“After the success of Chill’em All, I went out of my way to try and do complicated and different stuff. I wanted to prove to people that I could surprise them every time, show them I was good-looking and smart. How stupid!”

Champion doesn’t mince words. We interviewed the musician in the wake of the release of his new electro pop album Best Seller – a title that’s not meant to be taken literally – and he analyzes his own work with astonishing candour. As if to prove his own implacable self-criticism, he even says one of the songs on his newest album “sucks.”

“No, really,” he says. “‘Lead On’ is not a great song. I would’ve loved working on it longer, but I did have fun making it. I take full responsibility for it.” We tell him the ethereal guitar melody is great, and that his discombobulated singing brings a soulful element to the song, but the man border guards call Maxime Morin is still skeptical. “OK, I’ll give another listen,” he says.

Just like three other tracks on this album – including “Life is Good” – “Lead On” sounds like it should be on an album that could’ve been launched immediately after the legendary Chill’em All (2004). But that record never came out. After working on it for a few months, Maxime completely trashed his work in the wake of an intense bout of artistic questioning. He cleaned the slate and instead came out with Resistance after years of waiting. As he readily admits, he fell into an intellectual trap.

“I flushed everything I had worked on because, in my mind, it was too close to Chill’em All,” he says. “Also, I was flabbergasted by Ratatat’s Classics and I was no longer sure where I fit. I’ve always believed in spontaneity and simplicity. That’s what Chill’em All was all about. But by that point, I had completely forgotten about those nice concepts. The drive to please, to be relevant and avant-garde weighed me down like a ton of bricks. The worst part is, when you tweak and refine your creations, it’s easy to start thinking you’ve got a good thing going, when it’s actually quite the opposite.”

Having accumulated a lot of slack in his production schedule, Champion had to work non-stop in order to launch Resistance in the fall of 2009. Totally exhausted by the creative process, he jumped without pause into a tour. The rest, as they say… In May 2010, doctors diagnosed him with a type of lymphoma, cancer of the blood. “Some will say there’s no causality, but I chose to believe there is one,” he says. “Mental and physical exhaustion made me ill. It took me five years to become fully healthy again. I swore I would never make the same mistake again.”

“I finally figured out what it meant to have balls in music: allowing your instinct to guide you. Of course I’d like to do better, but I embrace my mistakes.”

ChampionWith the collaboration of singers Laurence Clinton and Marie-Christine Depestre, certain tracks on the new album hearken back to the golden days of Chill’em All and the countless sweaty dancefloors for which it was responsible. Others are closer to the ethereal atmospheres of 2013’s ° 1. “An album that is strong from beginning to end is fun and reassuring, but it also means that the artist only has one colour on their palette,” says Champion. “That’s not true. Unless they really suck, no one listens just one musical genre. I wanted Best Seller to reflect that. Show my true colours.”

The musician played virtually all the instruments on the album, and this desire for authenticity means he intentionally left some errors on the final product. “I like trap,” he says. “I wanted to make trap using my guitar on ‘Boing Boing’ and ‘Yea-Eah.’ It didn’t turn out the way I wanted, but I had a lot of fun doing it, and it’s amusing. I finally figured out what it meant to have balls in music: allowing your instinct to guide you. Of course I’d like to do better, but I embrace my mistakes. I even learned to play with my faux pas – for example, on ‘And I You,’ where you can clearly hear my fingers slide on the guitar strings. Those are the kind of things you usually remove in the studio. You mask them. I decided to put them forward.”

In the end, Best Seller comes across as a kind of creative lab where enjoyment has taken precedence over intelligence, even if that means breaking some recording rules. “During the mastering, Ryan Morey told me that ‘Impatient’ was out of phase because I had used reverb on the bass. Apparently, you can’t do that. He wanted me to re-do the mix. I told him to fuck off! You’re not touching that. Except that because of that decision, we cannot include that track on the vinyl pressing because the groove would be too unstable for a turntable needle. Too bad!”

Champion et ses G-Strings
Thursday, June 30, at Club Soda
Part of the Montreal International Jazz Festival

“To be perfectly happy as a musician right now, I need two projects that seem to stimulate very distinct parts of my brain. Also, there’s never any downtime, and that’s great for someone like me who thrives on new challenges and exciting projects,” says Antoine Lachance of the challenges inherent to his burgeoning solo career, on top of being a member of pop-rock trio On a créé un MONSTRE for nearly 10 years.

Last winter, the singer-songwriter was a contestant in the Ma première Place des Arts competition, where he won the Grand Prize in the Singer-Songwriter category, as well as the Song of the Year Award for “Le fleuve,” a song that can be heard on his first album, Cimetière d’avions, released in April 2016.

