At the time of our interview, Chromeo’s David Macklovitch, a.k.a. Dave 1, happens to be in Minneapolis, a coincidence that’s too rich for him to avoid pointing out. As Chromeo’s latest release is billed as a tribute to funk music, one can hardly imagine a better place than Prince’s hometown to bring up the subject…  “What’s more,” the singer adds, “our show is taking place in the very venue where Prince is performing in the Purple Rain film! Let’s just say that there are phantoms lurking around…”

The ghost of Prince is one of the many references jumping out at your ears as you listen to Head Over Heels, particularly on “Bad Decision,” a song whose slap-bass and nervy chords offer a clear tribute to the late singer. “It’s one of the songs that best represent the colour we had in mind for the album,” says Dave 1. “We wanted to keep the electro rhythms that are part of our DNA, while at the same time bringing a more human feel. Actually, we wanted to try to re-create the energy of a 1970s rock band.”

To that end, Dave and his partner, Patrick Gemayel, a.k.a. P-Thugg, moved into a Los Angeles studio – where they’d invited an impressive array of guest musicians, a departure from their usually rather insular universe.  “Honestly, I’m not very fond of the L.A. atmosphere – we went there mostly for logistical reasons,” says Dave 1, a proud New Yorker. The artists, of varied generations and backgrounds, who collaborated with the duo ranged from French Montana to DRAM to Rodney “Darkchild” Jenkins and The Time’s Jesse Johnson (another nod to Prince).

“The artist we wanted the most was The-Dream,” says Dave 1. “Pat and I are hard-core fans of his work [Editor’s Note: he produced Rihanna’s “Umbrella”] and we were thrilled to have him with us to sing on ‘Bedroom Calling.’ Throughout the process, we were feeding on our collaborators’ energy, in spite of the fact that, in the case of Amber Mark, who can be heard on ‘Just Friends,’ it was actually a long-distance e-mail collaboration. We left in the song the little note where she’s talking directly to me, saying “Here’s what I can offer you, Dave, call me back if you need anything else,” to keep a spontaneous feel.”

Chromeo 2018 Album CoverDespite their obvious wish to bring a breath of freedom into their work, the Chromeo guys are remaining faithful to their sound, and to their control-freak perfectionist leanings. The same approach applies to the album visuals, with a cover that offers a fun variation on a known recipe. After using (and objectifying) disembodied women’s legs on all of their previous album covers, the male pair now reverses the visual dynamics by appearing on the Head Over Heels cover wearing fishnet stockings and high heels, a calculated choice that introduces a new element while respecting a graphic approach that was established from the outset. “The visual presentation is paramount for us,” Dave explains. “In some ways, it can be more important than the music itself! Most of the groups that have helped shape us, from the Ramones to Daft Punk, have a very strong and unique image. Take KISS, for instance: I could hardly name five of their songs, but I know exactly what their shows looked like.”

For their Head Over Heels tour, the band indulged in gleaming scenery that includes chrome stage-set elements, instruments, and other objects. The glitzy stage direction and festive approach – tailored for music festivals – provides the duo with the background they need to shed some light on our troubled times.

“Patrick and I are living in the U.S. in 2018, so it’s absolutely impossible for us not to be politicized!” says Dave 1. “And since we’re not shy about sharing our opinions, whether it’s on social media or during interviews, we don’t feel the need to make socially committed music. For us, making music for the sole purpose of making people happy is, in and of itself, a political gesture.”

La Chute de SparteIt was her first-ever red carpet. First-ever feature film score, she adds. “Was it pleasant? Yes, but I’m not part of the team in front of the camera, so I was very low-profile,” she says. Yet the release of La chute de Sparte (The Fall of Sparta in English), an adaptation of a novel by Biz (of Loco Locass), directed by Tristan Dubois, had something rather exceptional about it: during the credits, under “Original Music,” it was the name Sophie Lupien – one of the very rare female film composers in Québec – that appeared on-screen.

Let’s be brutally honest: Québec doesn’t have a long-standing tradition of great film composers of the likes found in France, Italy, or the U.S. Sophie Lupien doesn’t argue, and adds that it’s partly due to the nature of the beast. “Film music is often there to enhance the on-screen scene or narrative, not to shine on its own,” she says. “Screen composing is a completely different trade than composing music for yourself.” Our singer-songwriters are acclaimed, while our film composers are often left behind the scenes.

Lupien is well placed to know that female screen composers are scarcer than hen’s teeth. In recent memory, Catherine Major (initially a singer-songwriter) distinguished herself for her work on the movie Le Ring in 2008, and in 2013, it was Viviane Audet, also a singer-songwriter, that stood out from the crowd with her work on the movie Camion, which she co-wrote with Robin-Joël Cool and Éric West-Millette. Prior to that, in 2007, Jorane – whose instrumental music is more naturally applicable to film –also shone, for her work on Un dimanche à Kigali. All three won the Jutra Awards (now called Iris Awards) for Best Original Music.

