Dumas“Where have my ideals gone? They’re being held captive. By forsaking my ideals, I built a cage for myself,” Dumas sings, reflecting on his life, with a healthy dose of nostalgia. His new album Nos idéaux (Our Ideals) arrives just as he’s about to turn 40, and finds him taking a look back at the journey so far, 20 years down the road of his career.

“I truly was in a certain frame of mind, lyrically,” says Steve Dumas. “I wanted to reveal really personal stuff, and to write songs deeply anchored around the lyrics.” Alongside author and lyricist Jonathan Harnois, mainly known for the magnificent Je voudrais me déposer la tête, he dove into a writing project initially destined to be a solo tour more than an album. “I hadn’t toured on my own since 2004,” says Dumas, “and I felt like experiencing that one-on-one vibe with my audience on the road again, to meet with the people that were there from the beginning.”

Gus Van Go, the Canadian producer now based in New York City, contacted Dumas and changed the course of things by inviting him to spend a few days at his studio. “In the end, I had an issue with my flight and only got to spend one day with him in Brooklyn,” says Dumas. “We recorded the song ‘Nos idéaux’ in one day. It was wonderful to work with people I didn’t know.” Gus, alongside Werner F, had only one idea in mind: applying the demos Dumas sent him to the musical instruments of Chris Soper and Jesse Singer. “They’re coming out with an album together soon,” says Dumas. “Their band’s called Megative. I’d heard what they do through a common friend, and it was a perfect match right from the start.” Dumas went back to Brooklyn to finish the album.

Playing With the Past

Nos idéaux is a return-to-songwriting album, one that’ll please fans of Cours des jours, those who hummed ‘J’erre’ while strolling ‘Au gré des saisons.’ “I’m fully aware that I was all over the place over the last few years,” says the songwriter. “Now, I want to talk to people in the same way I did in my twenties, but with my present outlook.”

But because Gus Van Go had never heard Dumas’s older material, the finished product has shiny new clothes, a more eclectic sound wrapped around the lyrical landscape where Dumas and his fans have roamed for two decades. “J’errais, j’errais en solitaire,” (“I roamed, I roamed alone”) he sings on “Bleu Clair,” as a clear nod to the past, while singing about the present. “I feel like I’m doing something that’s very ‘now,’” says Dumas. “I had the opportunity to work with fresh ears. It’s every songwriter’s dream. My DNA re-emerged naturally. and I didn’t try to stop it.”

“I challenged myself. The people I worked with gave me my confidence back. I went all in, and abandoned my safety net.”

Dumas remembers when first emerged on the music scene, “at the end of an era,” when it was impossible to do anything without a record contract. “Things have considerably changed when it comes to independent production,” he says. “It makes things more interesting, as far as diversity goes. Québec’s music scene now has a lot more sub-genres. I can count on the fingers of one hand the music that touched me as a teen in Québec. Today, the offerings are much, much wider.”

Dumas’s first album came out 17 years ago, and the artist’s career has consistently grown since. “It’s been exactly 20 years since I became a member of SOCAN!” says Dumas, immediately realizing the implications. “The word ‘career’ scares me, but I’m happy with the choices I’ve made. I like being part of the group of people who barely played any kind of big variety show, but who are still around. It serves as an example for the younger generation that there are several ways to do what we do.”

Pop music, too, has changed a lot over the last two decades, yet we still associate the genre with a simplistic, limited, or even corny creative approach. Yet, it’s a musical genre that Dumas has championed from day one. “I really enjoy making pop music,” he says. “You just need to not push it too much, so that people feel your authenticity. The Beatles are a pop band, but when you listen, you can always feel John in the back. That’s the key.”

Twenty more years?

“We often wonder if we’re going to record another album,” says Dumas. It’s quite normal to wonder about the future of the physical format of music when the methods of consumption are undergoing a disruptive shift. Nos idéaux is an album that arrives at just the right time. “I challenged myself,” says Dumas. “The people I worked with gave me my confidence back. I went all in and abandoned my safety net. I did exactly that on Le cours des jours. I remember telling myself to do things exactly as I wanted, like there wouldn’t be another album.” 

For the next few months, Dumas will hit the road. “I really thought long and hard about what you can do alone on a stage,” he says. “With all the DJ technology around today, you can do everything. Mes idéaux will be a solo show!”


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If Toronto-born Matthew Tishler is feeling like a “Kid in a Candy Store,” it’s with good reason: the video of the song of that name – which he co-wrote for 14-year old singer, TV star and YouTube personality JoJo Siwa – has been viewed more than 74 million times.

But “Kid in a Candy Store” is only one of the latest of the L.A.-based Tishler’s accomplishments: over the course of his career, he’s been a writer, co-writer, or producer on projects that have sold a combined total of more than 15 million records, split between the Disney-saturated youth market and the foreign hemispheres of J-Pop and K-Pop.

