Born to a Paraguayan father and Mexican mother, Daniel Russo Garrido (aka Boogat) got the songwriting bug when he listened to the seminal album “Prose Combat” by French rapper MC Solaar. He released his first album, Tristes et belles histoires, in 2004. His second, more self-assured, album, Patte de salamandre, was released in 2006, followed by a limited edition remix album – Rmx Vol. 1 – in 2008. After those three hip-hop albums in French, he launched the utterly eclectic El Dorado Sunset in February 2013, an album entirely in Spanish, save for one collaboration with Radio Radio entitled “Wow”. As it turned out, this had become necessary for this old schooler of Montréal’s hip hop scene.

“I was in-between two chairs. My music was too intellectual for the hip hop clique and too rap for the singer-songwriter crowd. I was constantly miscategorised. It was a problem for concert booking, notably, it was quite annoying and didn’t work so well. Around 2007, I started playing with salsa and rock bands that required me to rap in Spanish. From that point on, I never had to tell people to throw their hands up in the air. They danced wholeheartedly and were happy to be there and have a good time. This changed allowed me to be attracted to other scenes et meet new people. It became obvious that I had to pursue this avenue,” says the talkative 33 year old singer-songwriter and producer.

The result is a cascade of warm and lascivious rhythms that borrow as much from urban and electronic music as they do from dancehall and Latino music; a natural, organic sound with powerful melodies and bold arrangements. In other words, it’s a very modern and ambitious offering that dares you not to move. Produced in collaboration with Ghislain Poirier, Boogat says his friend’s help was invaluable. “He’s taught me to test-run my material live before I record it. Basically all the tracks on the album were played before à crowd before I recorded them in the studio. I wanted to see people’s reactions, and it helped me a lot. Poirier really opened my eyes to a lot of stuff and the result is explosive. For music aficionados, this album is one great big messy affair! It’s filled with stuff that shouldn’t go together but were introduced to each other nonetheless. In other words, it’s like life.”

Subtitled “el gran baile de las identidades” (the grand ball of identities), the album is a celebration of cultures, the Latina culture, but also the Québécois culture. For Daniel, language cannot be a hurdle to music. He admits to not listening much to the francophone scene, but he thinks this is because that scene is facing a major problem. “When I did music in French, all I was thinking of was making it on commercial radios and in France; those were my only options. Nowadays, thinking that language is a hindrance to the free circulation of art is a big mistake. It is hard to make it in New York because the music there is of unbelievably high quality and, let’s be honest, a lot of the music on the francophone scene is musically very uninteresting. It’s a music that does not sound “now”. We must play on the level of great international productions; I’m sure one day we can make it. What we need for this to happen is a francophone band that will make it big outside of the Francophonie and open people’s eyes.”

Despite the incredibly high number of artists on the scene and a fledgling music industry, the young man holds his head high; no way he’s going to feel sorry for himself. He says: “The people complaining about the sad state of the music industry are mostly people from the the old school, but that type of nostalgia does nothing for me. I believe the musicians have the power, nowadays. I’ve enjoyed a flourishing career ever since people started saying the music industry is ailing. The world is changing, evolving. There’s nothing we can do about it. We need to adapt. No one can make it anymore if they are not entirely committed to their career. It’s harder and harder to become popular and fill venues with just one good song. If you hope to make it as a musician, you had better be exceptionally good at it! The people who attend concerts know their music. They know right away if you’re good or not. In fact, we’re back to the point where we were before music started being recorded. It’s all back to the stage, the performance and artistry, now.”

Even though he has not given up on exporting his sound abroad, the artist focuses mainly on Québec. After shooting to videos for the songs “Eres Hecha para Mi” and “Único”, Boogat is planning a quick trip to Europe in the fall and hopes to launch his album in territories outside Canada. For him, however, it is out of the question to think according to specific markets. “When creating art, one should not think about things like that. If what you have to offer is interesting here, it will be elsewhere, too. I like to focus on one thing at a time; not rush into anything. It really irritates me when I hear people say Québec is not a cool province; it is magnificent and unique! Any artist only needs to present their material in an interesting fashion, and people will be on board!”


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Paraphrasing the title of their third album launched in 2008, Caïman Fu is a strange animal. Over the last four years, everything seemed to indicate that Isabelle Blais’ band would probably never be back on our radars. As a matter of fact, even the band members weren’t entirely sure they wanted to keep feeding the crocodilian after three albums (Homonyme, 2003, Les Charmes du quotidien, 2005 et Drôle d’animal, 2008). An yet, last fall, Caïman Fu underwent a profound mutation and launched À des milles, their fourth opus that marked the beginning of a new era.

