Around three years ago, Debby Friday’s life was “a shambles.” She’d just left Montréal, newly sober, and temporarily living in her mom’s basement in Vancouver. But it was during these months, closed off from the world, that Friday started making music.
“I took a weekend and watched a bunch of YouTube videos about how to use [the recording software] Logic, and then I just went full throttle,” Friday says. “I had no idea what I was doing, but even back then, I had the feeling of something special taking place – a heavy and significant change in my life’s direction.”
That change brought 2018’s Bitchpunk, Friday’s debut EP of industrial hip-hop she recorded in her bedroom. Since then, Friday’s released a string of EPs and singles that exist within the worlds of rap, electronic, and noise music. Now she’s won the 2020 Prism Prize for music video, and has been featured in Pitchfork, The Fader, and more.
She recently released, “Runnin,” which she wrote last summer, during a time she describes as scary, but also full of clarity. “With my previous release, Death Drive, I was so serious and so hard on myself,” she says. “I wanted to have fun again.” Unlike her previous records, “Runnin” also marks the first time Friday has worked with outside producers, teaming up with Cayne and Andrew of Big Kill for her first studio recording.
A self-proclaimed “workaholic [who] is only comfortable when I’ve got a million things going on,” Friday currently has multiple audio-visual projects in motion, including her Master’s degree in Fine Arts thesis project LINK SICK, an audio play that will open to the public later this month. She’s also working on her debut full-length album, but doesn’t feel the need to rush it.
“I think the way the pandemic has re-organized our world, it has also re-organized my entire being, and therefore the way I approach my music-making,” says Friday. “I know what I’m doing now. I feel more confident. A little more reckless, a little more wild.”
Photo by Chien Champion and/et Yaya
Les Fourmis : Day and Night
Story by Olivier Boisvert-Magnen | March 12, 2021
“Ain’t no problem here,” says Sam Rick, one of the 29 “ants” when we make it to the “boogie crib,” the mythical apartment-cum-headquarters of Montréal’s young yet bountiful rap mega-collective.
That sentence was quite reassuring after our stormy entrance, which marked the last hurrah of the shaky piece of Plexiglas in the front door. “Shit happens, it can be replaced,” texted Don Bruce, another ant, and the main tenant of the De Lorimier St. crib. “But yo, take care of that without me, Gees… My boy called me for a rider and I totally forgot…” adds Bruce, also by text message, on this chaotic, to say the least, early Friday evening.
With no less than 29 active members, Les Fourmis [The Ants] are, as one would correctly surmise, quite used to chaos. Seated before us in a big, chilly, messy kitchen are rappers Bkay, AG Kone, and Kirouac, the singer and rapper Xela Edna, as well as the big man behind the scenes, Sam Rick – ready to discuss their first double-album with an enthusiasm that’s as contagious as it is difficult to follow. For obvious health-measure reasons, they take the floor for their absent accomplices: Catboot, John Ouain, Gary Légaré, Carey Size, Vendou, Renay, Mantisse, Jamaz, BLVDR, Oclaz, bnjmn. lloyd, FouKi, QuietMike, Kodakludo, Barbara, Papi, Edaï, Eius Echo, Franky Fade, Rousseau, Roby, Yaya, and Chien Champion
Bkay, also a member of LaF, helps us see more clearly: “By and large, all this starts with Catboot and the concept of the anthill. All the ants work towards a common goal.”
Catboot is one of the six members of L’Amalgame, an entity that pre-dates the birth of the ants. Long before Don Bruce was part of the equation, he was the tenant of the boogie crib, alongside, among others, his longtime sidekick Vendou. “This is where this started to coalesce. It’s a place where anyone could drop by at any time to chill or make music,” says Bkay.
If any kind of proof is needed of the primordial nature of this space, let it be noted that none of the people present during the interview actually live here. “But the first thang happened at Lafontaine and Laurier parks,” Bkay continues, reminiscing about his acquaintance with certain members of the collective, while kicking verses in those Montréal public parks in 2013 and 2014. An embryonic project dubbed La Fourmilière (The Anthill) was supposed to come to life in 2016, but the meteoric rise of FouKi’s career, and the promising first steps of LaF and L’Amalgame, put that project on the back burner.
“We recorded a lot of tracks between 2016 and 2019. There was always beats happening, but no one was taking the time to mix those tracks. There was no structure, no organization…” says Bkay. “The game changer was 7 ième Ciel. When Steve Jolin [the label’s head honcho] signalled his interest in that project, we were forced to get structured. We got some cash and rented a cottage to record an album.”
