Signed to James Murphy’s legendary New York imprint DFA, Montréal’s electro duo Essaie Pas exacerbates its demons and nocturnal obsessions on Demain est une autre nuit. We recently caught up with them.

The air in Montréal is heavy with a heat wave. Based on their public image, Pierre Guerineau and Marie Davidson will no doubt be wearing black today, which isn’t exactly refreshing during a heat wave.

Yet, at the exit of the Laurier metro station, the pair is almost unrecognizable: Marie is wearing a carefree smile instead of smokey eyes, and Pierre is wearing a blue T-shirt in lieu of his usual tailored suit.

Light years from their press photos, in other words.

Essaie Pas

“It’s true that people have a lot of preconceived ideas about us,” admits singer and keyboardist Davidson. “People see us as this really serious group, but it’s not a calculated image. Offstage, we’re really fun-loving people who like to joke and party. People know that in a party, you won’t find Marie sulking by the bar, but jumping up and down on the dancefloor.”

“I think it’s the album that projects that kind of lugubrious image,” says bandmate Guerineau, who also sings and plays keyboards. “Next time around, we’ll dispel any doubts: I’ll be bare-chested on the album cover, surrounded by balloons!” he jokes.

“I believe our music and lyrics share a common universe. That’s probably why language was never an issue for DFA.” – Pierre Guerineau of Essaie Pas

Launched last February, Demain est une autre nuit is the duo’s :”first real album,” according to Guerineau, but their “fourth public release”, in Davidson’s words. Demain is replete with the torments, obsessions and demons of both musicians, and explores the confines of techno, darkwave and synth-pop without setting any limits.

“We went through very difficult moments during the making of the album,” Guerineau confides voluntarily, but vaguely. “Obviously, our music reflected this, but I do believe things will change and evolve. It’s always been the case, as a matter of fact.”

From an “illegal and self-managed” studio to DFA

Borderline-obsessive music lovers, Davidson and Guerineau met at the now-defunct Montréal studio, La Brique. Its hallowed halls were home to many a pivotal artist of Montréal’s underground scene from the turn of the decade: Dirty Beaches, Grimes, Sean Nicholas Savage and TOPS, to name but a few.

“I’d go there almost every day for seven years,” reminisces the still-nostalgic Davidson. “It was a mythical, self-managed place, part venue, part rehearsal space.”

Pierre Guerineau arrived in Montréal from France in 2006 and set foot into said studio very shortly thereafter. “For awhile, it was the only stable thing in our lives,” he remembers. “We’d change apartments and relationships very often, but we’d always go back to La Brique.”

Through a common friend, singer and producer Xarah Dion, the pair got to know each other. They started out as an experimental rock trio, alongside Simon Delage, after which Essaie pas dabbled in electro-blues on Nuit de noce, their third EP, released in 2013 on the Brussels-by-way-of-Paris label Teenage Menopause.

The self-launched mini-album, released on Bandcamp, got the attention of Kris Peterson, one of the heads of DFA Records, the New York City-based label founded by LCD Sounsystem’s James Murphy. “Kris was looking for a local band to open for Factory Floor at the Belmont,” says Guerineau. “That night, we didn’t have time to talk with him, but he purchased a copy of Nuit de noce.”

“He wrote to us shortly thereafter to tell us he really liked it,” Davidson continues. “He asked us to send him our new songs when they were ready. We were flattered, but we didn’t think it was serious.”

“It’s mostly that we were doubtful… Our new material was totally different from what he’d heard,” Guerineau adds. “But we went ahead and sent it to him, and he liked it. Everything was made official very quickly.”

Being signed on such a label is almost historical for a Québec-based band, especially since the duo mostly sings in French. “Kris never mentioned the language. He even wrote: ‘I don’t care!’,” says Davidson laughing.

“I believe our music and lyrics share a common universe,” says Guerineau. “That’s probably why it was never an issue for DFA. People don’t need to understand the words to get the atmosphere, the feeling.”

Essaie Pas

Night Owl Music

The duo’s lyrics are delivered in a cold, detached manner that perfectly reflects the saturnine music upon which they rest. Far from depressing, the overall atmosphere of Demain est une autre nuit is nonetheless more dark than light. “It’s got a nocturnal, strange and sensuous vibe. It takes on a whole new dimension when you listen to it at night,” explains Davidson.

“But in concert, it becomes very danceable,” adds Guerineau. “We love to make people dance, and speak directly to them. We seek to touch every individual in a crowd.”

The lyrics are about being obsessed by nightlife, partying and love (and the typical addictions of that scene), and they had a therapeutic, almost cathartic effect on the two artists. “I write about stuff that was part of my life at a certain point,” says Gurenieau, who’s 34 today. “When all that was going on in my life, I had a very hard time talking about it…”

“It’s about our life, quite simply,” adds 28-year-old Davidson. “They’re themes we’ve covered before, notably in a more humorous song like ‘Danse sociale.’ We talk about our DIY scene, parties that get busted by the cops, illegal pop-up bars, people who do drugs and fuck in the bathrooms.”

