Kevin Churko wears many musical hats, and has worn them to hit-making effect. The multi-instrumentalist/producer/engineer/songwriter first broke through via his work in the hard rock genre, with major acts Ozzy Osbourne and Disturbed – the kind of stuff that’s won him four JUNO Awards and two Grammy nominations, so far. Churko’s best known as a producer and engineer for talents as diverse as Five Finger Death Punch and Shania Twain.

Truth is, his first love was writing songs with brother Cory. Saskatchewan-born Kevin left school after Grade Nine to tour Canada in the family band Churko, which mostly played country music. It was also the situation in which he became interested in the recording process, becoming the band’s equipment guy, which eventually lead to his emergence as a top-flight producer.

“At this point in my career, the songwriting thing is somewhat of a full circle,” says Churko. “I’m doing a number of country music projects, including Canadian act [and SOCAN member] Cory Marquardt, who’s just signed a worldwide recording deal with our parent company, Advanced Alternative Media.

“I feel songwriters fall into two main camps: those who write from passion and those who are commercial writers. If you’re writing from passion, you write whatever you want. I rarely write something close to my own heart. I’m writing for the people I’m working with. I write with other voices in mind. Be it male or female, aggressive or passive, my job is to write something that makes them feel passionate. It’s a situation where I’m really there to serve them, and that dictates the writing.

“With Cory, the songs are very personal to him. Pretty much every song, Cory starts and then [my son] Kane and I come in and work to capitalize on what he has, trying to make every section as good as it can possibly be. Almost all the songs on the album are co-writes by the three of us.

“I’m a very goal-oriented producer and writer. We’re currently working with a rapper and the responsibilities are very distinct. He comes up with the verses and we contribute the choruses, and make sure it’s hooky.”

Churko made his mark producing and engineering, and allows that his involvement with songwriting for major acts was a gradual, almost organic process.

“I’m not one to push myself into a situation,” he explains. “When a project comes to me, if the songs are solid as they are, and they don’t need anything from me, I wouldn’t get in the way. I respect those songs but I’m ready to help in any capacity I can. At the end of the day, the projects where I contributed to the writing were the most successful ones I’ve had.

“I tailor a song to the client. Be it metal, rock, country, or what, a good song is a good song.”

Kevin Churko“I tailor a song to the client. Be it metal, rock, country, or what, a good song is a good song. I’ll just say, ‘This song could use a better chorus. Let’s see what we can do.’ So I do this and that and see if they like it. Sometime I do more, sometimes I do less. It’s all in the service of getting the song at its best.”

And, he might add, at its most successful. Churko co-wrote all but one of the songs for, and produced, the Disturbed album Immortalized, which debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Top 200 album chart in 2015, and scaled the peaks of four other Billboard charts: U.S. Top Hard Rock Albums, U.S. Top Rock Albums, U.S. Top Alternative Albums, and Canadian Albums. The same year, he also produced and co-wrote the Got Your Six album for Five Finger Death Punch, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, and sold 114,000 physical copies within the first week of its release.

In the two-year period from December 2013 to January 2016, Churko co-wrote (and co-published, via his company Gumpofwump) no less than six songs that reached No. 1 on the Mediabase Active Rock charts in the U.S.: “Battle Born,” “Wrong Side of Heaven,” and “Wash It All Away” by Five Finger Death Punch; “The Vengeful One” and “The Light” by Disturbed; and “Face Everything and Rise” by Papa Roach. He recently moved his Las Vegas studio, The Hideout, to new digs, decorating them with his multiple SOCAN No. 1 Song Awards.

Churko’s burgeoning reputation as a maker of bespoke tunes has taken him to the stage where acts come to him for a specific type of song, and he’s only too happy to oblige.

“Artists will come in and say, ‘I need a song like one of your bands, so-and-so. Will you help me write that song?’” he says. “My son Kane and I work in collaboration lots of the time, and when we get one of those, we can start working it out ahead of time. It’s almost ‘skeletoned’ when the artist comes in for the fleshing out.

“Kane is a songster in his own right. He’s already co-written on some of the hits we’ve had, and has his own band, Modern Science – so he’s well along the songwriting road. I don’t show him the ropes, any more than he brings fresh stuff to me. He wrote a couple of hits off the last Papa Roach album by himself. I work with Kane not because he’s family, but because he’s the best I could find. He brings a new generation’s ideas and often he guides me along.”

