Young Bombs scored their first official remix in 2015, when they were tasked to put their own spin on pop star Nick Jonas’ song “Teacher.” While the achievement is something to be proud of, the Vancouver duo mostly look back at that process as “honestly painstaking,” as member Martin Kottmeier recalls. “We put so much pressure on ourselves, as we’d never done anything remotely that big, or for an artist of that status.” But, he says the stressful experience taught him, and bandmate Tristan Norton, an important lesson that they’ve since adapted to their other remixes and songs: “Making music should be fun and expressive.”

Since then, Young Bombs have added many more high-profile artists to their portfolio of remixes, from Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez, to Post Malone and Khalid. In the EDM world, they’ve received praise from heavy hitters like Tiësto, Don Diablo, Oliver Heldens, The Chainsmokers and Galantis which, Martin notes, “means everything to us; we’ve looked up to those guys as heroes, so anytime they offer support or show us love, it’s truly humbling.”

Last year found the pair racking up 45 remixes, and in just four years, Young Bombs has earned nearly 100 million streams. This year, they decided to take the next natural step in their evolution: creating original songs. In March, Young Bombs put out “Starry Eyes,” a cosmic dance number that includes handclaps, ticking rhythms, and layered vocals, all swirling together into a dynamic burst of electro-pop.

With another single out already, song of the summer contender “Don’t Let Them,” Young Bombs are excited to continue releasing new material and working with other artists. At the top of their dream collaboration list? Kings of Leon’s Caleb Followill, and “Mambo No. 5” singer Lou Bega. “His work is second to none and so often overlooked,” Kottmeier says, praising Bega’s big hit. “Let’s bring Lou back.”

On July 16, the Polaris Music Prize unveiled the 10 recordings on the 2019 Short List for the Canadian Album of the Year, the winner of which will be determined on Sept. 14, at the Polaris Music Prize Gala in Toronto. This year’s nominations included a big surprise: Le Mal, the FET.NAT quartet’s first full-length release, after six EPs spaced over the past decade. “This is something we hadn’t anticipated at all, and even being on the Long List was astounding to us,” says multi-instrumentalist Olivier Fairfield.

“In fact, we’ve never really operated with that objective in mind,” he continues. “We’ve now been releasing recordings and performing live for almost 10 years, we’ve got our own fan base, and everything is working fine. But it seems that since the release of our latest one, it’s… it’s as if the reality surrounding the way we do things had changed. All of a sudden, people are fascinated [with our work], and not just the fans and those who like this specific type of music. Everything has suddenly become larger, and that’s something we really hadn’t seen coming.”

The fact is that the Hull, Québec-based musicians have always produced their music primarily for themselves, and their own way, without trying to “fit the mould” – an expression that’s anathema to FET.NAT’s four do-it-yourself advocates: self-taught musicians Pierre-Luc Clément on guitars, Linsey Wellman on saxophone, lead singer/lyricist JFNO (Jean-François Nault), and Fairfield on drums, onstage synths, and studio production.

Describing their sound is a challenge, and that alone should be a good reason to listen to Le Mal as soon as you can. Imagine punk attitude and energy, set against intriguing sound collages, contrasting textures, while electronic rhythms belch out free jazz, thanks to the improvisational style that’s an integral part of the band’s approach. “Every time we set a concrete goal for ourselves, and agree that we should explore such-and-such esthetic, or musical direction, it’s a complete failure,” Olivier laughs, underlining the imprecision of their open-minded approach. “What ends up happening in the studio is that we pick up scraps of ideas, generally improbable, and follow them. And it ends up producing interesting results.

“So trying to delineate our style, or the kind of method we use, is a bit difficult,” says Olivier, who, besides his duties in FET.NAT, also works as a producer (for Medhi Cayenne Club, among others), and as an accompanist (for Leif Vollebeck). “What we can say, though, is that we’re open to everything, even to styles that make people laugh, and that’s the fun part of it. The very bad, strange, and zany ideas we come up with can become serious pretty quickly.” A regular feature of the Festival international de musique actuelle de Victoriaville and of the Suoni per il Popolo festival, FET.NAT produces blatantly free and experimental recordings that wouldn’t normally end up on the “best of the year” short list as, say, the latest Jessie Reyez album.

FET.NAT’s compositional work is powered by that same instinct, and that same will to go where the band has never gone before. Everybody pitches in, but JFNO deals primarily with lyrics, “although the others contribute also,” says Fairfield. “For instance, here’s one of the ways he writes lyrics: he opens a private Google Doc where he puts what he’s writing, so we can access it. I select some of these lyrics, and put them through a text-to-speech application that reads it aloud. I could then modify the flow velocity, the computer’s voice register, stuff like that. Bringing that tool into the creative process generates new ideas.” Some of the synthetic voices were kept on the album, or as JF re-performed the lyrics in the style of the vocal synthesis.

