As a young adult, David Marin read obituaries for a community radio station in his hometown of Drummondville (a town of about 70,000 located about 90 minutes Northeast of Montréal). He suppresses a laugh. “It was a major source of revenue for stations back then!” he says, as if to justify the practice that has since been, well, put to death. David Marin, master of puns, will forgive us for our bad one, about technological progress. Nowadays, it’s on the web that we learn of Lisette and Adélard’s passing.

David’s love for the medium, however, never died. Having graduated from an Art and Technology of the Media program, the songwriter sat before many microphones in his twenties, and has found a new one of sorts in Radio Compost, his new live stage show that’s inspired by current and third album, Hélas Végas, released in November 2018.

“When I prepared the show, I did come up with a few anecdotes to tell, but we concentrated our efforts on the music, nonetheless,” says Marin. “But that always made me feel like I wasn’t delivering everything I have. I would improv, and towards the end, I told myself that if I just worked a little harder, it would be much better.”

That self-flagellation session led to the creation of Radio Compost, the radio station that invites – forces us – to tune in when attending one of his concerts. It’s constructed as an FM radio program that includes taking calls from listeners, ads (for Assurance Love, a love insurance broker), live reports from the Beach Club, and more traditional on-mic interventions that link together songs cherry-picked from his three albums.

“I love radio shows of all kinds – and sometimes it’s a bad trip, especially when I’m in Québec City,” he says. (For reasons that remain unclear, Québec City has a mind-boggling ratio of trash-talk and shock-jock radio programs per capita.) “So instead of trying to find the story, the anecdote that best segues into the next song, I asked myself: what element from the world of radio could be used to get people in the mood for the next tune? My idea was to give the audience an [Andy] Kaufman-esque experience: What’s real and what’s not? I think those are important questions to ask ourselves nowadays.”

He actually dreams, more or less secretly, of a virtual radio station that would link the various regions of Québec, so that they have can a greatly lacking dialogue between them. “We are so disconnected from what’s happening elsewhere, outside of Montréal,” says the man, who splits his time between his apartment in the city and his house in Trois-Pistoles (a rural town located about 4-1/2 hours Northeast of Montréal, in the Lower Saint Lawrence region).

“I’d like to create a common space that’s something other than trash-talk radio, something more than bitching, to create a true socio-cultural web of what Québec really is. We live in an era where there are a ton of loud speakers, people who yell their opinions. If we want things to change, we need to find another way of doing it.”

“Chu un été trop chaud/ Un automne humide/ Un hiver trop rude/ Et un printemps timide/ Je fais toutt les temps, toutt les temps/ Je reviens maintenant/ Avec le goût d’me refaire/ Une beauté du monde” (“I’m too hot a summer / A humid autumn / A winter too harsh / And a timid spring / I’m all over the place, all over the place / I’m back now / And I feel like re- creating/ A beautiful world”), Marin sings in “Rue de la Grève,” the piano-and-voice ballad that closes Hélas Végas.

As with all great breakup albums, this one is at once the autopsy of a relationship that’s dying, and the story of the necessary re-discovery of oneself – including all the anxiety-inducing, and not always thrilling, questions that this duel with the mirror implies.

After re-patriating his sentimental assets and mending his heart, a man in his forties wonders who he is, when he’s no longer a boyfriend and not yet a father. “We can devote ourselves to love or to a cause, but sometimes, in life, there may come a time when we decide to devote ourselves to ourselves,” says the singer. “That’s what I did: I gave myself permission that I hadn’t given myself in a long time. I was on my own, with nothing to negotiate for awhile, and I just left doors open to anything.”

Writing Tip: Cut Yourself Some Slack
“When you write lyrics and music, you have to learn to cut yourself some slack. What that means to me is, for example, that when I feel like one of my texts is a bit more on the cerebral edge, I’ll compose music that’s simpler to go with it. One also needs to learn that it’s OK to not always rhyme, that you can break free from metering. There are so many toys you can use as a writer. It can be as simple as ‘La nuit je mens/Je m’en lave les mains’ (‘At night I lie / I wash my hands of it,’ with the pun of “mens and “m’en”). It flows, it’s fun, it’s beautiful.”

The result: David Marin, already known as one of his generation’s most agile writers, penned some of his most brilliant and touching lyrics yet on Hélas Végas, thanks to a poetic style that draws the listener in, and lets them slowly discover its prowess (rather than highlighting it gaudily).

“I found my comfort zone as a writer by listening to the words of Jean Fauque (Alain Bashung’s lyricist), he’s the one who taught me where the limit is,” says Marin. “My earlier albums contain some seriously regrettable puns, and Jean Fauque made me realize that if I want to play with language, it has to be refined, not cheap puns.”

