Fronted by the vocally gifted Sabrina Halde, Groenland – a six-member band with a brand new debut album – is taking the Montreal music scene by storm.

The Chase’s indie orchestral pop sound with electro undercurrents – for which Montreal (the city that gave Arcade Fire to the world) is known – is unmistakable from the first listen, with its lush orchestrations and exquisite compositional details. Released on the Bonsound label and solidly produced by Philippe B and Guido Del Fabro, this new specimen of the “Montreal sound” includes French lyrics à la Coeur de Pirate and English words à la Patrick Watson, a trend among a number of Quebec groups with French-sounding names.

And, of course, there is Sabrina Halde’s voice, a beautiful-sounding, perfectly-pitched and controlled Regina Spektor-like instrument, developed as a jazz singing student at Montreal’s Cégep Saint-Laurent. The artist, who went on to completed a minor in digital music at the University of Montreal, comments: “To some listeners, I have a pop-sounding voice, although we’re going in other directions musically, and this is why we’re sometimes compared to small niche indie bands.”

Over the past ten years, Halde’s partner, Jean-Vivier Lévesque (keyboards and programming) has been performing as part of Le Roi Poisson and Le Citoyen. The “Chase” of the band’s album title is a metaphor for the team’s professional quest. “At the risk of sounding a bit corny, I’d say our title is a reference to the huge challenge of making it with our music, not an easy life project by any means,” says Halde. “Managing to blossom out and searching for your own individual sound are valid quests and remarkable accomplishments in themselves.

“We were initially inspired by The Eraser, Thom Yorke’s solo album, but when we sat in front of our computers, we realized that we preferred working instinctively instead, more organically, more impulsively,” says Halde. “What young bands need, sometimes, is just to get out there and jam their songs in front of real people instead of sitting for hours on end in front of the computer looking for ways to put words on ideas.

“Naturally, we changed our minds about making electronic music – though it is now part of our sound – and we decided instead to create our own group and open it up to other musicians,” namely Jonathan Charette on drums, Simon Gosselin on electric bass, Gabrielle Girard-Charest on acoustic bass and Fanny C. Laurin on violin. “That makes three men and three women – an equal opportunity band,” Halde  laughs, adding that she really appreciates that “the company of other girls on those long road trips.”

The band’s songwriters remain halde and Lévesque, whom she calls JV. “As a rule, when we’re composing, once we get to the melody, words will slowly emerge, and this is when something starts to move lyrically,” says Halde. “I remember reading an interview with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver who was saying that before questioning the meaning of his lyrics, he allows words to place themselves naturally, playing around with them for a while. The editing work comes later. I love it when the music dictates the words.” While Halde begins work on various sections of a developing song, JV keeps an overall vision of the finished product, their respective roles complementing one another throughout the creative process.

How does halde deal with her role as the band’s frontwoman?  “I felt at home onstage from the word go,” she says. “I just knew that this was what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. Of course, it takes time for things to take shape. It’s a bit stressing initially because you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, so you take a big breath and jump in. Lifeless performances won’t cut it – what you need is high energy. I always knew that the pressure on the group really was pressure I was putting upon myself. We’re a gang, we hang together! That very thought energizes me.”

After four albums, the Algerian born singer Lynda Thalie, who settled in Quebec at the age of 16, finally perfected the mix of Middle Eastern sounds and socially conscious lyrics she was striving for, and she knows why: she did her homework. “It’s the time I spent getting in touch with my cultural roots on my first three albums – Le Sablier (The Hourglass), the self-titled album and La Rose des sables (Gypsum Flower) – that provided me with the confidence I needed to write Nomadia,” the 34-year-old artist explains.

Having learned piano scales, and taken part in school competitions and showcases from an early age in her country of origin, Thalie felt right at home in the student musical productions at her new Quebec high school. “It was more or less love at first sight,” she recalls. “When I visited Cégep Ahuntsic at one point in Montreal, there was a show being presented in the central square, and I immediately felt that this was where I was going to be some day. Later on, leaving the stage of the Cégeps en Spectacle competition where I had been a contestant, I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.”