In 2013 Kevin and Kane were jointly JUNO-nominated as Producer of the Year, for their work on In This Moment’s “Blood” and “Adrenalize,” and won the Recording Engineer of the Year honours for In This Moment’s “Blood” and Five Finger Death Punch’s “Coming Down.”

“Early in my career I was hired to write dance songs,” says Churko the elder. “It was a very educational experience, and it was interesting to put myself outside my comfort zone, away from my interests. I scoped out the genre and got down to writing songs that were good when stripped to the core. That project was where I proved to myself I could do this songwriting thing.”


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Going to Chernobyl to take heed of the devastation. Visiting Auschwitz to remember. Exploring the site of a plane crash. Setting down one’s folding chair near the Gaza Strip to watch the bombings…

“Dark tourism” is booming around the globe, as a strange way to assuage our voyeuristic side and face death as a way to reassure ourselves that we, at least, are still alive. This phenomenon piqued Antoine Corriveau’s curiosity so much that it became the creative spark for the creation of his third album, the aptly titled Cette chose qui cognait au creux de sa poitrine sans vouloir s’arrêter (“The thing that beat incessantly deep inside his chest”).

“I heard about this type of tourism while reading a story by filmmaker Denis Côté in the Nouveau Projet magazine,” says Corriveau. “I was totally fascinated. Not in the sense that I wanted to visit various disaster sites, but it just made me want to reflect on this morbid attraction of humankind.”

Corriveau researched the subject. He visited the past and imagined the future. “I wrote what I imagined visiting those places could elicit inside people,” he says. “Then I wrote from the victims’ perspectives. How does a pilot feel 30 seconds before crashing? Then I imagined the future. With everything we see in the media – disasters, genocides – we can already predict what places in the world will become [dark] tourist attractions 30 years from now. That’s quite worrisome.”

“There is death itself, but there’s also the death of a relationship, or of a period in your life.”

“Croix blanche” (“White Cross”), one the first songs Corriveau wrote for the album, is about such a pilgrimage, in the footsteps of the Grim Reaper. And, just as on all the other songs on this album, one feels a personal touch, a kind of intimacy that created between the artist and the listener. Dark tourism left its influence, but there’s something more. There is a sense of daily nocturnal life, through which the narrator celebrates his existence. “‘Croix blanche’ refers to those crosses that are often erected on the site of a deadly accident as a memento,” says Corriveau. “But the more I wrote, the more I realized I needed to transcend the theme and make it mine. I didn’t want to end up sounding like all that I read on the internet. I needed it to come from me. As if I wanted to transpose these tragedies onto a more personal level. There is death itself, but there’s also the death of a relationship, or of a period of your life.”

Corriveau won the 2015 Prix de la Chanson SOCAN for his song “Le nouveau vocabulaire” and he makes no bones about it: the two years that went by during the gestation of Cette chose qui cognait au creux de sa poitrine sans vouloir s’arrêter were marked by a separation, his own personal train wreck, that he re-visited over and over. “When you end up on your own, you don’t owe anyone anything anymore,” he says. “I wanted to rub shoulders with the unknown, the same way one would visit Chernobyl. I pushed the boundaries back. I toyed with that fine line beyond which one loses any kind of stability. I was alone with myself. I was trying all kinds of stuff. I met new people. I found out how far I was willing to go, and also where I didn’t want to go. The euphoric effect of discovery acted as a counterweight to the darkness and imagery of death.”

Needless to say, this new album isn’t exactly mellow music. With his gravely voice and solemn delivery, Corriveau remains true to his subject matter. With the help of his core musicians (Marianne Houle on keyboards, Stéphane Bergeron on drums, and Nicolas Grou on guitars and production), he gave birth to ethereal, refined compositions, augmented by string and brass arrangements.

“It does sound big with those orchestrations, yet the songs are much simpler than on the previous album [Les Ombres longues, 2014],” he says. “I wanted to be able to play the album live with a limited number of musicians. On tour, Marianne plays a synth, and even without the brass and strings, the songs don’t end up de-natured. This album was written much more with the stage in mind,” he says, and it’s a place where Corriveau will spend a considerable amount of time in the coming months. A place where, once more, he’ll connect with the members of the audience, one by one, shooting a musical arrow straight through their hearts.


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Le Verre BouteilleOpened in 1996 and Licensed to Play by SOCAN from day one, bar and club Le Verre Bouteille, which can comfortably host about 80 people, has established itself as an institution for local music creators. For two decades, songwriters have headed to 2112 Mount-Royal East, assuraed that they’ll find a friendly place they can call home.

