If Yonatan “xSDTRK” Ayal is the face of the Chiiild project, singer-songwriter Pierre-Luc Rioux is its heart and soul. Following an EP launched in February 2020, the group is back with Hope for Sale, its first proper full-length album of engaging, easy-on-the-ears, synthetic soul. The Montrealers have been based in L.A. for awhile now, offering their songwriting and producing services to various pop stars, and are now ready to fly on their own.

Chiiild, Pierre-Luc Rioux

Pierre-Luc Rioux. (Photo: Rosalie Deschênes-Grégoire )

“Yoni and I came to L.A. in 2015,” says Rioux. “We quickly started getting booked for sessions left and right” – by which he means sessions for Katy Perry, David Guetta, Jessie J, Usher, Céline Dion, and Chloe X Halle, to name only a few. “In 2016 alone, we worked on about 300 sessions – we never stopped! Then, at some point, we thought, ‘Maybe it’s time we start working on our own projects?’”

Rioux and Ayal’s approach reminds us that being a songwriter is a profession, and that experience is a valuable currency to earn a place in the sun on the California music scene. Hope for Sale, Chiiild’s first album, is the perfect example of the skills honed by the two musicians over the past few years: formidable choruses backed by a welcoming sense of groove, and slick production. First-class pop.

Most of the time, as Ayal explains, they work together. “I’m not necessarily the one who always writes the lyrics,’ he says, “but for the Chiiild project, I’m mainly in charge of that, more than I am of the music or production,” which is the purview of Rioux.

“What’s cool about the relationship I’ve built with Yoni is that it is based on collaboration, not competition,” says Rioux. “We each have our strengths, onstage and in the studio. There’s stuff I do better, the same goes for Yoni, and as time goes by we each develop further into our respective roles. Yoni [as a singer] is the face of Chiiild, but there’s a lot of his personality that shines through, especially in the lyrics.”

When it comes to writing, Yoni finds inspiration in the real world around him: “I don’t write songs about fictitious subjects, I don’t like fiction in songs,” he says. “If it didn’t happen, I won’t write about it. It’s all real,” and sometimes even predictive, Rioux adds: “We’re used to working with people with their fingers on the pulse, people who know what time it is, intuitively,” he says, citing the song “Hold On Till We Get There,” a pop-soul number propelled by a mellifluous rhythm reminiscent of a Gorillaz groove. “‘Hold On Till We Get There’ was written in December of 2019, and when the pandemic hit, that song took on a completely different meaning. That feeling that everyone’s in lockdown, and we’ll get through this together. It wasn’t written to describe that situation, but it works perfectly!”

The song was produced by their mutual friend Mathieu Jomphe-Lépine, a.k.a. Billboard, another one of those pop geniuses who deploys his talents as a composer, accompanist, and producer in the service of others (Madonna, Dua Lipa, Ariana Grande, etc.). “He’s one of our great friends, but also someone we admire: he’s such a good producer!” says Rioux. “He felt like leaving Montréal to come and work with us in L.A. for a few days, of his own volition. It’s a nice story.”

“What’s really cool about the Chiiild project is that we were able to count on the talent of many great collaborators,” Rioux goes on. “Yoni and I are obviously at the heart of the creative process, but it’s a heart that beats in every direction. We’ve participated in many a song camp over the years, and each time, we try to involve new talent in our project.” Hope For Sale, as a matter of fact, features a few guest vocalists, notably Jensen McRae, on the remix of the irresistible “Gone,” and Mahalia’s delicate voice on the ballad “Awake.”

“Throughout the lockdown, I would throw Zoom pizza parties on Fridays,” says Rioux. “I discovered Mahalia on Instagram, where she posted a cover version of Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car,’ and I clicked. Thanks to a mutual friend, I was able to contact her, and I invited her to our pizza party. Later on, she was kind enough to accept [our offer to] sing on that track, and boy did she kill it!” says the musician, who switches from French to English seamlessly throughout our conversation.

His own voice is full of charm, and his singing is inspired by the delicate stylings of Astrud Gilberto on the classic Getz/Gilberto album from 1964. “You know, some singers sing to you, and others simply sing,” he says. “I didn’t want to be that type of singer who sings ‘to someone’ – I prefer a more internalized and heart-on-the-sleeve type of interpretation.”

