Helena Deland

Photo: Alex Huard

“The songs musicians write aren’t representative of all of their feelings,” warns singer-songwriter Helena Deland. “But it’s true that mine lend themselves well to sadness.” Not today, however: we caught up with her on a beautiful blue-sky day in Austin, Texas, where she played five gigs in as many days at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival and conference. She has a smile in her voice while she tells us the story behind her excellent EP From the Series of Songs “Altogether Unaccompanied” Vol. I & II, launched in early March.

It’s her first major, professional, international showcase, and the first time she’s played with her band of three musicians outside of Canada. Deland is living life to the fullest. “It’s funny, because people warn you about South by Southwest in so many different ways, but truly, it lives up to its expectations!” she says, in English.

It’s more of her mother tongue than her first language, as it were: Deland’s mom is Irish and dad is Québécois, and she grew up with both languages, which she uses equally. “Before I recorded anything, I wrote my lyrics in French,” she says with a marked Québec City accent. “I still like those songs, but I feel it’s easier for me to write in English because of my personal musical culture. There’s also something appealing to writing in English because of its inherent rhythm. It flows better.”

She left Québec City five or six years ago to pursue her literary studies at Montréal’s UQAM. At that point, Deland had a few songs in her suitcase, “but it was nothing much. It’s pure happenstance that I met Jessie.” That would be Jessie Mac Cormack, who produced her first EP, Drawing Room, launched in 2016. “I wanted to record my songs, but I wasn’t thinking about a career,” she says, “and I had zero in-studio experience. I didn’t really play any shows, either. It was just one thing leading to another. It was a lot to take in.”

Her promising first EP revealed Deland’s soft voice and pretty timbre, inside Mac Cormack’s distinctive world of ethereal folk, undulating electric guitars, and a sound engineer bent on capturing intimacy. The formula was spot-on and the EP quickly attracted a lot of attention from producers.

Launched on the New York-based label Luminelle, From the Series of Songs “Altogether Unaccompanied” Vol. I & II – once more produced by Mac Cormack – sees the young musician stepping out of her producer’s shadow. Her personality shines through with more clarity, in songs that avoid the clichés of contemporary folk and embrace more minimalist grooves.

“Our relationship was completely different,” Deland explains. “I was always there in the studio, I took more time to make this EP. Our relationship became conflicted at times, because we’re both very stubborn, and we both think we know what’s best. It was a more tightly collaborative process. Jessie has the technical know-how to make anything happen in a studio, and now that I know what I want, he provides me with the means to make it happen.”

Deland’s style is all about intimacy. “Personal things, the exchange from one person to another,” she says. “I often sing about things that remain unsaid in my relationships with people to whom I’m close. I’ve often used writing music as a way to vent, and help myself understand inter-personal stuff.”

Her cellphone is full of musical ideas recorded on the go. “I record small melodic phrases, and some of them make me feel like pursuing them further,” she says. “Sometimes they become a song. Sometimes they become nothing at all. I’ll mostly start with an idea, a sentence; then the real work begins: finding chords, a melody, and then lyrics. The melody and lyrics will be inspired by the original idea, that line I recorded on my phone. When it’s good, everything falls into place and the creative process happens in an almost mystical way. It’s as if the song was born simply because it had to be.

“I’ve always been in awe of original song structures,” she says. It’s one of the most captivating aspects of her writing style, which seems to have its own rhythm, a natural and dynamic way of moving from verse to chorus. “I read a lot of fiction, it helps me to write,” says Deland. “What I’m fascinated with in writing is the element of surprise. I love reading and being surprised.”

She cites New Zealander Hollie Fullbrook, a.k.a. Tiny Ruins. “The day before yesterday, I ended up at her concert in Austin, purely by a twist of fate,” says Deland. “There were about a dozen people in the room – five of whom were staring at their phones, as any industry type would… I went to talk to her after her show and, of course, I cried. She influenced me a lot, especially when I was recording my first EP; I was really happy to meet her.”


