Making certain acquaintances can be life-changing, and the casual connections made with them can even turn into professional relationships. It’s thanks to a common friend that Eduardo Noya Schreus met star actor/director/screenwriter Xavier Dolan. Said friend had played a few tracks by NOIA, Schreus’ and Ashley Long’s electronic music project, to the young filmmaker. Less than 24 hours later, Dolan contacted Noya to set up a meeting. “We walked and talked a lot,” says Schreus. “Then we went to his place to listen to some music. Later, Xavier admitted he had no idea what kind of music he wanted for his movie until he heard my stuff. He’d found what he was looking for.” The Peruvian-born Canadian was quickly put in charge of the soundtrack for the movie Laurence Anyways.

The pair only met again a year-and-a-half later in a post-production studio. Still, Noya made sure he had access to Dolan during his creative process, through e-mails where rushes and song drafts were paired. Dolan is a filmmaker who doesn’t shy away from giving his opinion on the musical content of his movies. Hence the dialogue between himself and Schreus, the necessity for the creators to meet. Schreus see it as the very basis of his own creative process, even more so since he’s a self-taught musician.

Still from Xavier Dolan Mommy movie“Movies often have ‘guide’ tracks, placeholders that the editor or the director chose that I use as a reference, a general idea of the atmosphere they’re looking for,” says Schreus. “Sometimes I follow their intention. Sometimes I create something based on the images I see. But most times, my creation is inspired by a meeting, an in-depth discussion with the director about his project and how it fits into our lives. I do sometimes read the script, but that’s never inspired me. Images, just as music, imprints on us immediately. And the link between them is essential.”

His work on Dolan’s Laurence Anyways won Schreus the Best Film Score Canadian Screen Award in 2013. But despite this positive experience, his participation in Dolan’s next movie, Mommy, wasn’t set in stone. In fact, he was urgently requested after the disappointing work of another composer. This situation embarrassed Schreus, but he couldn’t help feeling a tinge of pride. “I’m happy I was able to fix things,” he says. “The movie was edited very tightly to its reference music, which made it hard to switch them for new music. The biggest challenge was the final scene where Diane is alone, in tears. It took me quite a while to find the right music for that moment.” His work on Mommy wins Schreus the Achievement in Feature Film Music Award at the 2016 Montréal SOCAN Gala.

Strangely enough, this pinch-hitter situation will happen again a few months later for a France/Canada TV series titled Versailles, with a $33 million production budget. Again, Schreus was tapped after the production chose to change the composer.“The producers didn’t like the initial pairing between the images and the music, which they found too… classic,” he says. “Director Jalil Lespert decided to go in a completely different direction and use electronic music. And it worked. The biggest challenge for this series is its speed. It’s like composing music for several films all at once.” After penning about half the music for the first 10-episode season (the other half was composed by Michel Corriveau), Schreus was asked to do the same for the second season.

Although he works out of a tiny home studio a few doors down from his own apartment, the man still works on music when he gets home: His music. NOIA existed before he became a professional composer, and it still exists and nourishes him. NOIA live performances won the project the “best electronic act” title, according to Montréal magazine CULT. And NOIA is far from over, if you ask Schreus. “My personal music is my main project,” he says. “I’ll release a studio album this year and another next year. We’re getting back on stage as soon as we feel comfortable enough with the new material. My ultimate dream is to make music, non-stop, until my body gives up.”

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Richard Séguin

Photo: Jean-Charles Labarre

Richard Séguin earned the Lifetime Achievement Award during the 2016 edition of the Gala de la SOCAN at Montréal’s Métropolis on Sept. 12. It was the perfect opportunity for Paroles & Musique to have a heart-to-heart with the Saint-Venant-based songwriter about his songwriting process, his songs, and their evolution.

“When I look back at what Les Séguin sang about in the early ‘70s and what I sing about today, not much has changed,” says Séguin. “Surely I’m more pragmatic and less of a dreamer. But I haven’t left the ecology theme behind; that era’s stakes are still present today in the social debate, in wealth distribution, in respecting outlying regions, in the democratization of culture, all of which were themes we sang about in the ‘70s. These values are important to me and the discourse hasn’t changed all that much.”

