Unbound by the rules of traditional hip-hop music, Dead Obies came to life in 2011 with the self-appointed mission of adding a “post-rap” feel to their own punk/electro/soul musical mixture. The band’s first year of collective learning and experimentation produced Collation Vol. 1, a pleasantly chaotic basement recording. “One of the hard drives blew up, and we lost all our works-in-progress,” Yes Mccan, one of the band’s five MCs, recalls. “The MP3s of some of our previous sessions were all we had left. So we decided to get them out there and see what people thought. We got good reviews and sold some albums without any marketing. We just posted that material on Facebook and Bandcamp, and people started sharing. We hadn’t given any serious thought to our songwriting up to that point, but we now got thinking about what we had to say, and started planning a conceptual album that would show people where we were coming from.”

The clan (also including RCA, Snail Kid, 20some, O.G. BEAR and VNCE) met at a cottage and conceptualized what was to become Montréal $ud, the sextet’s November 2013 official debut album. This ambitious, daring and stylistically on-trend opus strings together a slew of inventive and solid beats, and contains no less than 17 tracks depicting life in Montreal’s South Shore neighbourhood with as much authenticity as intelligence.

“We were after a cinema/movie feel to engage psychologically with the listener,” says Mccan. I see it sort of like a novel. We were actually thinking of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The more you dig into the Montreal South Shore, the deeper you bury yourself… Our original idea was even more narrative in style. We had been planning on doing something similar to what Kendrick Lamar had done on Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City; that is, travel to a place where the geography and the environment are at the heart of the story and play on its main character. We revised our itinerary to loosen things up a little. We wanted a self-standing work as opposed to what was being done in the rap world at the time. And when the album came out, it was exactly in sync with what was being done in that style.”

“We wanted to create an album that people could listen to on their way to work, that would help them get through the day.”

While the 24-year-old MC agrees that the sextet’s outlook involves no preferred themes, the songs of their debut album clearly share a particular vibe. “It’s an empowering album,” Mccan suggests. “It happens all the time in the rap music world. We wanted to create an album that people could listen to on their way to work, something that would help them get through the day. That’s what was behind this album.”

Dead Obies members, whose ages range from 22 to 26, are all informed and committed lovers of music in the broadest sense of the word. This shows in the way they seamlessly move from French to English to Franglais to Creole (“just a modern Quebec reality,” Mccan points out) on Montréal $ud, and in their democratic approach to the writing of catchy songs. “VNCE looks after the music side. He’ll sometimes come in with a fully composed or nearly completed tune for the band to work on. On other occasions, we’ll start from scratch, but music always comes first, and the lyrics only come in to support the story that’s already inside the music. Putting words on the musical feel of a piece is our biggest challenge. We get together and talk it over. Someone writes a verse down, and we all listen to it. Other band members follow suit, and we’ll try to zero in on a central theme. Everyone shares his own snippets and we all try to build something on that idea.”

Still moonlighters, all Dead-O band members dream of being in a position to quit their day jobs at some point. “We’re probably not going to be able to raise our families from record sales,” Mccan explains, “but I think there’s a way of getting into the loop. We’re looking for ways to make this work. We’d like to build our own studio and provide professional services, which would be a good way of making our revenues more regular. You know, I never identified with the pop music that’s being played on radio, but at the same time, I feel that if those nondescript artists can make a living and fill a need, maybe I too deserve to earn my living in this business!”

Besides planning their dream home studio, the Dead Obies crew is now working with a production company on a show that can be staged as part of large-scale events, starting with the Montréal en lumières Festival. “We’ve always tried to put up the best possible show on a shoestring, but now we can afford to do things in a bigger way. Montréal $ud was recorded the same way Collation Vol. 1 was – we did the voice tracks in a closet and the beats in a basement. We want to take things further and take our music on the road. Nothing’s been confirmed yet, but we’re planning a European tour. We’re going to keep busy, that’s for sure. VNCE already has 20 beats ready. We’re producing a lot of stuff, and it gets our record company worried sometimes! We want to improve our craft so we can offer an even finer product.” Things are definitely looking up for the Dead Obies.

It may take different strokes to move the world, but it took one Canadian entertainer to turn the theme for an ‘80s sitcom into a song that sticks with us. Alan Thicke, the actor, comedian, talk show host, author and Canadian Walk of Famer, is also a successful songwriter for television, and a SOCAN member. The Diff’rent Strokes theme is one of his most enduring compositions.

How did you start in the world of composing for TV?  That’s not what you went to L.A. to do, right?
No, I was a lousy bar band guitar player and singer in Toronto, and was always interested in music. When I got my first producing assignment in the U.S., after a couple of years of writing variety shows down there, it was for a game show. They knew a little bit about my musical background and they assigned me to come up with a theme song. They wanted something different so I suggested maybe rock ‘n’ roll, something contemporary. And to take it beyond that, we said why not write a lyric for it? So I did. I wrote and recorded and sang the theme song to The Wizard of Odds. By today’s standards it would be pretty lame, but back then it was progressive for a daytime game show.

“The fact that every quarter for 35 years I get SOCAN statements outlining where this has been used and played is very flattering.”

The theme for Diff’rent Strokes is credited to yourself, your then-wife Gloria Loring and executive Al Burton. How did you work together?
Al would quite frankly admit that his role in the creation of the song was to assign it to me. [laughs] Gloria was very busy as a performer and touring a lot. When I told her I had this assignment she and her guitar player pitched a few ideas, and I think there was a line we used. I don’t want to discredit her in any way, we shared a lot of things. But I think she would agree that I wrote the song. All the lyrics are mine and most of the music. Then I went into the studio with David Foster – who played keyboards on a lot of my sessions back then – and produced it, with David and the boys. Brenda Russell is also on there singing backing vocals. It was a fine beginning to a relationship with Norman Lear Productions that lead to Facts of Life and about 45 themes over the years.