Originally opened in 1942 as Buffet de Lorimier, a restaurant, by Nathalie and Sylvie Rouleau’s grandfather, the sisters gave new life to the Plateau Mont-Royal establishment by re-christening it 20 years ago. Well-established musicians, like Daniel Boucher, Éric Goulet, Luc de Larochelière, Michel Rivard, Mountain Daisies, Damien Robitaille, Marc Déry and Vincent Vallières all saw in Verre Bouteille’s mission a kind of laboratory where one can explore, and try new songs, before an audience, while provoking unique and stimulating encounters.

“It’s all about understanding the artist’s reality,” said Nathalie Rouleau during the launch of the 20th anniversary program on Oct. 12, 2016. She was referring to the main reason that led Verre Bouteille to become licensed by SOCAN from its very beginnings. “We wanted to contribute. We never thought that the adventure would last so long, though!”

The owner’s best memories? “Monday nights with Luc de Larochelière in 2001,” she says, without skipping a beat. “He invited so many Québec artists, the likes of Roch Voisine, Laurence Jalbert and even the late, great Claude Léveillée. That was a huge hit. There’s also the Abbey Road nights that happen once or twice a year where The Ringos (Éric Goulet) and their friends play the entire Beatles classic album.”

“By being Licensed to Play by SOCAN, we wanted everything to be on the up-and-up. We want all the parts of the songwriting machine to work seamlessly.” – René Flageole, Verre Bouteille programmer.

René Flageole, himself a musician, started as a waiter before rapidly becoming Verre Bouteille’s programmer. “We’re 100% on the artists’ side,” he says, explaining the venue’s allegiance to SOCAN. “Yes, we manage a venue, but I’m very sensitive to the artists’ reality, so being a musician myself, I’m a bit between a rock and a hard place. We wanted to be Licensed to Play by SOCAN so that everything was on the up-and-up. We want all the parts of the songwriting machine to work seamlessly.”

The licence fees paid to SOCAN ensure a fairer split of copyrights, especially since covers are a common occurrence at Verre Bouteille. Arianne Ouellet and her colleague Carl Prévost, of duo Mountain Daisies, were also at the launch of the anniversary program. “In our context, we do a lot of covers,” says Ouellet. “Artists often feel like singing stuff other than their own material. They treat themselves by singing these covers, so it makes total sense that the rights holders [to the cover songs] are paid accordingly.”

Does she have a standout memory at Verre Bouteille? “We hosted a night dedicated to Michel Rivard (see main image), a regular at our Open Country nights,” says Ouellet. “He had a blast playing what he called his teachers’ music – Dylan, Neil Young, etc. – and followed up by playing country versions of his own songs. As a finale, we played our very own version of “Un trou dans les nuages” (“A Hole in the Clouds”). That version has stuck, since we now play it in the Sept Jours en mai show.”

“The stage is perfect; not too big, not too small,” says Carl Prévost. “To me, Verre Bouteille isn’t a bar, it’s a small venue. We’re on stage and in the crowd at the same time. People buy fewer records, so it’s important to us to play in venue that’s licensed by SOCAN, like Verre Bouteille is.”

Le Verre BouteilleWhen asked what Verre Bouteille means to him, Daniel Boucher doesn’t hesitate: “I can’t tell you everything (laughs). I’ve been coming here for 20 years. I played many shows here before Dix mille matins came out in 1999. We jammed with a lot of people, it quickly became the ‘Chanson Française’ spot in Montréal. It’s a place where you can try out songs. And with SOCAN, Verre Bouteille leads the way. There are more and more establishments that are Licensed to Play by SOCAN, but there are still too few, especially with the direction the music business is taking. If it’s no longer worth buying a record, we need to find alternatives. The world is evolving, technology is giving us access to everything, but it’s just as bad as it is good. While we wait to sit down with the Videotrons (Internet service providers) of the world, we still need to put food on the table.”

And drinks; Verre Bouteille has an enviable selection of Québec-brewed beers, the ideal companions to the newly-announced anniversary program, chock-full of surprises and exclusives. Pascale Picard will kick off the celebrations on Oct. 24 and 25, 2016, and mainstays such as Yann Perreau, Damien Robitaille, Daniel Boucher, Antoine Gratton, Jordan Officer and Marie-Pierre Arthur will also be featured. For the full program, visit verrebouteille.com.

 


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