The band’s inclusion on the Polaris Short List has shaken FET.NAT to the core. From day one, the Ottawa-area musicians have identified with the Rock in Opposition movement of Fred Frith’s avant-garde/experimental and militant anti-capitalist British group Henry Cow. Rock in Opposition was created in the late 1970s to protest against the music industry, which was turning its nose up at their uncompromising music.

“Since the first days of FET.NAT, we’ve been doing things to please ourselves, but we’ve also been self-producing everything we do,” says Fairfield. “We’ve never applied for subsidies – we produce everything ourselves, from the recording sessions right up to the record pressings. Among others, this is one reason why we’re astounded to have been considered for the Polaris Music Prize. This said, our identification with Rock in Opposition doesn’t mean that we loathe everything that’s different from what we do ourselves. It’s simply that we’ve always insisted on doing things our own way. It’s part of the band’s nature, and above all, it’s part of the nature of the personality of each one of the band’s members… for better or for worse!

“The Polaris Prize therefore places us in a funny situation. In fact, it forces us to take a look at ourselves, and to ask, ‘What is it that we do, and what’s our place in the scheme of things? Are we still “Rock in Opposition”?’  We’re going through a minor identity crisis – but we’re still taking it lightly…”

The first question that comes to mind when speaking with Glass Tiger singer and frontman Alan Frew is: Can’t you take a hint?

While you might have known about the stroke that felled Frew in 2015, it wasn’t the first, last, or worst of his tribulations. Just before the stroke there was the detached retina. Then, more recently, 11 days before the band’s recent 2019 spring/summer tour opening for Corey Hart, “I ate something really bad, and in the middle of the night I was violently ill,” he says. “I was losing a tremendous amount of fluids. I just stood up, maybe a little too quickly, and that’s when I fell. They said I probably went down like I was shot in the head with a bullet. I smashed my face and broke my neck in two places… It required major surgery.” Was someone up (or down) there trying to tell him something? “No, no,” he says, laughing, acknowledging though that, “it’s been a brutal few years.”

The fall happened on May 20th; Frew had the operation to fix his neck on May 25th; and the tour started May 31st. And he did it, as befits a man whose motto is “No Surrender.” Looking back over the previous few months, Frew sounds surprised at himself for having found the silver lining in the grey clouds that have bedeviled him of late.

“If you look for it, there’s always a positive light shining at the end of that tunnel.”

“As wacky as this sounds,” he says incredulously, “if you look for it, there’s always a positive light shining at the end of that tunnel. So, my body language has been extremely limited for this tour. It’s not like, at my age, I’d have been runnin’ about like a crazy person anyways. But the funny thing is that my voice is at the top of its game. I may be the only one noticing it, but the relationship between the trauma and the pain, and then the delivery of my vocal, has actually been a little more emotional, a little more elevated, a little more passionate.” The glowing reviews have indicated that he wasn’t the only one who noticed.

The tour was timed to promote the band’s new six-song EP, 33, Glass Tiger’s first release of all-new music since 1991. Some of the more ominous song titles would seem to have come from a deep, dark place of self-reflection, post-trauma, but Frew thinks not. He calls it “an eclectic gathering of songs and lyrics, pre- and post-stroke.

“The big song, ‘Dying is Easy (With You),’ was written pre-stroke. It didn’t come from a place of, ‘Wow. I hit the goal post there and almost died.’ But ‘This is Your Life’ was very recent. Even though I didn’t go digging deep for a relationship between what I’d gone through and the delivery of those lyrics, obviously – subconsciously – there’s something there.”

Frew says that he’s particularly proud of this EP. “No two songs quite the same,” he says, calling it, “an homage to the band that we were when we were growing up, pre-EMI… When [we] mixed covers of The Police  or Duran Duran with songs by Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard, and The Scorpions.”

Four of the original five Glass Tiger members from 1983 are still together (Frew, Sam Reid on keyboards, Al Connelly on guitar, and Wayne Parker on bass, with comparative newbie Chris McNeill on drums since the year 2000). “Sam Reid is the foundation,” says Frew. “He is my rock. Without him as my wingman, this band wouldn’t exist. Al and Wayne are our brothers. We complement each other. I think this little EP could only have been put out by a band who’s got a good 40 years of history together.”

Glass Tiger will be doing occasional Canadian dates in August, October, and November and then a five-city tour of Quebec at the end of December.