“To be perfectly happy as a musician right now, I need two projects that seem to stimulate very distinct parts of my brain. Also, there’s never any downtime, and that’s great for someone like me who thrives on new challenges and exciting projects,” says Antoine Lachance of the challenges inherent to his burgeoning solo career, on top of being a member of pop-rock trio On a créé un MONSTRE for nearly 10 years.

Last winter, the singer-songwriter was a contestant in the Ma première Place des Arts competition, where he won the Grand Prize in the Singer-Songwriter category, as well as the Song of the Year Award for “Le fleuve,” a song that can be heard on his first album, Cimetière d’avions, released in April 2016.

“I wrote ‘Le fleuve’ during the roughest period of my life,” says Lachance. “I went through a very bad heartbreak a few months after losing my dad to brain cancer. Alone, in a nearly empty apartment, I felt like everything was collapsing around me, that everything was being ripped away from me. I was born in Sorel (a small town of about 34,000 people one hour northeast of Montréal) and the St. Lawrence is part of our daily lives. I stared at the water and imagined myself on an ice floe.”

His solo career might just be taking off, but he still needs to put it on hold every so often, since On a créé un MONSTRE will launch not one, but two EPs before the end of this year. The first of those two EPs, Théâtre des catastrophes, was just released by Slam Disques.

“The difference lies in my contribution to the project,” he says. “In On a créé un MONSTRE, I’m called upon mainly for the musical aspect of things, arrangements, the fact that I can play many instruments, and, more recently, my expertise in recording and mixing the band. For my personal project, the main difference is that I’m the writer of those songs. Everything depends on me, although I do get some help from my friends Maxime Reed-Vermette, Éric Tessier and Louis-Étienne Sylvestre. This solo project also allows me to sing from a more personal perspective,” says the man who will play the Francofolies de Montréal on June 11, 2016, and who’ll also spend the latter part of the coming summer in France to test the waters.

“Strangely enough, both endeavours work perfectly well with one another,” says Lachance. “I never have any scheduling or any other type of issue that comes from having two serious creative projects. They even benefit from one another in terms of visibility and creativity. I’m constantly learning from both projects and both projects benefit from those learnings.”

From a business plan drawn on a napkin during the JUNOs back in 2009, to a charity which in 2015 reached a major financial milestone of $1 million; today, the Unison Benevolent Fund is as strong as the vision expressed when those scrawled words were first shared between two friends seven years ago.

The Unison Benevolent Fund is the brainchild of music industry veterans Jodie Ferneyhough and Catharine Saxberg. Nearly a decade on, the duo’s dream continues to grow and evolve; it’s an essential support system for Canadian musicians and those that earn a living in the industry.

“When we started this organisation our mandate was to support anyone who earns a living in the music industry who has fallen on hard times,” explains co-founder Saxberg, Vice President, International Relations for SOCAN. “Jodie and I often talked about how difficult it is for those in the arts with no support. Even if you’re signed to a major label, there are very few mechanisms available to artists and their families in times of crisis.”

The impetus for the idea started bubbling to the surface following an accident that left Jacksoul’s lead singer Haydain Neale in dire straits. “Haydain was a dear friend and his accident was catastrophic”, says Saxberg. “His situation got Jodie and I talking about both Haydain and others facing challenges without a safety net.”

Today, thanks to the Unison Benevolent Fund, musicians – and anyone employed in the music industry – now have a place to go for short-term financial aid and discreet counselling services, offered via third-party provider Shepell-FGI – the largest Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) counselling network in Canada.

The Unison Benevolent Fund is a non-profit, registered charity, administered and funded by the music community it serves. There are two distinct types of support available through the fund: financial assistance and counselling & health solutions. There’s not a week that goes by where the charity doesn’t see applications for financial assistance. The operation is lean; the Unison Benevolent Fund only has two part-time staff.

“We hear stories all the time from those that have used our services,” says co-founder Ferneyhough, also President of the Canadian Music Publishers Association. “They tell us our counselling helped save their marriage, or helped them put together a financial plan. Our emergency fund has allowed other artists to eat, and prevented them from being evicted from their homes.”

Unison is the official charity partner for the 2016 Toronto SOCAN Awards Gala in June. The organization will use this platform to raise more awareness, and hopefully more funds, for its charitable work. SOCAN has always been an integral partner and invaluable supporter of the Unison Benevolent Fund. Via former CEO Andre Lebel, SOCAN gave the fund $15,000 at its inception for outside legal work to get the fund registered as a not-for-profit, with the assistance of Anne Godbout, formerly of SOCAN’s legal department.

The need for this service is ever-present, as illustrated by the rise in the use of their counselling services over the past year. How does the non-profit measure success? “In the uptake of calls,” says Saxberg.  “The amount of calls we are seeing to our help line has dramatically increased. Word is getting out, which is the goal, but it also increases the pressure on our limited funds. We’re constantly fundraising to stay operational and help those in need.”

