The individual going by the stage name of Delachute wears a white mask in all his press photos and videos, but on his side of our videoconference call, the songwriter shows his true, likable face, that of a 30-ish man who’s not at all taciturn, contrary to what his music might suggest. The masked singer’s real name isn’t exactly a secret, but its owner kindly asks us to keep it so, not just to preserve his aura of mystery, but also for more sensible (and understandable) reasons.
The truth is that, for a couple of years, Montréal’s indie-pop mystery man was working with the Parole Board of Canada as a regional communications officer, a job involving not only informing the media of Board decisions about the release of prisoners, but also supporting the victims of these criminals through the hearings process.
“My job didn’t involve providing psychological support as such, but one necessarily ends up developing a relationship with these people,” he says, who are often afraid that their aggressor, or a person close to them, might re-offend. “You’re talking with them on a daily basis, and they start telling you their life story, and the reasons why they’re now living in fear.”
Thus, one of the main reasons Delachute insists on remaining hidden is to prevent those victims and their families from recognizing themselves in his lyrics. The son of amateur musicians, the guy behind the avatar grew up in the town of Saint-Alexandre, in Québec’s Haut-Richelieu region, first playing bass in a rock band, then trading his amplifier for an acoustic guitar, as he was about to go to university.
The melancholy of the For Emma, Forever Ago (2007) album, recorded by Bon Iver alone in his father’s cabin, had a powerful effect on him, and gave him the courage to work by himself, in his bedroom, with his instruments and computer. “I’d really been impressed by seeing someone taking an idea and bringing it all the way to its conclusion, like a painter with a canvas,” says Delachute.
Between 2015 and 2020, Delachute’s alter ego refused to share his music with anyone except his sister and girlfriend. The latter persuaded him to send his demos to Mark Lawson (Arcade Fire, Beirut, Timber Timbre), who immediately agreed to mix his first song series.
Delachute’s hypnotic, enigmatic lullabies are based on bewitching rhythms that captivate the listener, with coiled guitars, and the falsetto voice of a singer who loves layering sounds. His sound is a mixture of bluesy despair (he’s a dedicated John Lee Hooker fan), synthetic textures, and strangely lecherous grooves that sound a little like a dance of death.
As for his lyrics, they’re borrowed from the horror stories that the artist has heard in the courtroom, including testimony from killers – who often spoke about love, despite the fact that their stories had nothing at all to do with it. “Songwriting truly helped me when I couldn’t fall asleep at night because I was thinking about everything those victims had gone through, and about those guys describing their murders,” says Delachute. “Those were surreal days, really.”
At no time did he intend to produce an aestheticized representation of violence, the songwriter adds, while at the same time referring to the recent, shocking wave of femicide in Québec. “Out of the 25 cases I became familiar with, at least 20 involved a man who had killed the woman he was either married to or living with,” he says. “I remember one particular story involving a man who was providing a play-by-play account of the murder he’d committed, the same way I’d describe a baseball game to you. He kept saying that he loved her, that he couldn’t bear the thought that she was leaving him. It was truly troubling.”
The enthusiasm on streaming platforms for his eponymous debut EP, which came out in March of 2021, took Delachute by surprise. He’s now busy writing new songs to provide him with a broad enough repertoire for future stage performances. Will he be wearing a mask then, we wonder? On the screen, the mystery man smiles. Chances are, when the rest of us finally get rid of our masks, he, too, will be putting his away.
Photo by Rich Smith
Mother Mother: Seasoned band explodes on TikTok
Story by Nick Krewen | June 30, 2021
It’s an Inside job.
Inside, the eighth and latest album by Vancouver indie rockers Mother Mother, found band songwriter Ryan Guldemond forced to alter the creative approach that had worked for him on seven previous albums.
Guldemond, also the singer and guitarist for the group – that includes his sister Molly on vocals and keyboards, Jasmin Parkin also on vocals and keyboards, Ali Siadat on drums, and Mike Young on bass – usually likes to find his inspiration through travel, adventure, personal interaction, and experiences with the outside world.
But the pandemic made that an impossibility; for 15 months and counting, everyone was forced to isolate in order to prevent the spread of the disease. For the first time, circumstances made Guldemond dig deeper into himself.
A Deeper Exploration
“It became a different exploration; one that was internal, and less involving the world, and people, and places,” says Guldemond from Vancouver, about the 14 songs that comprise Inside. “I think you need to listen a bit more deeply and have a bit more patience when you’re exploring yourself rather than the world. There’s less stimulation. But when you do make connections to the infinite nature of your own soul, it can be fairly powerful, and I think some very strong music can come from that place.”
