Love can wear anything from scuba diving gear to confetti. On Petite plage, Ingrid St-Pierre’s lyrics are about getting married, and the concept of “us” in day-to-day life – motherly love, love that ages, love that’s ageless, first-date love, love lost forever, and self-love, even when it’s hanging by a thread.

Ingird St-Pierre, Petit Plage“I gave myself permission to go where I’d never gone before,” says St-Pierre resolutely. Anchored in the present, and in the heart of emotional life, she’s poised to deliver her fourth album, a collection of all-too-human stories, carried by a groove we’ve never heard from her before, and that she wears like a custom-fitted dress.

“I feel like a lot has changed, artistically and on a human level,” she says. “I’ve had a wake-up call about a lot of things in my life. I feel freer, and it shows in my arrangements and lyrics.” If her voice sounds more grounded, she believes it’s because she’s “more grounded in life.”

Her major artistic influences are avatars of calm, dream-like worlds, like those created by Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver, but the stylistic field is vast, and sometimes you have to err in order to find a better way home. “I love Regina Spektor’s immense freedom, for example,” says the St-Pierre. “Even if she’s a woman at a piano, just like me, and she does a lot of ballads, she can also do other tempos without being untrue to herself. That’s where I decided to go.”

Petite plage wasn’t created under the pressure of creating an album, but rather because St-Pierre had things to say. “Stories are more important than songs,” she says, adding that she was convinced there wouldn’t be an album. “I really had a lot of doubts,” she admits.

SOCAN’s Kenekt Québec Song Camp was among the major triggers for the creation of Petite plage. “My minutiae and fine-tuned nature is still there, but the freedom to write without restriction and fear became really important while I was there,” she says. “I also realized that the artistic barriers I had were those I set for myself, out of fear of losing myself, or of straying from what people expect of me.”

She was propelled by an entirely different writing method thereafter. “I felt like all my songs already existed, and that all I had to do was to let them come to the surface,” she says. “Also, it’s an album I wrote in my head.” So, how does one write without writing? “When you become a mom, you can spend your whole day at a café in front of a blank page. I found inspiration in my daily life, I was writing when I gave birth,” she says, laughing. “But as soon as I sat at my piano, everything just flowed out of me.”

St-Pierre admits to having put a lot of pressure on herself, bu.t not anymore. “No one was asking me to be the perfect mom, the perfect artist. I did that to myself,” she explains. “While I was writing my songs, I would ask myself, ‘Does the music universe really need another song? Why should I add one more to the lot?’ In the end, each song on this album was created purely out of self-satisfaction.” The past two years have also taught her to choose herself, and do her best. “My son never sleeps. I haven’t slept in two years,” she says, laughing softly.

The song “La lumineuse (lettre à mon fils)” is among the singer-songwriter’s greatest songs, the kind that make listeners’ eyes well up with tears. “I wrote it for my son, sure, but also for myself, in part,” she says. “It’s a maternal song, but also a song of kindness. You know, it’s OK to wish good things for yourself. Petite plage really is just that. It’s me giving myself a hug.”

As our conversation continues, I tell Ingrid that “63 rue Leman,” a song from her 2015 album Tokyo, was the soundtrack to an emotional family moment, the day when my grandparents sold their house. The song runs like a movie; you can almost see and feel the walls and their wallpaper. Her writing is just that precise. “I’m so moved when people tell me things like that,” says St-Pierre. “When I sing a song on stage, it’s like I press a Play button in my head and a movie starts, I see the same images. Each song is a place, a home to which I always return.”

She meets people and hears their touching personal stories after her shows, but St-Pierre believes it’s important to provoke a communion, meetings, between generations.

“When my friend Khoa Lê told me, ‘I’m leaving for Vietnam and I’ll film images for your music video,’ [“Les joalliers”), I immediately said, ‘If you’re going to Vietnam, I’m going too.’ The video isn’t staged, we really filmed it in a place where people go to dance at 4 a.m. I simply mingled.”