“I’m unabashedly commercial and poppy,” says Tishler. “I’m able to work well with Disney because I’m able to fulfill a vision with them.”

He’s also able to write for youth. Tishler has worked with High School Musical star Ashley Tisdale, Liv and Maddie teen sitcom actress Dove Cameron, Girl Vs. Monster feature actress Olivia Holt, and Austin & Ally’s Ross Lynch, as well as penning the theme song for the TV series Girl Meets World (all Disney properties). Writing songs for TV is one of his niches.

“I met the Disney people when I was doing a lot of writing trips to Los Angeles in my early 20s,” says Tishler, now 31. “It was when Hannah Montana was really successful, and I always felt that those kinds of songs came natural to me. It works with Disney because our motivations are aligned: I really like what they do. I like writing songs for film and television, and I’m really compelled by that kind of storytelling and character-driven music. It’s been a natural fit.”

Tishler says that he does his job best when he gets into his collaborator’s headspace. “It goes back to that character. You have to put yourself in that mindset. You get a little silly and it helps just to talk to these artists and get to know them,” says Tishler, who recently completed 26 songs for a 52-episode Disney Jr. animated series that will air in the summer.

JoJo Siwa, in particular, has such a strong sense of who she is. The more you talk to her, you learn about what drives her, what excites her, and you get a big sense of who she is. Of course, it helps to collaborate. JoJo contributes a lot to lyrics, so we make sure it conveys her voice from a lyrical perspective.”

“I’m unabashedly commercial and poppy. I’m able to work well with Disney because I’m able to fulfill a vision with them.”

Another market that Tishler has developed for himself is the J-Pop/K-Pop arena (of Japanese and Korean youth pop) , where he’s written for the likes of EXO, Taeyeon, BTS, AOA, Koda Kumi and retiring J-Pop legend Namie Amuro.

Matthew Tishler’s top three tips for young songwriters:

  1. Follow your voice and find your niche. That’s proven to be so important to me, and I’m grateful for finding these niches, instead of banging my head against the wall and trying to do something that doesn’t come naturally.”
  1. Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s one thing to be inspired by talented people for motivation, but I try to resist any comparison, if it stems from competition or envy.  It’s a fast-track to feeling self-conscious. I get my best results when I’m looking forward, focused, doing my own thing.”
  1. “A piece of practical writing advice that has helped me: truly think about the context. It’s easy to just start playing music, so I try to put as much work as possible in before I play a single note. What are we writing? Why? Who’s listening? Really think deeply about the project, the artist, the moment in time, the desired tone, and intended outcome. Understanding these things before writing helps to organize my thoughts and give direction so the execution can be fun and so much easier.”

“We had three songs on her [Namie’s] album Finally, and it sold two million physical albums,” says Tishler. “That’s virtually unheard of. I can’t remember the last time anyone around here physically sold that, except maybe Adele.”

Tishler says he received his introduction to the Asian markets when he was still living in Toronto, via his manager, the late Brandon Gray. “He had some contacts in the market and sent my songs there,” says Tishler. “They just responded to the kind of music that I was making, in a way that I never would have expected. Analyzing it in retrospect, I think I know why. My strong suit as a writer is melody, and that’s the most important thing in that market. Lyric is my weakness, and it’s no surprise that my first success was in a market where they change all the words,” he laughs.

Despite his initial successes in those markets, Tishler didn’t visit South Korea until three years ago, and he’s scheduled to make his first trip to Japan this April. “For many years, we worked long distance,” he says. “I would write songs in Toronto and then, ultimately in Los Angeles, send them, and our contacts there would send us briefs and leads.  We’d write and do revisions, and then send them the finals. I’d never meet anyone in person. Now we go to Korea every year: we do a writing camp with one of the big labels in Seoul.”

For Tishler, Seoul was an eye-opener. “Being there in person, you really understand how important music is to them,” he says. “It’s embedded in the culture. They’re genuine music fans. They care about the songs; they care about the artists and it’s reflected everywhere you go.”

The challenges of writing in a foreign tongue still exist, but Tishler says he’s learned some techniques to cope with interpretation. “You learn little tricks on how to write melodies that will translate well, and that certain kinds of phrasing will work better,” he says. “Certain syllable counts will also work – but certainly the act of collaborating and creating with the local writers is an exciting challenge.”

But Tishler says the true litmus test is quality. “Ultimately, the best songs win.”

