Guillaume Arsenault, the star of the 2001 Petite-Vallée song festival, released his first album, the rock-rooted Guillaume & l’Arbre), a year later, and followed up in 2006 with the folkier, more intricate Le Rang des Îles. His 2009 release, the clever Géophonik, was a mixture of sophisticated arrangements and ingeniously blended electronic and folk sounds. His latest offering, the self-produced Oasis station-service, came out last September after an unusually long hiatus for the artist from Baie-des-Chaleurs in the Gaspé Peninsula.

“As a creator, you can’t force things to happen,” he says. “All you can do is condition yourself to welcome inspiration. I had planned to move in many directions from the word go, and I actively explored new avenues everywhere I turned. This also included new songwriting challenges, writing and composing in unfamiliar ways. This is one of the reasons why this latest album was so long in coming. Another reason was that some of the musicians I was working with were located in Montreal while others lived in the Gaspé Peninsula,” the 37-year-old artist explains.

An adventuresome creator

Resulting from multiple songwriting sessions, the 12 selections of Arsenault’s latest album are replete with colourful lyrical imagery and performed in a warm, yet detached voice through dusty twang-guitar riffs and Morricone-esque grooves – a significant stretch for the Bonaventure-born artist. “I joined some musicians in Montreal and we played jam sessions, recording ourselves as we went along,” he says. “On my way back home on the train, I would listen to all that stuff and set aside the best improvised sections to use them later as songwriting material. What came out of this was a distinctive sound. I fell in love with a baritone electric guitar with a sound that brought together the slow-moving melodies and the more nervous side of electronics. In some way, I wanted to create movie-like songs reminiscent of Sergio Leone’s films or [rock singer-songwriter] Fred Fortin’s early work. It was a personal challenge, and the result is much more melodic. My goal always is to get so deeply involved in the creative process that I no longer have to worry about doing things wrong.” 

“I see the horizon as a soul shaper, and I try to catch images in mid-air wherever I go.”

A veteran theatre, documentary and web music composer, Arsenault has been calling himself a full-time musician since 2009, and has since hosted numerous songwriting workshops in elementary and secondary schools as well as the Petite-Vallée Songwriting Camp. A seasoned traveller, he’s spent a considerable amount of time out West over the past few years, and was deeply moved by a Southern road trip he once took: “I hitchhiked across the U.S. and Mexico, and came back home without a single photograph or concrete reminder of my journey. I still cherish these memories, and they inform my songwriting to this day. I realize the word ‘horizon’ keeps reoccurring in my lyrics. I see the horizon as a soul shaper, and I try to catch images in mid-air wherever I go. If I were living in a large city like Montreal, I would be writing about concrete, but when I look away from my house right now, all I see is farmer’s fields, trees and bales of hay. This is where my inspiration is coming from,” the trained cabinetmaker-turned-songwriter reveals.

Working differently

As he began hosting songwriting workshops around 2002, Arsenault had to get to the root of his own personal creative process. “Once I was able to see how I was going about things, I had no desire to repeat the same process over and over,” he says. “That brought me to work differently over the years. The starting point, for me, always is a musical ambiance of some sort. The next thing is the blending of words and music – first the striking images, then the rest of the lyrics. Before this last album, I often fussed for a long time before adopting specific phrases or images because I was  bent on depicting exactly how I felt and expressing precisely what I wanted to say, with the result that I was throwing away a lot of interesting stuff. I got rid of that approach with Oasis station-service, and it’s been a relief.”

Now caught up in a whirlwind of activity, Guillaume Arsenault continues to collect new sounds for his research and creation project on the Gaspé soundscape (his “Sound Tourism” project) while performing live shows, composing theatre music, writing a play and touring local secondary schools. Far from having exhausted his materials, this all-around creator sees the songwriter as a witness to the world: “You can talk about yourself, of course, but there is a way to do that. It’s the ‘show me, don’t tell me’ kind of approach. And I feel I still have much to show people. This is a good sign for whatever comes next.”

Wanderlust combined with constant curiosity. Tokyo to Toronto, with plenty of whistle stops in between. Forty years on, songwriter-producer Vince Degiorgio still follows the song. Today the music industry veteran is in Japan. The following week he’s set to co-write songs in Asia with artists that he’s never met before. He’s just spent a fortnight in Europe meeting several international writers on the roster of his Chapter 2 Productions publishing company.

“As a pop writer, I’ve always been an explorer,” says Degiorgio. “I didn’t have the patience earlier in my career to try to crack the flood of self-contained acts and singer-songwriters in Canada, so I hit the road.”

Now, after 14 trips around the globe, he’s a musical trailblazer. From the fringes to the mainstream, there’s little he hasn’t seen. The road began in clubs, as an underage DJ making $40 an hour to support his record-buying habit. Later he took a turn as an A&R man for RCA, signing ‘N Sync to their first major-label deal for North America. Degiorgio’s journey is as diverse as the artists with whom he’s co-written songs; he penned his first lyrics as a teen.

