Joey Landreth is no stranger to the road.

Joey LandrethHis band, the JUNO Award-winning Bros. Landreth (in 2015, Roots & Traditional Album of the Year, for Let It Lie) is finally taking a breather after four years of almost constant, slow-build touring in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Europe – each round of roadwork scheduled as the record was released in those territories. During the current pause, Joey is now located in Toronto, guitarist Ariel Posner has moved to Ireland, while drummer Ryan Voth and bassist/brother David Landreth have stayed in the group’s hometown of Winnipeg – the latter with his new bride.

Breather or not, Joey decided to record a new seven-song album, Whiskey (with Ryan and David, in a trio format), and now to tour it, even after those long four years on the highway. As this story is being posted, Landreth has completed a European tour, is about to launch a Western Canadian one (starting Feb. 24th in Saskatoon), and is slated for some Southern Ontario dates after that.

This, despite the sentiment of new songs like “Still Feel Gone” (a co-write with the fast-rising Donovan Woods, who he met via their mutual manager, Stu Anderson), that catalogues the ill effects of touring on relationships, especially the “re-entry period” after a tour, with the chorus line, “How many roads can a man drive a van on / Before he’s called back to the one he’s left alone?”

“At the end of the day, [touring] is all I’ve ever done,” says Landreth. “This is what I do, and who I am. There is a bit of an innate struggle in being away from the ones you love the most, more than you’re with them. But the best version of myself is the one where I’m able to chase my art down the highway. It’s not always easy, but it’s always the best.”

“The best version of myself is the one where I’m able to chase my art down the highway. It’s not always easy, but it’s always the best.”

In his songwriting, Landreth tends to face these challenges head-on. He digs deep, sometimes for dramatic effect, and isn’t reluctant to search for the subterranean roots of his emotional experiences when he’s writing songs. For example, the title song “Whiskey” – co-written with brother David, and completed at the Sound Lounge in SOCAN’s Toronto offices – cleverly parallels the longing for an old flame with the same sort of yearning typical of a conquered addiction to alcohol. The song is one of those where the first verse leads one way (“It’s about a woman”) until the unexpected “reveal” of the chorus (“Hey! It’s also about addiction!”).

“For me, the idea of the song is, there’s a relationship with a significant other in there, and a relationship with the addiction, and they kind of exist together,” says Landreth. “Looking back at both of them, and maybe blaming whiskey for the demise, maybe the lady for the whiskey… It’s interesting what people take from it. For some, it’s like the country technique of giving an arbitrary name [Whiskey] to a lady. Some think of it as a sobriety song. I like that people can take their own thing away from it.”

There are elements of recovery in other songs, like “Better Together” and “Hard as I Can,” where a sustaining romantic relationship allows the protagonist to transcend his limitations. “I think it reflects the place that I’m at in my life,” says Landreth, who’s been two years sober. “I don’t really play it up a lot, because I’m sensitive to the fact that it gets pretty easy to be self-righteous about sobriety. I really decided to get sober because that’s just what I needed to do.”

Landreth is something of a triple-threat. Besides his brave songwriting, he’s a gifted vocalist, and enough of a guitar hero that he has endorsement deals with Suhr guitars (electric) and Collings (for their Waterloo line of vintage-style acoustic guitars). When we catch up with him, he’s playing some events for them at the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) conference in Los Angeles. When he was featured in the Oct. 27, 2016, issue of Guitarist Magazine, he admits it was a real thrill. For many years before co-founding The Bros. Landreth, Joey earned his keep as a studio/touring guitarist-for-hire. His solo on Whiskey’s “Still Feel Gone” – recorded in one take, his third or fourth pass at it, with the lights down in the studio – is arguably the greatest of his many superb recorded solos so far.

As a writer, he’s working with the best, including Stuart Cameron of The Heartbroken and the aforementioned Donovan Woods. “Donovan is one of my favourites,” says Landreth. “He’s such a great writer, such an incredible lyricist, and he writes fearlessly – which I really admire.” You can practically feel Woods’ fingerprints all over the post-relationship line, “She let me walk on time served,” from their co-write, “Time Served.”

And how does co-writing generally work for Landreth? “It usually starts with an hour-and-a-half to three hours of just goofing off,” he says. “Co-writing ‘Time Served’ with Donovan and Stuart Cameron, we sat and kibitzed for a little while, and then we said, ‘Hey, what do you think about this idea?’ And ‘Yeah, that’s cool,’ or ‘What about this?’ I think I came to the table with the first verse… and we just pieced it together. Any places I got stuck, Donovan or Stuart just took the ball and ran with it.”

In a similarly unpretentious style, rather than recording Whiskey with a “name” producer in a famous studio in L.A., Nashville or New York City, Landreth chose to make the record in his hometown of Winnipeg. “I just wanted to make a great record with people that I love with all my heart,” he says.

