Le CouleurThey’re the perfect counter-example to Rock et Belles Oreilles’ old hit “I Want to Pogne,” in which the five comedians made fun of Quebecers who sang in English to try and be more popular. With their vaguely tropical nu-disco sound and serious lyrics, Le Couleur’s popularity spills over even the invisible boundaries of the Francophonie.

The band has been doing its own thing for over a decade, far from the folk and pop-rock that still dominate the ADISQ Awards. They have much more in common with Patsy Gallant or Toulouse than with bands like Karkwa or Galaxie.

On the margins of the main trends in Montréal, they’re perfectly in sync with the trends in Pigalle or Brooklyn. The band, fronted by Laurence Giroux-Do, is an international hit and they’ve made their way into a Netflix series soundtrack (Emily in Paris), and even onto the glossy pages of Playboy Mexico. And those are but two of a long list of surprising engagements that confirm the growing interest they generate abroad.

They were planning on reaping the benefits of their Spotify stats outside of Canada before the pandemic clipped their wings and paralyzed the live entertainment industry. “Our record launch was planned for April 18 and when this happened, we weren’t sure how true it was,” says singer-songwriter Giroux-Do. “We were supposed to play South by Southwest on March 8, followed by about 15 dates in the U.S. Everything was cancelled… We work with this incredible booker in South America, and we were also supposed to tour in Brazil, Mexico and Chile…”

In the end, Concorde, the successor to 2017’s P.O.P., which made it on the Polaris long list, was pressed on vinyl and released online this fall.

Released on Sept. 11, a date that will forever be linked to the 2001 terrorist attacks, Concorde seems to take on a slightly morbid twist because of that, and because it is rooted in the crash of its namesake plane in 2000. The words, written and sung by Giroux-Do, are in stark contrast to the cheerful and engaging way Steeven Chouinard keeps the tempo. Their secret recipe was inspired by the greatest electro-pop masters who defined the genre almost half a century ago.

“ABBA – they became gazillionaires, while being quite dark in their formula and lyrics, set to very dance-y music,” says Chouinard, the band’s percussionist, co-writer, and producer. “ABBA’s a huge influence for us, but not consciously. It really is at the unconscious level. But to be honest, when people compare us to them, it’s an amazing compliment.”

Opening with a verbatim transcript of the last words of the plane’s pilot to the control tower, a sinister exchange played by two actors with Parisian accents, the last chorus of the title song feels like an echo from beyond the grave. Indeed, Giroux-Do dug deep into the many documentaries on the Air France tragedy before she started putting pen to paper. “Yet, it kind flies under the radar because the funky groove behind it,” she says.

The three original band members have changed their game plan, while they’re parked on the tarmac, waiting to resume their take-off, alongside their new crew of four musicians. “The U.S. no longer exists for us, until there’s a vaccine,” Giroux-Do explains. “All our bookers have told us to forget about Europe too, at least for 2021, because bigger names and local artists will be favoured.”

Motivated by the promise of a return to normalcy, the Montréalers will focus on developing a market they’ve neglected up to now. “We’ve played New York City, like, four or five times, but we’ve never played in Lac-Saint-Jean, Trois-Rivières, or Gatineau. It’s time to change that,” says Chouinard, laughing.

Their music will travel for them, while they wait to be able to return to those exotic destinations far beyond the Laurentides Wildlife Reserve.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled the careers and work activity of so many of his peers, Joey Moi has never been busier or more successful. The Nashville-based Canadian producer and songwriter explains that, with the lockdown, “we closed our office on Music Row and I moved my studio into my house to work from here. With all the artists off the road, they want to make music.

“That has put our record company [Big Loud Records] and our songwriters into overdrive, and we’ve been trying to get music out from everybody. Rarely are the artists as available as they are right now. Everybody is here, and they all want to cut records! They all get to be more involved in the recording and production process, and that has been fun. I have been kept super-busy.”

Since re-locating from B.C. to Music City a decade ago, the award-winning and platinum-plated Moi quickly transitioned from producing and writing for such hard rock acts as Nickelback, Theory Of A Deadman, Daughtry, Hinder, and My Darkest Days, to producing hits and becoming a music industry entrepreneur on the country side.

Right now, Moi is on a major roll. Back in August, he topped Billboard’s Hot 100 Producers all-genre chart with four production credits to his name. These comprised three hit tracks by rising star  Morgan Wallen, including the record-setting smash, “7 Summers,” which Moi solely produced, plus Hardy’s “One Beer” co-produced with Derek Wells. As a producer, Moi has had 10 No. 1 Hot Country Songs, and in 2013, 2014, and 2016, he was ranked as Billboard’s No. 1 Hot Country Songs Producer of the Year.

