Caveboy enjoy doing most things together. This interview, for example, is something the eclectic Montreal pop band asks to do together. With no one mouthpiece for the group, Caveboy prefers to give space equally, for everyone to tell their story. We call Isabelle Banos, she asks us to hold, and a couple of minutes later we’re joined by Michelle Bensimon and Lana Cooney. They’re timid at first, of course, because interviews are exhausting and daunting. But they soon warm up, and energetically bounce comments off of each other. It’s as close as one can get to being a fly on the wall observing their friendship, one that’s woven so tightly with their creative and business partnership.

Caveboy wasn’t originally Caveboy. The group began back in 2015 as Diamond Bones. The name quickly seemed like it didn’t, or couldn’t, stick all that well. “It was a time of transition, and we really honed in on our sound, and felt really solid on who we are,” says Bensimon. “We always think about things that connect the three of us – things that are authentic and unique to us. When we came up with Caveboy, it was just like an ‘aha’ moment.”

Since then, Caveboy have been able to propel themselves forward, based on their electrifying live shows, along with a self-released debut EP in 2015. They won the Allan Slaight JUNO Master Class in 2017. Then there’s their string of well-crafted pop singles, which did very well in 2019: “Landslide” and “I Wonder” were heavily playlisted on stearming platforms; “Silk for Gold” premiered exclusively on Billboard; and ”Hide Your Love” reached No. 1 on the CBC Music Top 20 chart.The band’s been working to figure out who and what they want to be, and how to channel that into the music. This month, they’ve been readying the release of their first full-length, self-released debut album.

Out Jan. 31, 2020, Night in the Park, Kiss in the Dark is an effervescent synth-pop album. It sounds big, likely due to the added honourary member, producer Derek Hoffman – who’s worked on records by The Arkells, The Trews, and Ralph, all of whom have bombastic and anthemic sonic tendencies. Hoffman added what the group says was the magic they needed.

“Having this kind of sisterhood bond that we have has been so important.” – Isabelle Banos of Caveboy

“Up until this record, we basically did everything on our own,” says Cooney. “Most of what we did was self-produced, or at least 90 percent. When we were starting to write songs for this record we knew that it was going to be time to bring in another person.” With more than 30 songs written for the album, Hoffman, over a period of six months in the studio, was able to help whittle them down to the ones on the LP. He’d intuitively hear which songs connected where, the band says, and shape some of the three- to four-year-old material.

Night in the Park, Kiss in the Dark is one of those pop albums that feels eternally youthful. The band chalks it up to their own personal nostalgia for the way things were, or could have been – tracing the contours of new love, lost love, frivolous antics. Still, the album is consistently vibrant in the present moment. The synth-based parts of these pop songs are bubbly, and bring to my mind the vision of a nighttime when everything feels possible and endless. That’s true even amid songs that are also anguished (“Guess I’ve Changed”), lustful (“Obsession), and pensive (“Up in Flames”).

Caveboy tell us that they’ve really grown up together with this project, even while watching their contemporaries fade out and away from the tough business of music-making. Working on, and at the end of the day, holding a physical representation of their work was always the goal of a full-length LP, despite what others in the industry advised Caveboy to do.

“Everyone told us not to make an album, not to make a record, just because the trend these days is singles,” says Cooney, acknowledging Caveboy’s successful run of songs released in 2019. I’m personally really happy about it [making an album], because I think it’s one of those things that’s a rite of passage as a musician. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Banos, tenderly, doesn’t take for granted the experience of being able to grow up with Bensimon and Cooney, in the band. “I think each of us is super-lucky to have the others to be able to be artistically vulnerable with, which is a really scary thing,” she says. “Like writing songs, making weird sounds together, and, you know, making mistakes, and looking like a fool.”

She continues, “Having this kind of sisterhood bond that we have has been so important throughout the years: To be able to experience learning moments in a really safe, fun, and motivating space – in a productive space.”