“I’m learning so much, it’s almost like being in school!” says Xela Edna, who joined Les Fourmis just over a year ago, after their opening slot during Coup de cœur francophone at Club Soda. “Eius Echo [a producer with whom she also part of an experimental electro-pop duo] invited me to the show, and I had so much fun! Backstage, I kept hearing about the cottage, but I didn’t dare invite myself… Finally, two days before they were scheduled to leave, I was in a bar on Mont-Royal Avenue and Sam Rick said ‘So, you comin’?’ I was elated.”
The cottage thing happened in January 2020, in Stoneham [a small ski-resort town about 20 minutes North of Québec City]. “It energized us in an incredible way,” says Sam Rick, who, in addition to overseeing the event with Renay, Yaya, and Barbara (the other Shadow Ants), also lent his voice to the sweet and syrupy “Bisou caramel.” “But apart from that, I mostly enjoyed observing everyone. The first beat that was canned, as soon as we arrived, was “Rouler un dank.” FouKi was sitting down, rolling a joint, when Don Bruce entered the room and said, ‘Man, you’re never not rolling a dank!’ We all looked at each other, and the melody just started. It’s stupid how fast things can happen sometimes.”
“We quickly realized that the vibe was very different during the day and at night,” says Kone. “In the mornings, Dom [Eius Echo] would get up to create nice, soft little ditties. One by one, we’d wake up at our own pace and we’d work on tracks like “Bulletproof” and “Love Donjon.” None of those could’ve been recorded at night.”
“Then, during the evening, we’d make drugged-out beats,” Kirouac quickly adds. “One night, it was like 4:00 a.m., we were beat, we’d been recording all day. And then, Don Bruce said, ‘LET’S DO A LIVE BEAT!’ Everyone just wanted to go to bed…”
“He asked BLVDR to play a beat, really simple stuff with nothing but drums and a bassline,” says Bkay. “Everyone just started yelling stupid stuff, but at some point, someone yelled: ‘METS TA MAIN DE MÊME !’ [put your hand out like this], and someone else replied: ‘GIVE THIS MAN A MIC!’
Thus was born the feisty “MTMD,” a bona fide, incendiary rap bomb that acts as the opener of the Nuit (Night) part of the double-album, a volume on which Don Bruce plays a predominant role. “He was up all night, so he slept during the day,” says Kirouac, laughing. “Sometimes, he’d try to record something in the middle of the day, but his voice was completely shot, it just didn’t work. We’d just tell him to go back to bed.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Xela Edna was particularly active during the day, thus explaining her omnipresence on the songs of the first, more soulful and groove-oriented, volume. ‘My goal was to write and explore as much as possible, she says. “I was competing against myself, in my mind. In my solo work, I talk about my femininity and my sensuality, but in this circumstance, I was looking for a more collective vibe.’
Others, notably Kirouac, chose to let themselves be guided by the moment rather than writing profusely: ‘I’d walk into a room and if I felt inspired, I’d write a short verse. If I didn’t feel inspired, I didn’t force it and just went back and played Catan!’
Once the cottage stay was over, Kirouac, Bkay, Vendou, AG Kone, as well as the sound engineer and producer Roby, took the reins. ‘We had 40 demos to structure and make palatable. That was a big challenge in itself. And that’s when the idea of splitting the album in two came to be,’ says Kirouac.
Gary Légaré, the only ant who wasn’t at the cottage, also laid down a few voice tracks. “He mostly inherited the song outros. If you don’t play the songs in their entirety, you might never hear him,” says Kon, grinning.
As for what’s to come, Les Fourmis are counting on the boldness of bookers to give life to this ambitious project. In the middle of a health crisis, it’s difficult to conceive of a show with nearly 30 artists on stage… especially since they’re constantly recruiting.
“It’s like the stock market. It’s constantly in motion,” Bkay jokes. “The borders are open. It’s a living project. As a matter of fact, I haven’t mentioned it to anyone, but at some point in the hear future, it could be cool to hand the reins to 30 entirely new ants.”
“Yeah!” enthuses Kirouac. “Like the Knights of Emerald … or a hockey team!”
