Hippie Hourrah“Have you ever felt ready to get lost?”

That question stands out among a slew of others, spoken theatrically, by a narrator with an otherworldly voice, on “Revenons au début,” the opening track on Hippie Hourrah’s sophomore album, Exposition individuelle.

It’s a kind of forewarning about what we’re about to experience; namely, a high-flying psychedelic rock experience, ushering us into the codified and somewhat tightly self-contained universe of the Montréal trio.

“That’s one way of seeing it,” says the aforementioned narrator, Ralph Elawani, who’s also the co-author of the album’s lyrics.

The thing is, from Hippie Hourrah’s perspective, that question belongs to a much more widely-ranging concept, articulated around the work of Québec visual artist Jacques Hurtubise – which permeates the themes, song titles, and visuals of the album. That intro, as well as two other interludes on Exposition individuelle, act as counterpoints to that haughty concept of homage to Hurtubise, an icon of Québec’s visual arts scene. Then you understand that intro is addressed to the artist, and not to mere listeners. Elawani pretends to be a pedant journalist asking a string of nonsensical questions to Hurtubise, who remains silent, stunned by this barrage of useless queries and utterly empty thoughts.

“It’s a journalist enraptured by the sound of his own voice,” says Elawani, before going on to explain the genesis of the idea. “Cédric [Marinelli, the band’s singer] and I started working together during a writing retreat. We looked at Jacques’ exhibition catalogue, which has some interviews [with journalists]. We started looking closer at the interviews, and realized that the same questions came up again and again. When a journalist asks, ‘What’s your writing process?’ for example, there’s a good chance they’ve come unprepared…”

“So… As a matter of fact, what is your writing process?” this journalist immediately asks, with a thick helping of irony.

“For real, though, the process is boring,” Marinelli says, with a smile in his voice. “What’s interesting is the guiding principle. Alix Lepage [the percussionist who plays with the band on this album] is related to Jacques Hurtubise. We had access to Jacques’ notebooks, and he sent me all the books, with pictures of every single one of his paintings. We cherry-picked a few titles from that, as well as the ideas that resonated the most with us.”

“The album is articulated around Jacques, but it’s not about him. It’s a gateway towards something else,” says Elawani, who can – unofficially, at least – be considered the fourth member of the band, alongside Marinelli, guitarist Gabriel Lambert, and drummer Miles Dupire-Gagnon.

 Hippie Hourrah, Video

Click on the image to play the Hippie Hourrah video “Pinceau au tombeau”

Beyond references to his paintings’ titles, Exposition individuelle evokes Hurtubise’s aesthetics. The painter went through several artistic phases, but he’s widely known for his brightly-coloured abstract forms.

Abstraction, colours, and liveliness are in full force on the new Hippie Hourrah album. We’re swimming in psychedelic rock, but not only that. There are tinges of pop, yéyé, and folk, too. “We’re not fundamentally dogmatic. And we’re not 20 anymore… Our horizons have expanded. That allows us to work with a really wide palette,” says Lambert, who came up in another indie rock band from Montréal, Elephant Stone, alongside Miles Dupire-Gagnon.

“Our minds open up as we grow older. We’re not purists,” says Marinelli, who came up in a relatively purist garage-rock band, The Marinellis. “When I reached out to these guys after the Marinellis’ long hiatus – which is ongoing – I wanted to do something just for the fun of doing it. Not thinking about it, just letting go. I became open to the idea of not saying ‘no’ right out of the gate… Monsieur Marinelli has become a mature man!”

In other words, Hippie Hourrah’s path runs parallel to Hurtubise’s output. Beyond stylistic considerations, the painter (who died in 2014) stood out for paintings that were at once impulsive and rigorous, two characteristics that also define Hippie Hourrah’s music. The project’s roots in spontaneity is backed by a level of thoroughness. The combination has opened many interesting doors since the release of their self-titled debut album in 2021, in both Québec and France. There, they completed a mini tour in December of 2022, including a performance at the prestigious Trans Musicales de Rennes.

Exposition individuelle – a project that’s much more concise and self-contained than its predecessor – is a mirror of the band’s live experiences. “We had experience onstage, and we needed songs that were faster and more pop,” says Marinelli. “We needed to create songs that would make our music more intense and catchy. We needed songs with a beginning and an end. To achieve that, I went back to the way I wrote songs with the Marinellis.”

In short, Hippie Hourrah evolves by going back to its essence. And that’s the kind of paradox that one can achieve when one is truly ready to dive into, or (as it were) get lost in, creating the songs.