International Exposure

Their willingness to sing about “people who forget themselves in the solitude of partying” has brought the duo a bona fide media frenzy throughout the world, thanks in part to excellent reviews in esteemed publications such as The Guardian and Pitchfork.

And their recent tour has confirmed that it wasn’t just smoke and mirrors. “There were a lot more people waiting for us to get on stage than usual,” says Davidson. “For such a niche band like ours, it’s quite something to sell out small venues in Europe and the U.S.”

Featured on the Polaris Prize long list, Essaie pas is seeking international exposure much more than local success. “To this day, I’m still convinced that not a single Montréal label would risk signing us,” says Davidson. “Our music had a lot more chances to grab the attention of label from abroad.”

“That being said, we have to be honest and say that we never sent our music to anyone who didn’t ask,” adds Guerineau. “It’s not that we wanted to sabotage our career by keeping our music to ourselves, but let’s just say we’re not willing to compromise.”

In other words, Essaie pas is the spearhead of Montréal’s little-known but effervescent electro scene, whose other key players include Bataille solaire, Xarah Dion, Police des mœurs, Jesse Osborne-Lanthier and many others. Like all of them, Eassaie pas are aiming for the top regardless of trends and other musical boundaries.

“Even though we all make different kinds of music, we’re all united by our desire to break the rules and push the limits,” says Guerineau. “In other words, we like to step out of our comfort zone.”


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NAP EYES

Don’t let the name fool you. Judging on how prolific this group of friends have been in the last few years, you might think they never sleep. Founded in Halifax, Nap Eyes have been putting out plenty of their unique brand of enjoyable, soulful indie rock.

Drawing on the styles of their songwriting heroes, like Lou Reed and Jonathan Richman, as well as the reckless, earnest fun and flavor of their roots, the four-piece (Nigel Chapman, Seamus Dalton, Josh Salter, Brad “Bronson” Loughead) have been steadily gaining ground since their debut in 2014.

All four are active members of the Halifax music scene – a couple of them also play in fellow Halifax indie-rockers Monomyth and Each Other. Their latest album, 2016’s Thought Rock Fish Scale, has earned them glowing praise, both at home and internationally, from tastemakers like Pitchfork, MOJO, SPIN and The Fader, and landed the album on the longlist for the 2016 Polaris Prize.

Never ones to rest, they’ve been steadily touring through the summer and into the fall, making appearances at festivals and shows across North America before heading to Europe in the winter. “The last few months have been pretty busy,” says singer Nigel Chapman. “But we’re looking forward to getting out on the road again.” Don’t sleep on Nap Eyes.

LITTLE SCREAM

Born in Iowa, but now a resident of Montreal, Little Scream (Laurel Sprengelmeyer) has been making waves in pop. Her latest album, Cult Following, was released this year on Dine Alone Records (Merge Records in the U.S.).

One glance at the album credits reads like a “who’s who” of some of today’s most appreciated musicians and songwriters. Guests like Mary Margaret O’Hara, Sufjan Stevens, Sharon Van Etten, Aaron and Bryce Dessner from the National, Owen Pallett, and Kyp Malone all make appearances. Make no mistake though, the “cult following” is there for her. Little Scream’s voice and songs hit front and centre, backed by a lush palette of sound crafted by herself and creative partner Richard Reed Parry (of Arcade Fire).

And the world is catching on. This year saw her touring North America with the likes of Arcade Fire, Operators and Land of Talk; playing a well-received set at the WayHome Festival and earning praise and respect from Pitchfork, Exclaim, NOW, and The Globe and Mail, among others. “The highlight has been the sheer variety of shows,” says Little Scream. “…From opening for Arcade Fire in Barcelona, to singing at the U.S. embassy in London, to playing small club shows in the U.K.  – every night has been unique, and made all of the touring a total adventure.” Catch her on the road around North America this fall.

FEATURETTE

Featurette is a synth-pop duo comprised of singer Lexie Jay and drummer Jon Fedorsen. Based in Toronto, the duo describes their sound as “Phantogram meets Tove Lo, backed by Deadmau5.”

Thanks to a successful FACTOR grant, the duo dropped their debut two-part EP, CRAVE, in the fall of 2015. Produced by Josh Sadlier-Brown and Marc Koecher (Jully Black, John Legend, Gogol Bordello) its catchy Euro-style electropop captured the ears of radio station Edge 102.1 in Toronto, with Alan Cross featuring them on his “Songs You Must Hear”. Since then, they’ve received praise from blogs and publications around Canada, like Bullett Media, Noise Porn, Audio Fuzz, Silent Shout, Exclaim and more.

At press time, they were off to Los Angeles for some writing sessions. You’ll be hearing more from Featurette soon, once they finish touring around North America this fall.


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It would be easy to believe that Martin Léon found a way of re-inventing himself by becoming a film composer. This would ignore the type of man he is, the lover of poetic and musical sounds.

