On July 16, the Polaris Music Prize unveiled the 10 recordings on the 2019 Short List for the Canadian Album of the Year, the winner of which will be determined on Sept. 14, at the Polaris Music Prize Gala in Toronto. This year’s nominations included a big surprise: Le Mal, the FET.NAT quartet’s first full-length release, after six EPs spaced over the past decade. “This is something we hadn’t anticipated at all, and even being on the Long List was astounding to us,” says multi-instrumentalist Olivier Fairfield.

“In fact, we’ve never really operated with that objective in mind,” he continues. “We’ve now been releasing recordings and performing live for almost 10 years, we’ve got our own fan base, and everything is working fine. But it seems that since the release of our latest one, it’s… it’s as if the reality surrounding the way we do things had changed. All of a sudden, people are fascinated [with our work], and not just the fans and those who like this specific type of music. Everything has suddenly become larger, and that’s something we really hadn’t seen coming.”

The fact is that the Hull, Québec-based musicians have always produced their music primarily for themselves, and their own way, without trying to “fit the mould” – an expression that’s anathema to FET.NAT’s four do-it-yourself advocates: self-taught musicians Pierre-Luc Clément on guitars, Linsey Wellman on saxophone, lead singer/lyricist JFNO (Jean-François Nault), and Fairfield on drums, onstage synths, and studio production.

Describing their sound is a challenge, and that alone should be a good reason to listen to Le Mal as soon as you can. Imagine punk attitude and energy, set against intriguing sound collages, contrasting textures, while electronic rhythms belch out free jazz, thanks to the improvisational style that’s an integral part of the band’s approach. “Every time we set a concrete goal for ourselves, and agree that we should explore such-and-such esthetic, or musical direction, it’s a complete failure,” Olivier laughs, underlining the imprecision of their open-minded approach. “What ends up happening in the studio is that we pick up scraps of ideas, generally improbable, and follow them. And it ends up producing interesting results.

“So trying to delineate our style, or the kind of method we use, is a bit difficult,” says Olivier, who, besides his duties in FET.NAT, also works as a producer (for Medhi Cayenne Club, among others), and as an accompanist (for Leif Vollebeck). “What we can say, though, is that we’re open to everything, even to styles that make people laugh, and that’s the fun part of it. The very bad, strange, and zany ideas we come up with can become serious pretty quickly.” A regular feature of the Festival international de musique actuelle de Victoriaville and of the Suoni per il Popolo festival, FET.NAT produces blatantly free and experimental recordings that wouldn’t normally end up on the “best of the year” short list as, say, the latest Jessie Reyez album.

FET.NAT’s compositional work is powered by that same instinct, and that same will to go where the band has never gone before. Everybody pitches in, but JFNO deals primarily with lyrics, “although the others contribute also,” says Fairfield. “For instance, here’s one of the ways he writes lyrics: he opens a private Google Doc where he puts what he’s writing, so we can access it. I select some of these lyrics, and put them through a text-to-speech application that reads it aloud. I could then modify the flow velocity, the computer’s voice register, stuff like that. Bringing that tool into the creative process generates new ideas.” Some of the synthetic voices were kept on the album, or as JF re-performed the lyrics in the style of the vocal synthesis.

The band’s inclusion on the Polaris Short List has shaken FET.NAT to the core. From day one, the Ottawa-area musicians have identified with the Rock in Opposition movement of Fred Frith’s avant-garde/experimental and militant anti-capitalist British group Henry Cow. Rock in Opposition was created in the late 1970s to protest against the music industry, which was turning its nose up at their uncompromising music.

“Since the first days of FET.NAT, we’ve been doing things to please ourselves, but we’ve also been self-producing everything we do,” says Fairfield. “We’ve never applied for subsidies – we produce everything ourselves, from the recording sessions right up to the record pressings. Among others, this is one reason why we’re astounded to have been considered for the Polaris Music Prize. This said, our identification with Rock in Opposition doesn’t mean that we loathe everything that’s different from what we do ourselves. It’s simply that we’ve always insisted on doing things our own way. It’s part of the band’s nature, and above all, it’s part of the nature of the personality of each one of the band’s members… for better or for worse!

“The Polaris Prize therefore places us in a funny situation. In fact, it forces us to take a look at ourselves, and to ask, ‘What is it that we do, and what’s our place in the scheme of things? Are we still “Rock in Opposition”?’  We’re going through a minor identity crisis – but we’re still taking it lightly…”

From heartbroken rocker to film music producer and composer, this musician and businesswoman now feeds her passion for short-, medium- and feature-length films.

Anik Jean“Be a good boy, my love” are the words spoken by Anik Jean’s character to Nathan, her six-and-a-half-year old son, as she’s leaving for the evening with her husband (played by Jean-Nicolas Verrault), and before the little monster gives his stupid babysitter the hardest time of her life. That’s the set-up for Sois sage, the 12-minute short film she recently directed and presented at the Fantasia Festival as part of the Fantastiques Week-ends du cinéma québécois. The film was produced by her production company, Nathan Films, which she co-manages with Milaine Gamache. She is also partnering with her husband Patrick Huard in Jesse Films, a company that creates feature films and TV productions.

