Dear CriminalsInstead of seeing music as an end in itself, Dear Criminals see it instead as a starting point. By effortlessly transcending art forms, Montréal’s electro-folk trio is following its own course and accumulating major projects, the most recent being scoring the movie Nelly.

When we reach the members for this interview, they’re on the road from Rouen to Vendôme, in northwestern France. They’ve just finished a seven-night run of the stage play Les Lettres d’amour, which they scored, and now the three amigos are embarking on a mini-tour that’ll take them to such unusual venues as a chapel, a movie theatre, a lycée (high school) and an old brothel.

“For real, though, it truly is completely different from one night to the next,” says singer and multi-instrumentalist Frannie Holder. “The real challenge is adapting to each environment.”

Band member Charles Lavoie continues: “Our songs are not designed to make people groove in a bar. On the contrary, they’re quite well-suited to being played outside of a conventional setting. I think we, as individuals, are even an incarnation of that peculiarity, because we’re constantly stepping outside of the music world.”

Formed in 2013, Dear Criminals was born of a desire to do things differently. All three members are involved in various musical projects, most notably Random Recipe and b.e.t.a.l.o.v.e.r.s, and all three wanted to go outside of the typical music industry cycle of launching a record and then touring in support of it. “We wanted to do things our way,” says Vincent Legault, a jack-of-all-trades musician. “We decided on a more pragmatic approach and wondered how we could survive in the music world without having to sign with a record label. It’s from that point that opportunities to express ourselves through other media started happening.”

The catalyst of the whole adventure was no doubt their participation in the OFFTA live art festival in 2014. In the wake of the critical success of the their second EP, Crave, Dear Criminals were invited by actress and stage director Monia Chokri to join her for the creation of Foire agricole, a show that saw the band cover, in its unique, electro-minimalist way, the hits of female pop icons like Britney Spears and Mitsou.

So, on top of introducing the band to Montréal’s theatre scene, the event – whose backdrop was the commodification or women – allowed the band to embark on a deeper reflection on the scope of their art. “It was the first time that we talked so profoundly of the meaning behind our artistic objective. Those questions have become indispensable to what we do, now,” says Lavoie.

As a matter of fact, there were many discussions leading to the creation of the Nelly record. Inspired by Anne Émond’s most recent film, itself inspired by the life of writer Nelly Arcan, the EP required several months of reflection and creation. “We felt that the dark, erotic and fragile side of our music was very close to Nelly Arcan’s writing. So when we saw in the papers that Anne was working on a movie about Nelly, we called her up to let her know we were interested,” Holder recalls. “She quickly accepted and told us she didn’t want a conventional movie soundtrack. We then dove into Nelly’s body of work with an analytical eye, seeking something universal. During the process, we realized that the universe we were creating was so rich, we could re-appropriate it.”

Thus, the band’s seventh EP includes re-worked versions of the songs and themes one can hear in the movie, and it stirs a stark emotional contrast, with its muted textures and chilling atmospheres. “We gave ourselves a lot of leeway for this album,” says Lavoie. “It was unavoidable, because of the very nature of Nelly’s personality and body of work.”

The band’s projects are as plentiful as they are diverse, and the trio’s ability to write and compose quickly ensures its stability. Not counting the aforementioned projects, Dear Criminals released two EPs in 2016, on top of composing the score for the TV series Fatale-Station as well as the contemporary dance recital Things Are Leaving Quietly, In Silence, “We just didn’t have the luxury of screwing up!” says Frannie Holder when asked what the band’s secret is for such an intense production schedule. “Luckily, there are three of us, so there’s always one of us who can take the lead.”

Nelly (movie)Their next challenge: a project involving the Académie de l’Opéra de Paris in 2018. As a matter of fact, the musicians took advantage of the French excursion to start brainstorming with stage director Marie-Eve Signeyrole. “It’s a show that looks at eroticism in Generation Y. There’s still a lot of stuff to clarify, but we know we will adapt baroque pieces, among other things,” Lavoie reveals.

Other than that, the next few months will allow the band to catch its breath a little. “We all can’t wait to sit down and think about our future. It’ll feel good to just touch base,” admits Legault. “Right now, I feel we’ve neglected Dear Criminals as a band and focused a little too much on Dear Criminals, the company. What’s happening to us is super-cool, but we can’t wait to start composing from scratch again – just for the fun of it.”


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Everything is hunky-dory for AUTOMAT: gigs are being booked by the dozen and their audience is growing ever larger. In the wake of the release of Pandora, their second album, the four young lads couldn’t be happier! Singer and author Mathieu Bouchard feels good: “We’re really happy with the final result! We’re four guys who are happy together. Everything is so simple when we’re playing.”

And that’s also the case for the writing of AUTOMAT’s songs. When the guys go to their Québec City studio, songs just flow out effortlessly. “Some of them were born without any kind of preparation, right there during a recording session,” Mathieu explains. “That was the case for our first single, Mea Culpa, which was written in an hour! And it’s one of our favourites on Pandora.”

As Bouchard explains, that’s made possible thanks to the excellent camaraderie between all of the band members — which is fertile ground for creativity. “A lot of times, everything just comes out at once,” he says. “Melodies, music and lyrics. I start by throwing words out there that sound good with the music the guys are playing, and it all gets fine-tuned as we work on the pieces.” But he’s quick to point out that not all of their songs come out so easily. Some, such as Lumière, which opens the album, were tested, arranged, and transformed before they were recorded under the direction of producer and composer Connor Seidel.

It should be noted that the AUTOMAT guys are not beginners at this game. They’ve been playing for nearly 15 years and have over a thousand concerts on their track record. “We’Re really proud of what we’ve accomplished so far. Initially, we were more of a punk rock band, but over time, we evolved, but kept the positive energy that comes to us naturally when we are together. When we started, we played in shopping malls, and now we unite all the members of any given family during our shows on the summer festival circuit.”

