Hubert Lenoir 2It’s been four years since we’ve heard the singular voice of The SeasonsHubert Lenoir on a new recording. This time, though, the man is going it alone, launching Darlène through the Simone Records label. Darlène is an album born of resilience, and a desire to be freed from the love/hate relationship Lenoir has with touring – gig to gig, almost non-stop, as part of a cycle that’s redundant and foreign to the creativity in which it originates.

A year ago, almost to the day – after walking out of the Olympia de Paris after the final show of a touring cycle that lasted longer than two years – Lenoir holed up in a small Québec City flat and immersed himself in a tidal wave of music listening, from Prince to Brian Eno and Oscar Peterson. He then dove head-first into a nirvana-like creative euphoria, the likes of which he’d never reached before.

Then came a Eureka moment, when he said “Fuck it, I’m writing an opera!”

While Lenoir was initially thinking of a concept album, his life partner Noémie D. Leclerc quickly joined in the process. “She was working on a novel at the same time,” he says. “We were next to each other in a tiny apartment and, at some point I decided that my songs would be a reflection of her story (Darlène, Noémie D. Leclerc, Québec Amérique).” This highly fluid creative union also saw Gabriel Lapointe collaborate with them, and produced a series of illustrations and a film. Ambition is obviously not a problem for Lenoir.

Although he’d achieved considerable success in his previous group, the artist desperately needed the visceral meaning of the fresco he was painting, as far as possible from “industry recommendations.” “I needed to believe it would have some impact,” says Lenoir. “I’m holding my hand out to those who seek something different, to give a voice to those who don’t recognize themselves in the so-called ‘mainstream’ culture. Yet, I cannot deny that there’s pop-culture baggage that’s an intrinsic part of what I do. Culture, as I currently see it, remains dictated by the establishment, and I wanted to offer something else.”

On the phone, the young man is more voluble and invested than ever. At the ripe young age of 23, the sadness and exhaustion that overwhelmed him not so long ago have disappeared and given way to creativity in its highest form. “I would gorge myself with soul and the Motown sound,” he says. “Darlène was my cure for sadness. I used more DIY, and less conventional methods of hearing and creating music. I had an idea, a feeling for what I wanted. At times, I was literally in a trance, in a zone where there were no limits, a place where there’s nothing else but sheer beauty.”

What we have here is a thorough exercise, powered by an ongoing reflection on art – in its rawest, barest form, where aesthetic dictates are gone. “We add a lot of categories and layers to artworks,” says Lenoir, “whereas artists are mainly seeking the purest sentiment of beauty.”

A die-hard romantic, Lenoir admits to knowing very little about classic opera. “I’ve never been to an opera,” he says. “My contact with the genre came through the records my grandmother would give me.” He’s more familiar with contemporary rock operas, like Starmania, and others of its ilk.

And although he promises himself, and us, a live show that as vibrant as the album, Lenoir – whose physique recalls those of Bowie and Jagger at the peak of the glam years – couldn’t care less about the expectations he might generate. Ideas inform the cross-disciplinary concepts, and the creative juices flow more freely than ever. Period. “Ultimately, what we’ve done is a punk album.”

That’s all there is to it.

The writing of a song is only part of the journey.

Once it’s committed to a demo recording, the task is then to get some influential people to listen to it, approve and endorse it, and hopefully turn it into some sort of success.

Such is the case with “Drifting,” a song born out of a 2014 songwriting camp held at the Deerhurst Resort in Muskoka, Ontario, organized by Casablanca Media Publishing/Red Brick Songs.

Two SOCAN writers, Nygel Asselin and STACEY (Howchin), teamed up with SESAC writer Nathan Eiesland – also a singer at the time, for Minneapolis indie rock band On An On – and finished the original demo within a few hours. “It all came together pretty quick,” says Asselin, whose previous claim to fame was producing Half Moon Run’s 2012 debut album Dark Eyes. “We did the whole thing at camp on my laptop. Then I went back to my studio and mixed it, and within two months it was released and started its success. The song came together in the matter of an hour or two, maybe three. Then we tracked and everything kind of fell into place with the initial production.”

For STACEY, it was an auspicious occasion. “I was a little nervous because this was my first-ever co-write,” she says. “I didn’t know what to expect. But I remember we went out on the patio and had a great view of the lake, and the song happened really quickly.”

By the time the smoke cleared, “Drifting” had landed seven synchronizations in TV shows, and been streamed on Spotify more than 12 million times.

How did it happen?

“This was written on day one of the retreat,” says Jana Cleland, Vice President of Casablanca/Red Brick. “We put them together – they hadn’t known each other.  They wrote the song with our guidance, because then it could be targeted toward our needs a little bit more, filling some holes we might have, especially when it comes to synchs. Once the song was written, we were really concentrating on it for synch. We wanted to finish the song quickly and have it out there.”