But the Inside concept is as much about the imposition of COVID-19 on our lives as it is about Guldemond’s soul-searching. “Maybe concepts are best when they’re a little loose, and not utterly specific,” he says. “Like, yeah, this came from the pandemic, stay-at-home orders, isolation, but then the metaphor extended into just going within and figuring yourself out. So, it’s pretty broad, and it’s pretty basic, and it’s pretty universal.”
Providing more substance to such songs as the reflective “Sick Of The Silence,” the introspective “Weep.” and the comforting “I Got Love.” is the fact that 2020 was a transformative year for Guldemond personally.
A Transformative Year
“I definitely changed a lot in 2020, for a number of reasons, but the music, I think, helped guide that change as well,” he says. “I became a lot softer, and I let go of the need to appear any which way that wasn’t in alignment with who, or what, I actually am. And in truth, I think that’s a fairly soft person.
“I spent a lot of time trying to be hard to maybe protect a vulnerability, and it’s been a process of chipping away at that for the past seven or eight years. But this year, between the pandemic, the writing of this really introspective album, and an incredibly gripping, all-encompassing back injury – those three things really humbled me, and brought me into a softness that I think is a very healthy turn of events.”
In terms of the injury, Guldemond said he “blew my L4 [lumbar vertebrae disc]” from “rigorous exercise,” and basically overdoing it. “It’s been my nature to push too hard… to try to get to a great height by taking short cuts,” he says. “So, while it was a fairly pragmatic diagnosis – like, yeah, you did yoga, you lifted weights, and you went for a bike ride, all in one day, when you were already sore, and blew your disc – to me, it has a deeper symbolic meaning: you weren’t listening to your trip, you were trying to rush ascendence, and therefore you were forced into a state to listen more deeply.”
Guldemond says he’s grateful for the life lesson and intends to incorporate it into his future creativity. “I’ll just listen better and be more patient,” he says. “I think I’ll allow things to develop at their own pace.”
The TikTok Revelation
While Mother Mother was recording Inside, they received word that such band classics as “Hayloft,” “Arms Tonite,” and “Wrecking Ball” were blowing up on TikTok, the popular mobile app embraced by young people around the world.
“We only ventured to find out because we noticed the streaming platforms were spiking nonsensically, because we weren’t in a new album cycle,” says Guldemond. ‘We traced it back to TikTok. We were so ignorant to how TikTok functioned. It all felt a bit daunting, and not necessarily of our generation, or our skill set. So, we had to jump on and learn quick.
“When I finally started an account and went digging, it finally made sense: there were thousands upon thousands of homemade videos of kids rocking out to early Mother Mother music in their bedrooms, and I think our hashtag at the time had 35 million views; now it has 500 million views. It was all startling, to say the least.”
The discovery occurred in August 2020, and no matter how you slice them, the gains between then and June, 2021 are impressive: Mother Mother’s following has accelerated from 0 TikTok followers (because Guldemond had yet to start a band account) to 2.2 million; 0 TikTok likes to 26 million; 53,890 Instagram followers to 400,000; 1.52 million monthly Spotify listeners to 7.8 million; 297,200 Spotify followers to 1.91 million; 201,000 monthly Apple Music listeners to 2.8 million; 133,000 YouTube subscribers to more than 745,000; 54.6 million total YouTube views to 234 million, and additions of 20,000+ on both Facebook and Twitter, while accumulating 3.1 million Shazam requests.
“What I think is special about TikTok, is that it’s so mysterious and organic,” says Guldemond. “This success isn’t borne from live performance. There was no strategy. There was no force of marketing. There was no intellectuality behind the introduction – it just happened by itself.”
The Root of the Mother Mother Message
As for explaining the documented appeal of Mother Mother to the LGBTQ2S+ and non-binary communities on TikTok, Guldemond says the band identifies with the disenfranchised through its music. “I think at the root of our music is the thirst to understand how one fits in into a world that doesn’t give a lot of options,” he says. “For those who have a great vastness to their spirit, it can be frustrating. It can feel alienating. We all encapsulate that in our own ways: I certainly do, and that’s definitely what drives so much of this music.
Guldemond considers himself an outsider. “I definitely don’t feel like the world, like normal society, is where I belong,” he says. “Music is the place that gives me the sense of belonging. And luckily, I’ve, and we’ve, been able to fashion that into a career.