For the soon-to-come follow-up to his major label debut on 604 Records, The Fifth, Mathew V says he’s much more likely to show up to the studio with “a few chords and melodies” to develop with others, rather than his own full songs.

Singles Going Steadily

The prolific Mr. V releases a lot – 14 in the past four years:

“This Christmas Day”
“Stay By You”
“Catching Feelings”

“The Coast”
“Let Me Go”

“Always Be My Baby”
“Tell me Smooth”

“In the Bleak Midwinter”
“The Day I Die”
“If I’m Enough”
“No Bad News”

“Typically, I have a really heavy hand in writing my own music,” the Vancouver-based pop/soul artist explains. “When I was younger, I thought I was untouchable and knew everything. I had my artistic vision and trusted myself, only, to execute that.”

More recently, he’s come to embrace the energy and possibilities collaboration brings to his work as a singer and songwriter. “There’s so much power in ideas that don’t stem from my instincts, because my instincts only go so far,” says V. “There’s been many times recently in the studio where someone will hum a melody with phrasing I’d have never come up with, but that compliments my voice quite nicely. So 2020 is going to be a year of collaborations with other artists, producers, and writers.”

Not that he wasn’t doing well on his own.  The Fifth’s lead single, “Tell Me Smooth,” spent 18 weeks on Canadian Top 40 Hot AC/AC charts. He’s opened for the likes of Ria Mae, Hanson, and MAGIC!, and earned critical acclaim from press outlets such as Nylon and Billboard. His catalogue is approaching 10 million online streams. With strong roots in the LGBTQ+ community, V took the cover of Spotify’s Global Pride playlist during Pride 2018.

But now, by way of collaboration, and what he terms “cognitive listening,” V’s looking to expand his musical toolkit. “I’m pushing myself to throw on playlists with music I don’t know and, if I like it, to understand what aspects resonate with me. Or, if I don’t like it, what’s putting a bad taste in my mouth. That process, when I’m writing, allows me to go into my taste bank, so to speak, and call on some of those patterns I’m noticing.”

“I’m pushing myself to throw on playlists with music I don’t know.”

 Over time, V’s allowed himself increasingly more creative freedom, beginning early by singing along to “emotive, powerful” artists like Celine Dion, Shania Twain, and Mariah Carey – a definite departure from the rigorous classical, operatic vocal training he undertook for 10 years. It continued when he packed up at age 17 and moved to London, England, to study at the European Institute of Contemporary Music. “I learned so much in that time, as a human being and artist,” he says. “And I had the freedom, for the first time in my life, to sing what I wanted, to start writing, and to realize what my own sound was like.”

In his current writing and recording sessions, V’s determined to allow himself even more latitude. “I’m trying to see pop music as a wider umbrella, where my vocal delivery, my style of writing, and the branding of the product ties it all together,” he says. “But with the songs, pushing myself, showcasing more diversity, doing things I haven’t tried before.”

To some extent, V’s cover of Britney Spears’ “Lucky” (just released on Jan. 10, 2020) will present his audience with an opportunity for some “cognitive listening” of their own. Produced by one of V’s regular collaborators, Luca Fogale, it’s a dramatic and beautiful re-interpretation, informed heavily by V’s soulful pop style, and a welcome challenge: “To take a beloved and, I think, unbelievably well-written song, and present it in an entirely different way,” says V. “To take the artistic journey of production and arrangement, flex my creative muscles, and make [it] into a Mathew V song.”

Just what a Mathew V song is, however, is evolving swiftly. V would prefer not to “piggyback” on his earlier success with, as he puts it, “Tell Me Smooth 2.0.”

“The fun part of music, for me, is being able to change, adapt, and re-invent myself, so I’m trying to push the boundaries of how broad the pop music umbrella is for me,” he says. “In the past I was strict about an album having a certain sound, but I have way more freedom to change it up. And I’d rather try that, and say that I did, than sit back and wonder, what if I strayed a bit more?”