Thalie then began writing and composing, winning the 2000 Ma Première Place des Arts competition in the performer category and signing a record deal with GSI Musique, a company “that was looking after such prominent singer-songwriters as Jean-Pierre Ferland, Gilles Vigneault and Daniel Boucher,” she recalls with obvious gratitude for that promising introduction to the Quebec music world.

“The label hooked me up with some creators from whom I would increasingly learn the profession. I spent a year and a half with Nicolas Maranda from 2001, for instance, laboriously crafting my first album. It was wonderful to have this opportunity to get used to the daily routine in the studio. Since then, I ended up singing with people like Marie Denise Pelletier, Luc De Larochellières and Michel Rivard! All that on-the-spot training got me involved early on with the song-creating process, and provided me with the professional tools I needed to trust myself.”

A straight talker, Thalie has criticized radio broadcasters in the past for what she called their conservative and close-minded attitude towards sounds that they deemed “too different.” With today’s runaway radio success of “Dance Your Pain Away (La tête haute),” the single from her Nomadia album, however, things seem to have turned around somehow. So, who changed? Was it the artists or music programmers?

“Actually, I think it was both,” Thalie offers candidly. “Since I moved to Quebec, I really went out of my way to explain my music to people and have them accept it. I met my audience halfway, so to speak, and they’re the ones who made it happen through their support and word-of-mouth recommendations. But radio stations did their part, too. When you see what’s happening in the world with people like Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Shakira and other world music-sounding artists… When Sting came up with ‘Desert Rose,’ featuring Cheb Mami, I was ecstatic. I realized that if we were unable to get results with our efforts within Quebec, then change would come from without. That’s exactly what’s happened, and radio stations have now yielded to the world trend.”

Back to the topic of songwriting, Thalie admits that she learned how to force inspiration after giving up fighting the blank page syndrome. “If it happens again now, I simply concentrate on filling up my mind with images and phrases and things that I pick out of thin air or on the airwaves… I sort of grab them and file them away in my mind’s drawers. When it’s time to write, I do like Ferland did – I force inspiration. I sit down and make a mental appointment with it, then the floodgates open up. I don’t know where it all comes from. All you have to do is grab it.”

Occasionally, as she did before with Yann Perreau, Nicolas Maranda, Carlos Placeres and Nomadia producer Louis Côté, Thalie prefers group creation to solo inspiration. “I could have written the whole album by myself,“ she says, “but something very special happens when two artists decide to co-operate with their creative guards down – it’s like some golden umbilical cord growing and helping two worlds produce something that could never have been generated singlehandedly. Creating something new together with someone else is both wonderful and fulfilling.”

Increasingly active in the French-speaking world, Thalie understands the importance of expanding her market reach. And while competition is tougher in Europe for world music, she still manages to get noticed thanks to her Quebec roots.

“What’s fabulous is that wherever I am, people find me different,” she says. “When I’m performing in Quebec, this is a foregone conclusion, but I experience the same reaction everywhere, as if I people thought I arrived to their country with a trunk full of maple syrup! So wherever I go, I help people travel in their own minds. How fabulous is that?”

Last spring, Franco-Ontarian singer-songwriter Dominique Nadia released Intime humanité, her fourth album, thanks in part to the Ontario Arts Council. This country/folk/pop recording, created with contributions from a number of well-known SOCAN members – star lyricist Marc Chabot, as well as Yvon Rioux, Frédéric Dorval, Sylvain Poirier, Manon Charlebois, Mario Trudel, François Dubé, Mathieu (PetitBig) Leduc and Peter Venne – addresses some serious concerns, while presenting a humorous view of other aspects of life. Following are some comments the thirtysomething artist shared with Paroles &Musique as she visited us on a hot and sticky summer day.

“I fell in love with the stage at seven when I was given tickets for a René and Nathalie Simard concert,” says Nadia. “I was not only dazzled by the songs and the music, but also by the dancing, the energy, the stage sets. I can still feel the attraction as I remember this today.”

