France D’Amour’s 13th album will thrill her early fans: D’Amour et Rock’n roll is raw, an album whose heavy sound grounds the listener while her voice and lyrics soar to the sky.

France D’AmouOn October 2, 1994, France D’Amour finished the Rock Le Lait tour at the Montréal Forum, alongside Vilains Pingouins and Jean Leloup. We were there. Animal, her first album, was launched the previous year and Déchaînée would break the sophomore jinx a few months later. The young Mont-Rolland native told the media, back then, “I’m confident enough to not be afraid of standing up to artists like them.”

We were blown away when she sang her anthem “Vivante,” her fist raised and her leg kicking, as if on a mission: “Chanter à tue-tête / Tout ce que j’ai dans l’ventre / Chanter comme une bête / Pour me garder vivante” (“Sing as loud as I can / Everything I’ve got / Sing like an animal / Just to stay alive”). For many of us – despite the artist having shown us a softer side on hits such as “Si c’’était vrai” and “Ailleurs” – this woman is a rocker at heart.

Now, D’Amour returns to her roots with 10 songs recorded at the studio of Jason Lang, her guitarist, with the help of longtime collaborators Patrick Lavergne on bass and Sam Harrisson on drums – “my very own Dave Grohl,” she says. “It was about time, and even though I’ve never stopped playing rock, a woman told me at the record launch, ‘I’ve been waiting for this album for 20 years!’ I thanked her for her patience, I know I took people on a wild ride, in the meantime,” she says about the various musical styles she’s explored over the years, like her two-volume exploration of jazz, Bubble Bath and Champagne.

What’s the difference between the 1993 rocker and today’s rocker? “There’s one helluva difference!” she says. “The rocker back in the day of Animal operated purely on instinct and energy. Now, my energy is more channelled, controlled. There was something truly serious about Animal. Now, nothing’s serious, we don’t give a damn, we just let go and have fun! We were like teenagers, we just wanted to find good grooves, raw and imperfect material. When you listen to albums from the ’70s, there are off-notes, and it sounded more natural.

“I want to stand up on my chair, drive too fast, be too loud!”

“We’d sometimes laugh uncontrollably, as if the music was taking us back to childhood, and we were unlearning what we know. We wondered how we played when we didn’t know how to play. It feels amazing to let go like that, to play any which way. A lot of the songs sound like demos, which drove our producer crazy, trying to fix those imperfections, but we like those songs just the way they are. I was sick when we recorded ‘Tout à gagner,’ my voice is completely off, but I said, ‘let’s keep that!’ Rock ’n’ roll is all about feeling and emotion.”

Straight to the heart, without neglecting the mind, the album is very guitar-driven, and emerges as quite cohesive from repeated, playful elements, without being overly innovative.

“Rock music is perfect when you want to sing about topics such as outrage, which is the case on this new album,” says D’Amour. “I sing about what I’ve realized over the years, my personal life, I reveal a lot about myself. It’s me, right now. There’s not a single love song on the album,” says the newly-single 54 year-old, with a sliver of irony – although it’s worth noting that the last song on D’Amour et Rock’n roll, “T’étais mon père,” is the eulogy she read at her father’s funeral, not long ago.

It’s always in such moments that D’Amour gives the best of herself. She goes on, supercharged: “I want a scrapyard, I don’t feel like being sexy. I want to stand up on my chair, drive too fast, be too loud, turn around and stop only when I feel like it. I need to say, ‘Fuck off,’ and to just let go.”

The first step was duly accomplished during her record launch concert at Coup de cœur francophone. “My armpits were sweaty, but I didn’t fumble a single word of my new songs,” she says. “I’ve got a good memory; apparently Alzheimer’s won’t be [happening] right away in my case. I’m still a teen, inside. Age is all in the mind.”

Amaal didn’t realize she could pursue music until she was already doing it. The Somali-Canadian artist thought making music was an “unfathomable” career a mere hobby, perhaps but when she posted her first single, 2011’s “Words Revealed,” online “to share with my friends and family on Facebook,” as she recalls, others started paying attention.

“I was getting labels reaching out to me,” she continues. “It was such a shock to me that people were genuinely interested.”

But Amaal’s appeal is pretty easy to understand. Her voice is naturally expressive and can easily wrap itself around an R&B beat with ease, sharply swinging listeners around tight corners on an emotional rollercoaster you’ll want to return to again and again. With a strength like that, Amaal’s songwriting benefits from more personal deep-dives, but that’s admittedly been the “biggest challenge for most of my career.”

Early on, Amaal’s songwriting focused on her community, telling a more wide-angled narrative. But, “sharing those intimate day-to-day stories were a struggle till it hit me one day that I wasn’t being fully present in my music.” Her intimate experiences, in love and life in general, needed a platform. “I was dying to speak about those things and no longer wanted to filter myself.”

Her latest EP, 2019’s Black Dove, is perhaps her most emotionally daring; a bare portrait of love, heartbreak and all the complicated shades in between. “Once I started sharing those intimate feelings, it just all came rushing out of me,” she explains. “The process was scary, emotional and empowering all at the same time. Black Dove represents, to me, shattering those expectations that society or your upbringing has placed on you and stepping outside of those boundaries. I’m so proud I was able to do the work and have this project be the birth of my journey.”