From his first steps with psychedelic band La Nouvelle Frontière (1969-71), then on to Les Séguin (1972–1976) and their glorious Café du quai, as well as the Fiori-Séguin (1978) adventure, followed by about fifteen solo albums, Richard Séguin, like still, deep water, forged himself a very strong identity. His head is filled with a thirst for justice. His boots walk on America’s rural roads.

Flashback to 1978. The Fiori-Séguin adventure. A single album. Torch songs, such as “Deux-cent nuits à l’heure” (“Two Hunderd Nights an Hour”) and “Viens danser” (“Come Dancing”).  Three Felix awards. Two hundred thousand copies sold. Richard was only 26 years old.

“Serge [Fiori] and I knew each other since the Café du quai era in Magog around 1972,” says Séguin. “Back in 1977, many bands such as Beau Dommage, Harmonium, Octobre and Les Séguins basically stopped producing. Initially, our project was really simple: two guitars, two voices and an acoustic bass. And then there was the collaboration of other Harmonium musicians, who saw the opportunity as a kind of renaissance.”

Yet the Fiori-Séguin experiment was very short-lived, despite its phenomenal success. “We agreed on it right from the get-go,” says Séguin. “We weren’t going to start a new band or tour. That was very liberating, it allowed us to explore a new musical language, and Serge acted as my guide through it. It was a very beneficial meeting of the minds. It allowed us to each go our own way afterwards.”

A year later, he launched his first solo album. Then, in 1985, his whole life changed.

That’s when the trilogy of Double Vie, Journée d’Amérique, and Aux portes du matin, released between 1985 and 1991, saw Séguin become a bona fide star. He played 24 sold-out shows at the legendary Spectrum, and saw his picture hoisted on the venue’s Wall of Fame, alongside such luminaries as Spectrum, Jacques Higelin, Michel Rivard, and The Plasmatics’ Wendy O. Williams! Séguin remembers that era.

“Hélène Dalair, the musical director, played a crucial role,” he says. “She has this uncanny ability to bring the best out of musicians. She was a true conductor. There’s a lot that came from her in the final, rock-oriented sound that ended up on those albums. Réjean Bouchard also had a big influence on that era. But those were also taxing years on my family life since we were constantly on the road: the stars were aligned, the sales of francophone artists were up, radio was getting on board, we were coming out of the post-referendum darkness. It was my way of singing about our America that people would identify with. I was following in the footsteps of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Springsteen, Mellencamp, and Neil Young. They were all big influences. I felt like I was in the same musical family as these great songsmiths.”

With songs such as “Double Vie” (“Double Life”), “J’te cherche” (“Looking for You”), “Protest Song,” “Ici comme ailleurs” (“Here, Like Eleswhere”), “L’ange vagabond” (“Vagabond Angel”) “Et tu marches” (“And You Walk”), “Journée d’Amérique” (“A Day in America”), “Aux portes du matin” (“At the Gates of Morning”), and so many more, Séguin offered us classics, in a unique voice that still creates joy on every hearing. “And you know what? I’m not tired of singing them yet,” he says.

All of his albums were written in Saint-Venant, a tiny, village of 112 souls in Québec’s Eastern Townships, and that’s no different for huis current album Les nouveaux horizons, launched earlier this year by Spectra Musique.

“It all happened very simply,” says Séguin. “At 62, I gave myself the project of building a place where I could write, and just let go completely. Even being here, in Saint-Venant, away from everything, with no cellphone signal and an Internet connection that’s shaky at best, those things were still a source of distraction. So I built myself a shack, 500 feet from the house, where I could go to write. I also promised myself I would devote well-defined periods of time to this task. And it was a revelation! I’m taken away by this spiral that never stops, all my thoughts are devoted to songs. I gave myself a specific period of time to write. Four to six hours a day. You have no idea how liberating that felt! I get the impression I’ve accomplished something, and it’s like a breath of fresh air in my day.