As soon as she was able to write, Dominique Nadia started penning songs and, with parental encouragement, took ballet classes; joined a choir; won a public speaking contest by telling her schoolmates all about the excitement of watching a live performance of the famous Simard child performers; got herself a ghetto blaster with a mic when she was nine; kept up her karaoke and theatre activities; won the 1995 Eastern Ontario Personnalité Opti-Jeunesse award… and was on her way to a life in the arts.

Born during the year of the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics that made Nadia Comaneci (whose name she was given) a household name around the world, Dominique Nadia has stars in her eyes as she describes her dual passions for pop music and the promotion of the French language.

“I’m from Ontario, and even though I live in Gatineau, Quebec, at the moment, I still consider myself a Franco-Ontarian,” she says. “I need to be involved in that community and to stand up for the French language. My parents were both from Quebec, and we spoke correct French at home. It’s important for me to write in my own language, and the only bilingual cut on my most recent album was a commission from the Missing Children and Adults Association. My songs are not meant to re-invent the French language, but I believe that they convey my passion for my culture and for life itself.”

The voluble and extroverted singer-songwriter considers her recently released fourth album to be her most mature to date, and also her first as an independent, uncompromising artist. “I’ve stopped listening to those pretending that a recording needs a strong common thread,” she says. “This album is exactly like me – it’s eclectic, mult-ifaceted, focused on self-realization. I have so many interests – I can be funny, I can talk about philosophy, whatever. I used to live a more compartmentalized life, but this time I wanted to piece all these different components together.”

This in itself should be quite a feat considering the many aspects of her life, as a mother of two young children, the spouse of another musician (guitarist Frédéric Dorval) with whom she occasionally performs, an actor in children’s theatre under the stage name of Do (she completed a tour with Pattes de velours in June), a model, photographer, and anything remotely connected to her life project as a singer-songwriter.

“I’m not a competitive person,” she says. “I actually hate competitions. I do these things so I can express myself and absorb the energy of the people I come in contact with in the creative professions. When I’m onstage communicating with my public, I know I’m in the right place.”

Having grown up listening to Vilain Pingouin, Les Parfaits Salauds, Jean Leloup, Luc De Larochellière, the songs of Marc Chabot – one of her mentors – and Patrick Bruel, Nadia is a fan of the Quebec music scene at large, but admits being partial to the works of 3 Gars su’l sofa, Cœur de pirate and the Swiss artist Jérémie Kisling.

Her writing method, like everything else about her, is unique. “Some songs will keep running through my head for quite a while before I’ll finally sit down and write them out,” she says. “Lines will come up when I’m in the tub, anywhere. I put no pressure on myself. Besides, for this last album, I wanted the music to be composed after the lyrics were in place, and not the other way around as was the case for my previous recordings. I did not give myself any deadlines, being my own producer.”

Calling herself a rudimentary musician (“I strum the guitar, that’s about it”), she has participated in a number of training workshops with by Marc Chabot, Nelson Minville and Mario Chenart, and benefited from Manon Charlebois’ advice on lyric/music fusion.

Everything Dominique Nadia learns ends up being shared with the Franco-Ontarian community. “I’ve sometimes conducted my own workshops,” she says. “I’ll also help colleagues fill out grant application forms. You’ve got to share your experience with others. I have lots of ideas, I’m a creative person and I do not make comparisons. Each album and each work is unique and exists for a reason. In my opinion, you cannot compete with others. There can be a dog-eat-dog attitude in the [music] industry that I don’t like personally.”

Nadia was in Montreal to sign a contract for a solo concert she is to perform in the Place des Arts Studio-Theatre on March 6, 2014, as part of Week-ends de la chanson Québecor, a series presented in partnership with SACEF (the society for the advancement of Francophone pop music), where she will be performing an intimate acoustic concert with her partner Frédéric Dorval. More dates will follow this fall and next spring. Stay tuned on