This was a golden age for writing theme songs with lyrics. Why do you think that’s fallen out of fashion?
Networks don’t want to wait 30 seconds to start the next show to hook you. It’s a practical matter.

What kind of stories have you heard over the years about this song, about what it meant to the viewers?
As I understand it, college kids get together to play beer pong and bet each other who can remember the most of their parents’ [era] show lyrics. [laughs] The fact that every quarter for 35 years I get SOCAN statements outlining where this has been used and played is very flattering. Between Diff’rent Strokes and Facts of Life, the lyrics have popped up in shows from Dave Chapelle to SNL to Two Broke Girls. When I hear the lines used in a sketch, I turn to my 16-year-old, elbow him, “Hey, that’s my song!”

You’ve talked about the scene in L.A. in the ‘70s of Canadians helping each other, and about how you later helped the next generation of Canadians there. What’s your advice for young film and TV composers?
Well, I would say don’t aim to make music for television, just make music. Television will find you.

Soon after striking their first chords in the backroom of a Contrecoeur, Quebec, woodworking shop in 2006, the three members of the pop/rock group going by the name of On a créé UN MONSTRE (OacUM for short) took the fast lane to musical fame, at least on the local indie/pop/rock scene. “It happened very quickly,” Antoine Lachance confirms. “We got so busy we didn’t have time to realize what was going on.” As the three thirtysomething musicians had no idea what to call their group, they thought of the phrase “We’ve created a monster” and just called it that: a prescient move.

And a monster it is, in the sense that intuition, and intuition alone drives everything that bassist/frontman/main lyricist François Larivière, guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist/composer Antoine Lachance and drummer Ghislain Lavallée ever do. Admittedly, François, Ghislain and (until 2011) Félix-Antoine Viens had had some time to develop a symbiotic creative relationship as part of Manchester, their previous Sorel, Quebec, punk rock band. “I too, came from a previous group, and we all met in bars around there,” Lachance, who joined OacUM in 2009, explained. “François studied guitar when he was in Cégep, and I took voice training at UQAM. Ghislain and Félix-Antoine are highly instinctive self-taught musicians. All this is good because our diverse backgrounds add value to the band.”

“The writing process can be triggered by a situation, an atmosphere, the feeling of the moment, anything.”

Stemming from wacky conversations and airy jams, the first original songs of On a créé UN MOMSTRE went viral on Myspace. After taking part in the 2008 Francouvertes music competition, the musicians recorded their first EP with the help of ex-Malajube member Renaud (Coeur de pirate) Bastien, an old friend from Sorel days. Signed by Slam Disques in 2010, OacUM released L’Iceberg, their first album, at the Montreal Divan Orange club in front of a rapt audience. In rapid succession, the “Dorval” excerpt began rotating on MusiquePlus in a Jessy Fuchs-produced video and playing on Radio NRJ, while making the TOP 100 BDS and XM Satellite Radio charts. Other tracks such as “5,0,” “Je pleure ou je ris” and “Brûle” also made waves. The band was later invited to perform at a JUNO Awards Pandemonium concert in Ottawa and at the Rencontres de l’ADISQ (where they collected a Sirius XM Award). They also opened Jean Leloup’s Festival de la Gibelotte concert, and attracted a lot of attention at the 2011 FrancoFolies de Montréal festival.

Thanks to their pop/rock style, based on aggressive guitar riffs, stellar vocals and universal lyrical themes, the band’s songs appeal to a cross-section of listeners of all ages. “We are rooted in punk music, but all three of us have very different inspirations and tastes,” Antoine points out. “We’ve been greatly influenced by the Winnipeg group The Weakerthans, for instance, with their varied folk/country/alternative punk palette. We also like Ben Howard and a lot of Quebec artists like Peter Peter, O Linea or Arcade Fire.” Music critics, in turn, have linked some L’Iceberg sounds to Pinback, Three Mile Pilot, The Police or Malajube.

Creatively, the band sides with a type of spontaneity and freedom that is consistently tempered by deep questioning. “François and I often bring in song sketches, draft lyrics or a few chords,” Antoine explains. “This sets off a great democratic exercise. We discuss things, we argue, but always in the interest of the song itself. One thing we’ve always known, though, was that we were going to write in French. It’s the language we love. It’s part of our identity, it defines us at the most basic level.”

Co-produced by Renaud Bastien and recorded by Jérôme Boisvert, La Dérive [Drifting], the band’s November 2013 sophomore album, is a more somber, piano-driven collection that evolved out of a need to explore a new sound. “The writing process can be triggered by a situation, an atmosphere, the feeling of the moment, anything,” Antoine continues. “Our lyrics can often be understood at different levels. We want each listener to come up with their own interpretations. ‘Le corps est lourd’ [‘The Body is Heavy’], the album’s official video, could be read as a tune about suicide, but what I was picturing in my mind when I wrote it was a tightrope walker. ‘Charles-de-Gaulle (Paris)’ was inspired by a real event. ‘Ta langue sale’ (‘Your Dirty Tongue’) deals with psychological aggression, something François learned about as part of his work with people with autism. ‘La dérive’ explores the carelessness that can lead to addiction. It’s probably the darkest song on the whole album.”

At press time, On a créé UN MONSTRE was embarking on an extensive Quebec tour that could lead them some day to France and beyond. The dynamic trio doesn’t know for sure but, as usual, expects the unexpected.