Petite plage stands like the light of a winter day, like a lamppost that doesn’t turn off even when the day dawns. “It’s a positive album, and I want people to absorb it. It’s so easy to absorb negativity, while beauty is tougher,” she says. We’ll work on that.


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On La Musica Popular de Verdun, Montréal’s Clay and Friends have managed to combine their stage antics with devil-may-care studio experimentation.

Clay and FriendsAt the crossroads of hip-hop, soul, funk, reggae, pop and folk, the band’s EP is remarkably varied. As a matter of fact, its creators fully embrace its eclecticism. “I don’t think anyone will ever say that Clay and Friends is a coherent and homogenous band,” says singer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Clay with a smirk. “I respect people who are able to develop and fine-tune a specific style, like D’Angelo on Voodoo, for example, but that’s not what we’re after.”

To find the guiding thread of what could very easily have become a big mess of influences, the quintet found inspiration in the creative groundswell that gave birth to música popular brasileira, a Brazilian musical genre that was popularized in TV shows during the ’60s. First perceived as the heir to the bossa nova throne, the genre took several twists and turns that, as the years went by, made it more akin to a hybrid musical movement that married traditional and modern, rather than a well-defined genre. “It mixed bossa and samba to funk and pop,” says Clay. “I watched a lot of videos from that era and, I have to say, they are unbelievable musicians, very inspiring. And they inspired me to do a kind of ‘best of’ of our influences: La Musica Popular de Verdun.”

Recorded in the brand new Verdun studio of the band’s beatboxer Adel Kazi, this second official EP (the band considers its 2013 and 2014 releases as mere demos) was created as a reaction to its predecessor, Conformopolis, released two years ago. In hindsight, the now-independent band realized that project was a compromise between its artistic vision and that of its then-label.

“To be totally transparent,” says Clay, “we wanted to regain the confidence of people who listen to our stuff and who, just as we did, couldn’t find any correlation between the Clay and Friends they see in concert and the Clay and Friends whom they heard on that first album. We wanted to be as good as our songs are.”

To do so, the singer-songwriter took advantage of his creative trips abroad to write the core of Clay and Friends’ new songs. Clay – who earns a living as a ghostwriter for several Canadian and American artists (whom he can’t name) – then called his good friends Clément Langlois-Légaré (guitar), Pascal Boisseau (bass), Émile Désilets (keyboards), and his partner in crime since day one, Adel Kazi.

After five years of fine-tuning, the quintet’s modus operandi is well honed. “I take my tunes to Clément and he comes up with crazy arrangements for my very basic three-chord compositions,” says Clay. “Then it’s on to Adel, he’s the chemist, the one who fine-tunes and transmogrifies the sounds. Then it’s on to Émile and Pascal, who bring their organic touch, and a live feel. They played a big role on this EP.”

The band’s fans are the sixth member. Thanks to the audio recordings of some of their shows, the musicians know exactly what songs galvanize their audience. To wit, “OMG,” which came about after a particularly inebriated fan yelled “Oh My God!” during one of the band’s shows in Trois-Rivières, as well as “Going Up The Coast,” where one can hear the crowd singing in unison with Mike Clay.

That song, an endearing travelogue of the band’s tour of 300 shows in two years, has a special meaning for its creator. “It’s the story of our tour, a collection of moments that we lived together,” says Clay. “Nights spent in rental cars, and relationships that ended because of our prolonged absence. It’s a very exhausting way of life, but I’m slowly learning to draw a line. Back in 2016, I was the tour manager of our first European tour. It was totally absurd, like 35 shows in 40 days. I recall playing on a beach in Italy for about 100 people and I was not enjoying the moment at all…

“Now I’m more attuned to the signs that reveal themselves to me when we leave for a long period of time. I exercise, I eat well, I don’t drink every night, and most important of all, I sleep. Some of the guys in the band get away with just two hours of sleep, but not me. I need to break the image I used to have of the invincible artist. The documentary on Avicii really opened my eyes about this. Seriously, his team literally killed him from exhaustion.”