“I knew I had a talent,” he recalls, “it just depended on when I could use it. Once I started my own record label, I decided I was going to be a writer, someway, somehow, and make a life from it.”

“I decided I was going to be a writer, someway, somehow, and make a life from it.”

Making a life from the music business is an understatement. Degiorgio has had chart-topping hits in six different countries. His works have been recorded in 11 different languages. Sales of his songs have exceeded 30 million units. Despite international success, he remains humble, knowing some of life’s most overwhelming gifts are only temporary.

“I write as if I’m broke,” Degiorgio says. “Every day is a new challenge. If I didn’t take the risks I have [taken], I wouldn’t have a career. I lead with my heart and I just put it out there.”

When Degiorgio puts pen to paper, success is usually not far behind. The hardest part of writing songs, he says, is finding new ways to express age-old ideas. “I laugh with my writers when I tell them that, in life, there are limitless ways to fall in love, but there are only a few ways to get people to fall in love with your songs, and that’s by telling the story each time with your signature twist,” says Degiorgio.

“My favourite songwriting quote comes from my father – a non-writer – who once said, ‘Don’t write a song, write a standard.’ In my mind, I never have. For me, The Holy Grail as a writer, despite all my success, remains waiting in the distance.”

Track Record

  • “A Night Like This,” Degiorgio’s co-write with Dutch-based international artist Caro Emerald, is the longest-running No. 1 record in The Netherlands.
  • Degiorgio co-wrote all the songs on Emerald’s debut album, which recently achieved platinum status in Europe for sales of more than one million.
  • Chapter 2 Productions has provided music for more than 150 television shows, including America’s Next Top Model, Degrassi and Keeping Up With The Kardashians.FYIPublisher: Chapter 2 ProductionsSelected Discography: Tapps’ My Forbidden Lover (1983); Carol Emerald’s Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor (2010) and The Shocking Miss Emerald (2013).FYI
    Chapter 2 Productions
    Selected Discography: Tapps’ My Forbidden Lover (1983); Carol Emerald’s Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor (2010) and The Shocking Miss Emerald (2013).
    SOCAN member since 1984

You turn on the radio and don’t hear what you want to hear. What do you do? Sure, okay – but what happens when you hit the internet and go to clubs and still don’t hear what you want to hear?

Jeremy Widerman, Jon Harvey, Brandon Bliss and Steve Kiely – known collectively as Monster Truck – chose to make the music themselves.  “We were filling a hole for ourselves,” says Widerman. “It wasn’t about trying to fill a niche.”

Yet fill a niche they have – both on their record label (the successful indie Dine Alone), and for music fans across the country. From their first enthusiastic rehearsal to this very day, the Truck has been on a steadily upward trajectory.  The band spends most of the summer touring the globe and performing at major festivals across the country.

Monster Truck has a streamlined, instinct-based songwriting process that excludes endless tinkering.  “If we aren’t able to bring a song from seed to completion in a day, we usually abandon it,” says Widerman, citing punk as an influence on the group’s process, even if it isn’t audible in its music. “We find the songs that come together on their own, without a lot of effort,  are the best. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. Make it catchy, get a hook, and just beat the shit out of that hook.”

“If we aren’t able to bring a song from seed to completion in a day, we usually abandon it.” – Jeremy Widerman

Those hooks are what elevate the Truck above other riff-rockers. A cool, face-pummeling riff is essential, but if that’s all you have, the effects will wear off as soon as the bruises heal. Monster Truck songs have staying power because of what the rest of the band bring to the table once the guitar chords are in place.

“When Harv [Jon Harvey] starts singing on top of a new song, it’s literally like someone turns on a light,” says Widerman. “That’s when I know the song’s going to work.”

The combination of Bliss’ organ and Harvey’s voice creates something akin to a southern-fried Soundgarden; it’s familiar, but defies direct comparison to any one artist.  They sound like something you used to love, yet at the same time, there’s no nostalgia in their music. Meat and potatoes rock ‘n’roll may have been overdone over the decades, but that’s precisely the problem – it’s often overdone, overcooked, dry and tasteless. The Truck, on the other hand, serve up something tastier, and people have responded by taking second helpings.

“I never expected it would be embraced to the full by music fans around the country,” says Widerman.  “Our fans are die-hard crazy, and it’s so fun to play for them.  It makes our job the best.”

Track Record

  • Monster Truck formed in 2009 as a side-project to their other “more serious” bands (The Reason, Saint Alvia)
  • “Sweet Mountain River” was used as a soundtrack to Blue Jays in-game highlights on TSN
  • They won the CASBY Award for Favourite New Artist in 2012

Discography:  Monster Truck (EP , 2010), The Brown EP (2011), Furiosity (2013) SOCAN members since 2010 (Harvey, Kiely), 2007 (Bliss, Widerman)