There’s no place like home, and there’s no place like Rome.

River Tiber may take his pseudonym from Italy’s Tiber River, near where he lived for a year as a child, but for Tommy Paxton-Beesley, the music is just starting to flow.

Although he has a couple of EPs under his belt (2014’s The Stars Fall, 2015’s When The Time Is Right), the Toronto-based singer-songwriter and producer has a higher profile for the moment due to placements with Drake (“No Tellin’,”), BadBadNotGood and Ghostface Killah (the Sour Soul album), Jazz Cartier (“Tell Me”), Travi$ Scott and Mac Miller.

Paxton-Beesley credits many of those tributaries to his collaboration with Grammy-winning producer Adam Feeney, a.k.a. Frank Dukes (Eminem, Drake), either through happenstance or, in the case of BBNG (who introduced them) and Cartier, friendship.

“For the Toronto stuff, I definitely collaborate with tons of artists in the city.”

“A few of the placements have been passed through Frank Dukes, and I’ve seen the way that it’s written about,” Paxton-Beesley acknowledges, “It makes me seem like I’m more involved than I am. But the way production works these days, it’s so hyper-connected: you can send stuff to one guy and they’ll send it to another guy.

“For the Toronto stuff, I definitely collaborate with tons of artists in the city.”

While he rhymes off Kaytranada, Daniel Caesar, Wayo’s Charlotte Day Wilson and Kwik Fiks as recent studio allies, the formally trained multi-instrumentalist (he spent two years at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College, and can play cello, drums, violin, trombone, keyboards and guitar) is quietly awaiting his turn in the spotlight.

Whether it’s the seductive and soulful synth-chill throb of the recently-dropped ballad “West” featuring Caesar, or the yearning, slow-burning R&B allure of “Let You Go,” the River Tiber music unleashed on SoundCloud and iTunes thus far is only a drop in the bucket.

“A lot of the music that I have out right now is sort of synth-based, representing one or two sides of what I do, but a lot that I’m sitting on is more lush orchestration,” he says. “I’d characterize my music as diverse, but clear in the different selections of sounds and feels and overall mood. It’s hard for me to classify it outside of the fact that I’m trying to make my own favourite music. I’m just channeling my influences, really.”

Those influences – Michael Jackson, Jeff Buckley, Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix among them – are mitigated by a practical “less-is-more” viewpoint.

“I always write more than I need, then I subtract,” explains Paxton-Beesley, who will drop an as-yet-untitled, 12-track, independent album sometime this Spring.

“I tend to produce that way, too. I’ll write a bunch, hit the limit of the arrangement, and then I’ll subtract. I don’t do it always, but it’s kind of a good philosophy, especially for coming up with the track list, whether it’s one or many.”


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On January 29, 2016, post-rock outfit Pandaléon launched its third album, Atone. It’s a solid, ambient rock offering that’s in good company with the likes of Sigur Ros, Kinski, Flaming Lips, Swans, et al. Without going as far as calling it a concept album, there’s clearly a thread that ties Atone together, a clear and unique art direction at play. The result is in no small part attributable to the peculiar path the trio and their sound engineer chose for recording these ten songs. They went back to their old primary school, which has been abandoned for about 15 years, and holed up there for five weeks. But to better understand this approach, we need to travel back in time…

Here, then, are three young men – aged 23, 24 and 25, respectively – who were raised in the countryside somewhere between Montréal and Ottawa. Brothers Frédéric and Jean-Philippe Levac grew up in St-Bernardin, where their parents and grandparents ran a dairy farm. Their friend Marc-André Labelle was born a few kilometres away, a village called L’Orignal (population 2,000). “We loved our childhood. It was the kind of environment where everyone contributes. Remote, but united,” says Fred.

Here, then, we have three young musicians who love to re-invent themselves, tweak sounds, and whose interest in composing and recording music is boundless. The two brothers start making music together early on. Frédéric plays keyboards and sings, Jean-Philippe plays drums. In their teens, they set up in an old barn on the family’s property and turn it into a rehearsal space, studio and even a small, intimate concert venue. They call it “La Piaule” (loosely translated, “The Pad”). That’s where they write all their music. It’s a lab. A hideout. Their paradise on Earth.