Mission accomplished.

The Franklin ElectricIt’s only been two days since Jon Matte’s been back in Montréal. The Franklin Electric’s singer and frontman has spent the last two months in Australia, a transformative trip – as evidenced by his words, and his sparkling eyes.

“We were there to première our second album, Blue Ceiling,” says Matte. “We did open for Half Moon Run and the Aussie band Woodlock, but we also played top billing at a few venues for our fans, who discovered us during our first tour there. We ended our trip in the countryside, on the West Coast, by the Indian Ocean. There, we played in a barn for about 100 people, and that turned into a party that lasted all night. Moments like that are true gifts.” The Australian stint prepared The Franklin Electric for the official Canadian and worldwide launch of Blue Ceiling, which will be followed by the usual tour schedule.

Right from the get-go, with their first album This Is How I Let You Down, the Montréal band found an audience for its music in Canada, Australia and Europe. Jon Matte’s gang has toured Europe five times already, twice as headliners. There are a few elements that explain the travel-ready nature of their pop-tinged folk music. The Franklin Electric has opened extensively, mainly for Half Moon Run, their Indica labelmates. The other determining factor was their deal with German label Revolver, and the support of European distributor Believe, which ensure them an active representation throughout the continent. “When you have a team working for you, no matter how big or small, it makes a world of difference,” says Matte. “Next week, we’re Album of the Week on a German college radio station. And we’ll tour Scandinavia for the first time. We’re spreading out. But there’s still the States, where we have yet to make it.”

Being on the road is such an important part of the band’s DNA that Matte started writing Blue Ceiling on tour. “We were in a hurry to release a second album that sounded like our live shows,” he says. “We felt a sense of urgency. That’s why I started writing while on tour. But in actual fact, we had plenty of time and there was no rush. I must say, there’s a kind of despair in the act of writing, an obsession, like I simply can’t help it.”

In between tours, The Franklin Electric book studio sessions at Mixart, at Pierre Marchand’s studio, or in Indica’s house studio, all in the hope of capturing those songs written on the road. “After a year of recording sessions, I went back in on my own, feeling a sense of urgency, even though the album was done. So I sat behind various instruments – drums, guitar, piano, bass, trumpet – to get it out of me. And five new songs were created. I look like some kind of completist who doesn’t know when to stop, but I just couldn’t help it.” Regardless, the swing of things proved Matte right. Those five tracks now appear on Blue Ceiling.

There’s something trancelike that happens to the Hudson-born multi-instrumentalist when he’s in the throes of songwriting. Matte has a trick to get his songs out, to stimulate his improv method: he names everything that’s around him. “I’d like to have love songs in me, but right now they’re songs about transformation, peeling away layers that are keeping us from ourselves,” he says. “I don’t summon the themes I write about. They impose themselves. Often, I feel the music and mumble the words. This very out-of-control creative process worried me. And one day I heard the demo for ‘Beat It,’ and I realized that happens, even to outstanding creators like Michael Jackson. I’d love to tell you I’m organized, that I sit down to write on a daily basis, but that’s not how it happens… It all comes out haphazardly. My creative process is highly instinctive.”

And since Matte pens all the music and lyrics on Blue Ceiling, one wonders why he releases those songs under the identity of a band – an unusual situation in a musical world that often prefers strong, flamboyant personalities. “I cannot conceive this musical project without a family,” he says. “That’s just the way I am. You see, the work of Kevin Warren, my drummer, is essential, and I want to recognize the work of the people around me, so I prefer this collective identity. Besides, being alone onstage has never appealed to me. Not yesterday, not tomorrow.”

It’s that desire to share, to exchange, human-to-human, that defines the existence of The Franklin Electric.

We reach Peter Peter in Paris, where he’s lived for three years now, to talk about his third album, Noir Éden (Black Eden), an electro-pop gem that‘s already garnered much critical success in France. While Montréal is covered with a thick blanket of snow, the sun is shining brightly over Île-de-France, where an effusive, enthusiastic Peter Peter explains the genesis of his pop-yet-atmospheric album – created with one foot on each continent.

Peter Peter“It was created partly in Montréal, because I wanted to work with the same team as on Une Version Améliorée de la Tristesse, especially Emmanuel Éthier on production,” he says, “and partly in Paris, because that’s where I call home. In fact, it all began in my flat, the place which probably has had the most influence on the sound of this album. I went to Montréal, came back to Paris, and finished the mix in Montréal!”

One might imagine that the singer-songwriter was executing a carefully measured recipe, but be forewarned, you won’t find any maple syrup, wild boar, or Camembert poutine here. Peter Peter’s music exists within his own unique internal geography. “One thing I can assure you of, is that I did not set out to consciously make a ‘French’ album, especially since that doesn’t mean much anymore in this era of globalization,” he says. “Each city has its own personality, its particular context, no doubt about that, but musical genres increasingly transcend boundaries.”