In Isabelle Blais’ on words: “Following the break I had to take after giving birth to my child came time to take stock. One of our guitarists had personal issues, we gave him an ultimatum and he couldn’t meet it, so he had to leave… We questionned our motives for making music together. Ultimately, we forged on as a trio, in an appartment, in a very intimate and stripped down way, devoid of the energy of rock and roll. Nedless to say, we experienced moments of grace! ”

For a year and a half, practicing two to three times a week, Isabelle, guitarist Nicolas Grimard, drummer Mathieu Massicotte and newly recruited bass player Dominic Laroche used their tried and true creative process – improv, trial and error, writing, rewriting, etc. – until they emerged from that appartment with almost two dozen new songs. “We experienced a rebirth, a second wind,” remembers Isabelle. “Is many ways, this album is an assessment album, and I’m really happy with the final result.”

 

In more ways than one, À des milles is the perfect example of Caïman Fu’s evolution and transformation through the years, whether it’s Isabelle’s lyrics, which are sadder and even at times dark, or the more dreamy atmosphere and energy level created by the rest of the band and polished in the studio by renowned producer Carl Bastien. “There’s no doubt that our initial approach, which was much more relaxed, pared-down and improv-based, had a great impact on the final result, confides Isabelle. Playing as a trio, not very loudly in an appartment, with a computer naturally led us to a more relaxed and ethereal atmosphere. It also changed the way I sing, if you cpompare it to when we rehearsed in an actual rehearsal studio where everything is amplified and I needed to scream to be heard.”

“It’s obvious I channled the band’s energy when I wrote. But to me, writingis always quite a solitary endeavor. I wrote the lyrics for this album either isolated in a cabin in the woods or at my place, in the city. But this time around, I was less reserved. Before, I was very hesistant to include stuff about my private life, but on this album, I voluntarily let myself be inspired by what was going on in my life. ‘Notre monument’, for example, is a song wirtten about my break-up, but written before it happened… It is me looking at something I thought indestructible but that was whithering away. There is ‘Une étoile’, which I wrote about suicide after a few of my friends chose that solutions over the last few years. ‘Avaler du gravier’ is about a great friendship disappointment that I had a hard time getting over… There is only one song related to my son, though, and that’s ‘Ma maison, c’est toi’. It started out being about absolute love, but then I realized that my absolute love will only ever be my son… I guess it’s what growing older is about; you prefer hearing about real stuff, but without being anecdotal. Songs that are about anecdotes and filled with specific details rarely interest me.”

 

Music remains at the heart of Isabelle Blais’ artistic endeavor’s, even though her acting carrer on stage and on TV is still going on strong: “Music will never stop for me, it’s fundamental for me. The minute I have the slightest free space in my mind, I think about music. It never goes away. But on the other hand, it’s harder because it’s creation, so you need to take it upon yourself. You can’t hide, it’s not somebody else’s words that you are enacting. It’s me, they’re my words, my interpretation, there’s no safety net, I’m completely exposed! It’s very dizzying, but also exhilarating…”

This coming summer, Caïman Fu will hit the festivals’ circuit and will also appear at all three Francofolies: Montréal, Spa and La Rochelle. And to think that it almost ended…

 


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Indie rockers Japandroids have more of a reason to keep the peace in their band, and make sure everybody’s happy, than the vast majority of acts. “Everybody” is just guitarist/vocalist Brian King and drummer/vocalist David Prowse, and when your band is a two-piece, accommodation and communication can mean the difference between here today and gone tomorrow. For them, that means splitting the songwriting credits 50-50.

“We just say all songs written by Japandroids,” says King over the phone from Oslo, Norway. “It’s what we’ve always done since the beginning. We’re a two-person band, and those cliché things – where somebody doesn’t feel like they’re getting the right credit, so you end up replacing them – can’t happen. Five-person bands can have these disagreements, and all of a sudden there’s a different guy in the band. We don’t have the luxury of being able to have those kinds of fights.
“You’re doing it as a band for your fans,” King continues, “so people who give a shit about their own personal credit, I don’t have time for that. Dave and I tour a lot together. We spend 90 percent of our lives, 24-7, together. It’s just really important for both of us to preserve that relationship so we can keep playing in a band together. 

“Dave and I tour a lot together. We spend 90 percent of our lives, 24-7, together. It’s just really important for both of us to preserve that relationship.” – Brian King

“I write the lyrics, but Dave comes up with a lot of the stuff on drums. I don’t know how to play drums, so who’s to say what’s more important or what’s not? So no matter who plays what, we just always say, ‘It’s by Japandroids.’”

Japandroids formed in Vancouver in 2006 and released its first two EPs, All Lies, in 2007, and Lullaby Death Jams in 2008 (now available together as 2010’s No Singles). It’s likely you never heard about Japandroids during that time, but in April of 2009, Canada’s Unfamiliar Records released the album Post-Nothing on vinyl, and influential music site Pitchfork praised the song “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” essentially validating Japandroids’ years of hard work, and the quality of their writing.