Lupien’s work on La chute de Sparte lives alongside the work of other composers and – as a matter of fact – goes out of its way to get out of the way of the action. In addition to original songs written by La Bronze, and other songs from the repertoires of rappers such as Rymz, Manu Militari and Muzion, the thirty-odd minutes of music composed by Lupien enhance the more nuanced moments of this intelligent teen movie. Chafiik, Loco Locass producer and DJ, also wrote a few instrumental passages.

“I was tasked with composing music that played after songs that stood out,” says Lupien, “like the very expressive songs by La Bronze or the stern raps of Manu Militari. It was a lot of scene-transition work. Sometimes this transition is easy, for example, by playing in the same tonality [of the song played before], but in a different musical style that inspires new emotions.”

This delicate transition work was necessary, “because it truly is a dense film with a ton of scenes,” says Lupien. “And that’s where musical transition is important, to help viewers properly understand the narrative, which takes place over a period of six months, and is condensed into 90 minutes. Music plays a role in that.”

She got into film composing almost by chance, through common friends with director Tristan Dubois, which led to her composing music for his first two shorts, in 2009 and 2012. It was natural for the Swiss-born director to call Lupien when the time came of choosing a composer to score La chute de Sparte.

“What I loved about this experience was the chance to dabble in all kinds of musical genres,” says Lupien. “For the close-up on the high school early on in the movie, it was something electro-tinged. Elsewhere, you’ll hear orchestral passages, or some jazzier stuff in the background,” says the composer, who spent two solid months writing, based on the director’s instructions.

“Tristan really mulled over the music he needed and knew what he wanted for his scenes,” Lupien recalls. “He worked with a rough cut over which he’d placed reference music. Then I had to write original music that matched his intentions. It’s not about mimicking the melodies or specific harmonies of the reference music, it’s about creating the emotion, the intent that drove him to pick those references. That’s the hardest part about film scoring: to always compose bearing in mind that the music is at the service of the narrative. You need to really understand the story to be able to compose music that enhances what needs to be enhanced. In the end, it’s like deconstructing every scene.”

ChancesChances is composed of Geneviève Toupin (Willows), Chloé Lacasse (winner of the 2011 Francouvertes) and Vincent Carré (Antoine Gratton, Alex Nevsky, Mountain Daisies, Monsieur Mono). Two singer/keyboardists and a drummer. Revealed to the public thanks to Lacasse’s album Lunes, their adventure took a new direction when they became a bona fide trio where everyone has fun, explores, operates on instinct, and creates new worlds of music.

“The future is in mixing cultures,” says Manitoba-born Toupin from Baie-Comeau, where Chances is opening for Alex Nevsky on the last three dates of his tour. “Singing in Ojibway [on the song ‘Shine’] – an Algonquian language I’m far from speaking fluently, even though I’m Métis – is part of my genealogy. There’s a very strong native presence where I come from. In Winnipeg, there are even reserves within the city. Those are my roots.”

A thirst for culture, a desire to move forward. Over its 10 songs, Traveler offers music with a powerful glow, and a sound that’s almost addictive. It’s like a breath of fresh, cathartic air, with well-arranged vocal harmonies over layers of keyboards.

“Chloé and I took Indian singing classes [Carnatic singing], and that inspired us a lot,” says Toupin. Lacasse herself adds, “We realized that our voices blended incredibly well. It’s liberating. Singing alongside multiple voices is truly one of life’s greatest joys. But we needed Vincent’s beats to guide us. The core of our music is rhythms and vocal harmonies. We wanted to create something very modern, à la Milk & Bone, but with something else that’s bigger than us.”

Lacasse explains the scope of the sacrifice. “Working on the demos in the studio took a lot from me, sometimes you can spend hours just tweaking a sound,” she says. “Producing the album took twelve months, creating one song at a time. We even talked about the project for quite a while before we even started writing. For a couple of months, our hours were rich in ideas and exchanges.

“Composing as a trio came more naturally than I expected. It took longer than usual, but it’s music that needs to be arranged in the studio, so that we can determine what we’ll do with it on stage later.”

Traveler is filled with very evocative lyrics. “We want our music to empower people, despite the political climate in the United States,” says Toupin. “It made us angry. We live in a world of image, appearance, popularity.”

The scenic layout of Chances’ live show is efficient. The keyboards are on both sides of the stage, while drummer Carré sits in the middle. “There’s no one in front of me, says Carré, who played on Chloé Lacasse’s first records. “My drum sits where a singer would normally be. I’m super-expressive when I play, and the audience loves it. I make faces and don’t even realize it… And one thing I’ve learned with Chances is to lower the volume of my instrument. Yesterday, we played a 900-capacity venue in Baie-Comeau [with Nevsky], but tomorrow, we might play in Trois-Pistoles, in a café with 30 seats, so we need to adapt.

“Yes, there’s electro [in our music] and we’re here to have fun. I made beats with various kinds of software, and that gave the tone to our exploration. It’s another playground. The girls wanted it to sound different. I come from a family of women, equal rights is super-important for us, and I’m comfortable in the world of women. We’re completely captivated by this project, and we’re living it to the fullest.”

Playing M2 at MTelus on June 30 and July 1
as part of the 2018 Montreal International Jazz Festival