How did the song happen? “The Only Difference” in McDonald’s U.S. TV ads
Story by Errol Nazareth | August 22, 2019
With political and racial polarization approaching an all-time high in the modern dis-United States of America, one of that country’s most iconic fast-food chains is reminding us that “We Have More in Common Than We Think.”
That’s the feel-good tag-line of a McDonald’s television commercial, which samples “The Only Difference,” a song recorded by Toronto’s Beatchild and The Slakadeliqs, that’s become the legendary mega-brand’s 2018-2019 core theme song. The groovy soul track, a CBC Music Top 20 hit co-written by Beatchild (aka Byram Joseph) and Toronto-based singer Justin Nozuka – who’s also featured on the song – appears on The Slakadeliqs’ 2018 album, Heavy Rockin’ Steady.
“The only difference between you and I is everything and nothing at all,” goes the singalong chorus, featured prominently in the commercial, which began airing in December of 2018 (as befits the holiday season that celebrates Peace on Earth).
A month prior, Beatchild received a message from Alec Stern, the Director of Music at Chicago-based advertising agency DDB Chicago, telling him that he had a big project, one in which he thought Beatchild would be interested. In an interview that appeared on the site Muse By Clio, Stern said he’d searched for a song for the commercial for weeks, “and by total chance, just Spotify worm-holing on the train, this song comes on and the lines are, ‘The only difference between you and I is everything and nothing at all.’
“I looked down, and it was ‘The Only Difference,’ by an artist I’d never heard of – Beatchild & The Slakadeliqs. It was like Columbus discovering America. Everyone was in love with it… It felt like the perfect marriage of audio and visual. I was so thrilled to work with an indie artist and give him this sort of platform.”
After getting the call with the big news, Beatchild (formerly Slakah the Beatchild) says, “as soon as I put the phone down, I started dancing. Pelvic thrusts! Everything! And when I saw the commercial, it felt surreal,” he adds, on the line from his East-Toronto studio.
“It’s reassuring to know that you can reach millions of people because your music touched one person the right way.” – Beatchild
Asked if McDonald’s requested any changes or revisions to “The Only Difference,” he says, “No, thank goodness! I’m all for collaborating, but not at the expense of my artistic integrity. I’m not willing to sacrifice my art.”
Beatchild says the idea for the song “came out of the sky,” and took him two years to develop. “I took my time with the verses,” the self-described perfectionist says. “I’m a big fan of re-writing, and adjusting accordingly. That whole process for me is the demo process, and the winning demo is the one that I put my energy into, and release.”
Beatchild, whose music has also graced commercials for KFC, Unilever, and the Just Dance videogame series, says he was “paid very well. It was six digits.” The buzz is slowly fading, says the producer and multi-instrumentalist, who’s worked with Drake, Jessie Reyez, and Shad, before they blew up. He’s currently focused on making new music.
Beatchild says the placement in the McDonald’s commercial hasn’t led to folks rushing to buy his albums, but adds that, “it’s reassuring for a musician like me, who isn’t on the Billboard charts, to know that you can reach millions of people because your music touched one person the right way.”
Photo by Manon Landry
Fred Fortin walks us through his surprise-released album, Microdose
Story by Élise Jetté | August 23, 2019
“I know aficionados of microdoses,” sings Fred Fortin on the title song of his sixth album – the surprise launch of which, at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 23, 2019, had remained a very well-kept secret until that moment. “Microdose was a surprise even for me,” says Fortin. “I wanted new material to bring on my solo tour.” What started as an EP ended up as a full album. When gathered together, those songs, lying in the bottoms of drawers, seemed to go with his new ideas, and resonated like a rough and dirty melody, both current and directly linked to his start… more than 20 years ago.
Fortin has delivered an album, of which half the songs are with Joe Grass, and the other half with Olivier Langevin, and all of it recorded with Pierre Girard. “We wanted it to be spontaneous, rough and dirty,” he says “I had stuff to get off my chest after Ultramarr, which was a slightly more conventional album.”
His second album, Le plancher des vaches, is the one he feels is the closest to this one. “They share the same raw vibe,” says Fortin. “And there are several language levels. It’s complete nonsense. They’re manifestations of life, sometimes sad and sometimes happy. There’s all kinds of bipolar curves.”
“Microdose” “There are eight songs on the album that were all done at the same time, including this one. I would swap guitars to find inspiration. I recently worked with Diane Tell. That led to me having a lot of fun with bossa nova-type rhythms. It reminded me of bands from the West Coast of the U.S. All those cool, hip people. I started making fun, in good faith, of San Francisco, and people who are too cool. Joe Grass plays on this one, and he said to me with his Anglo accent, “I know what this needs. Flute, this needs flute.” He knows EriK Hove. We called him and he played the flute. I don’t know how that guy sees me now. I really like this music. I wanted to involve the zeitgeist, the microdose, the idea of doing things little by little, that’s what it’s all about. The Mile-End [neighburhood] is Montréal’s San Francisco. I like it, but you can also make fun of it.”