Yet, Jean Fauque is often called “hermetic.” So how does one avoid writing, for oneself, overly opaque lyrics? “When I hear ‘Quelle autre solution/Que de se dissoudre’ [in Bashung’s song “Faites monter,” ‘What other solution is there/but to dissolve’], I go nuts! Not you? There’s nothing opaque there! To me, good lyrics are like images, like the strokes of a paintbrush. It’s having three coats of paint in a single sentence. It’s like beautiful fireworks for your brain, your intelligence, and your heart.” He’s talking about Fauque, but he might as well be describing his own songs.

David Marin presents Radio Compost on Sept. 10, 2019, at Ministère.

“Singing has always intrigued me,” says Alex Erian in the middle of a conversation about Balance, the fourth album by his band Obey The Brave, released in July on the Hell for Breakfast imprint, a subsidiary of Slam Disques. The statement seems odd, since Alex Erian has been OTB’s singer since it was created, in 2012 and was previously the singer for deathcore band Despised Icon starting in 2004.

So what does he actually mean? He means that he’s been pining to escape the sometimes limiting constraints of the role of screamer, so typical in the metalcore universe. According to the current standards—and all things being relative—Balance is Obey The Brave’s most “pop” album, and undoubtedly the one where the frontman uses his voice for more melodic endeavours. Alongside him are axeman Terrence McAuley, drummer Stevie Morotti, and newcomer Ben Landreville on bass.

“I was weary of the reactions that would provoke. I was expecting more hate on the internet, but people were pretty cool,” says Erian, referring to the sometimes virulent attacks that such a move generates in the world of punk or metal, no matter how subtle it may be – because it’s usually, childishly, likened to a form of compromise or “going soft.”

“In any case,” says Erian, about those for whom the slightest modulation to a band’s intensity is nothing short of high treason, “what matters the most is creating something that comes from the heart, not fitting into a trend. In my twenties, I focused on the technical aspect of things, musical prowess. Now, it’s all about the feeling. I’ve learned that simplicity is an art form, and while it’s far beyond me to look down on screamers, I wanted to develop another talent. It was a big challenge. I had to work on myself a lot. Singing without screaming takes on an additional form of vulnerability. You can no longer hide behind lyrics that are barely audible, and I believe having lyrics that are more audible makes the message more universal. We wanted to establish a better bond with our fans, and for me, that was the way to do it.”

What message? Let’s summarize Obey The Brave’s discourse as flipping the bird at adversity. “I’d rather die standing up than live on my knees,” Erian swears on No Apologies, a tip of the hat—or of the Montréal Expos baseball cap, as it were—to his friends in the LGBTQ+ community who chose to risk rejection by their loved ones rather than denying who they are one more day. “Calme le jeu,” the compulsory French song on the album, decries the masked-identity games that go on in social media, which have become kingdoms of fakes and shams.

Although he’s never shied away from exploring the dark recesses of his mind,  Erian had rarely before spelled out so clearly his quest for serenity and light than on Balance, a project that sees him ferociously battle the harmful instinct of inward-looking attitudes. Does he sometimes feed his own dark side for the sake of creativity? He bursts out laughing over the phone. Of course he does.

“I was telling my mom just yesterday: ‘art is pain,’ but I’m really trying hard to get out of that mindset. It’s difficult, however, because you can’t avoid isolating yourself in order to create, and writer’s block can become overwhelming to deal with (which is, incidentally, the subject of the song “Cold Summer”). When you devote three or fours hours a day to writing, and you have nothing in the end, it can bear on your conscience quite a bit.”

While being careful to not come across as complaining too much, Erian does recognize that equanimity is a rare commodity on the long and winding road of heavy music. He was flying out to California on the day after our interview (on a Tuesday) to meet with the executives of Despised Icon’s record label, before flying back to Québec on Satruday, and heading straight to Rouyn-Noranda’s Festival de musique émergente to play with Despised Icon.

Writing Tips: Metalcore Breakdowns
Metalcore as a genre is quite fond of breakdowns, those syncopated interludes that often act as a bridge in a song. What is the goal of a good breakdown? “The goal of a breakdown,” says  Erian, “is to engage the crowd even more during a show, make people move, and let them express themselves physically.” In other words, a good breakdown gets the bad mojo out of your system.

As for Obey The Brave, they’ll undertake a short tour of Québec, starting in Shawinigan on September 6, before heading out to the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Austria in November for a 15-date tour. Balance, in a sense, is also the testimonial of a man who refuses to give up on his ideals, despite all the hardships he’s had to endure, and all the sacrifices of his quest.

“People think we’re living the dream, and in a way we are,” he says. “A career in music is unbelievable, but it can be quite difficult at times. I’m 38, and I’ve been touring since I was 17, and what I realize, with increasing pain, is that the life of the people you leave behind goes on without you. The people around you are experiencing things, and you are not a part of it. Then there’s what I see behind the scenes, and that’s not pretty either. People think that the “sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll” lifestyle is glamorous, but I can tell you it’s not at all. Drugs more often than not become a crutch, a way to avoid reality.”