Each lunar phase is represented in turn on Meghan Oak’s new EP, Dans la lune, with a release date of April 28, 2023. When it’s full, the moon shines over us, using all the light from the Sun to reveal itself to the world; similarly, Oak is embracing this moment in her life, allowing herself to shine brightly. (Editor’s Note: while literally meaning “in the moon,” the EP title is also a French colloquialism meaning “having one’s head in the clouds.”)

Meghan Oak“It might come across as pretentious,” says the singer-songwriter, “but it took me a long time to admit it, after a lengthy process: I deserve to be in the spotlight.” Just as the Moon follows its cycles, Oak awaited her turn, doubting herself a lot, but is ready now to take flight. Her first EP, Étrangère (2020) and her stint on Star Académie (2021) fed her strong case of impostor syndrome – which she’s now shed completely.

“Yoga saved me, and allowed me to get off anti-depressants,” she admits, after having completed a training as a teacher of the discipline. Yoga, which led her to a kind of spirituality, transported her away from negative energy, and gave her the strength to get through both the pandemic, and an arduous romantic break-up.

“When I released Étrangère, all I had was a college education in communications,” says Oak. “People heard about me on social media, and I was struggling to understand why I was getting so much attention, despite having no musical training – and being from a family where my dad was an electrician, and my mom a social worker.”

The artist endlessly questioned what gave her the permission to “stand in the light” that being a singer afforded her. “I asked myself what I had to share that was so incredible that it was me on that close-up photo,” she says. “Then, I had an epiphany: I’m not putting Meghan Oak in the spotlight! I’m using music to bring people along as we both elevate ourselves.” This explains why she feels as one with pop music, a genre she categorically refuses to relegate to the status of “banal.” She touches on universal subjects: love, environment, feeling unaccepted. “Having a career as a singer doesn’t revolve around me, it’s about giving back,” she says.

In 2022, Oak was one of 25 artists selected to participate in SOCAN Foundation’s TD Incubator for Creative Entrepreneurship. “For nearly three months, I had access to industry pros – managers, PR people, radio trackers, etc. – and what I enjoyed the most was having the chance to meet three mentors who’ve guided me through my career,” she says.

Oak maintains that, as an independent artist, not all aspects of the industry have the same level of difficulty. “I’m my own booking agent, manager, content creator, and so on,” she says. “Artist entrepreneurs deserve as much spotlight and support as artists with a record label,” she adds. The Orchard’s Karine Lafleur, Pop Montréal’s Daniel Seligman, and Universal’s Guillaume Moffet all offered her tips and assistance to help her carry on her business with assurance. “They quickly pointed out the importance of meetings that aren’t directly about the art,” she explains, adding that she was relieved by their helpful advice.

Meghan Oak, Avant Que Le Ciel Ne Tombe

Click on the image to play the Meghan Oak video “Avant que le ciel ne tombe”

Fully invested, she’s adamant about seeing all the possibilities. “When the moon is full, I’m obsessed with its light, and fourteen days later, when it’s the new moon, we’re in complete darkness – and it’s okay, because we know the light will be back,” says Oak, who gives herself all the leeway she needs to accept her dark moments and enjoy her brighter days.

With the same philosophy, she shines a light on the people who’ve helped her. “There’s not a single song on my EP that I did alone,” she says. Laurence Castera, Amélie Larocque, and DVinyle are part of her creative inner sanctum. Her producer, Ken Presse, co-wrote and co-produced most of Dans la lune.

She’s also thankful for all the shared spaces that gave her an opportunity to make contacts who carried her forward as an independent artist. “It was at the Foyer’s song camp, at Pilou’s BEAM, that I was introduced to DVinyle and Tommy Lunaire,” Oak remembers. “The subject we were tasked with writing a song together was ‘Don’t Look Up.” and it was an incredibly rich collaboration. The result was ‘Avant que le ciel ne tombe.’”

When she writes with someone else in a duo format, Oak starts by having a deep conversation with her co-writers, ensuring that the length travelled on the inner musical path also helps everyone involved move forward. “I always ask the others how they’re feeling,” says Oak. “What do they want to say today? What’s the emotion at the heart of the song? And then we go!

“I’ve never worked as hard as this on an event,” says Oak about her record launch, and the live shows that will follow. “We’re going to unabashedly celebrate Francophone pop, and travel through all the phases of the moon.”