“But there was a time where I was working as a breakfast cook five days and 50 hours a week, and it was really dark… Doing what doesn’t stir your soul doesn’t make sense to me. But it’s a really unlikely thing to find a place where your soul is stirred continually, and where you can pay the bills… But that’s what we’re telling kids to do – do what lights you up, whatever that may be.”
Behind The Curtain: A Glimpse At the Creative Process
On the creative front, Guldemond – a Beatles fan who says his life changed when his dad introduced him to the music of The Pixies – says that it’s melody that forms the catalyst of the majority of his material.
“The melody and the chord progression,” says Guldemond. “The melody sounds like a shape of a word – and then that word appears – and then you start pulling the theme from it. Gibberish gives birth to sentiment, all in the arms of melodies and harmonies.“
For Inside, Guldemond said he recognized the direction of the album once he understood the concept. “More thematic pillars would arrive before the songs really did, and it was OK: ‘There’s a conceptual form taking shape, and now I feel ready to write to it.’ And then the songs started to come – you could say easily, but it’s never easy – but they came with purpose, even if you had to work for them, because there was a theme.”
While conceding that earlier Mother Mother albums were less streamlined and more experimental, Guldemond hints that the recent social media popularity of their earlier stuff may result in a return to exploration. “I would wager to say the next Mother Mother record might take some more chances, with time signatures, modulations, and even lyrically,” he says. “There was so much wordplay back then – it was less about trying to spell out a sentiment, and more about creating an enticing entanglement of phonetics and sounds with the mouth and with language.
“And [the fact that] this younger generation has taken so kindly to it has given me newfound permission to return to that place, and really play, really explore, and be fearless in doing so. And I think that’s maybe emblematic to where we’re at in the industry: there’s no gatekeeping, there’s no homogenization anymore – it’s an anarchic melting pot of genre and style. The kids like it because they like it, not because they’re being told to. It’s an exciting time for music.”
Energized and Ready To Go
As the band prepares to kick off their 66-date Inside world tour in Milwaukee on Sept. 17, 2021, border crossings and pandemic willing, Guldemond says Mother Mother have regrouped during time away from the road, and now feel primed to conquer it.
“We’re in a very ready place to greet this energy,” he says. “We’re fit for the stage: we’re fit for what the cycle entails… It almost couldn’t have happened at a better time, because now we can go on the road – matured, grounded, humble.“
In playing live, Guldemond says he hopes that fans take away the band’s primary message: “That there’s nothing wrong with them; that they’re worthy of their own self-love, and that they’re valid – that they’re owed self-forgiveness for whatever’s haunting them, so that they may be here happily – present, awake, and engaged with their own lives.
“That’s become the priority more and more in my [own] life: just to be happy , to untie the knots of my soul, and to rinse out the darkness by navigating it, understanding it, and unpacking it. Because we’re not here for a long time, and it ought to be a good time. It can be: we do have that option. So, if there’s a takeaway, I hope to remind people of that.”
The Tao of TikTok
Mother Mother isn’t the only Canadian band or artist to benefit from the arrival of TikTok, the Beijing-based mobile app that offers users the ability to create short videos of their favourite songs.
Fledgling acts Powfu – his song “Death Bed (Coffee For Your Head)” has surpassed one billion cumulative streams – and JUNO Award nominees Tate McRae, Curtis Waters, and country singer and songwriter Robyn Ottolini, have all benefited from TikTok exposure: in Ottolini’s case, it helped land her a record deal with Warner Nashville, and she says the exposure of her song on the medium led to greater streaming numbers on other platforms, such as Spotify.
Basically, it’s the newest A&R tool on the market: in 2020, more than 70 artists who appeared on TikTok were signed by major labels.
In an interview with the Toronto Star, Alan Cross, music historian and radio host of The Ongoing History of New Music, noted that the company’s demographics were leaked in April, revealing an estimated consumer base of 818 million users, with the expectation that the platform will host 1 billion users by the end of 2021.
Canada’s CMMRA (the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency) just struck an agreement with TikTok that will pay songwriters and music publishers, with the first payments being distributed in 2022, while SOCAN is currently in discussions with TikTok to pursue a similar agreement. And Bell Media announced a MuchMusic revival strictly designed for the platform.
So, stay tuned: TikTok may become an important source of income for songwriters in the 2020s.