“To me, inspiration is a motivation,” he continues. “Between tours and live shows, I always have notebooks where I write thoughts and sentences. I sometimes go back to stuff I wrote 10 years ago, and it’s amazing how strongly it still resonates. Like my song ‘Roadie’; I’d been working on that one for 12 years. ‘Quand on ne saura plus chanter’ (‘When You Can’t Sing Anymore’), I’d been carrying that one inside me for at least three years. Sometimes, it’s a word, a sentence, an emotion, frustration, revolt, but as soon as I write a song about it, it becomes work.

“When I’m in the studio, I like to explore. I always compose three or four melodies for each text. Music comes easy to me, as opposed to lyrics. I can work on a single sentence for several days, because a bad rhyme follows you around like a pebble in your shoe. I’m 64 now, and I’m even more conscious of words. When you’ve sung [Québec poet and activist Gaston] Miron (on ‘Les douzes hommes rapaillés’), you tend to approach this trade with a lot more humility,” he laughs. “You’ve just trod on lofty peaks!”

Always by his side, multi-instrumentalist Hugo Perreault received the raw material and refined it in the studio (just as Réjean Bouchard used to do), in collaboration with Simon Godin and Myele. That’s also the team that’ll hit the road in late September to tour Les nouveaux horizons.

“I need to tour to remain sane, I couldn’t write all the time,” says Séguin. “I need to meet people, even though you still feel their presence even in the solitude of the writing process. You know they’re not far away. But in the end, a good song needs to be able to sound good with just a guitar and a voice. From there, we work on the instrumentation. My closest influences are the ones my musicians bring me. When we go on tour, each of them carry their own musical background, their influences; all the ideas that end up on an album come from a mix of all those things. And we work a lot on vocal harmonies.

“I kind of disappeared for a good, long while, and this album and tour is our reunion. I love that cycle. Learning to disappear. Félix Leclerc called it the deer reflex: when there’s too much noise, flee to the forest! It’s good advice. And that shack I built for myself, it’ll be there for at least 25 more years!”

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Jaren Cerf is a Montréal-based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.

She’s also an author. And an actress. Oh, and a filmmaker. Don’t forget dancer. Add vocal coach to the list, as well. And, of course, she’s a mom to two young kids. That’s a big one.

Okay, let’s just say it boils down to two main roles: Mom and Multi-Disciplinary Artist. And in these, she is a true Wonder Woman: as in, one wonders how this woman manages to do all that.

“Learning how to live on less sleep has been a bit of a challenge, but it’s working,” she says with a laugh.

The former Jaren Voight grew up in Laramie, Wyoming, with music in the family. From a young age she performed at talent contests, singing country songs with her father and sister, even yodeling competitively. But Laramie was too small to contain her aspirations, so she followed her dreams to Los Angeles, attending classes at The Musicians Institute and eventually landing a gig as a personal assistant to a Hollywood actor, all the while working on her music.

It was at an L.A. party in 2005 that she met Montréal-based trance and electronic dance music (EDM) producer/DJ Matt Cerf. She had been dabbling in the genre, and he suggested they try working together. Her distinctive voice seemed a natural match for his productions, and before long their work had made her one of the genre’s biggest stars, and one of its most successful composers and lyricists. She and Mr. Cerf also proved to be a match, as they were later married.

Trance hits like “Man on the Run,” “You Never Said” and “Beggin’ You” won her thousands of followers around the globe. She topped the Billboard EDM/Trance charts and received numerous award nominations for her work with her husband and other collaborators, such as Shawn Mitiska and Dash Berlin. In 2008, her song “Unforgiveable” was picked up by renowned Dutch DJ Armin van Buuren, and became a gigantic dance hit.

“I feel like I was fortunate enough to fall into the dance music limelight,” Cerf says, “[but] there was no intention of me sticking around in there.”

In 2010, the boom-boom of big dance beats was joined by the pitter-patter of little feet as she and her husband welcomed their first child. The following year she moved to Montréal, her husband’s hometown, and in 2013 their second child was born.

But becoming a mom didn’t derail her music career one bit. Since re-locating to Montréal and becoming a Canadian citizen, she’s co-written songs for Canadian artists such as Andee, Lukay, Maiarah, Eva Avila and Michelle Treacy. In 2014, she co-wrote Andee’s “We Are Gold,” which became one of the theme songs for the Sochi Olympics.