 

Marc-André Labelle enters their life at the end of high school. Right from the start, during his first visit at La Piaule, the Levac brothers are blown away by his playing and his personality. The chemistry is perfect, the band is born! “Being in a band is intense. We share a lot. You learn a lot about yourself and what type of musician you are. Each member has to be fully engaged, and that’s how it is for us,” says Fred over the phone from La Piaule. The fourth wheel of this well-oiled machine is Nicolas Séguin, a close friend and the band’s official sound engineer. He’s an integral part of the project, whether live or in the studio.

 CHILDHOOD NOSTALGIA

When the themes of childhood, the past and family come flowing out of Fred’s writing process, the trio decided that this time they wanted to step out of their comfort zone. “We go by our old primary school every day,” says Fred. “It’s a tiny rural school that had about 40 students back then, and they had to close it while my brother and I were attending. We knew the acoustics in that place would be awesome. We jumped on the opportunity.”

Pandaléon

So the four young men set up camp in their old St-Bernardin school for five weeks last summer, equipped with a water tank, mattresses, their instruments and recording equipment. “We slept there, we lived there, we had to go outside to brush our teeth,” Jean-Philippe explains in the documentary about their experience that you can watch on their website. “We forgot to eat because we were so busy and involved… We forgot to call our girlfriends, we forgot everything, really.”
“The school itself played an immense role in the whole process,” says Fred. “We spent days testing each room’s acoustics and experimenting with their natural volume and reverberation. Stick my drums in a gymnasium and I go nuts!” The pictures and videos documenting the process clearly show how chaotic their surroundings were while they tried to create a workspace for the duration of the project.

“The school itself played an immense role in the whole process,” says Fred. “We spent days testing each room’s acoustics and experimenting with their natural volume and reverberation. Stick my drums in a gymnasium and I go nuts!” The pictures and videos documenting the process clearly show how chaotic their surroundings were while they tried to create a workspace for the duration of the project.

GRIEF

Even though, musically, the end result quenched their thirst for exploration and yielded a sonically rich album – especially the guitar work – from a human standpoint, it was different. “It was very peculiar,” says Fred. “On the first night, we were super-excited, thrilled to be going outside of our comfort zone. Then we dove head first into this childhood nostalgia. We worked on our music 18 hours a day for five weeks straight, in total isolation; let’s just say we reached quite a high degree of intensity. It was the best recording session ever!”

“Leaving the place was rough,” Fred continues. “The day we left, no one said a word. We took the studio apart, bundled the cords, and took the equipment out in complete silence.” A form of grief? “Undoubtedly. Artistically, I was satisfied by this experience and the recordings we got out of it, but mentally, I was exhausted. It took two solid weeks before I plugged everything back at La Piaule.”

So where is Pandaléon headed after such an experience? “We can’t wait to get onstage!” says Fred. “We really enjoy getting lost in our music when we play live. It’s intoxicating.” Will Atone’s follow-up require another such intense experience? “I don’t know,” he says. “We’ll see. It’s likely that we’ll try recording outside of La Piaule for the next album, just to see how differently we are influenced by a different environment.” A reggae album recorded in Jamaica, maybe? “Ha, ha! Who knows? We’ll go where the music takes us.”

One thing’s for sure, these four lads will not cease exploring, re-inventing themselves, and living their love for music and recording to the fullest. For these guys, the trip is as important as the destination.


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Here’s the latest edition in our series of stories on those happy creative meetings between songwriters that we call duos. This one is about a natural, spontaneous and almost happenstance collaboration, one that united singer-songwriter Marie-Ève Roy (Vulgaires Machins’ guitarist and singer) and Julien Mineau, multi-instrumentalist, producer and leader of Malajube.

“My only goal, with this project,” says Roy, “was to take it to its logical conclusion, and by that I mean writing ten songs that would create a cohesive whole. I wrote these songs very simply, by following ideas that spoke to me, reflected who I am.”

Releasing one’s first solo album should be a milestone that, at least in part, is fraught with insecurity, self-doubt, pressure, and questions. Or so people might rightfully believe, but they would be those whose livelihood isn’t based on writing songs, recording them and playing them live. Perhaps due to her two decades in the business, singer-songwriter Roy is uncannily calm, even though she’s only a few days away from releasing said first solo album.