One might think that moving to France was a calculated professional move intended to increase his footprint on the European market, but Peter Peter confesses that his ambition was much more personal than professional – and that it is, in fact, a longtime dream coming true. Call it a promise he made to himself when he was a teenager, back in Québec City.

“When I lived in Québec City, I would listen to Smashing Pumpkins over and over,” he says. “I would dream of running away, hopping on a bus and moving to a city where people didn’t speak French, like Toronto. Clearly, I had a very limited idea of what ‘exotic’ means! I didn’t do it, but it was that very urge that drove me to move to Montréal, and that was an epiphany. It made me more curious, I came into my own, and my perspective on the world changed. But it wasn’t enough, so as soon as I got a record deal in France, I jumped at the opportunity to move to a place where I would feel even more discombobulated – if only because I didn’t know anyone there.”

“I’m not known any more in France than in Québec. The big difference here is that there are ten times more people!”

Far from being a big star who’s all over the media, Peter Peter has nonetheless managed to build a loyal fan base in France since the release of Une Version Améliorée de la Tristesse three years ago. The media are fond of his charming disposition, especially music magazine Les Inrockuptibles, who recently described him as the “damned variety singer that French pop was missing.” From our vantage point, one could get the impression he’s the object of a tsunami of love, but Peter Peter is quick to curb our enthusiasm.

“I have an audience that likes my melancholy songs, and certain media are aware of me, but all in all, I’m not known any more in France than in Québec. The big difference here is that there are ten times more people!” Don’t go thinking that Peter Peter is the next Roch Voisine. When he walks the streets of Paris, he’s not overwhelmed by hordes of delirious teens. “As a matter of fact, I quite like being essentially anonymous,” he says. “I’m sure my label would prefer I’m more popular – and I would too, honestly – but the fact that I have an audience that allows me to earn a living means that I won’t have to make any compromises to reach the mainstream. It truly is the best of both worlds.”

Although he’s long believed that he was destined to a nomad’s life, changing cities or countries with every album, Peter Peter is now growing quite fond of the stability he’s found in his newly adopted country. And despite the unavoidable fact that he will forever be a stranger – his accent giving him away instantly, certain critics happily and somewhat bizarrely pointing out that he is not a “voice” singer, à la Céline Dion – he’s developed his own routine in Paris, his new port of call.

“I don’t know if it’s because I’m now a thirty-something, but I’ve found a certain stability here that I’d never found before, and I like it,” he explains. And Noir Éden is precisely about that. The record touches upon the extreme solitude of being an ex-pat – both geographically, and on a personal level – and on the desire for stability, domesticity, even, that drives the singer nowadays. “Those things are very present on the album, but it also comes from the creative process,” says Peter Peter. “My first two records were done really hastily, using Garage Band. For the first time, on Noir Éden, I had all my equipment and my instruments set up in my apartment. I was in my own bubble.”

Based in the Montrouge, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the 14th arrondissement, Peter Peter watched as the world was set ablaze while he was retreating into his inner world. “In the days following the Charlie Hebdo attack, I could see the GIGN agents (Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale] down in the streets; there was something apocalyptic about it all, and that’s what I sing about in ‘Allégresse.’” This contrast between the outside world and the cocoon of his flat is also present in “Vénus,” a song where he describes the impassive nature of his cat (whose meow we can hear during the song’s opening) in the face of mankind’s murderous insanity.

Thus, in between his existential reflections and pop sensibilities (to wit, the very radio-friendly “Loving Game”), Peter Peter creates music that’s both melancholy and rapturous, something like a post-modern Pet Shop Boys. There are more experimental passages, acoustic nods (“Cristal Bleu,” the album closer) and synth lines that are dangerously close to being kitsch. Noir Éden, as its title clearly states, is an album of paradoxes where Peter Peter seems to have found his way, and his voice.

“It’s true that I’ve allowed myself to explore more, vocally speaking,” he says. “Even though I’m Francophone, I’ve always found it challenging to sing in French… I was searching for my voice on the first two albums, I willingly avoided certain parts of my vocal range; there were ways of singing that were nearly taboo for me. I still have a flow that I define as Anglophone, but nowadays, I own my French side, such as the way I pronounce ‘no man’s land’ or ‘Shangri-La.’”

For his third album, Peter Peter explored his deepest recesses. He’s now at the stage where he needs to re-connect with his audience, which will begin during the Montréal en Lumières festival at Club Soda. “I’ve honestly never felt so happy to go back onstage,” he admits gleefully. “That’s another one of that album’s paradoxes: I feel like I made big sacrifices by creating this album with a feeling of great solitude and now, all I want is to get out of my own head and meet people.”