One of the first avenues Casablanca/Red Brick chose to promote the song was The Hype Machine, a Brooklyn-based website that acts as a meeting point for the tastemaker press. “Hype Machine is a collection of press outlets and music blogs that are tracked, so basically it pulls in the feed from all the different sites,” says Cleland. “People go there, fans can listen to the music directly without having to go to the actual sites, and they can discover music that way.”

“We put the song up on Soundcloud, and it was shocking how much love it was getting from everyone around the world.” – Jana Cleland, of Casablanca Media Publishing/Red Brick Songs

Listeners that like the music can signal by applying a heart to the track, and can also add it to their own personal feeds. Through that system, “Drifting” eventually reached No. 2 on the chart – via fan reaction. “It’s the kind of song that brings a lot of feelings and emotions the first time you hear it, which is why I think fans reacted so strongly to it,” says Cleland.

Casablanca/Red Brick also circulated the track to tastemakers. “We sent it out to 70 press outlets and they picked it up really fast,” says Cleland. “People were just drawn into it. We put the song up on Soundcloud, and it was shocking how much love it was getting from everyone around the world.” It got so much love that co-writer Eiesland decided to re-record it for his band On An On and release it as a single. Casablanca/Red Brick also issued a promotional-only vinyl album that showcased all of the most promising songs written at the 2014 camp.

As “Drifting” gained momentum, music supervisors (who determine the music to be used in movies and TV programs) came calling. Eventually, the song – which ended up with several remixed versions being circulated – landed seven placements, with TV shows The Fosters, iZombie, Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, Scream and Degrassi: The Next Class. “Drifting” also landed in a TV commercial called “33 Buckets” for Arizona State University, an environmental message about providing water in other countries, which aired during the Super Bowl in the U.S. “Because they bring such emotion into a scene, these kinds of songs are the best for synch placements,” says Cleland.

For a program like Degrassi: Next Class, which airs in more than 130 countries, and on Netflix around the world, Instinct Entertainment music supervisor Dondrea Erauw had a bit of an early start. She was a Casablanca/Red Brick employee during the time of the song’s creation, so she had heard the original demo before she started working in her current position.

However, hearing a song and landing it for a television program are two different things. Just because you’re aware of a song, doesn’t mean the show’s producers will like it enough to use it. “I was kind of working on a scene of Degrassi: Next Class – the first episode of the new rendition of Degrassi that came out – and it needed something extremely emotional, that kind of grew as the song went on,” says  Erauw. “I remembered that the re-recorded version of ‘Drifting’ by On An On did just that, and I hadn’t used it before. So, I tried it to picture and it worked extremely well.”

Initially, Erauw didn’t pitch it to Degrassi’s producers, but directly to the show’s editor. “I had ‘Drifting’ and a few other songs in a folder that I had sent off to the editor,” she says. “I was working directly with him, and I said that ‘Drifting’ was my favourite, because when I tested it to picture, it seemed like it was edited to that song already. Sometimes, that’s a little bit of the magic synch rule for us, when the editor doesn’t need to go back in and do another picture edit, they can just lay the track in nicely and it kind of does the job for them… which is what this song does… He said, ‘Oh my God, this is the one.’”

For Jana Cleland, the story isn’t over, not by a long shot. “I feel like the song does have way more life in it,” she says, “in that we’ll see more placements – and, substantially, that an artist will feel like they might want to do a version of this song, because it could be done  so many different ways. Somebody could make it their own.”

Milk & BoneIt’s been just shy of three years since Laurence Lafond-Beaulne and Camille Poliquin unmistakably arrived in the Big Leagues. Their Milk & Bone duo is a bona fide success, a love-at-first-sight story between the audinece and their mysterious universe. In the wake of their debut Little Mournings album,  they’re now welcoming us to Deception Bay, the place where two people meet, both wanting to get back on top, using the lessons of past mistakes to get there.

We meet with Laurence and Camille in a Montréal café, where they’re already giggling when we arrive. “We’re going into stand-up comedy,” Camille says facetiously. “We’ll be our own opening act: I’ll tell jokes and Camille will laugh,” Laurence adds.

Although such comedic leanings aren’t really part of the duo’s career plan, it’s telling of their uncanny ability to sing about sorrow with such a luminous approach. “All our lyrics are about real emotions,” says Camille. “We write them because we need to, but we’ve listened to an incredible amount of pop music in our lives, so that’s why it’s instinctively more luminous – like pop can be when we get to the arranging stage [of the process].”

You never said why you went away / We’ll meet again in Deception Bay / You promised you would be here to stay / We’ll meet again in Deception Bay

So the title track paints a picture of a place where one collects stories that didn’t have pleasant endings. It holds all the hope created when precious moments are gone. “Deception Bay is where you send everything that’s ever disappointed you,” says Camille. “It’s a shameful place, it’s hard to visit, but it’s still somewhere important, because it’s what makes you stronger afterwards – even though it’s painful.”