The influence of their new producer, who is younger than the band members are more attuned to more indie bands also helped refocus things. “Connor took us somewhere else while fully respecting who we are as a band. It was a natural evolution that we felt on Pandora, a deep evolution.” Seidel is the man behind Evermoor Audio, a place where the talent of Idie & the Mirrors, Mathieu Holubowski, Nova, Palm City and Stefanie Parnell, to name but a few, emerged from.

AutomatWhen one compares AUTOMAT’s new material with their older songs, such as Le Destin, one is struck by the slightly less festive and slightly more introspective vibe that inhabit the compositions of Mathieu Bouchard and his partners in crime, which is not to say that pop hooks have been entirely evacuated. “I wouldn’t say it’s a question of maturity. I think it has more to do with the fact that we worked with a producer that pushed us to step out of our comfort zone. We want to keep an open mind and collaborate with different people in the future.”

Apart from Bouchard who sings and plays guitars, the band is composed of Samuel Paquin on guitars, Maxime Chouinard on bass and Dave Vézina on drums. They’re all high-school friends who never lost touch with each other. After a few years in a band named Pressure, Bouchard turned to Francophone pop and gathered his friends in the AUTOMAT project. Right from the release of their first four-track EP, they started doing the festival circuit, notably Envol et Macadam and the Festivent, and before long, radios (NRJ and CKOI, notably) started playing their single Le jour se lève. Their energy came through in all its might on their first big hit, Parfait, which came out in 2012 and was selected by the Canadian Olympic Committee for the 2012 London Olympics.

But their ultimate goal is conquering Europe. “That would definitely be our Stanley Cup!” they’ve said in a 2011 interview with Québec City’s Le Soleil daily newspaper. But in the meantime, AUTOMAT has invited their fans to Iceland where they filmed the magnificent video for “Mea Culpa.” The video has attracted a lot of attention thanks to its aesthetics while the song itself has topped the Correspondants charts in Québec (just as the previous single, Mémoire) and was also included in iTunes’s “Hot Tracks” in December 2016, “the only Francophone song on that list!” as the band proudly claimed on its Facebook page.

See AUTOMAT receive two SOCAN No. 1 Song Awards on Salut Bonjour.

 


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On a cold, mid-December 2016 night in Toronto, there’s a man singing onstage at The Royal Theatre – usually a movie house – on downtown College Street. Though he’s backed only by a guitarist, and says almost nothing in between songs, his every raspy vocal turn and physical move is rapturously greeted by a sold-out house. Strangely, he’s singing in almost total darkness for the entire performance, with just one dim spotlight from directly overhead – like a shadow in the night.

Clearly, this is one singer-songwriter (and SOCAN member) who appreciates the value of mystery – and who, perhaps, is striving to make it all about the music, while handily maintaining his anonymity, and protecting his personal life.

Meet Allan Rayman, hotly tipped as one of Toronto’s (and Canada’s) next-big-things, due to break out worldwide in 2017. Rayman has already signed a worldwide deal for his 512 Productions label with Communion Records, run by Mumford and Sons’ Ben Lovett; played a sold-out small-theatre tour of North America, headlining over James Vincent McMorrow; grown a rabid cult audience for his music; and is doing a First Play Live performance taping for CBC in Toronto today (Jan. 24, 2017).

But since he steadfastly refuses to be interviewed (for now), and offers no explanations of his work, we’re left on our own to interpret the sound and sense of his music, and the imagery of his videos.

Sonically, Rayman sets his gruff, soulful, sometimes folky vocals and R&B melodies against hip-hop beats. Both on his first album Hotel Allan (initially dropped as a free download), and live, he’s used voicemail messages from a female voice who’s in conflict with him. Lyrically, writing in the first-person, he tends to darkly describe the wreckage of romantic relationships, and often conflates love, sex and death with a heavy sense of dread. It’s intense, and usually riveting. Sample lines include, “I’m a bad habit that you can’t shake,” “I need a selfish kind of girl,” “I am the reason that you let me go.”

Visually, Rayman’s work is even more fascinating. In the videos for three songs from Hotel Allan (“27,” “Beverly” and “Graceland”), the visual aesthetic is that of low-budget, 1970s, updated-film-noir, American “road” movies. He released them one at a time, then revealed a greater purpose by combining them into a narrative short film, The Wolf and The Red Dress –  that saw his male and female leads meet in a diner, make love in a motel room, deal with her presumably shooting him, and awake in an earthly afterlife. In “Beverly,” the shooting is performed by a woman in a wolf mask, a recurring visual motif in his videos. And elsewhere: during the intermission at The Royal Theatre, eight girls in wolf masks and summer dresses lingered, and posed for selfies, on the lip of the stage. For the video of the song “Faust Road,” he used what looks like an old German-expressionist, black-and-white film of the Faust story from the 1920s, solarized and slightly “treated,” visually.

Rayman releases his second album, Roadhouse 01, on Feb. 24, 2017. The first single, “Repeat” –  a duet with the equally fast-rising Jessie Reyez – that premiered on Zane Lowe’s Apple Beats 1 program, no less – delves even deeper into his attraction to darkness and fear. As Rayman writes:

She swingin’ moods just like my mother do
I see the tension overcoming you
The cruel intention starts to shine through
I couldn’t help but fall in love with you

Rayman is poised to conquer the mainstream. But does he want to? As he writes in “27,” “I feel this fame is pending / With all my idols gone I’m afraid of 27.” Like The Weeknd before him, Rayman is hiding in the shadows as he makes his first few albums; if, when, and whether he ultimately chooses to step fully into the light, and even embrace it (like The Weeknd did) is anybody’s guess.


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