We caught a powerful show by iskwē at the Mod Club in Toronto, on Jan. 7, 2020. Check out our photos from the event below!
And keep an eye on https://iskwe.com/tour/ for upcoming shows!
Flashback: In 2018, composer Alex Henry Foster recorded his first solo album, Windows in the Sky in the studio of his band Your Favorite Enemies. It was located in an old church in Saint-Simon de Drummondville.
After the death of his father, Foster exiled himself in Tangiers, Morocco. Sadness, grief, depression, and spiritual questing followed. The musician and entrepreneur needed a break.
“When I heard the news, we’d just gotten home from a tour, and four days later we were headlining a festival in Taiwan in front of 90,000 people,” says Foster. “That’s crazy. When you’re in a band and you tour the globe, your link to reality is always a little off, and it’s normal that people are nice to you. On a human and emotional level, you wonder how much of it is true. It’s easy to lose track of reality. So I just hid behind the thick curtain of distant screams.”
And even though this Asian tour allowed Your Favorite Enemies to write three songs for the videogame Final Fantasy: Dissidia (they’re the first non-Japanese artists to record music for the game), Foster was fed up. “After Tangiers, I allowed myself to be, simply be, and to re-set all counters,” he says.
Ever since the group was founded in Varennes in 2006, the rapid rise of the sextet — whose sound is reminiscent of Radiohead, Swans, and Nick Cave — has turned many heads. Ardent DIYers, the band has recorded a fair number of albums and EPs in their aforementioned studio, Upper Room, situated in a place of worship they acquired at the end of the 2000s. They’ve played in 10 countries, sold more than 150,000 albums, and their videos have been played more than 500,000 times. Yet they’re relatively unknown in their own land.
The church is also home to their vinyl press, and the source of graphic design for their album sleeves, as well as the printing of their T-shirts and other merch. Your Favorite Enemies are still feeding the net: The Early Days, which will be released on Jan. 31, 2020, is a compendium of the band’s early days, from 2006 to 2009, and will feature re-mixes, a re-mastering of their first two EPs, unreleased demos, alternate takes of their most popular tracks, their entire first concert in Tokyo in 2008, and more. All of that is produced in-house, including the management and booking.
“Windows in the Sky wasn’t created with the idea of making a record, or going back onstage,” says Foster. “It’s not music you play when your family visits for New Years’; there’s a lot of verbiage and narration. It’s completely different from YFE. I mean, there’s trumpet, cello…”
Windows in the Sky is a subtle affair, yet surprisingly vigorous, a blend of nervous tracks filled with the spoken, introspective poetry typical of Foster, who irradiates an orchestrated madness while cultivating the ambiguity of his murky personality. He’s a master at rattling brains with his mix of clear and distorted sounds.
“It took me by surprise,” he says, “because the album wasn’t created with the idea of marketing it, but I think YFE’s fans were eager to hear that universe.”
In the wake of three convincing concerts in New York in early December, Foster and The Long Shadows — his band, largely composed of YFE members — will head to Europe in February and March 2020 for a string of 26 shows. He fondly remembers the shows in the Big Apple: “It was a tiny venue with minimal technical support. Some people in the crowd were crying. That’s why I make music: to experience those emotions communally.”
Kind of like a religious service, then? “You have to live in the moment,” says Foster. “If you resist, that wave is going to spit you out. It’s like being a tightrope walker without a safety net; if you fall it’s a huge drop. People want to experience something that’s bigger than the music itself. I don’t feel it rests entirely on me, because it’s so musical and immersive. And I’m just as exhausted after one of those shows as I am after a YFE concert.”
Appearing seemingly out of nowhere on Nov. 1, 2019, the debut album by quintet Bon Enfant made quite a splash in an already-rich album release season. Featuring the core singer-songwriter duo of Daphné Brissette, of Canailles fame, and Guillaume Chiasson, of Ponctuation, the Bon Enfant album made its way to our ears with shimmering soft-rock, replete with catchy choruses. Daphné Brisette spoke to us about their unexpected critical success.