“I’m producing for TV and film, I’m going through a creative boom,” says Jean. “It’s mind-blowing. I’m playing ping-pong with my projects. And I want to prove to the film people that I’m not an imposter.”

Anik Jean became known thanks to Bon Cop Bad Cop 2. “Patrick wanted me,” she says. “’Find yourself a Plan B,’ I told him, but in his pigheadedness, I was the one. With 72 cues for an 85-minute film, it’s a big load. For instance, I had to use the score to get cars that were too slow to sound like they were moving faster. I added lots of percussion instruments to bring out the high-speed effect. Sometimes you need 12 seconds of music, sometimes you need 47. It all depends on the scene. In Bon Cop 2, you know there’s music, but you don’t hear it.

“I love being in the studio, the process is a blast,” she continues. “I enjoy the group work, among others, with the producer and the editor. The communication is non-stop. But the hardest thing is to take the plunge. For a film like Bon Cop Bad Cop 2, I worked with digital sound effects software that reproduced the sounds of explosions or revving engines, but for Sois sage, it’s me at the piano and Catherine Ledoux on violin. There are creepy moments that only two instruments are capable of portraying. I was in my element, because I love the horror genre, but it’s important to calibrate the music properly, otherwise it’s going to ruin the film.”

Sois sage is the third film that Jean has scored. In February of 2019, as an opener for Les Rendez-Vous Québec Cinéma, she presented La Porte, a 15-minute short film in which Huard plays the part of an agoraphobic painter. In 2016, her 62-minute Lost Soul, a musical film without dialogue, launched her filmography. The artist is now busy writing two feature films, including one with the horror maestro Patrick Sénécal as a screenwriting advisor, as well as the music of a well-known TV series which she’s not yet allowed to identify by name.

“Martin Léon helped me with Bon Cop 2,” she says. “Whenever I was freaking out, I’d call him, because I needed someone to reassure me. I was receiving edited film scenes as an inspiration, and after viewing them, I would sing melodies over the phone to him, and he would transcribe them into music scores. He added eight violins, four brass instruments on some parts, and working with him is awesome. Same thing with guitarist Guillaume Doiron, a childhood friend who has a full arsenal of pedals that he uses knowledgeably.”

Is she not, however, neglecting the singer-songwriter career that she launched in 2005 with her Jean Leloup-produced first album Le Trashy Saloon (winner of the JUNO Award for Francophone Album of the Year)? A career that was boosted by her performance opening a January 2006 Rolling Stones concert? Isn’t she turning her back on her Keith Richards- and Ronnie Wood-autographed Gibson Firebird, and her Ron Wood Signature Telecaster (she owns 19 guitars)? And on her Discovery of the Year ADISQ Award?

“I was sick and tired of doing an album, then a tour, then an album, then a tour,” says Jean. “But now, I’ve just started writing my next record. And you know what? I attended the release of Jean Leloup’s latest album in April, and I feel like making another album. I have a concept in my head of blending a ‘Best Of’ and collaborating with the singer-songwriters that have inspired me to make music. I’ve called, and they’ve accepted the invitation to join in the adventure. So together, we’ll co-write some new songs.”

Young Bombs scored their first official remix in 2015, when they were tasked to put their own spin on pop star Nick Jonas’ song “Teacher.” While the achievement is something to be proud of, the Vancouver duo mostly look back at that process as “honestly painstaking,” as member Martin Kottmeier recalls. “We put so much pressure on ourselves, as we’d never done anything remotely that big, or for an artist of that status.” But, he says the stressful experience taught him, and bandmate Tristan Norton, an important lesson that they’ve since adapted to their other remixes and songs: “Making music should be fun and expressive.”

Since then, Young Bombs have added many more high-profile artists to their portfolio of remixes, from Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez, to Post Malone and Khalid. In the EDM world, they’ve received praise from heavy hitters like Tiësto, Don Diablo, Oliver Heldens, The Chainsmokers and Galantis which, Martin notes, “means everything to us; we’ve looked up to those guys as heroes, so anytime they offer support or show us love, it’s truly humbling.”

Last year found the pair racking up 45 remixes, and in just four years, Young Bombs has earned nearly 100 million streams. This year, they decided to take the next natural step in their evolution: creating original songs. In March, Young Bombs put out “Starry Eyes,” a cosmic dance number that includes handclaps, ticking rhythms, and layered vocals, all swirling together into a dynamic burst of electro-pop.

With another single out already, song of the summer contender “Don’t Let Them,” Young Bombs are excited to continue releasing new material and working with other artists. At the top of their dream collaboration list? Kings of Leon’s Caleb Followill, and “Mambo No. 5” singer Lou Bega. “His work is second to none and so often overlooked,” Kottmeier says, praising Bega’s big hit. “Let’s bring Lou back.”