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Lary Kidd originally wanted to call his second album Thus Spoke Larry Kidd, something that would have been in character for this Ahuntsic (Québec) rapper who’s fond of literary references, and who once casually dropped the name of Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran. But he eventually realized that a reference to Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra might be heavy, and decided instead to choose a title that was evocative of another concept linked to the German philosopher: The Superman.

Lary KiddSince the album’s release last November, Larry has refrained from posing as an intellectual, and rightly claimed instead that the Superman idea also corresponded to the extreme braggadoccio so typical of the rap scene. “It’s a way of placing yourself above the fray; I love bragging!” he likes to say. “It’s always been part of the hip-hop codes, it’s not just something that you fall into. A good knowledge of the genre’s codes is what helps me explore, go further, and build my sound intelligently.”

His sometimes killer rhymes, however, go beyond mere show-off. While everybody agrees that Surhomme’s production is airier, and that the rhymes are more playful than those found on the anxiety-producing Contrôle, the new rhymes are often very dense, beginning with those of the title piece, whose references to drug consumption are more of a warning than a glorification.

“At my age [32], I’ve grown somewhat wiser,” Kidd explains. “When I talk about depravity in my songs, I mostly look back to my early 20s for inspiration – rap, after all, is a young people’s music! I hope to still be relevant when I’m 40, but it’s important not to turn into an old man preaching to his audience.”

Put together with Ruffsound and his old sidekick Ajust – the sound builders who’ve contributed to Loud’s success – Surhomme is both punchier and lighter than Kidd’s previous opus, and much easier to take in. “I sat down for six months writing the words, but the music came in a flash,” he says. “The guys [Ruffsound and Ajust] arrived at the cottage, they set up their keyboards, and they worked until 11:00 p.m. every day. They’re just like machines, they can come up with something like 10 beats in a work day.”

Every time he gets a chance, Kidd stresses the importance of beat-makers in his creative work. “They work like maniacs, especially in the weeks following the recording,” he says. “It takes a lot of talent to take a rap album that could easily become repetitive and tiresome, and turn it into something rich and varied, and I think that they succeed in doing that spectacularly.”

“I’ve realized that the hummed, somewhat soft rap that dominates right now isn’t my thing.”

Unlike his old pal Loud (credited on the song “Sac de sport” ), Kidd hasn’t yet broken into the pop scene, but he’s far from feeling sorry about it. “I’m making a good living with my clothing line [Officiel], I never lack work, quite the contrary!” he says. “And the cool thing is that my sideline is providing me with another creative avenue; it’s not like I have to go back to mopping floors!”

That security is making it possible for Kidd to do his own thing without trying to please at all costs. “Of course, I could have a few club songs with women in them,” he laughs. “But I’ve realized that the hummed, somewhat soft rap that dominates right now isn’t my thing. Personally, I’m sticking to a more classic rap, and I hope that when that kind of sound is back in style, I’ll be recognized as someone who has always toed the line. I’m not trying to make myself look like an old purist, but I sometimes feel completely disconnected from today’s sound. When I looked at my Spotify playlists, I realized that the song I listened to the most times in 2019 was Ghostface Killah’s “Mighty Healthy,” a piece that goes back to 1993!”

But don’t believe that Kidd is frozen in time. It’s the opposite: in our interview, he frequently stresses the importance of evolving without losing your character. “This album took me to the next level,” he says. “I feel that the process made me a better rapper, both in the flow and in the writing. Everything I’m writing now is four times more solid. I look for the right turn of phrase, the right rhyme, and I stay away from stuff that’s too facile. Writing half in French and half in English, for instance, just because it’s easy, is something in which I’m no longer interested.”

When Basia Bulat started working on her fifth studio album, the singer-songwriter decided to free herself from the idea of working to a prescribed timeline. “It didn’t make sense to push the process for a deadline,” she says. “The best things take the time they need to take.”

Stepping away from the process, Bulat – who’s been shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize three times, and received three JUNO nominations – put her attention on matters closer to the heart, from grieving the death of her father to falling in love. When she turned her attention back to the album, almost a year later, it was with a new vulnerability and rawness.

“No matter what you do, if you’re a songwriter, your life is going to come through your work,” she says. “It would be strange for me if it didn’t.”

The resulting album, Are You In Love?, out March 27, 2020 (the first single, “Your Girl,” came out Feb. 5), sees Bulat working through what she describes as “big emotions” like grief and fear, and also feelings like compassion and forgiveness.

“I think it [all] requires confronting fear,” she says. “Having compassion for yourself and others requires taking a plain look at all the things that may be holding you back from seeing yourself, or others, for who they truly are.”

As a result, she refers to the album as “the advice that I needed to hear,” referencing her 2016 JUNO and Polaris Music Prize-nominated album, Good Advice, and the fact that it was “a record about how I don’t listen to advice.” That album, which received rave international reviews in publications like Paste, The Guardian, and Rolling Stone (Italy/Germany), has since been streamed more than 10 million times.

Though Bulat, who grew up studying piano and guitar, had roughed out many of the songs for the new album in her home city of Montréal, it was a series of trips to Joshua Tree, California, that ultimately cemented the feel of the album.

“It is a place that encourages deep listening to what’s around you, and what’s inside you, inside your soul, and what kind of vibrations are trying to get out,” she says of the desert environment. “Patience is important. You have to harmonize with what’s around you.”

Bulat grew fascinated by the Joshua trees themselves, which take decades to reach maturity, finding a metaphor for her own extended creative process in their incremental annual growth. Hunkering down in the desert with her ideas and producer Jim James (My Morning Jacket), who also produced Good Advice, Bulat started to find a shape for the new album.

“I always think of songs as blueprints.”

Drawing on practices like automatic writing and improvisation, Bulat used the breathing room she’d created for herself to experiment with lyrics and sounds – whether playing things backwards, or challenging herself to find many different ways to express a single idea.

A multi-instrumentalist known for her prowess with the autoharp, Bulat also experimented by working out her melodies on different instruments. But it was the resident Nashville-tuned guitar* at Joshua Tree’s Hi-Dez Studios, where Bulat recorded her album, that most captured her attention. “It really fit with the place we were in,” she says, describing the instrument’s light, airy sound, and its ability to draw a different meaning from her songs.

Basia Bulat, Are You In Love, album, cover“I always think of songs as blueprints [for buildings],” she says, describing her musical process. “Then you decide if the house is going to be made of wood, or brick, or stone, and whether it will have big windows or small windows.”

For Bulat, each song, once mapped with that blueprint, will take its own shape, depending on how she’s inspired – most often with lyrics suggesting themselves to  melody. It’s also why she likes covering other artists. “I just love how other people draw their blueprints, and I want to live in them for that reason,” she says.

Are You In Love?, which both CBC Music and Exclaim! have included among the most anticipated albums of 2020, also features lyrics by Bulat’s friend Meg Remy (U.S. Girls), and desert field recordings by Bulat’s husband, Andrew Woods, whom she married last year.

But while enthusiasm mounts for the new album, Bulat, who’s shared stages with Sufjan Stevens, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The National, and Arcade Fire, among many others, doesn’t let it phase her.

Even as her team prepares to give Are You In Love? a big push forward, and Bulat herself prepares to embark on an ambitious international tour that will kick off with an appearance at South by Southwest, her focus remains on staying in the moment with her music – no matter what opportunities her career might bring.

“Every single day that I get to be present and play my guitar or sing, it’s just such a gift,” she says. “I have such gratitude that I get to do this.”

Nashville tuning is when you take the “high” six strings of a 12-string set, and use them on a standard, six-string acoustic guitar.