Chiiild was getting ready to play Lollapalooza in Chicago when we spoke, just a few weeks after being invited to perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live! “We were super-lucky,” says Rioux excitedly. “They’d secured a time slot for us, but that was before the pandemic. People make promises, but they’re generally postponed… The people at Lollapalooza, however, called us back, so we’re really stoked!”

For that gig, the band will feature five musicians on stage: Ayal on vocals and keys, Rioux, discreetly on guitar, one violinist doubling as a backing vocalist, Nick Clark on bass (“He’s an authority here in L.A., he plays for everyone including Kanye West”), and drummer Maxime Bellavance (who was the tempo master of the house band for the TV competition La Voix, the Québec franchise of The Voice).

“For us,” Rioux continues, “releasing an album isn’t about the number of views on YouTube or of plays on Spotify. It’s about being proud of being able to say we took our destiny in our own hands. Our future used to greatly depend on the success of others – now, we’re flying on our own. I’ve been a touring musician for a long time, playing for others. Being able to go on tour with our own material and releasing songs that we created with our friends is a victory in and of itself. That, and being able to represent the talent pool from Montréal.”


When the COVID-19 pandemic ground the world to a halt in March of 2020, singer-songwriter LØLØ, born Lauren Mandel, was undaunted. Locked down at home in Toronto, LØLØ kept herself busy by posting short dance videos to TikTok. It was there that she spotted a video of a young woman performing a version of the song “Hey There Delilah” by The Plain White Ts, inverting the narrative to tell the story from Delilah’s point-of-view. Intrigued,  LØLØ wrote her own version, quickly generating a strong following on the platform with her pared-down acoustic performance.

“It got more streams than my dancing videos,” she laughs. “I was, like, ‘Wait a minute – this makes sense!” Realizing the creative potential in writing covers from new perspectives, she began generating lots of original content on the social media platform. Her version of country duo Dan and Shay’s “Tequila” got radio play, while her cover of Taylor Swift’s “Betty” generated buzz on a Reddit page run by Swift’s fans. Before long, LØLØ had also attracted the attention of Mike Caren of the APG Publishing Group, who, in December of 2020, signed her as a writer.

“I’m now getting access to other amazing artists and other songwriters and producers I wouldn’t have had access to,” she says, still giddy from a recent trip to Los Angeles, where she had the chance to pitch for artists like BTS and Gwen Stefani. “I love writing for other people, coming into a room and hearing them say ‘I want to write about this…’ It’s like a therapy session, and I turn it into lyrics.”

But LØLØ wasn’t always so keen on becoming on songwriter. As a child, she idolized Shirley Temple, studied tap dancing, and dreamed of being on Broadway. In Grade 9, however, when she started taking guitar lessons to keep up with her younger sister, her teacher suggested she try singing, and encouraged her to write her first song. Though young LØLØ was accustomed to writing out her feelings in her diary, she was terrified at the notion of having people hear her innermost thoughts. It was only when her teacher threatened not to come back unless she did, that she buckled down and got to work.

 “I think my younger self would be freaking out”

“I sat down with my guitar and wrote a song – and it came super-naturally,” she recalls. “I was like ‘Oh, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’” From that day on, she wrote hundreds of songs, and still credits her teacher, Elliott Bernstein, for charting her career path.

With no connections to the music industry, however, LØLØ – who cites Avril Lavigne, Green Day, and Hilary Duff as early influences – began performing at open mics in Toronto, in a bid to meet people. After joining forces with a couple of music producers, she put out her first single in the Fall of 2018, quickly finding success as an IHeartRadio Future Star, which in turn resulted in widespread radio play.

“It was a blessing and a curse that I got on the radio [right away],” she says, admitting that she soon felt pressure to tone down her punky, guitar-driven sound for something more “straight down the middle” – but she wasn’t happy with the result. “It didn’t work not being myself,” she says.

Stepping back, LØLØ spent the next year working on her writing, staying true to her desire to craft “weird or quirky lyrics.” Since then, she’s released a number of new songs and videos that are truer to her roots, including 2021’s “Die without U” and “Lonely and Pathetic.” “I like trying to say things that nobody has ever said before,” she says.

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to lift, LØLØ has her eyes set firmly on the future, including touring with Simple Plan in the late summer, releasing a new EP, and then heading back to Los Angeles for another writing stint.

She admits she’s surprised to see how far she’s been able to come in a short time, but loves where the journey is taking her. “I always wanted to do this, but I didn’t know if I actually could,” she says. “And now I feel like I’m actually doing it. I think my younger self would be freaking out.”