“It really is my guitar that opened doors for me,” says Pierre-Luc Rioux. As a lyricist, composer, musician, and producer over the last 15 years, we’ve heard his instruments on hits by Céline Dion, Lady Gaga, David Guetta, Nick Jonas, and Loud, to name just a few. In the shadow of such stars, the Montrealer – who splits his professional life between California and Québec – is now focusing his attention on the project that brought him back to the stage: Chiiild.

“I’ve always dreamt of building a bridge between Los Angeles and Montréal,” says Rioux, with whom we caught up a week before he flies back to his West Coast apartment. “The music industry in Québec and in the U.S. are so different, especially their structures. Here, for example, some musicians do TV shows, collaborate with others, and also play live; in L.A., it’s a lot more compartmentalized.”

For a very long time, Rioux was pigeonholed as a session guitarist. Except for one nuance: “I’m mostly a producer that specializes in guitars,” he says. “Most of the time, when I get somewhere and I get introduced, it’s as a guitarist, and that’s how I got into a lot of studio sessions with pop artists in the U.S.,” he says before name-dropping Usher, Mary J. Blige, and Rihanna. “Nowadays, however, I want to establish myself more as a producer,” a job that, as he sees it, is much wider in scope that what people imagine. “In 2020, being a producer means you’re also a songwriter. It’s quite rare that an artist comes to the studio with a finished song, and we often start from scratch…”

So how did this Québécois become one of the most sought-after guitarists in American pop circles? Pure luck, he says. “I was the musical director for this singer [from Québec, about a dozen years ago,] and I was convinced she needed to record an album,” says Rioux. “Then I convinced her label to let me produce it.” That was his first mandate at the mixing board. He discovered his interest and talent for that function, having already gotten around as an accompanist. “I was always onstage, and to this day, that’s still what I’m most passionate about.”

Production and composition contracts quickly lined up, notably screen composer work for Dazmo, a production music studio. “Then, one day in Montréal, I met David Guetta’s production partner,” says Rioux. “I told him to let me know if they ever needed guitars. He called me back, and one thing led to another. One of the sessions I recorded ended up on a hit.” Shortly after, Rioux was invited to participate in a song camp in L.A. with Guetta. “That’s how I ended up meeting a ton of composers and producers,” he says.

“I’ve often lined up in front of a restaurant only to meet someone that led me to a new project”

So Rioux has worked closely with the Californian music industry since 2015, “a year during which I worked every day, doing two sessions a day,” he says. “It was a tough year, but the silver lining is that I basically met the entire industry within a single year! That’s another difference between Los Angeles and Montréal: the pool of musicians and industry people is so large, it takes a while to understand who does what. In Québec, the pool is so much smaller, it doesn’t take long to know everyone and cherry-pick who you want to work with. In L.A., there are so many people who gravitate around that milieu, and there are new ones arriving every year from Australia, the U.K., etc. It’s not just a question of meeting the right people at the right time, it’s mostly about choosing the right partners for a project.”

But what matters most, he quickly adds, is being there, in that creative Californian soup. “I meet a lot of Canadians who drop by in L.A. for a couple of weeks or a month, to test the waters,” says Rioux. To tell the truth, there a lot of work opportunities and contacts that happen in the most trivial way – like waiting in line to get in a restaurant! Los Angeles is such a strange place, because most of the people are there to further their career, and that means you quickly get the feeling that you’re bound to meet someone who’ll become a useful contact. I’ve often lined up in front of a restaurant, only to meet someone that led me to a new project, and that’s not the kind of thing you can plan ahead.”

That said, Rioux plans on spending a lot less time in restaurant lines and in the studio during 2020, and a lot more time on stage with Chiiild, a “synthetic psychedelic soul” project (according to the record label) abolut which he’s thrilled. “What really excites me about this is the fusion between production and stage.” A first EP will be released shortly, about six months after being noticed thanks to the single “Count Me Ou,”t “which was popular on playlists, and then on TV, thanks to placements in shows aired on Fox and HBO,” he says. “We’re happy, because we have a good team behind us, a management team, a booker, and a good label,” namely Avant Garden Music, a division of Island Records. To be continued…