In the wake of other songwriters originating from Québec City – think Fjord, or Ghostly Kisses, whose ambient and suave electro sounds have made their way onto playlists the world over – Vincent Carrier, a.k.a. Lucky Rose, has just joined the Spotify Millionaires’ club.
Yet he’s made his mark with radio programmers as well. “The Way You Want Me,” a single with tropical dance flavours published by Québec City’s Higher Reign, has been enlightening the airwaves since the beginning of 2016, especially the Bell Media affiliates who’ve made him January’s “Future Star.” The song was co-written with fellow SOCAN member Yan Etchevary, and is still going strong on the province’s Top 40 charts. A video should be out any minute now.
With this hit in his back pocket, and a totally unexpected contract with Ultra Records (David Guetta, Calvin Harris), this young beat-maker is clearly on the track to a successful career. He’s working on a new single, another co-write, this time with fellow SOCAN songwriter member A-SHO.
Photo by Saty + Pratha
Poirier: In Perpetual Motion
Story by Eric Parazelli | March 3, 2016
Looking for Montréal’s Ghislain Poirier is always in vain. Just as his 10th album’s title states, he is in constant Migration. In the past year alone, he’s played in Geneva, Berlin, Paris, Glasgow, Grenoble, Toronto, Edinburgh, Rennes, Lyon, Milan, London, Tunis, Marseille, and Belgium, to name just a few! But the man is also in perpetual artistic motion. Since the 2007 launch of his No Ground Under album on the prestigious Ninja Tune label, he’s produced a series of EPs under the moniker Poirier (which were compiled and “retouched” for 2010’s double-album Running High); he co-produced Face-T’s album Tuff Like Stone (2012) as well as Boogat’s El Dorado Sunset, which went on to win two Félix awards for Best World Music Album and Best Production in 2013; he was at the artistic helm of the Tout égratigné project, a collection of re-mixes of Robert Charlebois’ repertoire; and he produced two more experimental albums under the moniker Boundary (2013–2014).
Add to this impressive list his soon-to-be launched electro-dancehall album Migration, which got heads turning and bodies moving even before its release, and his first film score for Denis Côté’s Boris sans Béatrice, both of which launched on March 4, 2016, and what you get is the massive track record of a man who’s managed every aspect of his career for the past 10 years.
“I booked my own tour last fall,” says the man who dropped by our Montréal offices for this early morning interview. “Right now I’m producing Face-T’s next release and working on the launch and promotion of Migration, as well as planning my next live appearances. I even send my press releases myself. But there’s nothing exceptional in the fact that I do all of that stuff myself, a lot of people I know do it, too. It’s a blessing and a boon. It means less creative time, but if we didn’t do it, we might not be where we’re at now. Or maybe we wouldn’t have gotten there in a way that we enjoy.
Rhythm and Politics
“With Migration, I feel I’m making something that’s a lot more like songs, something more hooky,” says Poirier. “I made a conscious decision to increase the melodic side of things without compromising on the usual, signature way I work on textures, rhythm and structure. It was a lot of fun. But I’ve never been a virtuosity buff. I’m not a show-off. I really wanted to avoid the album sounding like it was made only for people who know music. I wanted an album that everyone would like, whether it’s to dance to or to listen on your own. It’s an inclusive album. I wrote the words “sweet reggae music” on a post-it note that I stuck to the wall above my computer. It was there to help me stay focused on the goal.”
“I’ve always thought that the composer can be as opinionated as the singer. I don’t want to make a big thing out of it, but it’s undeniable that it affects the way I think, and therefore my work and the content of my music.”
Even though Poirier has once more surpassed himself in the sound texture and rhythm departments, he’s also now grafted on a social and political discourse that permeates Migration. The press release for his latest album began with a statement about migrants – “a problem that cannot and must not be ignored in 2016” – immediately setting the tone for a politically conscious album whose main goal is to make you dance. Poirier sees absolutely no reason why pleasure and socially-charged themes can’t co-exist on an album. “We’re all seeking a better world because of persistent inequalities, and that’s what’s at the root of large migrations,” he says, before launching into a list of examples of how governments are transferring their responsibilities to corporations, at the loss of the people’s power. He severely criticizes Enron, Nike, Québec Prime Minister Pierre Couillard’s austerity, the corporate ties that both Pierre Karl Péladeau and François Legault maintain, and, finally, enjoins us to read Alain Deneault’s Gouvernance: Le management totalitaire and La médiocratie. There not even the shadow of a doubt for him; his music is not just meant to make you swing your hips, you also need to use your head.
Poirier’s tendency to look around himself and beyond has been characteristic of who he is since he was a teen. He’s always been very careful to preserve it intact, and has never hesitated to shop his music around to international labels. One such label, the London, England, imprint Nice Up! Records has taken up the responsibility of marketing and promoting Migration internationally. “I doubt I would have the career I’ve had so far if I had restricted myself to Québec,” says Poirier. “I’m not saying I’m ‘bigger’ than someone whose career is entirely in this province, I’m just saying I’m part of a different scene. I want to have an impact here, but elsewhere too. I want to be part of a global dialogue. That’s why collaborating with labels in different territories opens up different opportunities. Like my song ‘Jump,’ which has been played a few times on the BBC. I don’t think that if my album had been released by Audiogram or La Tribu or Bonsound, all excellent labels, it must be said, they would’ve worked on promoting it in England, because they’re not distributed there. It’s a simple market equation. The BBC is right in Nice Up!’s backyard. And I couldn’t be more thrilled, because the guy playing my song, David Rodigan, is at the very top of the world’s reggae scene. If I don’t travel, no one will come knocking on my door.”
On Migration, Poirier once again tapped his partner in crime, Face-T, but also used his Rolodex to call on prestigious collaborators such as Machinedrum (a go-to American electronic music producer), Red Fox (a key player in New York’s dancehall scene and part of Shaggy’s entourage), Chicago’s MC Zulu (back for a third time on one of Poirier’s albums), as well as Toronto’s Dubmatix (who’s nominated for a 2016 JUNO Award and has already won a few of the trophies, whose popularity in Europe is undeniable). “Collaborating remotely is not as simple as sending your track to someone so they’ll record their voice to it,” says Poirier. “There are many back and forth [cumminications] to add, adjust, fine-tune, sometimes even re-record entirely, before we have a final product… It is, however, a process that allows everyone to truly express themselves, instead of getting a kind of coitus interruptus feeling.”
Boris sans Béatrice
To anyone who’s paid attention to Boundary, Poirier’s electro incarnation, it was obvious that one of these days a movie director would have the sense to use that very cinematic music. In the end, it was Québec director Denis Côté (Curling, Bestiaire, Vic+Flo ont vu un ours) who had the flair to do it for his latest picture, Boris sans Béatrice. “It was a true meeting of the minds, a true collaboration between Denis and I,” the new audiovisual composer says enthusiastically. “I was allowed to bring my personal touch to his very personal universe. It all came about because of Boundary. I already felt that I was writing very cinematic music. When Denis got in touch with me, he said he could hear Boundary’s music while he was writing. It ended up that two existing Boundary tracks were used and the rest was composed in the spirit of Boundary. In this specific case, my job really was to accompany the images by enhancing their weird and ambiguous nature. But I didn’t want to enhance them too much either. The film has its own narrative and the music must not interfere with it.”
A few days after its world première in Berlin, the film enjoyed its Montréal première, during the Rendez-Vous du cinéma québécois at the Imperial theatre. Poirier was giggling like a child. “I couldn’t believe that something I did on my computer, on my own, was now going to be part of something much bigger projected on this huge screen!,” he says. “That première was a beautiful moment for me, and I would be delighted if I can repeat the experience for other productions.”
Poirier is clearly ready and willing to migrate to new territories and new experiences, and we can rest assured that he’s not about to stop exploring the possibilities offered by the free circulation of rhythms and ideas.
Below, you can watch a conference presented by Poirier at Montréal’s Creative Mornings, where the artist shares his creative process, talks about the nature of the game, and the tense relationship between music-making and the music industry, which he resolves with fun and respect.
Reuben Bullock of Reuben and the Dark
Story by Meredith Dault | March 1, 2016
Reuben Bullock never aspired to be a musician. As a child, in fact, he was fairly certain he couldn’t even sing. “I decided I didn’t have a voice when I was young,” he admits. “I didn’t sing along with the radio, I couldn’t sing around a campfire.”
But Bullock, who now fronts the critically acclaimed alt-rock band Reuben and the Dark, never struggled with finding a voice in his writing. He first began fervently scribbling poetry as a teenager, driven to get things down on paper – and yet still largely unwilling to share his work with audiences.
“I’d be working these brutal jobs and would go and take bathroom breaks and go sit with my notebook, scrambling to get all this stuff out,” he recalls. “And I always had this feeling of, ‘Why am I doing it? Am I supposed to share this?’ It was confusing.”
At 21, his older brother gave him an acoustic guitar and Bullock taught himself to play during a stint teaching English in Thailand. He learned two chords and promptly wrote 20 songs. “This is it,” he remembers thinking. “This is where all those words go.”
“A lot of life goes into these songs… a lot of pent-up things, from being young.”
That’s also when Bullock realized he would need to figure out how to sing if he wanted to do those words justice. While he describes his first attempts as “airy and soft”, he also remembers a breakthrough moment when he finally belted out a tune at full volume. “It freed me,” he says simply.
It’s about as close as Bullock, who grew up the son of a preacher, gets to delving into his past, or to the source of his suppressed voice – a childhood in which he moved from town to town across North America, ultimately leading to a rebellion against religion – though he eludes to it as a source of inspiration for his writing.
“A lot of life goes into these songs… a lot of pent-up things, from being young,” he says. “There have definitely been some troubling times.”
In a sense, singing also became a way of rebelling against his earlier self, much in the way that skateboarding, in which he competed at a semi-professional level, had been for him before he found music. Driven to overcome his own fears about singing or playing in front of people, Bullock spent two years performing at open mic sessions nearly five days a week at venues around Calgary, the town he calls home. “I did it over and over and over again until it started feeling right,” he says. “But it was a huge source of anxiety for me.”
When Bullock first put a band together to back him when he recorded his debut solo album, Pulling Up Arrows, in 2009, he admits it was for two reasons: the first, because he found it easier to perform if he was sharing the stage with other people; but secondly, because he realized that musically, he wanted to make something that was bigger than himself, “not just one guy playing a song he wrote.”
In 2012, he released his second solo album, Man Made Lakes, backed by the band (his brother, Distance Bullock on percussion and cello, multi-instrumentalist Shea Alain, and bassist Scott Munro) that would ultimately begin performing with him as Reuben and the Dark (though the band has since gone through a number of incarnations).
It was that album that first caught the attention of Mairead Nash, manager of the U.K. indie rock band Florence and the Machine. Nash was in Mexico, and happened into a coffee shop where one of Bullock’s friends was working. “He was playing my CD at the time,” Bullock explains, “and she liked the song she heard so she asked about it.”
Through that chance encounter, Bullock ended up connecting with Chris Hayden, Florence and the Machine’s drummer. The pair played a number of “really funny club shows” in Mexico as duo and forged a strong bond. Not long after, Bullock travelled to London, where he and Hayden began working on songs that would eventually end up on Funeral Sky, which Hayden produced with contributions from professional songwriter Stephen Kozmeniuk (Madonna, Nicki Minaj) and Jim Abiss (Arctic Monkeys, Adele). The album, the first under the moniker Reuben and the Dark, was released in May 2014 on the Arts & Crafts label.
And while it has been a rapid trajectory, Bullock is clear that he’s not taking anything for granted. “I try to be grateful all the time,” he says of the journey so far. Now 30, he admits that he still finds it a little surreal to play shows where the audience sings his own lyrics back to him. “Every time it happens, I have a hard time getting through the song without cracking a smile, especially if I make eye contact with someone singing in the audience,” he laughs. “Part of me just wants to go out there and give them a hug.”
“The songs have to move you, so they can move someone else.”
Bullock, whose music appeared in a 2015 Travel Alberta commercial, as well as in an episode of the Netflix series Between, says he also makes a point of meeting his fans after performances. “It’s what really keeps me going,” he says. “Being a touring musician is a tiring existence, especially if you don’t have those rewards. So I feel super lucky to have the kind of feedback we get.”
But as challenging of life on the road can be, it is certainly eased by the fact that Bullock’s wife, Kaelen Ohm, is also a member of his band, playing guitar, keyboards, and singing. Indeed, he credits Ohm with helping him mentally prepare for performing in front of larger and larger audiences, like the crowd he encountered recently at Toronto’s Massey Hall while supporting Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy on his North American tour.
“I have adopted a new philosophy that my wife shared with me, which is to assume that people love you before you’ve been given a reason to think otherwise,” says Bullock. “You assume an audience wants to listen to you. I used to step out and assume that I have to prove myself with my songs. Now I walk out onto the stage and think people want to listen and I want to sing.”
It’s an approach that seems to be working. While his latest single, “Heart in Two.” released for his most recent tour, will surely net him even more fans (Funeral Sky was listed on now-Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2015 campaign playlist), Bullock, who recently relocated temporarily to Toronto to expand his network, remains focused on being present for his audiences, and focused on honing his craft as a writer.
“I’m really trying to figure out how to write the songs that I’m supposed to write,” Bullock says thoughtfully, as he prepares for a last-minute trip to Mexico in search of a well-deserved rest. “Because I know what I really want to do – it’s the one thing I have figured out. It’s right in front of me. It’s a guitar in my hand.”
No matter what comes next, Bullock says he’ll continue writing songs that feel personally meaningful and that also resonate with other people. “The songs have to move you, so they can move someone else,” he says simply. “My goal right now is to really commit to this and see it through. The whole thing has been such a gift.”