Dans la lune is launched at Montréal’s Le Ministère on April 26, 2023, and Oak is at the SOCAN Gala on May 7, 2023, to share her experience during the Incubator for Creative Entrepreneurship.

Manager and spouse of Lary Kidd, programmer at Ausgang Plaza, event planner and founder (alongside her man) of the clothing brand Officiel in 2016 – the most notorious model for which is the rapper Loud, and whose label bears prominent laurel leaves emblazoned with the words Montreal Made Me – Dana Lluis epitomizes all the cool the music industry needs.

Dana LluisBorn in Montréal’s Rosemont neighbourhood, near the Angus shops, she studied film at Collège Ahuntsic. After being a stalwart of Montréal nightlife as the manager of Le Salon Officiel – a now defunct, yet still famous watering hole in the Plateau neighbourhood – Lluis has put this experience to good use in her current professional life, a hectic one in which routine doesn’t exist.

“I’m an insomniac by nature, and I sleep a maximum of three hours per night,” admits Lluis, citing a metabolic condition that suits her perfectly, with a schedule as diverse as it is busy. “It allows me to make the most of my time on different projects,” she says.

The Officiel clothing brand is the envy of many. “We bought a batch of discontinued jackets from the ’90s, that’s how it started,” says Lluis. “It’s the scarcity effect! Twice a year, we sell Officiel in our pop-up boutiques in Montréal, and once a year in Paris. And we now sell online.”

The 34-year-old go-getter, who’s half-Catalan, half-Mexican, is very versatile.

Ausgang Plaza

Ausgang Plaza, the 4,500-square-foot multi-disciplinary room, which Lluis has run for six years, includes 15 small studios in the basement of a St-Hubert Street building. She estimates that it hosts more than 150 events per year.

“Our parties are very diverse,” she says. “We can rent the room for private parties, events, shows of all musical genres. Several renowned DJ’s, including Kaytranada, have played at the Ausgang,” says Lluis, whose personal taste in music leans toward global sounds, hip-hop, indie, and house.

Her life partner and management client Lary Kidd released two EPs, including the magnificent Le poids des livres, in 2021. A full-length debut is slated for 2024. “Since there were no shows during the pandemic, we seized the opportunity to improve all the technical equipment,” says Lluis.

Ausgang Plaza has another quiver in its bow: a Francofolies Festival showcase for beat-makers, held annually on the esplanade of Montréal’s Place des Arts. “We’re very much into that, among other things, with the monthly Loop Sessions event at Ausgang,” says Lluis. “Using the same sample, a DJ adapts it to his or her own sauce, and can play his or her remix at night in front of the other participants in the event.”

Develop, Network, Conquer

Deploying its antennae in markets outside Québec is now an integral part of being an artist manager in our current music ecosystem. It’s important to develop a network of venues and bookers in Europe, for example.

Pop-electro-R&B singer Gab Godon, alias Laroie (published by Arts & Crafts, distributed by Awal in the U.K.), participated in a SOCAN Kenekt Studio song camp in 2022, and will soon fly to London before heading to Scotland and France for a few showcases, to help launch her career in Europe.

Dana Lluis“I’m more aware of the challenge of working with an artist signed to a label [Lary Kidd is on Coyote Records] and an independent artist in all aspects; although she receives some subsidies, Laroie must necessarily self-finance her production and promotional expenses,” says Lluis.

The Québec delegations that go to the Printemps de Bourges and take advantage of the Spécimens Canadiens showcase, or to Paris for the MaMA and its Ma Cabane à Paname showcase, are all musical opportunities that serve Lluis and Québec musicians, no matter what genre they play.

Dana Lluis clearly has flawless taste and undeniable talent. Does she think it’s harder to carve out a niche for yourself as a woman? If some were scared of the rap scene, Lluis doesn’t mind it too much. “I was a little apprehensive at first about the male world of hip-hop and rap,” she says. “There aren’t a lot of female managers. You’re taken seriously when you prove yourself. The fact that I have more experience today, and more confidence, allows me, in a given situation, to disagree, and say so without fear.”

Is there a gender wage gap? “I know the salaries in the sector, and I can confirm that there’s a disparity,” says Lluis. “There’s an increasing awareness that equity is needed. On the other hand, there are more and more women in the industry.”

The spring of 2023 will, once again, be a fertile one for Lluis. She wears so many hats, one is tempted to call her the Québec music industry’s Swiss army knife! “What I love the most about my work,” she says, “is delivering a team project.”