“Did I trip on the love of words that steered me towards songwriting in the first place?” he asks. “That was certainly part of it.” The truth is that Léon had been dreaming of becoming a film composer for a long time after studying contemporary music at the Université de Montréal, and a stint with the great Ennio Morricone in his twenties. Trying to explain the fine distinctions between songwriting and film scoring also wouldn’t be much help in trying to understand a thinking musician, for whom everything is inter-related in a way that’s simple and complex at the same time.

“I think that, in the end, I’m trying to identify the narrative elements of music, whether it be through a song or a film,” says Léon. “I’m always telling a story and trying to find sounds that give a colour to what exists in the spaces between words. I’m trying to clothe the invisible.”

When he was at the top of his game with Les atomes (2010), his fourth recording of songs, Léon was hired to score Christian Laurence’s Le journal d’Aurélie Laflamme and Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar. Other publicly and critically acclaimed Martin Léon film scores include Anne Émond’s Les êtres chers and Philippe Falardeau’s The Good Lie and Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre (winner of the Best Original Music award at the 2016 Gala du cinéma Québécois).

“All of this happened more or less at the same time at an incredible pace,” says Léon, “and I could only manage thanks to my musicians, the composition assistants I met in my songwriting days – the arranger/pianist Alexis Dumais and the arranger/guitarist Hugo Mayrand.”

“I believe the composer should take part in the film’s final sound mix. He has something to say all the way to that stage. Otherwise he’s just a content supplier.”

Martin Léon Becoming a film composer was a major move that forced Léon to re-assess his own role as a professional musician. He admits being thrilled with finding himself at the service of other creators. “As a songwriter, I make 90 percent of all decisions,” he says. “Right now, that would be too much for me, it would require too much attention.” Hiding behind a collective undertaking such as a motion picture, and no longer being the sole creative engine, has had a liberating effect on the composer.

The sense of creative freedom of the past has left traces, however, bringing Léon to believe that a film composer must retain a strong musical identity by leaving his mark on the stories he’s scoring, and taking an active part in the various sound-related stages of film production.

“I believe the composer should take part in the film’s final sound mix,” he says. “He has something to say all the way to that stage. Otherwise he’s nothing more than a content supplier, a role I’m not interested in playing. I like to believe that the film composer is chosen based on his capacity to bring along a specific, signature universe of sound: An Alberto Iglesias with an Almodovar; an Alexandre Desplat who doesn’t write for Wes Anderson the same way he does for Roman Polanski. These kinds of composers inspire me.”

Léon has most recently worked on the soundtracks for two movies due to be released this summer, one for Jean-François Pouliot’s comic film Les 3 p’tits cochons 2, and one for André Forcier’s Embrasse-moi comme tu m’aimes. Each film comes with its own variety of experiences, linked to new people and new environments, in spite of the fact that both scores are being produced in the same home studio. At the beginning of each new venture, Léon immerses himself in the director’s visual world, soaking it up like a sponge. He’ll read the script, watch the rushes over and over again, travel to shooting locations, and screen the director’s previous work. This modus operandi proved essential for André Forcier’s Embrasse-moi comme tu m’aimes, a film by a director with a uniquely poetic cinematic style. That total immersion steered Léon in a specific direction, for this film depicting the dark years of the Second World War in Quebec.

The scoring of Jean-François Pouliot’s Les 3 p’tits cochons 2 was a more up-and-down experience. Having been approached by the director once the shooting had been completed, Léon started on the laborious process of identifying that comedy’s theme. After a two-month trial and error period, he felt discouraged, and wondered whether he really was the composer that Pouliot was looking for. Pouliot having confirmed his trust in him, Léon continued to search for a catchy theme. When the time of the final presentation came, he called on two composer friends in order to secretly present two music themes by them, along with his own. “I didn’t know how to get out of that situation,” he says. “If the director chose those pieces, I was going to tell him that I wasn’t his man in spite of what he thought. Amazingly, the only cue he selected out of the lot was the one I had composed. You have no idea what a relief it was!”

Exhausted by those overlapping contracts, Léon is taking some time off to do things right and re-group. He’s planning to write a film script in his spare time and to explore… until Christmas. Though he has no plans of writing another solo album, he knows he’ll return to songwriting when he feels the urge again. “I know the time will come,” he says.

For now, his focus remains on the movies. And also on enjoying life. “My deepest fundamental values are not to be able to say I wrote 50 soundtracks and sold 350,000 recordings,” he says. “That used to be the case, but not anymore. When I’m on my deathbed, I want to be able to look back with pride on the relationships I had with people around me. I’ll want to have been a man who took care of his inner life. I want to nourish others, and myself, with what’s alive around me, no matter what form that life takes. That doesn’t mean embarking on a journey; not at all. My life is right here… I want to embrace this next step of my life, and be genuinely available to it, instead of with a disorienting “sell-sell-sell” approach that keeps me awake at night…”

To clothe the invisible, you must first know how to live.


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