In short, after the record launch at a sold-out Ministère, the band is taking time to breathe. They’ll tour high schools in the spring, and Europe next summer. As for the rest, Clay and his friends are waiting to check the audience response before filling up their day-planners. “I used to be a compulsive player,” he says. “I had this old-school mentality that if we don’t get offered gigs in venues, we’ll just go play in the street, or at a party, it doesn’t matter. Now, we have a booking agency [Rubis Varia] that’s helping re-frame all that. Instead of diluting our value by playing 15 times a month, we’re going to wait for the right opportunities.”


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New talent is constantly emerging on Québec’s rap scene. Here are five of them who’ll undoubtedly attract the attention of audiences and media alike this year.

Maky Lavender

Born in Montréal’s Pierrefonds neighbourhood, Maky Lavender caught the hip-hop bug a few years ago, after watching the evolution of Québec’s prolific beat-making scene. Inspired by the music of High Klassified, Kaytranada, and Tommy Kruise, the young rapper was filled with a burning desire to be part of a world seemingly so distant and out of reach. “I was from the West Island,” he says. “In my mind, it was impossible to be on par with those guys. But I didn’t give up. I started by gaining the respect of people in my neighbourhood, and I enrolled in a school for sound professionals. Shortly after, I heard that [rapper and member of The Posterz] Nate Husser was looking for a sound engineer, and I began working with him. That was a big boost to my confidence. I owe him a lot.”

After a few embryonic projects, Lavender stepped into the light in September of 2017 with an EP, Blowfoam 2, that attracted the attention of up-and-coming label, Ghost Club Records. Since then, this Jack-of-all-trades – as confident on the mic as he is a beatmaker and sound engineer – has asserted himself as one of the most well-rounded players of the Québec rap scene. His charisma is highly contagious, and he’s a peerless master of self-deprecation. His humility is like a breath of fresh air in an environment where overblown egos are all too common.

Already well under way, his next EP will offer a mix of festive and darker songs, a reflection of the 23-year-old artist, who’s wildly optimistic, but also battles bouts of sometimes very intense anxiety. “There will be lively songs that could be used to introduce events during the Olympic games,” he says, “as well as dirtier stuff à la DMX. Most of the songs have been recorded, but it’s not quite complete in my mind. I’m taking my time to make sure I release exactly what I intended to.”

Naya Ali

Despite being incredibly talented, Naya Ali’s journey in Montréal’s rap microcosm was a torturous one. Born in Ethiopia, she started wielding the mic in her late teens, and played a few shows around the city, but she gave it all up in her twenties to concentrate on her studies at Concordia University. Underwhelmed by her arrival on the job market, the artist, now 30, returned to music to re-energize herself, and re-build her confidence.

The wait was worth it. Her first EP, Higher Self, released last fall, carries a potent message of autonomy and perseverance, in synch with the ideology of this astute creator, who rejects social conventions. “We’re born into a pre-determined narrative that forces us to follow the rules, own a beautiful house, build a family, save for our retirement,” she says. But in reality, we’re born to create, evolve and influence each other. We have the power to change and create our own reality.”

Equally inspired by the current trap trend as she is by artists with a more organic groove, like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, Ali is working on her debut album, due before year’s end. “Right now, I’m growing, creating, learning and getting ready for the coming months,” she says. “I’m slowly revealing various aspects of who I am, sound-wise as well as poetically. The hard-hitting sound people got used to on my first EP will still be there, but I also want to work on sounds that have an emotional impact on people.”

Kirouac

Kirouac isn’t your average rapper. Growing up in the Town of Mount-Royal, an affluent district on the Island of Montréal, he was introduced to slam poetry in high school, and gradually grew more and more interested in rap. He took his first steps onto the scene in 2015 as one half of the duo PEM, alongside his partner-in-crime Nomad, and acquired enough confidence to create his first solo EP, the promising Je m’en rappelle plus, mais c’est vraiment bon (I don’t remember, but it’s really good). Shortly afterward, while beginning his studies in cinema at the Unuiversité du Québec à Montréal, there was a decisive encounter with producer Kodakludo. “He heard one of my tracks at a party and came to see me,” says Kirouac. “As soon as he played his beats for me, there was a big lightbulb moment. Our chemistry had huge potential.”

