Here’s the latest edition in our series of stories on those happy creative meetings between songwriters that we call duos. This one is about a natural, spontaneous and almost happenstance collaboration, one that united singer-songwriter Marie-Ève Roy (Vulgaires Machins’ guitarist and singer) and Julien Mineau, multi-instrumentalist, producer and leader of Malajube.

“My only goal, with this project,” says Roy, “was to take it to its logical conclusion, and by that I mean writing ten songs that would create a cohesive whole. I wrote these songs very simply, by following ideas that spoke to me, reflected who I am.”

Releasing one’s first solo album should be a milestone that, at least in part, is fraught with insecurity, self-doubt, pressure, and questions. Or so people might rightfully believe, but they would be those whose livelihood isn’t based on writing songs, recording them and playing them live. Perhaps due to her two decades in the business, singer-songwriter Roy is uncannily calm, even though she’s only a few days away from releasing said first solo album.

Julien Mineau, Marie-Ève RoyMaybe, just maybe, this Zen attitude is also attributable to Julien Mineau’s reassuring presence; he’s sitting right next to her in the Villeray café, and never left her side when came time to record Bleu Nelson. First off, what’s with the title? “You’re right, it’s not the title of a song and not even a lyric snippet from one of the songs,” says Roy. “It’s actually a town in New Zealand that I found inspiring when I was there a few years ago.” The blue being, quite obviously, because of the ocean surrounding the island nation.”

From New Zealand, Roy travels to… Place Versailles, a shopping mall in Montréal’s East End, to which she refers on her song “Le monde est triste à Radisson”: “À la place Versailles/Les néons éclairent/La solitude et le béton.” (Freely: “What you see under Place Versailles’ neon lights are solitude and concrete.”) And so it is that we’re taken on a trip inside the artist’s mind, set to music that’s light-years away from Vulgaires Machins’ vindictive punk sounds.

Fans of Québec’s infamous punk rock legends are in for a bit of a surprise indeed: the ten originals are somewhere between ballads and barely faster-paced pop songs. It’s music that caresses and consoles; it’s ‘70s sounding but not retro, as if a sophisticated Françoise Hardy had ditched her yé-yé skirts. Her unconfessed influence? The XX’s melancholic pop songs.

“Initially, I was going for a more minimalist pop sound. But then Julien started playing all kinds of instruments and I went along with it, I liked the direction he was going in, it was perfect.” – Marie-Ève Roy

Says Mineau, “I thought it was interesting to take her there, with her agreement, of course. Tabula rasa, starting anew, recording freely and breaking [her association with punk]. I reckon that someone who’s always been a fan of the Vulgaires will be quite surprised…”

“I’ve wanted to do this project for a long time,” says Roy. “I started writing for it when I ended up alone with my guitar in New Zealand, back in 2010. It was like I decided that it was really going to be my new musical adventure, and the Vulgaires’ hiatus gave me the opportunity to devote myself to it.”

Roy and Moneau didn’t really know each other when she started working on her solo project in earnest, back in 2013. They met when she contacted him to buy a Wurlitzer keyboard. “That’s how it all started, with a piano transaction!” laughs Mineau. “I later offered her to record her album at my place,” in his home studio located in Ste-Ursule, a village of 1,375 souls located about 90 minutes Northeast of Montréal.

Julien Mineau, Marie-Ève RoyAll the album’s songs were written and composed by Marie-Ève, save for “Larmes de joie” (“tears of Joy”), the music for which was composed by Mineau. “My work was mainly on the arrangements,” says the producer. Bleu Nelson was a four-handed recording process: all of the richly orchestrated pop songs were played by the two collaborators.

“It all happened at my place over a period of two weeks,” says Mineau. “Marie-Ève had already sent demos ahead of time, and some of them didn’t even need to be changed at all. We set up, we played, I pressed the record button. We didn’t have a game plan.” Says Roy, “We did talk about the direction of the project before getting underway. I’d been thinking a lot about the sound I was looking for, the vibrato, the very intimate production. I always give myself a few sources of inspiration, The XX and Julian Casablancas. That was our starting point.

“Initially, I was going for a more minimalist pop sound. But then Julien started playing all kinds of instruments and I went along with it, I liked the direction he was going in, it was perfect. I was looking for a very specific atmosphere, but I was also totally open to Julien’s ideas.” Thus, Bleu Nelson is not only an album, but a snapshot of a fruitful musical collaboration. It’s no surprise that the whole project was wrapped in a couple of weeks: they’d established the perfect dialogue.

This was also a first for Mineau. “I’d never produced someone else’s album before,” he says. “Working for others means, for me, less self-questioning and, above all, being able to try new ideas, and I have a million of those. I also took away a lot from this collaboration, especially about cutting back – I do have a tendency to record way too many tracks. It made me want to do this more.” Time allowing, obviously.

Before then, Malajube will finally release another album, and there ought to be another solo album from Mineau, most likely quite different from his Fontarabie foray. “Songs more than instrumentals,” he says. “A completely different world.”

There’s no place like home, and there’s no place like Rome.

River Tiber may take his pseudonym from Italy’s Tiber River, near where he lived for a year as a child, but for Tommy Paxton-Beesley, the music is just starting to flow.

Although he has a couple of EPs under his belt (2014’s The Stars Fall, 2015’s When The Time Is Right), the Toronto-based singer-songwriter and producer has a higher profile for the moment due to placements with Drake (“No Tellin’,”), BadBadNotGood and Ghostface Killah (the Sour Soul album), Jazz Cartier (“Tell Me”), Travi$ Scott and Mac Miller.