His main incentive to carry on: the hope he sees in the eyes of the young people everywhere OTB plays, and the energy they get from the band’s metalcore explosion, an energy that fuels their desire to defend their convictions. “A lot of people of my generation are quite resistant to change,” says Erian. “To the contrary, I’ve always thought it’s important to foster new ideas, new conversations. That’s how our world evolves. If, as we’re hearing from all over the place, we’re undergoing a planetary crisis, maybe it’s time we listened to the younger ones among us.”

Songwriting and composing can sometimes be labours of love, but they’re always hard work, nonetheless.

You have to do some sort of creative work to write a song or compose a piece, and there are as many ways to do that work as there are music creators in the world.

In honour of Labour Day, SOCAN would like to share a few quotes, from interviews with our writer and composer members, about some of the qualities that come up repeatedly as facilitators of their work: persistence, patience, vulnerability, and solitude.

Sarah McLachlan, on the value of solitude in nature to complete her lyrics:
“I have a dog, and I hike every day in the woods… and whatever kernels of ideas I have, I just go into the woods, usually by myself, and just sort of work on the lyrics. I’ve got so much music, a ton of music, but lyrics are the things that are tough, where I have to really turn my brain off; turn all the other things off in my brain to really focus on them. Being in the woods, in nature, is paramount in being able to just relax, and settle in, and do nothing but focus in on that one task.”

Jessie Reyez, on the challenge of writing songs from a vulnerable place:
“The only time it’s difficult is… [when I’m] anticipating my loved ones feeling my pain. Because I know they hurt different, they hurt differently for me. That makes me hesitant about putting things out sometimes. But I do it anyway, and they support me anyway. So I’m grateful.”

Grandson, on the persistence involved in co-writing the 2019 SOCAN Songwriting prize-winning song “Blood/Water”:
“That one in particular was like trying to get a big fish on board… It took a million different forms, sonically, and we just couldn’t crack it… Kevin Hissink and I got it to a place (about 60 percent done) we were excited about, where I had all the lyrics, but finally I came up with what would become the verse melody, and the buildup melody, but we needed something to put it over the top… We sent Chester (Krupa Carbone) the demo, and he built out the rest of it.”

Buffy Sainte-Marie, on the patience required for her songs to reach timely fruition for release:
“I had political problems in the U.S. [in the ’70s] so that I couldn’t get any airplay. But I made a lot of great records during that time, that didn’t get heard. So some of those songs showed up on [her 2015 Polaris Prize-winning album] Power in the Blood… As a songwriter, if you have a medicine, and the flu hasn’t hit yet, it’s very smart to hang on to the medicine until it can do some good.”


Marie-Mai (Photo: Malina Corpadean)

Marie-Mai, on the super-vulnerable songs of her 2018 Elle et moi album:
Elle et moi is an incredibly personal album from beginning to end. Definitely my most personal album ever… This record is like my diary while I was going through all of this turmoil… an open window on my life during these last few years. Each song reveals a little more about me, and I know people will have questions after listening to them. Did she really do that? Did she really feel that way?”

Christine Jensen, multiple JUNO Award-winning jazz artist, on the listening effort and solitude required for her composing process:
“When I start the process of composition, the first thing I look for, or try to get my ears around, is an idea that I know I can develop. That might mean checking out a lot of different music, whether it’s jazz, or world, or contemporary classical, or pop, or folk… Then I need a place by myself, usually, to just process some thoughts and get some seeds of ideas going.”

Nicolas Gémus, 22, on the persistence required to write the songs on his critically-acclaimed 2019 debut album, Hiboux:
“I was 15 when I wrote the first song on the album… A song will happen spontaneously through a chorus or a verse, then I’ll take a step back and find that song’s heart and soul. And then begins the tortuous process of finishing that song. ‘L’amour et la peur’ came out in three hours; but most of the time, I need three hours to write a single sentence.”

Amritha Vaz

Amritha Vaz

Leonard Sumner, on the patience required to create his 2019 JUNO-nominated album Standing in the Light:
“It was a six-year process… Everything from song selection for recording, to the actual “playlist” of track order, to every little detail I went over. It was a super-long process. I had the album title for years before I actually had the songs ready for it.”

Amritha Vaz, screen composer, on the persistence required as she started out in film scoring
“When you start working as an assistant, you might be exceptionally lucky to land a writing gig, but more often, you’re earning your way to that position. Perhaps because I hadn’t formally studied film scoring, I was keenly aware of my huge learning curve, so I was just as eager to learn how to set-up Logic templates and synch video, as I was to soak up musical insights… There was so much to learn!… And there’s the art of graciously letting it all go when what you’ve tried [for a score] doesn’t land, and you’re back to square one.”

High Klassified, Montréal-based hip-hop producer, and Weeknd/Future co-writer, on the value of solitude to focus on writing:
“My girlfriend lives in the Canadiens tower (downtown condo), and that’s a real headache to me. All that noise and entertainment bothers me. In (my basement studio in) Laval, I can concentrate on music and think about nothing else. That’s how I manage to create.”