Nine years after a party with its fair share of drinking revealed their musical potential, Emma Beko and Gab Godon are about to reap what they’ve sown with the release of Why Make Sense, their first album as Heartstreets.

An instinctual hybrid of R&B, pop, soul, and hip-hop, it’s the result of 18 months of intensive labour. Though the road to the album wasn’t too winding, it was nonetheless dotted with doubt. Along the way, a creative endeavour helped them along the path: SOCAN’s Kenekt Québec Song Camp, which they attended in the Spring of 2018.

It was there that the two friends met several high-calibre producers and musicians, like Realmind, A-Sho, Connor Seidel, L’Isle, and Pilou. While at the camp, they created three songs that ended up on the album: “Good Thing,” “Lost,” and “Piece by Piece.” “Our interactions were so inspiring,” says Beko. “It was the first time that we spent five straight days creating music non-stop. When we walked out of there, we told ourselves, ‘OK, let’s finish this album!’ It motivated us for the final steps.”

“It opened us up to new ways of working,” says her creative partner Godon. “Emma and I have a very organic and spontaneous workflow, but there, we saw other people thinking about the structure and logic of a song before even writing lyrics, or composing a melody. We understood that no matter who you are, the means at your disposal, and the resources required, you must always be at the service of the music.”

In other words, the two 27-year-old musicians are much more open to others on Why Make Sense – and open to themselves while exploring serious topics, like grief, anxiety and depression. A good example of this collaborative method is the album’s opener, “By You,” which came out of a game of “musical ping pong” between longtime songwriter/producer Philippe Brault and electronic music producer Ouri. Born at Kenekt in collaboration with Pilou, “Lost” changed along the way, and benefited from Shash’U’s know-how in the rhythm department. “Our mission is to tie all that together, to hold the  reins, and make sure it’s homogenous,” explains Godon.

Remaining True to Your Essence

That’s why, in spite of its exploratory nature, Why Make Sense remains cohesive. The duo’s simple, no-frills approach – centred around the pure and natural fusion of their voices – translates into an impression of closeness for the listener. “We grew up listening to what was being played at the time,” says Beko. “Pharcyde, Biggie, Big L, AZ, Fugees… It all had an immense impact on our lives, and it gave our music its gritty and raw side.

“It’s not rare, onstage, that we have to tell the sound person to kill the reverb on our voices, because we like them au naturel. Not to say we don’t play around with effects in the studio, but always in moderation.”

This organic signature has been the basis of Heartstreets since its inception. Childhood friends, Beko and Godon developed their artistic bond while filming improved sketches, singing Christina Aguilera songs, and later, taking hip-hop dance classes in their teens. That party we mentioned at the beginning of this story happened in 2010, and sealed their friendship forever. “My dad wasn’t home, so we went over to his place to drink and smoke joints,” Beko remembers nostalgically. “At some point, Gab showed me an Adele song and started singing it in front of me.”

“And then, during the instrumental break, Emma had the balls to start rapping her own lyrics,” adds Godon. “We were both totally mind-blown! It was love at first sight… This is our new activity now!”

The following year, they published their first songs on SoundCloud, and the buzz around them on the local scene grew steadily, as many enjoyed their warm and unusual amalgamation of hip-hop and R&B. Then, in 2016, the critical success of You & I, their first EP, helped them secure several high-profile gigs in Québec, notably at the Osheaga festival, and the Festival d’été de Québec. They also garnered collaborations with renowned Montréal-based producers, like Kaytranada and Ryan Playground.

Being careful not to set their bar too high, the pair now hopes that their debut album will take the place it deserves on the Montréal scene. “We don’t even count the time and effort we devoted to it,” says Godon. “We’re just really proud to introduce it to our fans. And from there, our main goal is for Heartstreets to take off and fly on its own, all over the universe.”

In 2017, Jessica Stuart was several months into teaching film director Daniel Roher how to play the guitar, when her past and present collided.

“We were having some very benign conversation after a guitar session, and I mentioned [being] a kid in Japan, and he was like, ‘Oh, you lived in Japan?’” explains Stuart from her home in Toronto. “He knew I played the koto [a traditional 13-string Japanese instrument] and spoke Japanese, but he thought I was a Japanophile.”