“I wrote ‘Le fleuve’ during the roughest period of my life,” says Lachance. “I went through a very bad heartbreak a few months after losing my dad to brain cancer. Alone, in a nearly empty apartment, I felt like everything was collapsing around me, that everything was being ripped away from me. I was born in Sorel (a small town of about 34,000 people one hour northeast of Montréal) and the St. Lawrence is part of our daily lives. I stared at the water and imagined myself on an ice floe.”

His solo career might just be taking off, but he still needs to put it on hold every so often, since On a créé un MONSTRE will launch not one, but two EPs before the end of this year. The first of those two EPs, Théâtre des catastrophes, was just released by Slam Disques.

“The difference lies in my contribution to the project,” he says. “In On a créé un MONSTRE, I’m called upon mainly for the musical aspect of things, arrangements, the fact that I can play many instruments, and, more recently, my expertise in recording and mixing the band. For my personal project, the main difference is that I’m the writer of those songs. Everything depends on me, although I do get some help from my friends Maxime Reed-Vermette, Éric Tessier and Louis-Étienne Sylvestre. This solo project also allows me to sing from a more personal perspective,” says the man who will play the Francofolies de Montréal on June 11, 2016, and who’ll also spend the latter part of the coming summer in France to test the waters.

“Strangely enough, both endeavours work perfectly well with one another,” says Lachance. “I never have any scheduling or any other type of issue that comes from having two serious creative projects. They even benefit from one another in terms of visibility and creativity. I’m constantly learning from both projects and both projects benefit from those learnings.”

Dan Boeckner is trying to respond to the question, “How many bands are you in right now?”

It’s a trick query, but considering the indie renaissance man’s relentless writing, recording and touring schedule across an ever-changing list of projects, it needs to be asked.

“I’m in two right now,” says Boeckner, during a load-in break for a radio appearance at WFUV, 90.7 FM in New York City. “But Divine Fits is kind of in hibernation mode, so three.

He pauses. “I guess.”

Besides the dormant Divine Fits, which Boeckner shares with Spoon’s Britt Daniel, the two things dividing his time right now are the re-united Wolf Parade – with whom he’s doing a series of shows throughout the summer and fall of 2016 – and Operators, the reason why he’s hovering around a Brooklyn radio studio at the moment.

“When I was working shitty jobs, all I could really dream of was having enough time to do music all the time. I get to do that now.”

“I think my time will be split between the two, maybe a bit more for Wolf Parade, but nearly 50-50 until November,” says Boeckner of his Operators-Wolf Parade work-work balance.

Operators – formed after Boeckner’s band Handsome Furs, with ex-wife Alexei Perry, dissolved along with their marriage – also features Macedonian keyboardist Devojka, drummer Sam Brown (New Bomb Turks) and bassist Dustin Hawthorne (Hot Hot Heat) making propulsive, new wave-inspired dance rock. The band’s first album Blue Wave came out April 1, 2016, and Boeckner says all his past bands are reflected on it.

“With the Operators stuff, it’s really a culmination of a lot of tools I’ve learned to develop in both those bands, Handsome Furs and Wolf Parade,” he explains. “It’s really an extension of Handsome Furs in a lot of ways. In retrospect, I regret that I couldn’t just call this band ‘Handsome Furs,’ but… you know. Life doesn’t work that way.”

Much of Blue Wave was inspired by Boeckner’s time spent living on the “have-nots” side of Silicon Valley, consuming dystopian Phillip K. Dick novels. This has informed Blue Wave’s songs with an ugly, Blade Runner-inspired, retro-futurist edge. Indeed, echoes of New Order (the bounding “Cold Light”), The Clash’s dance punk (“Evil”), and a very direct nod to Laura Branigan’s “Self Control” (“Space Needle”) inhabit Blue Wave‘s synth-heavy new new-wave.

“I lived in this suburb that was not reaping the benefits of the incredible growth and wealth that’s concentrated in Silicon Valley,” says Boeckner. “And that’s a dissociative, strange feeling I tried to convey.”

In the end, though, it always comes back to the music. It’s why Boeckner’s in at least two-and-a-half bands right now.

“When I graduated from high school, all I really wanted to do was play in a band,” says Boeckner. “Not just play in a band, but specifically write songs and perform them for people.

“I still feel a sense of awe that I have to show up somewhere and be at ‘work.’ When I was working shitty jobs, all I could really dream of was having enough time to do music all the time. I get to do that now, and I’ve done it for the last 10 years. So if I don’t take advantage of that, and if I lose sight of that, then I’m kind of an asshole.”