“Guillaume and I have been friends for a very long time,” says the musician, who remembers meeting on tour when she sang with Canailles. “Guillaume was ‘our friend from Québec City,’ if you will. We have the same taste in music’ and we get along super-well. We had this plan of working on a project together, we thought it would have great potential, except it’s a bit complicated to make a band work when the members live in Montréal and Québec City – I don’t know if anyone has made that work before.”
Sure, the guys of Alaclair Ensemble, for one, have made it work, but that’s beside the point, since the distance issue was resolved when Guillaume Chiasson moved to the metropolis to be a full-time member of Jesuslesfilles. “So, we said to ourselves, let’s try it and see!” says Brisette. “As a matter of fact, we decided to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps by applying for a grant from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec.”
Thus, Bon Enfant started as a two-heads, four-hands duo, voiced by Brisette and guitar-strummed by Chiasson. Three songs were initially recorded – “L’Hiver à l’année,” “Ménage du printemps.” and “Magie,” but with a different music – in Chiasson’s studio at Le Pantoum, in Québec City. “When we listened to our demos, it was obvious that we already had a musical signature. So we said, let’s go all-in!”
The duo had songs, and a drive to see where those songs would take them, but they didn’t quite have a clear sound yet. One thing for sure, “We didn’t plan on making pop music,” says Brisette. “We were thinking of doing something like Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra, that kind of ‘spaghetti western,’ that fits with my voice and Guillaume’s guitar style. And as the project progressed, more and more musicians started gravitating around it,” and Bon Enfant’s sonic identity was taking shape, “with a wider palette of sound colours that included synths and a decidedly pop tip… Decisions we’re glad to have made.”
“It’s really a lot of fun to write a resolutely Québécois text on a music that is akin to American pop.” Daphné Brissette, Bon Enfant
Also from the Canailles project, drummer Étienne Côté and keyboardist and backing vocalist Mélissa Fortin joined the pair. Alexandre Beauregard (aka Alex Burger) rounded out the quintet on bass. A producer in his own right, Chiasson nonetheless let Tonio Morin-Vargas man the board in the studio, and the result is an album resplendent with ‘70s pop-rock flavours. “Any reference to Fleetwood Mac is purely accidental,” Brisette insists. “They weren’t even an inspiration! A friend of mine drew our attention to it when he heard our songs. It wasn’t long before that label was slapped on us, but we’re really happy about it!”
One influence they’re quick to recognize, however, are the early ’80s Robert Charlebois productions. “We’d listen to that song ‘Elle avait mis ses talons hauts…’ [“Les Talons hauts,” 1983]. And we realized that’s what he was doing too, writing songs with American pop music to support his lyrics, which is kind of what we were doing, too. It’s really a lot of fun to write a resolutely Québécois text on a music that’s akin to American pop.”
The Brisette-Chiasson duo wrote the songs, which were then orchestrated alongside the three other members. “We start with a guitar-voice base,” says Brisette. “We want that base to be solid, to have a melody, to feel like it works, I don’t know… We focus on the melody. We work on an idea for the lyrics, and then, since I’m the one singing, I have to try and appropriate it. We threw out a lot of lyrics snippets, not because they were bad, but because I couldn’t make them mine. When we write, Guillaume and I, we have to be on the same wavelength.”
Chiasson contributes more to the music than the lyrics, but melodic ideas are shared equally. “We really work together, not separately, and then we pool our ideas. Everything is done progressively, together,” and, additionally for Brisette, in her head and on her cellphone. “I have a ton of melodies recorded in my phone,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll be on the metro and I have to record myself singing, otherwise I’ll forget that melody. Then I go to Guillaume to play it back to him, and we find the right key; it can sometimes be humiliating, but it works!” laughs the musician.
Bon Enfant is already busy writing the songs for their next project, while touring an increasing number of dates over the next year. “We’ll play all the festivals!” Brissette promises.
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