Through our new series of stories, Visual Arts X Music, we aim to present you with visual artists for whom music plays an essential role, in both their artistic approach, and their lives.

“I have the distinction of being the first drummer ever fired by Fred Fortin,” jokes visual artist Martin Bureau, who’s created the covers of every album for the father of the so-called “Lac-Saint-Jean sound” since Joseph Antoine Frédéric Fortin Perron – a 1996 album with a mouthful of a title that Bureau quotes flawlessly. Impressive. “It’s easy for me to remember because I know both the Fortins and the Perrons,” he says.

Bureau and Fortin met in Saint-Félicien, in Québec’s Lac-Saint-Jean region, at the Polyvalente des Quatre-Vents school back in the mid-1980s. “We lived in the same neighbourhood, and started playing music together,” he says. Bureau was playing drums at the time – “the drummer of Fred’s father’s band had sold me my first drum set when I was 14 or 15” – and Fred was playing bass, which has remained his main instrument. “Right from secondary school, Fred stood out,” Bureau recalls. “His talent was out of this world.”

Because he couldn’t say as much about his own personal performance behind the drums, Bureau soon turned to photography and painting. It was only natural that he’d end up helping his pal establish his visual identity, down the line. “It happened naturally,” says Bureau. “In his early twenties, Fred put out a recording, and I’d just received my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. That we would end up working together was a foregone conclusion.”

While the cover of Fred Fortin’s debut album shows a rather classical picture of the musician, Bureau has created each of the singer’s following emblematic, naturalistic, and dream-like album covers since Plancher des vaches in 2000. “Back in those days, labels always wanted to see the singer’s face on the album cover,” the painter says, as he was looks at the first Gros Méné (1999) cover, which showed a much greater artistic freedom in spite of the fact that it used a photograph and not a painting. “The Tue ce drum Pierre Bouchard album cover reflected what we were doing at the time, which was playing hockey outside,” he says. “I had this black and white lab photo, and I was still honing my Photoshop abilities.”

The record company La Tribu, for whom Fortin recorded his sophomore album, gave free visual rein to Bureau. The label would also initiate a series of meetings between visual artists and musicians, on the initiative of the its co-founder Suzie Larivée, a visual arts enthusiast. Bureau ended up collaborating with, among others, Galaxie, Stephen Faulkner, and more recently, singer-songwriter Tire le coyote who had him design all of his album covers from Mitan (2013) on.

Bureau’s work as an album cover designer also helped him get work as a photographer, and later, as a music video producer thanks to a series of happy accidents that caused him to tackle documentary production from 2008 on. His 2015 L’Enfer marche au gaz! sheds a harsh light on the environment of stock car races in Saint-Félicien’s Autodrome.

As for the Bureau/Fortin modus operandi, Fortin usually pays a visit to Bureau in his Québec City studio, and reviews the works his old chum has produced over the last few years. “We look at some 40 to 50 paintings while listening to the new album, and we end up saying, ‘This one could be a fit,’” says Bureau. Fred will sometimes go as far as borrowing one of Bureau’s painting titles outright, as he did for the Planter le décor (2004) album.

A rare departure from their strategy, Microdose is a buzzing lysergic misdemeanor from 2009. “Fred was telling me that he was having fun pretending that he was Pink Floyd while he was writing and recording, and I came up with the idea of creating a Wish You Were Here pastiche because his female dog Wendy had just died,” says Bureau. In death, she replaced Syd Barrett. “It’s a huge reference, but there still will be people calling us copy cats on Facebook,” Bureau jokes.

Is he still playing drums? Not really. “I used to have a routine of coming home for lunch before going back to the studio, and, as I was getting sleepy, I would play some drums before going back to my paintings.” he says. The playlist included Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Black Crowes, and Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Final question: Will this 25-year-old collaboration end up lasting a lifetime? “I used to tell Fred, ‘Go ahead, try using someone else. Have fun,’ Today, however, I no longer feel that way. The fact that we’re still doing this thing together after 25 years is huge,” says the artist. All the more so because this continuity has helped consolidate Fred Fortin’s monumental life work. Just listen to Scotch, and you’ll automatically recall the orange end-of-the-world hues. Or remember the sickly trees and the cranes of the Planter le décor album cover when you hear the music. “I’m glad to hear this because I, too, love thinking about my favourite bands, and lots of images re-surface in my mind.”