Wesh, the duo’s first project, was released in June of 2018 and enjoyed enviable airplay on a few radio stations, including CISM and ICI Première. The mini-album is a likeable and unabashed portrait of a young adult discovering the metropolis where he lives, and fits squarely in the “nice guy rap” trend. It’s a sub-genre originating from another Montréal neighbourhood, the Plateau Mont-Royal, and popularized mainly by FouKi over the last couple of years. “It’s a label I’m fully comfortable with, because I’m a soft person in everyday life, not a highway robber,” he says. “It’s pointless to pretend to be somebody else if you want to rap.”

Still guided by this quest for authenticity, the 22-year-old rapper will explore a large swath of his childhood on the upcoming EP, due Feb. 1. Titled Amos, an homage to the series of fantasy novels Amos Daragon by Québec writer Bryan Perro, the recording will include four songs that evoke each of the four elements. Riding high on the hype, he’s enjoying in the local scene. Next upo, he’ll be participating in the Cabaret Festif! de la relève as well as another showcase-contest in Montréal.

Tizzo

Tizzo didn’t choose rap; quite the contrary. After taking more or less serious first steps in English in the mid-oughts, the young rapper fine-tuned his flow after moving to the North Shore – where he recorded an untold number of songs, the vast majority of which were never released. After some trouble with the law, and a brief stint in prison kept him away from music, he found his productivity again in 2016, a pivotal year that saw the release of Comment faire. “It’s a song that, like all the others, was only destined to be heard by my friends,” he says. “But it travelled from e-mail account to e-mail account and, a few months later, a friend invited me to perform it in a downtown club. I was stunned when everyone started singing along.”

Astonished by this unexpected word of mouth, Tizzo redoubled his efforts as never before. As a result, 2018 saw him release four mixtapes in less than a year, two of which he did with his partner Shreez. Seemingly coming out of nowhere in many people’s eyes, the 26-year-old artist became the biggest sensation of Montréal’s still underestimated street rap scene. His songs “On fouetté” and “Ça pue,” both trap earworms with incredible energy, are on the verge of becoming bona fide anthems of Québec hip-hop.

This success has put things back into perspective for Tizzo. Less than a year after the release of his first project Tu sais vol. 1, rap became his true calling, and he now needs to keep up the pace, a challenge about which he’s more than optimistic. “It’s going to be crazier than last year,” he says. “Each time I come out of the studio, the beats are sicker and sicker! The kids want to jump around and move, and that’s exactly what I give them.”

White-B

White-B owes a debt to rap, which entered his life when he was in his mid-teens, at a time when things could have taken a wrong turn. Troubled by family problems, the Montréaler’s destiny looked brighter once he moved to the North end of the city, where he met his partners in the 5sang14 collective, Lost, MB, and Gaza. “I heard them rap and they were incredibly talented,” says White-B. “They inspired me, and I started scribbling some lyrics. One thing led to another, and we started freestyling together, sometimes for whole days or evenings.”

His first EP, En noir et blanc, released in 2016 alongside Lost, created a big sensation on Montréal’s rap scene. A year later, the success of Confession risquée, his first solo mixtape, confirmed what a lot of people suspected: That rap was no longer going to be a hobby for White-B, and would become central to his life.

The 23-year-old bridges the gap between socially conscious purist French rap, and an American influenced pop ego trip to reach a wider audience. Having generated a small amount of hype on the other side of the Atlantic, he’s accumulated millions of views and streams, and will release a second mixtape next spring. “It’s the project that will best represent my current vibe, something that’s hard-hitting yet very melodic,” he says. “I do feel some pressure, I can’t deny it, but I don’t want to rush things. I want to make sure I don’t come out with Confession risquée 2, because what matters most to me is to come up with something different.”


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