“Électricité” “I considered offering that one to Diane Tell. But my girlfriend and Langevin didn’t want to let go of it. It’s the story of a violent character. I like going to extreme psychological zones. I also very much like characters who don’t have control over what’s going on. When you talk about killing someone, it’s OK in the movies, but when you toy around with that type of fiction in a song, you need to provide a tremendous amount of context in three minutes. I’ve re-appropriated this right to be trashy after Ultramarr, which was a little tamer.”
“Led Zeppeline” “I added an ‘e’ at the end to avoid any confusion. The analogy varies, according to the verses. There’s a kid’s squabble, like those we’ve experienced during my kid’s teens. My youngest is 14, and he wasn’t too warm on the idea of being featured in the song, but he thought it was super-funny, in the end. I wanted to tell a family story.”
“Cracher en l’air” “That one also came out of my studio blitz. It’s about someone I’m close to who told me how tough it was. I tell it as if it was happening to me. Jealousy and resentment are feelings that can be hard to express. It’s hard music, but in a different way. It’s a heavier emotional level, and you can hear it in the music. It’s up to everyone to create their own image. The guitar is also heavier on that one. I recorded the guitar and drums first. I was on a tangent of writing about people I’m close to, so the rest all came to me super-easily.”
“King Size” “I write this for someone else’s album. If you pay close attention, you’ll hear it on another album, but with slight variations. The people around me really wanted me to keep it, so I changed a whole section of chords in the middle when I recorded the other one. My girlfriend, Langevin, and Pierre Girard really liked the melody. They’re my three wives. They decide.”
“Crocodile” “That’s an old draft from before Ultramarr. I don’t know why I didn’t keep it. The recording dates back to 2014. I probably figured I had enough smooth tracks on the album. It’s very ‘bare bones.’ I love playing slower, less heavy dynamics. The whole album is all over the map like that.”
“Cave” “The story is funny. The opening sentence sent me on a tangent. It’s from a Galaxie show. We were playing the Sea Shack, in Gaspésie. Alexis Dumais was touring with us as a keyboardist. It was Halloween and all of us were in costume. Alexis was wearing a Passe-Montagne costume [a character from an immensely popular TV show for 0 to six-year-olds from the ’70s and ’80s on Télé-Québec]. He ended up on the beach, in his costume, at 4:00 a.m. When he got in the van the next day, he was still wearing it. We stopped at Tim Hortons, and he kept it on. He told us: ‘I should swing by my parents in Rimouski, and tell them, ‘Don’t worry, I’m really not well.’ I kept that line. I love being like a vampire with my friends in that way. I thought the image was too good not to use.”
“Wendy” “I got the idea for this one while I was walking up the hill to talk on the phone at my cabin. I actually got the idea on my way back down. The reception is pretty bad at the bottom (laughs). I wanted a horny free pass to defuse the rest.”
“Cuite” “Now that’s an old one! It’s from in between Gros Mené and the rest of my stuff. I had done a version with a real drum, but I decided to do it over as a one-man band.”
“Redneck” “That’s also from the big batch. I’m a bit of a redneck, in a certain way. It’s part of the North American mentality. We’re all slightly rednecks, in our own way. I exaggerated the attitude in order to make a story out of it. I got Mononc’ Serge on to blast the world. But there’s also a conqueror element à la Éric Lapointe, I think.”
“Zéro-trois-quart” “That’s gravel: zero three quarters of an inch. I picked up this old console and I was trying it out at home, while I was having a load of zero three quarters delivered in my yard. Ideally, you have to listen to this one while walking barefoot in gravel. ‘You dream of getting a good run under a grader to wipe off all of your scars.’ I thought the image was nice.”
“Bocal” “That’s an old one. It was a commission I got for an artist who really didn’t like it (laughs). Anique Granger used it on her album. I really liked the melody.”
To listen to or purchase Fred Fortin’s Microdose, click here.
Photo by Stanislav Troitsky
Les Anticipateurs: Shining a light on the decadence of showbiz
Story by Olivier Boisvert-Magnen | August 21, 2019
Seven years after hitting it big with “SAPOUD” ( “sapoud” is a contraction of the words “sur la poudre,” which literally means “high on blow” [cocaine]), one of the first Québécois rap videos to reach a million views, Les Anticipateurs are back with Temple de la renommée, an album that once again combines three of their favourite themes: sex, drugs, and hockey. Is it a pastiche of American gangsta rap? Is it a satire of Québec’s uninhibited society? Is it simply a hodgepodge of vulgar language designed to shock people? MC Tronel lays his cards on the table.
P&M: Temple de la renommée is your 11th project since you started out eight years ago. It’s quite an impressive track record. Do you ever run out of inspiration? Tronel: In Québec, you have no choice but to operate like that when you’re an independent with no grants. If you don’t work twice as hard as everyone else, you live three times worse than they do. You can’t wait very long, you need to always have something ready in your bag of tricks and be ready to release it when the time is right. We always have one or two albums ready. That’s how we manage to be constantly booked on tour. But I can’t lie; a lot of people book us just to hear “SAPOUD.”