 


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Here’s the latest edition in our series about creative meetings between two songwriters. This time, we dissect the successful reunion of rapper Séba and composer-producer DJ Horg, who, together, wrote the hit “Vintage à l’os” (“Vintage to Death”). To their astonishment, the song currently sits atop of the chart of one of Montréal’s commercial radio stations. Their first album, Grosso Modo, is a project that germinated 20 years ago, but materialized only recently – as a kind of homage to the boom-bap sound typical of ‘90s hip-hop.

Séba & HorgBut first, a bit of history: while New York DJ Premier (Gang Starr) is considered the architect of the boom-bap sound, we’d be remiss to not mention the composer-producers of Boogie Down Productions, laucnhed with the first solo album of legendary rapper KRS One. And what was the title of that 1993 classic? Return of the Boom Bap. Boom as in the sound of a fat kick drum. Bap as the sharp, crisp sound of a snare drum. These are the two main ingredients in this irressistibly danceable version of the rap rhythm.

As is probably clear by now, boom-bap is rap’s ancient history, and its second Golden Age, the first one being the old-school explosion, circa Run DMC. Now a dominating musical force in Western culture, rap has changed a lot since then.

“If I was 15 or 20 today, I’d most likely be totally immersed in the whole trap thing,” says Horg, mentioning Migos, Gucci Mane, Future, 2 Chainz, and so on. “Except I’m not 20, I’m 43, and that’s that. Like I told Séba: if you want to do a rap album today, it has to be trap. Thing is, neither of us are really into that sound. Not to say it’s not good, but the beats, the lyrics, the message, it’s just not us.”

Apparently you can’t teach new tricks to these old hip-hop dogs, who met about two decades ago at Cégep du Vieux-Montréal. “During the first week of classes!” says Séba. “I hosted a radio show during the morning and Horg was right after me. When I saw him arrive with his machines and his vinyl, I thought, ‘Oh shit!’ and we immediately started talking about rap. The scene was just picking up speed in Montréal, that was 1995, and the movie La Haine had just come out. . . We recognized each other. There weren’t a lot of people into it, then.”

Once Cégep was done, they lost track of each other. Horg stayed behind the decks, composing and producing beats for Québec’s underground scene – “vintage to death” fans will remember projects such as Cavaliers Noirs and KZ Kombination – before becoming the shining light behind Samian. As for Séba, he became the spark plug of the punk-rap trio Gatineau.

They met again at the 2008 ADISQ Gala. “You sat behind me with your manager,” Horg reminds his partner-in-crime. That was the year Gatineau won the Félix for the best hip-hop album of the year, beating Samian, Sans Pression, Imposs and Radio Radio. “It was more punk than anything else and live, it was almost metal. Let’s just say we sounded more closely related to The Breastfeeders than to Biggie Smalls,” says Séba, who’s a rapper deep down, even though he looked goth at the time.

Third time’s a charm, as they say, and a few months ago, Séba decided to attend the taping of Horg’s radio show, Sur le corner, and took the opportunity to tell him about his dream: recording a rap album over Horg’s beats. “What’s cool about Séba is that I feel like all I’ve accomplished since I started in rap, everything I realized I wanted to do and say in this scene, converged with his experience and his journey,” says Horg. “It became obvious very quickly that we had a project on our hands.”

The first demos were made with Séba’s “depressing lyrics written after a breakup, it just didn’t work,” Horg explains. They started over, inspired by their common passion for rap. “We wanted to make an album like we would’ve done it 20 years ago, no compromises. To me, it was almost therapeutic; I would constantly ask myself, if I grab the mic to rap, what would people like to hear me talk about? And the answer was always: How was it, being in Watatatow?”

Yes, dear young (or too old) readers: in his old life, Horg was an actor in a TV series for tweens and teens. “Yes, I was a comedian, but I stopped, mainly because I didn’t like being centre stage. It’s also why I’ve never been a solo rapper,” says the man who’s perfectly comfortable sharing the mic with Séba on Grosso Modo. “We made that record for ourselves, Horg says. “Unabashedly, honestly, we figured we’d tell all – Horg played the character of Bérubé in Watatatow!”

Séba adds, “To be honest, I think I also did this record so that people will stop saying I’m that guy from Gatineau,” just as Horg is no longer Bérubé. The lyrics were written four-handed, dug up from their memories of being young rap aficionados, along with a healthy dose of nostalgia and ‘90s cultural references, which they drop with humour and tenderness.

And it works: At press time, Vintage à l’os sits at the top of CKOI’s 6 à 6 chart. Iit also sat in first place, for awhile, of iTunes’ Francophone songs chart, over Patrice Michaud, Cœur de pirate and 2Frères! “Unbelievable,” says Séba. They literally couldn’t believe it. “Even in our wildest dreams. Québec rap on such heavy rotation? It looks like we hit the spot, in people’s hearts, with that song…”

Grosso Modo by Séba & Horg will be launched on Feb. 22, 2018, at Montréal’s Ministère.


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