Paxton-Beesley credits many of those tributaries to his collaboration with Grammy-winning producer Adam Feeney, a.k.a. Frank Dukes (Eminem, Drake), either through happenstance or, in the case of BBNG (who introduced them) and Cartier, friendship.

“For the Toronto stuff, I definitely collaborate with tons of artists in the city.”

“A few of the placements have been passed through Frank Dukes, and I’ve seen the way that it’s written about,” Paxton-Beesley acknowledges, “It makes me seem like I’m more involved than I am. But the way production works these days, it’s so hyper-connected: you can send stuff to one guy and they’ll send it to another guy.

“For the Toronto stuff, I definitely collaborate with tons of artists in the city.”

While he rhymes off Kaytranada, Daniel Caesar, Wayo’s Charlotte Day Wilson and Kwik Fiks as recent studio allies, the formally trained multi-instrumentalist (he spent two years at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College, and can play cello, drums, violin, trombone, keyboards and guitar) is quietly awaiting his turn in the spotlight.

Whether it’s the seductive and soulful synth-chill throb of the recently-dropped ballad “West” featuring Caesar, or the yearning, slow-burning R&B allure of “Let You Go,” the River Tiber music unleashed on SoundCloud and iTunes thus far is only a drop in the bucket.

“A lot of the music that I have out right now is sort of synth-based, representing one or two sides of what I do, but a lot that I’m sitting on is more lush orchestration,” he says. “I’d characterize my music as diverse, but clear in the different selections of sounds and feels and overall mood. It’s hard for me to classify it outside of the fact that I’m trying to make my own favourite music. I’m just channeling my influences, really.”

Those influences – Michael Jackson, Jeff Buckley, Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix among them – are mitigated by a practical “less-is-more” viewpoint.

“I always write more than I need, then I subtract,” explains Paxton-Beesley, who will drop an as-yet-untitled, 12-track, independent album sometime this Spring.

“I tend to produce that way, too. I’ll write a bunch, hit the limit of the arrangement, and then I’ll subtract. I don’t do it always, but it’s kind of a good philosophy, especially for coming up with the track list, whether it’s one or many.”

“Don’t call it a comeback/I’ve been here for years,” rapped LL Cool J in his 1990 Grammy-winning hit, “Mama Said Knock You Out.” For Alfie Zappacosta, these classic hip-hop lyrics are apropos. The Canadian songwriter wants fans to know, unlike Elvis, he never left the building. And No Avoiding Clichés – his latest live CD/DVD, recorded at Edmonton’s Festival Place Theatre in Sherwood Park – is no comeback.

“I am still alive!” he jokes. “I’ve never stopped working; I’ve just flown a little bit under the radar.”

“As you get older, finding something that hasn’t been done or said before becomes more difficult.”

Even though he’s released five records on his own label (AZ Records) in the past seven years, with little radio play, many long-time fans wondered what happened to the award-winning songwriter. Part of this return to the spotlight is fueled by the artist’s renewed passion in his chosen career and his ability to do things independently.

Based in Edmonton for the past two decades, Zappacosta is ready to hit the road again to promote his new release and share 45 years of songs that, for one reason or another, never hit the mainstream like his earlier hits.

Flash back to the 1980s. Zappacosta was at the top of his game, at least commercially. He won a JUNO for Most Promising Male Vocalist of the Year, in 1984. In 1987, the TV show Danger Bay aired an episode written specifically for Zappacosta, titled “Rock Star.” That same year he also penned and sang “Overload,” which won an American Music Award, exclusively for the multi-platinum-selling soundtrack to Dirty Dancing, which spent 18 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200. His hit songs – staples on Canadian adult contemporary radio waves – included “Start Again,” “Passion,” “When I Fall in Love Again,” and “Nothing Can Stand in Your Way.”

While No Avoiding Clichés offers 12 cuts from his catalogue, if you see Zappacosta perform live, he’ll dust off many more tunes, some that even long-time fans may not know.

“This last record was done over a 45-year period of writing,” he says. “I chose only a handful of songs that give a pretty good cross-section of what I’ve been through, but there is so much more than that. I’m calling this project No Avoiding Clichés because as you get older, finding something that hasn’t been done or said before becomes more difficult.”

Why, as the songwriter enters his golden years, is he so re-energized about the music industry? “It’s been a lot of years of ‘I don’t care,’ to now ‘I want to do it,’” he explains. “I’m looking forward to it again. It’s not the age. It’s feeling like I have complete control over my music. Once upon a time there were so many people that would push you this way or that, and even when I liked to believe I had certain control, there often were a lot of people you had to make happy.”

As he hones his chops practicing and working to re-learn songs and remember long-forgotten lyrics to songs he hasn’t performed live in years, Zappacosta stresses this is no short-term comeback.

“I want to be busy for the next 20 years,” he concludes. “I’m around again… don’t think I’m not there. I’m bringing myself back into the limelight. Come see the old dog; he’s just fine!”

Zappacosta (1984); A-Z (1986); Quick! … Don’t Ask Any Questions (1990); Innocence Ballet (1995); Dark Sided Jewel (2000); Start Again (2004); Bonafide (2007); At the Church at Berkeley (2008); Blame it On Me (2010); Live at the Blue Frog Studios (2012); Once Upon a Time (2013); No Avoiding Clichés (2016)