Is there constant pressure to live up to such an incredible success? We’re never worried about that, because our fan base is incredibly loyal. We don’t have casual fans that are into us just because it’s the latest cool trend. They’ve followed us from the beginning, and they want to see where it’s headed.
Your musical evolution is quite stunning. Your first mixtapes were essentially the instrumental tracks of known American rap songs, and over the last few years, you’ve collaborated with big-name producers such as Loud Lord, Lex Luger, and even Scott Storch [who wrote hits such as Still D.R.E. and Let Me Blow Ya Mind]. What do these collaborations mean to you? It’s like we’re wearing military uniforms and we’re constantly being decorated with more stars. When you have the Lex Luger star and that opens the door to earning the Storch star, it’s like a dream come true.
Are Les Anticipateurs slowly becoming a more serious project? No doubt. Our first project [Deep dans l’game, 2011] was a few tunes we put together to make our friends laugh. Next, we decided to shoot three videos on the same day: “GSP,” “Deep dans l’game,” and “J’fume des bats” (“I smoke blunts”), and the concept of that one was simply to have as much weed as possible on a table. That the video that was the biggest hit, and we realized that we could earn some dough with that shit. So we decided to do it over again, but with blow… And it seems blow is more popular than weed in Québec, because that one was an even bigger hit.
Drugs, sex, and hockey are probably the topics you love the most. Do you sometimes feel like exploring other avenues, but hold back because you don’t want to upset your audience? You need to find something fresh, but you can never forget that without your audience, you’re nothing. Our true fans will follow us anywhere, but there are a lot that will never accept that we change. We try to find the right balance. I remember people getting upset when we started using Autotune in our tracks. Yet, over the years, we’ve understood that it’s often a good sign when people complain from behind their screens.
When you consider the scope of the topics you cover, and the vulgarity of your lyrics, are you sometimes surprised that you’re not more controversial? I’m not surprised, because it’s a debate that’s lost before it even starts. Anyone wanting to say we’re too hardcore would lose that debate in 30 seconds. You think we’re hardcore? There are metal bands who tour the world and sing about Satan and beheadings! On the rap tip, you have guys like Future, who play on the radio and nobody minds! It would be rather hypocritical to point a finger at us! Then, there’s the “Yeah, but this is Québec, we don’t have the same culture as the Americans!” argument. That’s not a valid argument either, because the vast majority of Québec culture is the consumption of American products.
Do you ever get formal complaints or legal threats? It’s happened, but that doesn’t change a thing, because we’ve never pretended to be Québec’s answer to Mother Theresa. We don’t force people to listen to our music, and our shows are always 18+. Les Anticipateurs is, above all, a project that shines a light on the decadence of show business. At first glance, it might seem like all we talk about are drugs and negative stuff, but beyond that, our recurring theme is being a winner. We are winners and we diss losers. That’s it.
So, in a way, you are like certain controversial stand-up comedians who invoke the second-degree argument? Except we don’t just do stand-up, we do rap. It’s a way for us to not lose it. We all know boys who fell off the wagon in fucked up ways because of drugs, and we know that from where they are now, they wouldn’t want to hear us complain about that. They would want to hear us makes jokes about it! Taking heavy stuff in a lighthearted way makes for a better life. People who don’t give a fuck live longer than those who stress out about stuff.
Would you go as far as saying there is a social message in Les Anticipateurs’ songs? There’s something patriotic, that’s for sure. At the very heart of hip-hop, there’s a mission to represent where you’re from, and we’re proud to be from Québec. We love the idea of being perceived as Québec superheroes. But we’re superheroes who represent both the best and the worst of Québec, straight up, no censorship.
So you never censor yourselves? No. I grew up listening to Snoop Dogg’s Doggy Style, and that’s way more hardcore than any shit we’ve ever done. Yet, the guy is acclaimed wherever he goes, and he does cooking shows with Martha Stewart. Why shouldn’t we be accepted just as much as he is? Thankfully, there are a few people who get our vibe in Québec. Like Ariane Moffat, who is fuckin’ down with us. She doesn’t get irritated by some of the stuff in our songs. She gets it…
But are you aware that, even in your audience, not everyone “gets it?” In your shows, certain people seem to justify their own decadence from your lyrics… Yeah. I see chicks doing lines of blow during our shows. Some of them do that right on the subwoofers. You realize how dumb that is? I’ve seen people throw bags of blow at us at the merch table after the show… But what can you do? There’s always going to be basket cases! It would be scandalous to say we can’t do what we do because of that.
Lastly, what are your short-term plans? You recently recorded a song with Lorenzo [a very popular French rapper], so I gather France is in the plans? Yeah, for sure. We went there before, it was super-fun, but it wasn’t a game changer either. But now, with a video alongside Lorenzo, we know it could take us to another level. A single picture of him on the social networks automatically increases your following. His fans are compulsive! But other than that, we’re already anticipating the next step. After the Temple de la renommée (Hall of Fame), the ultimate honour in the world of hockey, we’re moving on to the stadium of the Dieux du Québec. That should be out before the end of the year.