Photo by , From left to right / De gauche à droite : Claude Brazeau (Ghys Mongeau), Daniel Daignault (Tomy Paré), Kevin Beaulieu (Véranda), Vickye Morin (Phil G. Smith), Lindsay Kennell (Brittany Kennell)
Five Québec country-music rookies to watch
Story by Claude Côté | March 10, 2021
35Is country music on the brink of a comeback in Quebec? If the quickly expanding pool of artists from every region of the province, the diversity of styles being played, and the ever-growing number of festivals, labels, and radio shows are anything to go by, it certainly looks like the chickens have come home to roost.
We asked Nadia Houle, CEO of Culture Country; Karo Laurendeau, country singer and host of the show Destination New Country; and Melissa Maya Falkenberg, journalist and columnist, to help us select five new artists who deserve to gain more attention from the general public, and whose progress we should be watching closely over the next 12 months.
The 32-year-old Montréaler has returned home after a 10-year exile to the U.S. Kennell spent a whole decade studying at Boston’s prestigious Berklee School of Music, and followed her dream all the way to Nashville, country music capital of the world. She’s played at both the Blue Bird Café and The Basement, mandatory rites of passage for any dedicated apprentice.
Aa a contestant on The Voice, Brittany was selected by county star Blake Shelton, husband of songstress Gwen Stefani, after having presented three songs. This is major visibility.
“Mostly, I just wanted to learn,” she says. “At that point, I was still waitressing at a restaurant and not at all ready to embrace a full-on career. During the six-week production period, we were all confined to a hotel. It was quite bizarre.
“Singing the national anthem at a Habs game makes me far more nervous than having performed three songs for millions of American viewers. Everyone knows the lyrics!” Fun fact about Brittany: her great-grandfather was Calixa-Lavallée, who composed said hymn!
The music of Brittany Kennell brings a breath of fresh air and a sense of clarity. Her simple ballads, adorned with a wisp of anguish, and her vibrantly intense vocals, convey a certain sensuality through her country sound. A short but feverish embrace, as previously served up by artists like Casey Musgrave, Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt… “My goal is to find my own voice among modern and traditional country artists, without copying anyone,” the singer says.
Wishing to re-launch her career in Quebec, she soon met Joëlle Proulx of l’Agence Ranch, who then became her agent. All the commentators agree: Kennell is on the brink of worldwide fame. For the last few months, she’s been busy making videos, jogging in the Old Port, and refining her marketing strategy with Proulx: Artifice and Warner Music are new to the team, and Kennel is already booked for the St-Tite and Lasso Festivals. “I live a more balanced life in Montréal,” she says.
Phil G. Smith
All the elegance of a skillful lasso throw. He seems poised to become a phenomenon of this brand-new decade. Thirty-year-old Philippe Gaudreault has even found the perfect alias: Phil G. Smith. It doesn’t really get more “country” than that…
Hailing from the Ottawa Valley, Smith never felt the urge to start a punk band after seeing Blink 182 perform at Montebello’s Rockfest. He’s never even set foot there. “I prefer Gatineau’s Hot Air Balloon Festival!” he says. “That’s where I first caught the country bug, especially after hearing bands like André Varin, and Chakidor.
“Singing country music in French is a dream come true for me,” he continues. “When I realized it was possible to write genuinely great songs, like Les Cowboys Fringants, Kaïn, or Vincent Vallières have been doing, I jumped in. I also benefit from the influence of performers like Tim McGraw and the Zac Brown Band, whom I’d catch at Ottawa’s BluesFest. I’m exploring the gap between two worlds.”
Smith is smart as a whip,a poised interviewee, an artist with two EP’s already in circulation, founder of the Disques Far-West label, one half of the Wild West duo, propagator of country-rock, and fulfilled business owner; he seems to possess a boundless enthusiasm for discovery.
His rock-forward style of country has resulted in his recently opening for the band Kaïn. Smith will also take part in the first edition of Lasso, the first large-scale country festival to take place in Montréal.
After having launched his first records in 2019, and having garnered four nominations at the Country Gala, Smith is sure to turn heads throughout 2020; he’s playing with a full deck.
The francophone Bluegrass duo Véranda, comprised of actor Catherine Audrey Lachapelle (her District 31 TV show character having recently died) and string instrument virtuoso Léandre Joly-Pelletier continues merrily on its way, without a care for fashion, and other such dictates that the music market throws at them.
“We’re completely obsessed with old country music, bluegrass, and folk,” says Lachapelle. The couple, who met during bluegrass nights at Barfly in Montréal, harbour a noble wish: “We want to adapt it to our culture, using our words.”