Roher asked if she was still in touch with anyone there? Stuart’s response was brief and weighted. “No,” she recalls responding. “I only had one good friend and we lost touch.”

In 1988, Stuart’s parents were working and living with their two daughters in Saku City, in Nagano Prefecture. Being the only Caucasian family in a town of approximately 6,000, they became stars of sorts, regularly chronicled in the local newspaper, and followed around by a videographer employed by the school. Much of the footage resides on half-a-dozen VH1 cassettes, as well as an educational video: English is Fun: Sing Along with the Stuarts. The songs were written by Stuarts’ ethno-musicologist mother, who also plays the koto and shamisen [a traditional three-string Japanese instrument].

Over the course of a year spent in Japan, Stuart formed a life-changing friendship with Fukue. Both were outsiders – Stuart would later learn that Fukue was impoverished and terribly bullied. Both girls were kind and creative, and they became inseparable. But a year after returning to Canada, Fukue’s letters, that once arrived regularly, stopped.  The unexplained end of the friendship haunted Stuart for 30 years.

Once an adult – now a singer-songwriter/musician in the pop/jazz/experimental realm who fronts her own band, The Jessica Stuart Few – she needed answers. She returned to Japan in search of Fukue, even enlisting the help of powerful local friends in the community where they once lived. But the search was unsuccessful, inspiring the song “Lost Friend,” from her 2016 album, The Passage. Fast-forward 10 years, and Roher insisted on helping re-unite the long-lost friends, assuring Stuart that this time the outcome would be different. “I was like, “’Alright, man,’” says Stuart with a hearty laugh. “You want to take it on, I’ll support you.”

Filmed in the spring of 2018, this past winter the CBC documentary Finding Fukue debuted, taking viewers on a compelling 21-minute journey as Stuart searches for her childhood friend. It’s become a CBC Short Docs hit – viewed more than 2.5 million times on YouTube – creating deep interest in the pair, and Stuart’s music. Its closing track, “Fukue’s Theme Pt. 1,” has become a fan favourite, so much so that Stuart decided to release it on Bandcamp. Interestingly, its creation was as serendipitous as the documentary itself.

Stuart Says: Tips for Songwriters

  • Inspiration. “It’s the most valuable starting point for a song, and the hardest to summon on command.  I keep a notebook, or voice memos app, handy to capture ideas in the moment, stockpile them, and use them when I have the environment to expand them into something complete.”
  • Give Your Song Space. “Songwriting shouldn’t be laborious. When I’m not satisfied with what I’m writing, I play it repeatedly, and if the answers aren’t flowing, I walk away, even briefly.  Leaving space in the process is refreshing, and often the song cycles through my head subconsciously, and shows me where to go on its own!”
  • Change Up Your Methods. “Get inspired! Think outside the box! Use nature, or urban soundscapes, or other ‘non-music’ sounds for creative starting points.”

“We were shooting B-roll in Tokyo, and they wanted to do artistic shots of me playing the koto,” says Stuart. “I didn’t feel like pretending to play, so I wrote [all of the koto parts, song structure, and the framework for the vocal melody]. I almost completely composed the music during that session.”

The unconventional, chorus-free song, which recounts a vivid, recurring dream Fukue shared with Stuart, is an ode to friendship, and an example of Stuart’s belief that songs must move, rather than conform to a prescribed formula.

“I can write conventional music, and I do write conventional music, but I never limit myself to a structure,” she explains. “I’ve never written, ‘I’m missing this, I should fill that blank there.’ It’s more of a progression. Where does the music want to go? I understand that that means its not going to be a single, I get that. But there’s a mood about the song, and I think that was the most important thing, so I just rolled with it.”

Two months into the doc’s debut, Stuart and Fukue are pen pals once again, and also e-mail and facetime friends. Stuart forwards fan art to Fukue, now a visual artist. (The film won’t be broadcast in Japan, a promise Stuart made to the deeply private Fukue.) Stuart’s now returned to writing for other projects, including collaborating with Robyn Dell’Unto. But many are wondering whether there will be more forthcoming music inspired by the heartwarming friendship.

“There probably will be a part two, and maybe three,” says Stuart. “We need to see each other again before I write the next part.”

Adriane CassidyIf music is the breeze of youth, that’s not the purpose we’ll assign it here. At 21, Lou-Adriane Cassidy offers timeless sounds and states of mind. On C’est la fin du monde à tous les jours, she sings about the daily nature of death, the small things that slip through our fingers, memories that never fade, and what’s left when our heart’s been emptied.