Julien Mineau, Marie-Ève RoyMaybe, just maybe, this Zen attitude is also attributable to Julien Mineau’s reassuring presence; he’s sitting right next to her in the Villeray café, and never left her side when came time to record Bleu Nelson. First off, what’s with the title? “You’re right, it’s not the title of a song and not even a lyric snippet from one of the songs,” says Roy. “It’s actually a town in New Zealand that I found inspiring when I was there a few years ago.” The blue being, quite obviously, because of the ocean surrounding the island nation.”

From New Zealand, Roy travels to… Place Versailles, a shopping mall in Montréal’s East End, to which she refers on her song “Le monde est triste à Radisson”: “À la place Versailles/Les néons éclairent/La solitude et le béton.” (Freely: “What you see under Place Versailles’ neon lights are solitude and concrete.”) And so it is that we’re taken on a trip inside the artist’s mind, set to music that’s light-years away from Vulgaires Machins’ vindictive punk sounds.

Fans of Québec’s infamous punk rock legends are in for a bit of a surprise indeed: the ten originals are somewhere between ballads and barely faster-paced pop songs. It’s music that caresses and consoles; it’s ‘70s sounding but not retro, as if a sophisticated Françoise Hardy had ditched her yé-yé skirts. Her unconfessed influence? The XX’s melancholic pop songs.

“Initially, I was going for a more minimalist pop sound. But then Julien started playing all kinds of instruments and I went along with it, I liked the direction he was going in, it was perfect.” – Marie-Ève Roy

Says Mineau, “I thought it was interesting to take her there, with her agreement, of course. Tabula rasa, starting anew, recording freely and breaking [her association with punk]. I reckon that someone who’s always been a fan of the Vulgaires will be quite surprised…”

“I’ve wanted to do this project for a long time,” says Roy. “I started writing for it when I ended up alone with my guitar in New Zealand, back in 2010. It was like I decided that it was really going to be my new musical adventure, and the Vulgaires’ hiatus gave me the opportunity to devote myself to it.”

Roy and Moneau didn’t really know each other when she started working on her solo project in earnest, back in 2013. They met when she contacted him to buy a Wurlitzer keyboard. “That’s how it all started, with a piano transaction!” laughs Mineau. “I later offered her to record her album at my place,” in his home studio located in Ste-Ursule, a village of 1,375 souls located about 90 minutes Northeast of Montréal.

Julien Mineau, Marie-Ève RoyAll the album’s songs were written and composed by Marie-Ève, save for “Larmes de joie” (“tears of Joy”), the music for which was composed by Mineau. “My work was mainly on the arrangements,” says the producer. Bleu Nelson was a four-handed recording process: all of the richly orchestrated pop songs were played by the two collaborators.

“It all happened at my place over a period of two weeks,” says Mineau. “Marie-Ève had already sent demos ahead of time, and some of them didn’t even need to be changed at all. We set up, we played, I pressed the record button. We didn’t have a game plan.” Says Roy, “We did talk about the direction of the project before getting underway. I’d been thinking a lot about the sound I was looking for, the vibrato, the very intimate production. I always give myself a few sources of inspiration, The XX and Julian Casablancas. That was our starting point.

“Initially, I was going for a more minimalist pop sound. But then Julien started playing all kinds of instruments and I went along with it, I liked the direction he was going in, it was perfect. I was looking for a very specific atmosphere, but I was also totally open to Julien’s ideas.” Thus, Bleu Nelson is not only an album, but a snapshot of a fruitful musical collaboration. It’s no surprise that the whole project was wrapped in a couple of weeks: they’d established the perfect dialogue.

This was also a first for Mineau. “I’d never produced someone else’s album before,” he says. “Working for others means, for me, less self-questioning and, above all, being able to try new ideas, and I have a million of those. I also took away a lot from this collaboration, especially about cutting back – I do have a tendency to record way too many tracks. It made me want to do this more.” Time allowing, obviously.

Before then, Malajube will finally release another album, and there ought to be another solo album from Mineau, most likely quite different from his Fontarabie foray. “Songs more than instrumentals,” he says. “A completely different world.”


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