And that journey is far from over: “I only wish to continue pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and making music that’s honest and most importantly without any fear.”

One afternoon, musician Craig Northey (of The Odds) got a message from longtime friend and collaborator Bruce McCulloch (The Kids in the Hall and Saturday Night Live). For the past 25 years, beginning with his 1995 score for The Kids in the Hall’s Brain Candy, the duo had worked on numerous musical, film, and TV projects. Now McCulloch had a new one on the horizon.

He wanted Northey to score an all-male comedy revue, TallBoyz, that had just been picked up by the CBC. Featuring a young, multi-racial/ethnic cast of comedians, it tapped into the vibrant Toronto scene. Instantly, Northey knew he wanted to bring in another friend and collaborator, musician/producer Chin Injeti. The pair had previously co-written “Get Carried Away” with Colin James, for his 2000 album Fuse.

“[McCulloch] talked with the Boyz about music, and what they wanted,” says Northey from his home in Vancouver. “They wanted it to feel very much like Toronto now, and all its cosmopolitan beauty and fun.  When he articulated all this to me, I thought of Chin right away. I needed Chin to help me realize that. He’s from [Toronto] originally, and has a foot in the pond. He’s also one of Canada’s – and the world’s – hip-hop treasures. Our methods are different, and I knew we would push each other to new places. That’s what TallBoyz needed.”

When Injeti got the invite, he welcomed a new opportunity to collaborate with Northey again. “Craig and I have a love for all types of music – I mean, like, a real deep love,” he says. “We’re able to pull from the most obscure of references to the most popular – anything from Beastie Boys, to Masters at Work, [to] the Meters. Our different styles of production make it that much better.”

Northey agrees. “I’ve been a fan of vintage R&B since I was a kid, and that’s where Chin and I came together” he says. “Stax, Bill Withers, Sly & the Family Stone, the JB’s, the Meters. Chin [also] has a keen grasp of quirky, early-‘80s alt-rock. He would take me farther in one direction, and I would drag him somewhere weird at the same time.”

The pair implemented Northey’s in-depth approach to scoring, and set to work.

“You just keep trying to honour the mood.” – Craig Northey, on scoring

“When you’re underscoring a scene, you generally have the footage in front of you, and that’s your muse,” says Northey. “My methodology with Bruce is to start way before that. I read the scripts and talk too much with him about it, and then get started forming an aesthetic, demo-ing theme and motif ideas. This time I did that with Chin. We were composing stuff to imaginary scenes two months before we saw anything.” For Injeti’s part, he used his intimate knowledge of Toronto’s rich and diverse culture to tap into the vibe of the score early on.  “[Tallboyz] was totally relatable, and felt natural,” he says.

Two other Toronto gems also helped inspire them. “Shad and DJ TLO had already composed a few songs with TallBoyz that were to be sprinkled throughout the series,” says Northey. “They were dynamite, and gave us a few starting points for what might work.”

Though he had scored the 2015 documentary Highway of Tears (Matt Smiley), Injeti appreciates that the TallBoyz process helped build his scoring muscles even more.  “I am so lucky that I got to do this with someone as amazing as Craig Northey,” he says. “He taught me to use my instincts as a songwriter towards scoring.  The most challenging part was to create seconds of a sound that had the same emotional impact as a two- or three-minute song.  Bruce’s vision was so clear, and Craig’s direction was so easy to understand, that it came pretty easy.”

While Northey boast a list of scoring titles – Corner Gas (TV, film and animated series), Hiccups, The Kids in the Hall’s Death Comes to Town and CBC’s Young Drunk Punk and This Blows, he too developed a finer balance between songwriting and scoring.

“Songwriting requires you to bring all the inspiration to the table,” says Northey. “You need to find a great idea, and then manifest it in music. In scoring the inspiration is provided – it’s right there, all lit up in front of you. In TallBoyz, and just about every project I’ve scored, you get to exercise your songwriting muscles because there are often songs required. That part is fun, they’re kind of ‘made to order’ genre pieces. It allows you to stretch into new territory. You’re not the artist putting your song out there to have your hopes dashed by public apathy, or the barbs of critics. You’re honouring the scene with something that enhances the mood. The reward is always learning something new musically.”

With McCulloch’s feedback helping them make it less complex and dense, the pair soon hit the scoring sweet spot. “I think we knew we’d got the vibe down for the series about halfway through episode one!” says Northey. “You just keep trying to honour the mood. Eventually it distills itself down to the essential elements that resonate.”

When asked if another Injeti/Northey collaboration lies in the future, Injeti hopes so. “We’re getting together this week to jam,” he says, “so I’ll hint at it.” And Northey says it’s pretty much guaranteed.  “Chin’s a treasure and talent beyond comprehension – he goes deep as an instrumentalist, singer, composer, and person.  You want to stay close to people like that. They’re like power points on the globe.”