Nashville for a couple of weeks of co-writing, and that’s just really fun.”

He explains that another advantage to his parallel careers is that “I can take a song I’ve written that I love and go play it on the road. If Nashville songwriters have written a song they love and no-one cuts it, then it maybe never gets heard.”

“I think it’s good to have a perspective on Nashville by not being mired in it.”

Right now, Woods is playing his tunes on the road via an extensive, cross-country tour of soft-seat theatres (e.g., Toronto’s Massey Hall, Winnipeg’s Burton Cummings Theatre) opening for Matt Andersen. Sarnia-raised and Toronto-based, Woods paid his proverbial dues earlier, via two independent, under-the-radar albums, prior to breaking through with 2013’s Don’t Get Too Grand.

It earned high-rotation CBC Radio 2 airplay and a 2014 JUNO nomination (Roots & Traditional Album – Solo), and he’s grateful for that exposure. “The JUNO nomination was an utter surprise and a real joy,” says Woods. “I may have been cynical or snobby earlier about airplay, but I didn’t know what I was talking about. What better medium is there than radio? I was so excited to experience what that was like, and now I know I can go to any town in Canada and have some people come [out to see me].”

Woods’ Nashville success as a songwriter began to snowball at around the same time. His first big break came when country superstar Tim McGraw cut Woods’ song “Portland, Maine,” while Lady Antebellum singer Charles Kelley just recently put “Leaving Nashville” – a tune co-written by Woods and Abe Stoklasa – on his debut solo album. The powerful portrait of a struggling Music City songwriter has quickly earned shout-outs in Billboard, Rolling Stone, American Songwriter, and more. Woods currently has other songs on hold in Music City.

“Leaving Nashville” also appears on Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled, alongside a co-write with legendary American songwriter Tom Douglas, and other tunes co-written by Woods and fellow Canadians Carleton Stone, Andrew Austin, Gordie Sampson, Dylan Guthro and Breagh McKinnon. A joint composition with Austin and Stone, “On the Nights You Stay Home” recently topped the CBC Radio 2 Top 20 chart.

“When I started co-writing,” says Woods, “I never thought I’d record a co-written song for my own record. But as you get better at it, and write with people you like, you eventually start to get songs from those sessions where you think, ‘I could do that one.’”

Woods first started going on writing trips to Nashville in 2012, and is close to finalizing a new publishing deal there. “I have a place there, but I choose to stay in Toronto,” he explains.

“I think it’s good to have a perspective on Nashville by not being mired in it,” says Woods. “I think I’ll always treat it as a place I go to work, but can always leave. It’s a real grind to be a staff writer there, and I think I’d hate songwriting in about six months if that’s all I was doing.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


COLEMAN HELL

Coleman Hell is a smoky-voiced pop songwriter who might just be a new dance-music star.

Originally producing hip-hop in Thunder Bay, he relocated to Toronto and started writing songs more suited to the dancefloor.

His latest single, “2 Heads,” was released this past summer and has garnered more than 4 million views on YouTube, plenty of MuchMusic rotation, and rave reviews from fans and critics for its hard-edged but soul-influenced sound.

Expanding his sound by incorporating such disparate elements as deep-house drums and country-tinged banjo licks, Coleman Hell makes a bold statement with his arrival on the pop charts.

Look for his next album later in 2016.

AARON GOODVIN

Aaron Goodvin has been playing music his whole life – from the singing contests he entered as a 12-year-old to becoming a professional songwriter at age 18.

After setting out on several trips to Nashville to ply his trade, he soon signed a publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music and began contributing to songs for other artists (like Luke Bryan’s multi-platinum “Crash My Party”).

However, Aaron also chose to break out as a solo artist in his own right, releasing his debut album Knock On Wood in 2015.

“I’m so excited that 2016 will be the year people finally get to hear the music I’ve been striving my whole life to make,” says Goodvin. “I can’t wait to be on the road, promoting my songs and making new friends. See ya in your town!”

Expect new music from him in the Spring of 2016.
SAMANTHA MARTIN

Samantha Martin is a singer-songwriter from Toronto, but from the soulful sound of her voice, and the style of her sound, you might assume she’s from way down south.

She and her band, Delta Sugar, made waves with their bluesy, roots- influenced country songs, impressing audiences at festivals around the nation – including the Calgary and Vancouver Folk Festivals, the Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival, the Dawson City Music Festival, and the Summerfolk Festival.

Martin has showed no signs of slowing down on her current album, Send The Nightingale, released in February of 2015 to a hugely positive response.

“We already have some more great summer festivals across Canada [lined up for 2016], including StanFest in July,” says Martin. “I’m very proud of the momentum that Send The Nightingale has gained in 2015, and hope to build on that foundation.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *