The Courtneys’ breezy guitar-pop melodies may sound deceptively simple, but a lot of hard work and research goes into the Vancouver band’s music. For their sophomore release, II, members Jen Twynn, Courtney Garvin and Sydney Koke analyzed the idea of a “perfect song,” by looking to bands like Scottish rockers Teenage Fanclub. Their conclusion? “There is no such thing as the perfect song,” says Koke. “But you can try to get close!”
As a result of their many discussions about song structures and songwriting over the years, their process has been refined to “taking a riff, or a bass line, or some sort of concept, and searching for the best possible home for that idea.”
“There is no such thing as the perfect song. But you can try to get close!” – Sydney Koke of The Courtneys
And as their research has proven, that strategy has indeed led them close to creating some near-perfect songs, propelled by snappy, succinct melodies like the job-search refrains of “Insufficient Funds,” or their ode to long-distance love on II ‘s single, “Silver Velvet.”
II, just like its predecessor, is brimming with sun-soaked earworms that owe a great deal to ‘90s sounds (which was a heavy influence on the band from their days of listening to the radio or watching MuchMusic growing up), but ultimately bear their own unique signature.
A core component to that signature is the idea of fun. When the band first formed, they admittedly did so to hang out with their best friends. But now that The Courtneys have grown and had to deal with a lot more business alongside the pleasure, they haven’t lost sight of the lighter side of things.
Says Garvin, “I think we’ve realized that the business side can actually be weirdly fun sometimes, too.”
Photo by Pierre Crépô
Franky Selector: Devotion & Felicity
Story by Claude Côté | August 11, 2017
Musician, producer and DJ François Simard, the former founding member of Montréal soul collective Skyjuice, gave himself the alias Franky Selector at the turn of the millennium and recently launched Shabby Chic. “It’s all in the title. It’s chic, but a little shabby too.”
In between the release of two albums under that name (a six-year timespan), our man was far from idle: he re-mixed Montréal’s funk-soul collective The Brooks, was a frequent collaborator of James Di Salvio and Stéphane Moraille (Bran Van 3000), The National Parks, Fwonte and Fred Everything, and he was the official DJ for the U.S. college circuit concerts of favourite cult jam-band Phish, which saw him drop his infectious grooves for tens of thousands of fans after each of the group’s stadium and festival shows.
Simard is really into the golden era of FM radio, the whole decade of the early seventies to the early eighties, which happens to be the time he grew up while living in Florida. “Kool and the Gang, and people roller skating with a ghetto blaster,” he recalls. “What I heard then still sounds more authentic to me than today’s music.”
The 13 tracks on Shabby Chic breeze by effortlessly, full of references to that holy decade: Gil Scott-Heron’s spoken word, Isaac Hayes’ soul, horns a-plenty, and a refreshing dose of Caribbean vibes. “I love everything Chris Blackwell produced on his Island Records label,” says Simard. “Bob Marley, Toots and The Maytals, etc.”.
His maternal Lebanese roots can also be heard on “Shoo Fi Ma,” a spoken-word piece. “It’s going to be increasingly present in my music,” he says, laughing, “because I can feel the call of the Orient.” Unless one has a heart of stone, his music feels like an elixir of emotion, love, sensuality, and much more.
“I base a lot of it all on atmospheres and subtlety, and an omnipresent groove. There’s a constant undulation. It’s like the ocean.”
“I base a lot of it all on atmospheres and subtlety, and an omnipresent groove. There’s a constant undulation. It’s like the ocean,” says Selector. “You can dance to my music, but you don’t absolutely have to.”
To get there, one needs the proper tools. “I always work with vintage equipment and record in analogue mode,” he says. “I’m for sure nostalgic, but my music is not an ersatz of that era.”
The usual keyboard suspects – Fender Rhodes, Mini-Moog, Wurlitzer, Clavinet – all appear, one after the other, in his musical pleasure dome. “You can’t fake those sounds, they have to come from the real McCoy,” he says. “I also work with computers. It’s the union of two processes, two techniques.”
Relying only on his own resources, he rented a studio in Old Montréal to set up his lab, his creative lair, and went there virtually every day while creating Shabby Chic. “I punched in, as if I was working in a plant,” he says. “It went something like this: I’d start with a beat, lay down a chord progression, and record. There are a lot of instruments, and that allowed me to work solo on my demos, beats, and sonic experiments I’d come up with between shows on my previous tour [in the wake of his previous album, Under the Midnight Sun, in 2011].”