“It’s my first album, so I don’t feel there were any expectations about it,” says the artist, who landed on many a critic’s list of artists to watch in 2019. “I didn’t think it would flop, but I’m surprised and grateful for the way it’s been received. But I do wonder, on what do these people base their judgement,” she adds, laughing.

The album opens with “La Fin du monde,” a song that ties all the others together, “It’s only when the album was done that I realized that was the meaning,” says Cassidy. “I was afraid to complain too much on my album. But the end of the world every day is the perspective I wanted to impart through those complaints. I’m putting things into perspective.”

Known for taking part in many a song contest, Cassidy is adamant that this step had to be transcended. “The world I navigate nowadays is directly, or indirectly, because I participated in all those contests, and I feel very lucky,” she says. “But I was fed up of feeling like I was passing a test every time I got up onstage.” In her mind, the way she did things isn’t the only way to succeed. “I naturally fit in the contest format because I’m a songwriter, but that’s not the case for everyone, and that’s why I think it’s not essential.”

Many Stories

On her first album, Cassidy, to quote her 9translated) song lyrics, was “waiting for the burn to subside,” admitted that she “embraces excessively,” “spits on being 20,” and “devours with her eyes a body that’s already cold.” She draws the portrait of a carnal aura, of a love outside the bounds of her obviously young age.

The stories she writes are hers, but  created with the help of Tire le coyote or Stéphanie Boulay, to name just two. As an alumnus of the televised talent contest La Voix (the Québec franchise of The Voice), Cassidy was strongly and negatively criticized as a singer, after the fact. During last spring’s edition of Francouvertes, she was criticized for not singing only her songs, and her first single, “Ça va, ça va,” was written by Philémon Cimon.

“It’s a question of one’s era,” says Cassidy. “My mom was a singer her whole life, so it’s something about which I have a privileged point of view. It’s truly typical of our era to be snobbish about people who sing other people’s songs. There are people who write damn good songs, but who can’t transmit them. Collaborations are beautiful! I love bringing my own interpretation to something that was created by someone else.”

She was told that one day, she should be able to make an album on her own. “But that’s not what I want,” she says. “Singer-songwriters are put on a pedestal, but collaborations are much more satisfying to me.”

Becoming One With Music

Having barely turned 20, being an emerging musician in 2019 is a peculiar thing. Given the changes that the industry is undergoing, one wonders what awaits artists who are just starting their careers. “There’s no way of knowing where music is going, because we’re in the middle of a storm,” says Cassidy. “My whole life has changed completely, every six months for the last three years. And when I look back at where I was six months ago, I can’t even understand how I got to where I am.”

In her mind, the key is knowing how to diversify, a strategy that aligned with her approach to music: one can wear many different hats. “I want to keep playing with Hubert Lenoir [who she accompanies onstage as a musician and backup singer], write music for stage plays, produce albums,” she says. “My goal in life is not to make albums as a singer-songwriter. There are other possibilities.”

Thus, Cassidy creates a universe where she’s the master, but where it’s also allows others to gravitate to her. The door’s open, everyone’s invited. And even though this album was created by many hands, Cassidy remains categorical: she’s in command and in charge of the emotions that it carries. “‘Amours immatures’ [written and composed with Rebecca Leclerc and Simon Pedneault] is a good example,” she says. “I think it’s a fun subject. It’s not a perspective you often see. I’m proud of being the standard-bearer for saying it’s possible to love someone by ignoring their age.”

Onstage, the songs will be strung together to take the audience from the very small to the very large. The gentleness of songs played solo on guitar will be followed by rock flourishes alongside Pierre-Emmanuel Beaudoin, Simon Pedneault, Alexandre Martel and Vincent Gagnon. “There will also be a few covers, and it’ll all be understated, without being overly dark,” she explains.

Cassidy appreciates the fact that her collaboration on Hubert’s project helped her shed some of her goody-two-shoes image, and she reminds us that she’s fully capable of holding her own, front and centre. “You know, it’s possible to jump around on stage for two hours, and have a deep metaphysical discussion right after,” she says. “We’re all complex beings. No one is only just one thing, and I’ll never be just my solo project.”