Then in the summer of 2015, this newly-minted Canuck landed the most Canadian gig of all: A major role in the music production Oh Canada, What A Feeling! And not just any role – she would be performing as Sylvia Tyson, Joni Mitchell and Céline Dion! No problem, eh?

Sylvia Tyson was a joy to play. Céline took a bit more work. “The thing I learned about playing Céline Dion is to make sure you’re well rested,” she says with a laugh. “She’s a tough one.” But the biggest revelation was learning to be Joni.

“Learning to play her stuff, and to try to sing it, that was a total trip in and of itself,” she says. “That was really a challenge, but that was probably one of the most gratifying experiences ever. And she has just an incredible story, too. She’d be someone I’d love to interview for the book.”

Ah yes, the book. Performing in Oh Canada, What A Feeling! meant being away from her children for a month at a time, and it made Cerf start to wonder how other showbiz moms handle their career-family balance.

“I wish there was a rulebook on how to manage all of this,” she says. “I’d get frustrated not seeing my kids. They miss their mom. Obviously, if the production’s bigger you can afford to take your kids on the road with you, but what about the moms that can’t? So I started asking these questions. I want to know how do they get through this? How do they manage career, motherhood, celebrity, all of this stuff, and is there such thing as a balance?”

To answer those questions, she began interviewing mothers with show business careers, which turned into a book project titled Bravura: When Motherhood, Career and Celebrity Collide, for which she’s hoping to find a publisher. The roles of Mom and Artist each carry the gravitational pull of a planet – such that some women are torn to choose one world over the other. But Cerf seems to have found her orbit, and it’s one that encompasses both worlds, even if the ride is sometimes a little wobbly.

“It’s an emotional experience, because, obviously, when you don’t spend enough time with your kids, they pick up on this. They know when I’m feeling distracted,” she says. “And by the same token, if I am not fulfilling myself and my creative needs in my work life, that affects them as well. So it’s trying to find a balance in there.”

Her struggle to find that balance has led her to try to help other moms who are dealing with the same dilemma. “My larger calling in life for now is to try to encourage moms to stay in the business,” says Cerf. “To not totally give up on their creative dreams or desires. It’s not a very stable career to have sometimes when you’re raising children.”

Meanwhile, she’s also just released her sophomore “folk” album, 7 Year Itch, the title reflecting the number of years since her debut album, Fixin’ It Upright. The new album is co-produced by Sebastien Lefebvre of Montréal pop-punk band Simple Plan. Cerf calls 7 Year Itch the “premonition album” because its songs of relationship strife and life changes were written about a year before her split with her husband. (The two remain very good friends who co-parent, and still work on music together.)

“My larger calling in life for now is to try to encourage moms to stay in the business. It’s not a very stable career to have sometimes when you’re raising children.”

“As we were going through the separation process, I was listening to these songs all the time,” she says. “I realized at that point there was sort of a subconscious thing going on. It really helped me to get through that period of time, and also kind of find my footing and figure out who I am as a person and an artist, outside of being a mom.”

Cerf continues to follow her creative dreams. At the end of July, she had “the experience of a lifetime” filming her role in a feature film called Song of Granite, an Irish/Canadian biopic about traditional Irish singer Joe Heaney.

And while she works on the book, there are also more music projects on the schedule. She’s working on an acoustic album of her trance hits, and she’s also been “secretly” recording an album with Canadian/Czech duo Lesko Cerf (her ex-husband, Matt, and Czech producer Petr Lesko) that should be finished by the end of September.

But we’re still left wondering how this woman does it all. Turns out she draws inspiration from her Wyoming upbringing.

“It’s like crop rotation in a way,” says Cerf. “I’ll do the songwriting for a stretch, and then when I feel like that is exhausted, I have to rotate crops. So then I have to focus on production or maybe working on this book project. That’s why I have a lot of different things going on, but it’s all art and it’s all music-related, and it all has that common core of what I want to do and how I want to help people. That’s the goal.”

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