Photo by courtesy of / courtoisie de Vilain Pingouin
The famous bell frantically ringing at the beginning of the song. The harmonica that makes you jump up from your seat. The simple melody that makes it a moment of eternity distilled into 3 minutes and 59 seconds. Rudy Caya and Claude Samson were kind enough to share their memories of the song’s inspiration and creation. “Le Train” was made a SOCAN Classic in 2013 for its numerous radio plays.
“The song was inspired by a friend’s father,” says Caya who grew up in Laval, Québec. He was what we call a patenteux (a tinkerer), a free spirit with a lot of imagination, but who was trapped in his own life as a worker and provider for his family of five children, hence this visceral need to embrace another life and feed his true passion.”
As the song says, “Parce qu’on passe à travers sa vie à coups de journées / La seule chose qu’on veut garder c’est l’droit de rêver.” (“Because we go through life one hard day at a time / The only thing we won’t let go of is our right to dream”). Proletarian lyrics of escapism, their affiliation with the style of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run or large swaths of Richard Séguin’s repertoire is obvious. “Un jour je vais sauter sur un train / Disparaître au bout du chemin” (“One day I’ll hop on a train / And disappear at the end of the road”).
“Rudy came to us with three guitar chords,” Samson remembers. “We recorded “Le Train” very quickly, spontaneously, we didn’t want to over-think it. The song is in the key of G, and the harmonica is in G as well, which should have been a lower key, but it was the only harmonica we had.”
As a result, this harmonica line is contagious; there is no defense against it. “Onstage,” says Samson, “as soon my harmonica sounded off-key, I’d throw it into the crowd and pull another one out of my pocket. On several occasions, people had their eyes on Rudy, and I’m pretty sure a few of them got one in the face!”
The song was recorded at Studio Victor in Montréal’s Saint-Henri district under the watchful eye of guitarist Rick Haworth. He assisted the five beginners, and worked out the arrangements, which were later produced by Glen Robinson – who mixed the album at the famous Morin-Heights Studio (Bowie, The Police, Bee Gees, Rush), which was no longer the property of its founder André Perry. Vilain Pingouin exploded on the scene in 1990 with “Salut Salaud,” “Marche seul,” “Sous la pluie,” and other festive hits, like “Le Train.”
Drinking rock? “Exactly!” says Samson. “I liked The Pogues at that time, and you can feel the influence on this first record. Some people even thought that the song ‘Du Rhum des Femmes,’ by the French band Soldat Louis, was ours! It’s true that we had mandolin and accordion in our instrumentation during this session. ‘Le Train’ is a mix of country-rock, punk, and chanson française. We listened to Steve Earle a lot back then.”
Vilain Pingouin reached great heights, with a first album that received many nominations at the Gala de l’ADISQ, as well as the Félix for Group of the Year in 1991. The song was co-written by Rudy Caya, formerly of Les Taches, drummer Michel Vaillancourt, Claude Samson (on guitars and harmonica), multi-instrumentalist Rodolphe Fortier, Frédérick Bonicard, and Nicole Beausoleil, now no longer in the group.
All the tracks were recorded separately. “Audiogram [the record label] was very much in charge, which was a good thing, because together we sounded like a garage band,” says Caya. “We all had $12-an-hour, 40-hours-a-week, day jobs. To us, Vilain Pingouin was a band of buddies,” he says.
“The famous bell,” says Caya, “was stolen from a gym by Michel, and he used it as an ashtray!” Samson admits it with a laugh. “He’d set it up on his hi-hat, and was inspired by the song “Oowatanite” by the Canadian rock band April Wine. To this day, ‘Le train’ is still our closer when we play live.”
“There are a few cover versions of the song on YouTube, but they all fall flat,” says Caya. “There’s no easier song to play, but they try to sing it. I’m not a singer, but a performer. My flow is closer to spoken word. When you have so many lyrics to unpack at such a pace, you don’t stay on the note for long!”
The band is one of the song’s publishers, and the piece has evolved over time. On VP’s fourth album, Jeux de mains (2003), listeners were delighted to hear a new version of “LeTrain,” renamed “TGV!” (A reference to the France’s Train Grand Vitesse.)
“Our audience has made ‘Le Train’ its own, more than our other songs,” says Caya. “When people ask me if I’m sick of playing it, basically you’re excited the first five times you play it in a band, you’re proud of yourself the first 20 times you play it in a show. After that? Well, it’s the song on which so many have anchored their memories of the band!”
Vilain Pingouin, still going strong, and will re-issue Roche et Roule (1992) on vinyl in 2021.