Funds are raised via various events – such as the second annual Unison Jam set to occur during this year’s NXNE, on June 16, 2016, at The Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto, and the annual Golf4Good tournament on June 28, 2016, at Lionhead Golf Club in Brampton. It was during the first Unison Jam last year that the not-for-profit announced it had reached the monumental financial milestone of $1 million, allowing them to launch the new financial support program to aid Canadian music makers in times of crisis.

The charity raises awareness as well as funds, through various partnerships with artists and other like-minded industry associations. For example, during the 2016 East Coast Music Awards in April, Amelia Curran shared her personal struggles with mental health issues at a session presented by Unison. The singer-songwriter is just one of more than 150 artists that have lent their support to the charity since its creation.

Why is the Unison Benevolent Fund so important? Most musicians are self-employed, and many are the sole provider for their families. As independent entrepreneurs, 45 percent have no health insurance, and almost half (49 percent) have endured some type of hardship that’s prevented them from working at some point in their artistic career.

“There is still a huge need for our organization,” says Saxberg. “But I’m always blown away by the compassion and generosity in the music community.”

For more information:

(416) 479-0675


1-855-9UNISON (1-855-986-4766)

Follow @UnisonFund

“After the success of Chill’em All, I went out of my way to try and do complicated and different stuff. I wanted to prove to people that I could surprise them every time, show them I was good-looking and smart. How stupid!”

Champion doesn’t mince words. We interviewed the musician in the wake of the release of his new electro pop album Best Seller – a title that’s not meant to be taken literally – and he analyzes his own work with astonishing candour. As if to prove his own implacable self-criticism, he even says one of the songs on his newest album “sucks.”

“No, really,” he says. “‘Lead On’ is not a great song. I would’ve loved working on it longer, but I did have fun making it. I take full responsibility for it.” We tell him the ethereal guitar melody is great, and that his discombobulated singing brings a soulful element to the song, but the man border guards call Maxime Morin is still skeptical. “OK, I’ll give another listen,” he says.

Just like three other tracks on this album – including “Life is Good” – “Lead On” sounds like it should be on an album that could’ve been launched immediately after the legendary Chill’em All (2004). But that record never came out. After working on it for a few months, Maxime completely trashed his work in the wake of an intense bout of artistic questioning. He cleaned the slate and instead came out with Resistance after years of waiting. As he readily admits, he fell into an intellectual trap.

“I flushed everything I had worked on because, in my mind, it was too close to Chill’em All,” he says. “Also, I was flabbergasted by Ratatat’s Classics and I was no longer sure where I fit. I’ve always believed in spontaneity and simplicity. That’s what Chill’em All was all about. But by that point, I had completely forgotten about those nice concepts. The drive to please, to be relevant and avant-garde weighed me down like a ton of bricks. The worst part is, when you tweak and refine your creations, it’s easy to start thinking you’ve got a good thing going, when it’s actually quite the opposite.”

Having accumulated a lot of slack in his production schedule, Champion had to work non-stop in order to launch Resistance in the fall of 2009. Totally exhausted by the creative process, he jumped without pause into a tour. The rest, as they say… In May 2010, doctors diagnosed him with a type of lymphoma, cancer of the blood. “Some will say there’s no causality, but I chose to believe there is one,” he says. “Mental and physical exhaustion made me ill. It took me five years to become fully healthy again. I swore I would never make the same mistake again.”

“I finally figured out what it meant to have balls in music: allowing your instinct to guide you. Of course I’d like to do better, but I embrace my mistakes.”

ChampionWith the collaboration of singers Laurence Clinton and Marie-Christine Depestre, certain tracks on the new album hearken back to the golden days of Chill’em All and the countless sweaty dancefloors for which it was responsible. Others are closer to the ethereal atmospheres of 2013’s ° 1. “An album that is strong from beginning to end is fun and reassuring, but it also means that the artist only has one colour on their palette,” says Champion. “That’s not true. Unless they really suck, no one listens just one musical genre. I wanted Best Seller to reflect that. Show my true colours.”

The musician played virtually all the instruments on the album, and this desire for authenticity means he intentionally left some errors on the final product. “I like trap,” he says. “I wanted to make trap using my guitar on ‘Boing Boing’ and ‘Yea-Eah.’ It didn’t turn out the way I wanted, but I had a lot of fun doing it, and it’s amusing. I finally figured out what it meant to have balls in music: allowing your instinct to guide you. Of course I’d like to do better, but I embrace my mistakes. I even learned to play with my faux pas – for example, on ‘And I You,’ where you can clearly hear my fingers slide on the guitar strings. Those are the kind of things you usually remove in the studio. You mask them. I decided to put them forward.”

In the end, Best Seller comes across as a kind of creative lab where enjoyment has taken precedence over intelligence, even if that means breaking some recording rules. “During the mastering, Ryan Morey told me that ‘Impatient’ was out of phase because I had used reverb on the bass. Apparently, you can’t do that. He wanted me to re-do the mix. I told him to fuck off! You’re not touching that. Except that because of that decision, we cannot include that track on the vinyl pressing because the groove would be too unstable for a turntable needle. Too bad!”

Champion et ses G-Strings
Thursday, June 30, at Club Soda
Part of the Montreal International Jazz Festival