“Yeah, maybe validation is the right word,” says King. “We were just doing the same thing we’d always done for so long… No one seemed to give a shit the day before that happened, and then the day after that happened we couldn’t even get through all our e-mail accounts. It was like, ‘You have 10,000 new e-mails.’”

This was all the more remarkable because Japandroids broke up for a few months at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009 out of frustration, working for three years and “getting absolutely zero attention.”
The Post-Nothing album, which was then licensed by Polyvinyl Record Co. for release in June 2009, landed on year-end lists of NME, Spin, Pitchfork, Exclaim and others. It earned Japandroids a place on the 2009 Polaris Music Prize long-list and a 2010 Juno nomination for Alternative Album of the Year.

They dropped Celebration Rock last May in Canada and June internationally, earning a 9/10 rating from Spin and appearing on Rolling Stone’s Top 50 Albums of 2012. The single “The House That Heaven Built” gained lots of attention worldwide, eventually being voted as the new entrance theme for the Vancouver Canucks.

This year, Japandroids toured the U.K. and Europe in late March and early April, before heading to the U.S. to play the Coachella and Sasquatch festivals, and more dates into June. They plan on returning to the U.K. and Europe throughout July, and in August they’re slated to play Russia, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Australia and New Zealand.

When Japandroids are touring, King says very little songwriting happens. Days are filled with long commutes “in a van full of people and gear” – on the day of this interview, for example, they drove all day from Copenhagen to Oslo in time for load-in and sound-check – which is not the ideal setting to start strumming out song ideas, or concentrating on lyrics.

“It’s not like you’re doing nothing,” King clarifies. “You’re always collecting ideas and in sound-check, you find some good guitar parts. Or if you’ve got a day off and you come up with a good idea for a song or lyric, you start writing that stuff down, but we don’t really finish very many songs on tour. Just the initial spark might happen, but it doesn’t really get finished until you get home and have time to work on it.”
While they split the songwriting credits, King does handle the lyrics. “I never, ever talk about the lyrics or what they’re specifically about to me,” he says, “mostly because I think part of the power of the song – at least as far as our audience is concerned – is their interpretation of the songs. Some of my favourite songs of all time, I have no idea what the song is actually about to the person who wrote it, and I don’t actually care. It’s what I interpret the song to be about and its reflection in my own life.

“That’s where the real power to me lies in it,” he continues. “I think that about our songs as well, which is one of the reasons I never, ever talk about what songs are about – but I can assure you that they’re all very, very, very personal. I certainly did not rip something from the headlines and then turn it into a song.” King says he writes on electric guitar, adding “If I had more money I might buy an acoustic guitar; it would be convenient to have one.” He says that writing is part of a multi-part process for him and Prowse.

“We write songs in order to play them live,” he says categorically. “There’s no separation for us between writing a song and recording it and then playing it live, [unlike] the way that, say, Radiohead will write a song, go record it, and then they’ll worry about how they’re gonna play it live afterwards. For us, that’s kind of why we play in a band in the first place – to perform live. “So writing the songs is always about, from the beginning, how are you going to perform that live at the end of the day? Because our records are essentially live records. They’re [recorded] in a studio, but they’re recorded essentially live.

“Interaction between Dave and myself, because we’re just a two-piece, is an important part of the process,” King continues. “So I’ll have the skeleton of a song, but it’s not until I actually bring it into our jam space, and we start going through how we would do it together – how the drums are going to sound, and how the breaks, and the pauses, and the transitions are going to be – that it actually starts to take life in the way that Japandroids songs do.” It begins very traditionally, King says, with a verse, chorus, bridge, a melody and a loose idea of the lyrics. This is what he calls “the kind of standard pop-song or Beatles-song elements of it.” Then comes the Japandroids goal: “How do we turn that into something that’s really impressive to play together?”

Then comes the Japandroids goal: “How do we turn that into something that’s really impressive to play together?”

“It’s never really done until we literally can’t do anything more impressive to it,” King says. “Then after that’s done, usually the instrumental will have changed because we’ll have put in this new part, or we’ll have changed the beat of this. Then I’ll have to go back, after we’ve got the instrumental as this really impressive thing, and re-write lyrics and sometimes the melody on top of that.”

Of Prowse, who wasn’t available for this interview, King is clear that the Japandroids would not be Japandroids without him. “I write all the lyrics to all the songs, and I’m the guitar player so I write all the guitar parts, and David’s the drummer so he plays the drums. But in terms of breaking down those roles to the nitty gritty, we just don’t give a shit about stuff like that.”


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