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Rémi Chassé has thrown Les cris et les fleurs right in our faces, an album fueled by the same pop-punk ethos that struck during his teen years in The Beauce –  running on the self-assurance and vertigo that keep him balanced on his tightrope.

Rémi Chassé The 32-year-old singer-songwriter works without a net. “I wanted my second album to be more sonically challenging, and I was looking for the right producers for the rock sound I wanted without compromising my punk and pop twist,” says Chassé. “Mainstream rock is quite limited in Québec. Éric Lapointe isn’t my cup of tea, and bands like Galaxie are uber-cool, but it’s not what I do…”

Guillaume Beauregard – who co-produced Chassé’s first album, Debout dans l’ombre, launched in 2015 – suggested producer Gus Van Go (The Stills, Sam Roberts), and the album was recorded in Brooklyn and Montréal. It’s fraught with a rebellious attitude, where the pop side is like a slap, and the rock side flips the bird to anyone satisfied with the status quo.

The artist readily admits his first album was done well, but was somewhat rushed in order to cash in on the momentum created by him making the finals of La Voix (the Québec franchise of The Voice). The creative process this time around was more flexible. “I took more time to write and reflect on what I wanted to do,” says Chassé. “The first one was 10 tracks, ‘wham-bam, thank you ma’am.’ Thing is, I hadn’t yet fully integrated my Franco singer-songwriter signature. Now, the result is much more concise rock songs, with my emo/introspective side still present on many songs. It’s like I only write songs when I feel heavy, deep. I also turned to more political subjects, which is quite new for me, but we live in such an absurd era right now…”

Titles such as “Contre qui” (“Against Whom”), “Le monde est à plaindre” (“Pitiful World”) or “L’ombre d’un remord” (“The Shadow of a Regret”), hold a magnifying glass to the parasitic, or systemic, quirks and scourges of our era.

And although Guillaume Beauregard is no longer involved in production, he’s still a go-to accomplice for Chassé, having carefully pored over the artist’s lyrics. “I’m a huge Vulgaires Machins fan,” says Chassé. “So when Guillaume doesn’t like something, he’ll tell you right away, and when he does like something, it means a lot to me.”

He also asked Gaële to help him fine-tune everything. “Even though it’s a band effort, most of the lyrics rest on my shoulders, and it was super-helpful to talk with her.”

The word “rock” permeates the artist’s vocabulary, but what does it mean, exactly?

“I think we really have a great album in our hands,” says Chassé. “I mean this unpretentiously, but I do believe it’ll be like a breath of fresh air on Québec’s music scene. You know, over here, the notion of ‘popular rock music’ is only one of two things: tattoos, strippers and bikes, or left-field stoners. We’re coming up with a straight-up rock option that can appeal to a larger audience, while avoiding the clichés of the genre.”

He grew up with Green Day, Pennywise, Lagwagon, Millencolin, Dashboard Confessional, and the rest of the ’90s punk cohort, and it shows: commercially viable songs that are accessible to the common denominator and chock-full of hook-filled, in-your-face melodies.

No doubt the former Tailor Made Fable frontman – and professional singer for corporate events – is ready to be heard. His offering is pumped to the hilt with raw, rocker phlegm that has its undeniable charm. “I’ve been isolated in creative mode for quite a while,” says Chassé. “I can’t wait to get out and play live for an audience. I’ll have succeeded when I’m the one people think of, when they think of Québéc rock.”


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To really appreciate how special The Beaches are, you have to hear them before seeing them. They play with bravado, precision and wit. They sound nothing like the vast majority of their peers. They remind you of when rock bands strived to be clever, not just cool. They’re a blend of first- and second-wave glam, both T-Rex and The Strokes. So it can come as a surprise that they’re four young women from Toronto, none of them older than 23.