Bluegrass is about finding joy in sadness, and bearing witness to death in life. “Especially when it comes to murder ballads”, explains the guitarist, whose vocal stylings are clear and heart-wrenching. The EP Woodland Waltz, launched in 2019, and Yodel Bleu, a French-language EP launched last year, are intricate works. “From the start, we always aimed to stay close to the American style,” specifies Joly-Pelletier, “we wanted to maintain a traditional feel.”
No one could rightly accuse them of being mere revivalists. Instrumentalists deserve recognition, but lyrics and storytelling are almost as important. “As a duo, we like to take the time to write, take the time to fine-tune particular sections,” says Joly-Pelletier. “Sometimes, we’ll only play songs we like just for the fun of it. Music is constantly swirling around us.”
“We’re currently putting the finishing touches on a full album which we hope to launch at the start of 2022,” says Lachapelle. “A few singles might drop by next fall, but we still aren’t signed to a label.”
Véranda’s videos are exquisite, and their love of the genre is palpable. Thanks to them, country music is branching out in a manner rarely seen in Québec. Lucky us!
“Mixed background, no ID, with Native blood in the family.” This is how 44-year-old Tomy Paré introduces himself. A newcomer to the world of country music with his remarkable EP À perpétuité, the singer-songwriter hails from Neufchâtel, near Québec City, arrived in Montréal at the age of 28, and has honed his craft playing in bars for years.
He perfected his innate talent for composition and song writing by claiming his spot at the Ma première place des arts contest in 2008, and by learning from Luc de Larochelière at Granby’s École Nationale de la chanson in 2005.
“Songwriting has always come easily to me,” says Paré. “And I write all my own songs, except for Luc’s [who gifted him “Mes ambitions”]. But I also enjoy receiving texts from authors.” After launching two EP’s hovering at the edge of country music, Paré decided to take the plunge for À perpétuité and hired well-known musicians – like Jean-Guy Grenier, an expert at the pedal steel guitar. Tomy’s gamble is starting to pay off.
“Patrick Norman helps me out with my guitar playing, he gives me advice,” says Paré. “He invited me to appear on his TV show Pour l’amour du country, in 2018. Since last year, I’ve been practising my thumb-picking a lot, I want to improve. Initially, I was labelled a country singer because of my voice. I do sing a lot of love songs, but telling stories is just as captivating, like on “Tomahawk.”
For the time being, Paré doesn’t have a band. “I hire freelancers and I have a brand-new team, so we’ll see how things develop throughout the year,” he says. “At the moment, I’m writing the next record, which should come out in 2022. One song at a time.”
Steadily doing his own thing, Ghyslain Mongeon eventually found himself at the helm of the Ottawa Valley’s distinctive country culture. Can an artist still be called “emerging” at 36 years old? Although Mongeon’s situation may seem somewhat absurd, the prolific singer-songwriter’s straightforward yet masterful country stylings could be described as free-spirited. He barely leaves his hometown, even though he did perform five years in a row at the St-Tite Western Festival.
His interpretation of intimate, painful experiences can deeply move the listener, with minimal pretense. His most recent album, Chasser l’ennui, being a prime example.
“The song ‘Une dernière fois’ is about a disagreement I had with my sister, and the fact that she passed away before we could reconcile,” says Mongeon. “Each song is linked to a real-life event. For ‘Pu Capable,’ finding inspiration was extremely easy: I was caught in traffic and the lyrics just came to me! I put my phone on hands-free mode and rattled off every thought that passed through my head.”
“The song ‘Chasser l’ennui’ is about couples separating, there are so many these days. I’ve been through it myself… La Pêche is the name of the municipality I live in, and the song is a sort of love letter. I find it difficult to write about a particular subject, that’s why my second album took four years to complete.”
Mongeon is solid as a rock. Every Saturday, his Ça va bien aller virtual get-togethers have streamed live on Facebook, from his living room, since March 2020. A true dynamo, he sometimes ends up playing for more than four hours. “It’s not work, it’s simply good fun. I want to reach out to people. Onstage, I’m in a trans-like state!” he laughs.
“I’m a Quebecker, through and through. I sing with my accent; I don’t try to disguise it. I sing like I speak! My style is definitely country, but I’d also call it traditional. I’ve found what suits me and I won’t stray from this path. I have no desire to offer a ‘new country’ sound.”