The next step was to orchestrate everything in the company of a flock of musicians who, one by one, left their imprints on tracks that were now ready to be assembled. Simard would then don his producer hat to achieve the difficult balance between the heart and the mind. Says Selector: “I make all the decisions, ever since I realized [with Skyjuice in the ’90s] that democracy is all fine and good in a collective of 10 musicians, but at a certain point, it really dilutes the vision and direction of a project.”
But the ultimate step is concerts, driven by a resolve to take his project to the next level, accompanied by eight to 10 musicians – led by keyboard Master Dan Thouin, a man revered in the Québec music community. “I’m from the live school,” says Selector. “People who come to see us shouldn’t expect to hear exactly what they’ve heard on the album. It really evolves onstage!”
Photo by Darwin Doleyres
Fwonte: Mixing Cultures, Mixing Music
Story by Olivier Boisvert-Magnen | August 8, 2017
What Haitian-born singer Fwonte wants to accomplish, through the bold musical mixtures on No Wanga 2, is to gather and combine all of the world’s cultures.
Alongside his producer and loyal “wizard” Vincent Letelier (a.k.a. Freeworm) – who gave a uniform sound to his rich alloy of hip-hop, electro, kompa, rara, and various other influences, such as Malian and Middle-Eastern music – the Montréal-based artist offers an idealistic brew that celebrates the power of social diversity.
“When I started working on this EP,” says Fwonte, “there was this massive influx of migrants in Europe and North America, and I heard many people wonder if this wave of new people would create societal unrest. My answer was to integrate musical styles from all continents in my music. I wanted to show that if such heterogenous genres could live together in a single song, humans were also able to do so.”
Optimistic, but not naive, the creole singer doesn’t shy away from more overt criticism. On “Ansamn,” co-written with renowned Haitian DJ and producer Gardy Girault, Fwonte sings about the lack of solidarity he felt during a recent trip to his native Haiti. “I saw how people were living each for themselves, as if they were trying to get by focusing only on their own issues, not caring for their community,” he says. “I believe the only way to take the country out of the chaos it’s in is by all working together to move things forward.”
But Fwonte mainly insists on the value of hard work, perseverance and dedication. The “No Wanga” is imbued with those values. “In vaudou, the wanga is a sacrifice carried out by the priest in order to allow you to reach a specific goal,” Fwonte explains. “For example, it can be a prayer of a special fragrance that puts people around you in a trance. The message I want to give to young people is that what matters most isn’t the wanga, but work. God helps those that help themselves… Don’t go to wanga thinking it’s your path to success.”
Introduced to vaudou music by his mother’s family, Fwonte was raised by his paternal grandmother after suddenly losing his parents when he was merely three. “She’s the one who introduced me to kompa and evangelical songs,” he says. “All that music was still very much in me when I started listening to hip-hop in my teens. I was drawn to art early on in life, and that worried my aunts and uncles who lived in Florida and were paying for my education. They wanted me to quit all that and pick a different professional path, but my granny told me to ignore them and to do what I like.”
“In Montréal, the culture was inclusive.”
It was while working as a graphic designer at the turn of the last decade that the artist decided to go all-in with music. To this end, he moved to Montréal, where his girlfriend’s family lived. “I wanted to kick-start my career, and I was torn between moving here or to Florida,” says Fwonte. “After comparing them, I preferred Montréal’s vibe. In Haitian music events in Florida, the only community present was mine, just as in Port-au-Prince. In Montréal, the culture was much more inclusive, and I already knew and enjoyed a few of the local artists like Luck Mervil and Muzion.”
A mere month after arriving in Montréal, Fwonte participated in a benefit show for Haiti after it was hit with a major earthquake. That night, at the now defunct Club Lambi, he met his musical partner, Vincent Letelier, with whom he would go on to record the majority if his first EP, Men Mwen. Known back then as Mr. OK, the rapper quickly became a new breakthrough artist on Montréal’s World 2.0 scene, growing alongside two of its main representatives: Boogat and Poirier.
Seven years after his near-instantaneous integration, Fwonte couldn’t be more satisfied with his musical evolution in Québec. “If I’ve done one good thing in my life, it’s coming here,” he says adamantly.
That doesn’t mean he’s immune to feeling homesick now and again, as one can hear on “Chagren” and the very touching “Grann,” a very personal homage to his grandmother that still stirs him emotionally. “The first time I sang that one on stage, I started to cry,” says Fwonte. “That had never happened to me before; the emotion choked me up. When I was a kid, my granny was always a little worried about my future, and I just wanted her to know that she doesn’t have to worry anymore, that I’ve got a career going, a family. And that, in the end, all that I was missing was her…”