At this young age, the Toronto quartet have already toured the U.K., performed at the Osheaga and Wayhome festivals, and were personally selected by Death From Above to open their 27-date North American tour in the Fall of 2017. Most recently, they were nominated for their first-ever JUNO Award for Breakthrough Group of the Year (2018). After two self-released EPs, The Beaches unveiled their debut album Late Show in October of 2017. It was produced by Jimmy Shaw and Emily Haines – who shouted out the band in a Globe and Mail interview – of five-time JUNOI Award-winners Metric. They’re currently nominated for a 2018 Breakthrough Group of the Year JUNO Award, and are

JORDAN MILLER’S TIPS FOR SONGWRITERS

  1. Don’t be discouraged when you get stuck. Don’t force yourself to make an idea work. If you have a good idea for a chorus, or for a verse, but for some reason you’re not able to finish it, you can always just keep it in your back pocket and use it later. The same goes with all the songs that you write. I have 50, 60 songs that I’ve written over the past couple of years, and many of them are either too poppy, or too sad, or too happy to go on a finished record, but you should never abandon an idea altogether. If you get stuck one day, you can go back and listen, and maybe there’ll be pieces in a certain song that you really like.”
  2. Be open to collaborate. I have a problem finishing things, so it’s really great to have a band. When I get lazy, and I want to give up on an idea, they’re always there to offer me help. Then someone might have an idea that will inspire you, and you can figure it out together. And I know it’s sometimes difficult to work with other people. The thought of sharing your experiences, especially if you’re a person who writes about things that happen to you, it can be difficult to share those intimate details of your life with other people. But I think some of the best songs I’ve ever written [came from] working and having conversations with someone, sharing a story with them, and using their insights to create something together.”
  3. Always change the way you look at writing a song. For seven years, I would never write about my own personal experiences. I would just write from stories I came up with in my head. When I changed the way I approached songwriting, and started adding my own personal experiences as the basis for my songs, my writing really matured. I would encourage people to challenge themselves.”

making waves with a just-released cover of the huge Loverboy hit “Turn Me Loose.”

The decade that most of The Beaches have spent playing together is plainly evident in the confidence of their performances. “You hear all the time that as a genre rock ‘n’ roll is kinda dead,” says bassist Jordan Miller, “but we’re shocked by that. We grew up with a bunch of young people that loved classic rock, and loved hearing real instruments on records, and going to see crazy rock shows.”

Of the genre and the bands cited above, Jordan says, “We really wanted to make sure this album sounded that way, ‘cause those are all of the bands and artists who inspired us as musicians and songwriters to do what we do. We wanted to make sure that our album had a clear, consistent sound that references those bands and periods.”

Sisters Jordan (bass/vocals) and Kylie Miller (guitar) and Eliza Enman-McDaniel (drums), along with Megan Fitchett, (guitar) were once in a much poppier, young-teen group, signed to Disney in 2010, called Done with Dolls. In 2014 Fitchett left and Leandra Earl (keyboards/guitar) came aboard, along with a name change.

Jordan credits the experiences learned from a developmental deal they had with Universal Music for her growth as a songwriter. “We were sent to Los Angeles for a couple of writing trips and we wrote upwards of 60 songs with a bunch of different writers,” she says. “Some of the songs on the album that feature other writers, like [producer] Jackknife Lee and [songwriter] Nicole Morier, are songs we wrote there and brought back to Toronto.” But most of the tracks on Late Show were written solely by the band.

It was when they saw the documentary Amy, about the tragic life of the genius singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, that songwriting really changed for Jordan, who’s become The Beaches’ principal lyricist.

“That was a difficult process for me to go through, to make that change,” she says. “For me it was always easier to just start from my imagination, and create songs without involving my personal experiences. Then I saw that documentary and I realized how rock ‘n’ roll her lyrics are, and how me and my mother and my sister could all relate to her experience and music, despite not going through nearly anything that she went through. There was something in her story that we could all feel. That changed the way I wanted to write songs, because I want to make music that’s accessible and will connect to people.”

 


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