“That titles really worried us, even though we knew for a fact that the album had to have that title,” says Laurence. “We thought having the word ‘deception’ in your album title was like giving ammunition to critics who might not like it. Let’s hope people see the poetic side of it.”

A Time for Compromise

Teamwork requires some degree of sacrifice, and that’s true no matter what the field; but managing to create a common oeuvre from two distinct visions requires a particular approach. For Milk & Bone, there’s no need to find common ground somewhere between two poles; Camille and Laurence present themselves as complementary elements.

“I believe that the simple fact of working with someone who manages things differently than me has made me more sensitive to others,” says Laurence. “Everyone thinks everyone works the same way, that there’s only one way of doing things, before they try working as a team. Camille is very inspiring to me, and she challenges me. A large part of me always tries harder because I want her to be happy.”

As for Camille, that bond is nothing short of family. “A boyfriend, a girlfriend, best friends, these are all things that can be broken,” says Camille. “But we’re bonded by our project. It truly feels like being sisters. Even though we’ve seen each other at our worst, we know we’ll always take care of each other.” “This is not the type of relationship where you just walk away if things go south. It requires that you take care of the situation,” adds Laurence.

“We didn’t feel like setting any limits for ourselves. The only truth in creation is that we can do whatever we want.” – Camille Poliquin, Milk & Bone

Thinking About The Future

Three years ago, Milk & Bone was sketching out a project on an empty white canvas. Today, the duo has received both the critical and popular seals of approval, and the two young women have paid their dues.

“We know people are anxious to hear this new album, and that’s very motivating,” says Laurence. “If the first one hadn’t been welcomed as warmly as it was, we would’ve gone into the production of this second one with a bit of bitterness,” adds her bandmate. “People believed in us when we had yet to prove we were worth it,” says Laurence. “SOCAN gave us its Breakthrough Artist Award in 2015. They saw something in us from the start, when we were nothing more than two young women who had decided to give it a go. We never expected them to take us under their wing so much.”

Deception Bay contains songs with titles such as “BBBLUE, :’)” and “Tmrw,” which will surely irk more conservative types, and titillate fans who enjoy something unique. Milk & Bone revisit form and blow the framework to smithereens. “On the first album, we did things by the book, with a capital letter at the beginning of each word, but we don’t actually work that way, says Camille. “We didn’t feel like setting any limits for ourselves [this time]. The only truth in creation is that we can do whatever we want.”

Beyond getting rid of the framework, the duo has created its own: a unique visual identity. “All of that is calculated,” says Laurence. “We’re aware there are much higher chances people will appropriate what we do if they can wrap their head around the song’s entire cohesiveness.” “I consume as much music as I do images,” says Camille. “It’s perfectly normal to me. That’s why, even though we don’t make an official video for each song, we’ll come up with a unique visual identity for all of them, so that people can turn themselves off, and let themselves be impregnated by an image while they listen. We know our songs will end up on YouTube in that fashion. It’s important to us that everything that’s related to the consumption of our songs is unique.”

At Home Everywhere

Their electro grooves didn’t only resonate in Québec, and their sound quickly travelled abroad. Can one calculate the exportability of music? “I don’t know,” says Camille. “But I know that if you over-think it, it won’t work. To us, the only reason that it connects with people is because it reveals us. To intimately connect with someone, we need to feel it ourselves. It’s got nothing to do with singing in English or not.”

Whereas sophomore albums are often a source of performance anxiety for artists, the road was much less torturous because of their first effort’s confidence-instilling success. “We wanted to take everything we liked about the first album and take it to the next level,” says Camille. “I only felt stressed out once the album was totally finished. It instantly became imperfect, because we couldn’t work on it anymore. But I really can’t wait for people to hear it,” says Laurence.

When the’re sitting at their keyboards and console is when Camille and Laurence are in control. Aware that the “singer who only knows how to sing” cliché is still strong in the music business, they decided, once more, to go on tour as a duo. “We’re surrounded by truly respectful people in our day-to-day lives, we don’t feel that kind of pressure, but we still felt it made more sense to us to play as a duo the music we compose as a duo.”

True, highly confident partners in crime, Camille Poliquin and Laurence Lafond-Beaulne allow us to gently sway on their never disappointing bay. It’s filled with strong voices that know how to guide sorrow toward calmer waters. “We’ve truly become better musicians since the first album,” says Laurence. We’ve evolved.” “We’re solid,” says Camille, “and although I‘ve doubted my own ability to make it in this trade I’ve chosen, I’ve reached a point where I can allow myself to be whatever the fuck I am.” It needed to be said and it couldn’t be more true.