After moving to Nashville, Moi quickly struck platinum, producing hit acts Florida Georgia Line and Jake Owen. Florida Georgia Line’s Moi-produced catalog has exceeded more than eight billion digital streams, selling over four million albums.

Moi then branched out on the industry side, helping to establish the Big Loud Records label in 2015. He partnered with Seth England, songwriter Craig Wiseman, and Canadian Kevin “Big Chief” Zaruk in what has become a very successful venture, with a new imprint, Big Loud Rock, now launched.

Moi loves being part of a label team. “This is what I dreamed about as a young producer/entrepreneur,” he says. “It’s the best-case scenario, as we get to sign the artists we fall in love with, then cut the songs and make the records we love. I get to be a part of building a strategy all the way through, and every artist is a passion project for us.

Joey Moi’s SOCAN Awards

  • 2010 – International Song Award – “Gotta Be Somebody” – performed by Nickelback
  • 2011 – No. 1 Song Award – “Life After You” – performed by Daughtry
  • 2011 – No. 1 Song Award – “Gotta Be Somebody” – performed by Nickelback
  • 2011 – No. 1 Song Award – “Something in Your Mouth” – performed by Nickelback
  • 2011 – No. 1 Song Award – “When We Stand Together” – performed by Nickelback
  • 2014 – Pop/Rock Music Award – “When We Stand Together” – performed by Nickelback
  • 2014 – Country Music Award – “Nothing But Summer” – performed by Florida Georgia Line

“If you’re a freelance producer, like I was for the first 15 years of my career, you don’t get to see how the sausage is made!” he laughs. “You don’t necessarily see the amount of work, commitment, and input of the marketing and promotion teams. I have learned so much in the last five years.”

The Big Loud Records roster includes Canadian MacKenzie Porter, while Moi continues his long and fruitful working relationship with Canadian country star Dallas Smith. ”Dallas is a day-one guy for me,” says Moi. “He was the first artist I ever recorded that got played on the radio. Nickelback came after that.”

Moi actually first went to Nashville as songwriter, after landing a publishing deal with Big Loud Shirt Publishing in 2010. “That early investment in songwriting definitely helped me as a producer and in helping an artist A&R their record, identifying great songs, as opposed to OK songs,” he says. “Unfortunately, writing has taken a back seat as my production deadlines have become more intense. I’m good for about one cut a year now.”

Moi remains a man in love with the process of making records and boosting careers. “The most fulfilling and exciting thing for me is making that first record and seeing that artist gain momentum,” he says. “That never gets old. If it does, it’s time to hang it up, go back to my boat in Vancouver and float around,” he adds.

Don’t look for that to happen any time soon.

Isolation is nothing new for Adrian Sutherland. All his life, the singer-songwriter and frontman for rock band Midnight Shine has lived in Attawapiskat, a fly-in town 220 km northwest of Moosonee, on the shore of James Bay. No one is arriving or leaving much these days. While Sutherland doesn’t actually enjoy being “married to his monitor” in the COVID era, he also doesn’t really miss flying to Timmins, then to Toronto, and booking a hotel, and fighting big-city traffic, in order to work with collaborators on his upcoming solo album.

While growing up, Sutherland didn’t know any other serious musicians in his hometown, other than his mother. After performing solo for 10 years, while at college in Timmins and at various community events in northern Ontario, he formed Midnight Shine in 2011, with members from Fort Albany and Moose Factory. The band’s current drummer hails from Norway House, Manitoba. Rehearsals have always been tricky – usually at 3:00 p.m. the day of a show. But that hasn’t stopped them from touring Canada, releasing three acclaimed albums, playing in Germany, and getting a lot of mainstream attention for their 2018 cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” with powwow singing and a verse translated into Cree.

Midnight Shine is still a going concern, although Sutherland released a solo single in 2019. “Politician Man” directly addressed the empty promises regarding his community’s ongoing water crisis—a crisis that got national attention back in 2013, the same year Midnight Shine released their debut album, and culminated in a state of emergency being declared in 2019. Although the 43-year-old bandleader had often addressed social issues, like Attawapiskat’s epidemic of suicide attempts in 2015-16, he felt a need to be more explicit and direct – both lyrically and musically.

“Trying to be positive, trying to charm everyone as Midnight Shine’s frontman, you gotta smile and be as polite as you can and win everyone’s love,” he says. “It’s tiring, because beneath it all, I’m struggling with things I experienced and trying to heal. As a solo artist, I have the freedom to express whatever it is I want to say.”

Water is life
The 2,200 residents of Attawapiskat haven’t had clean running water for years. They have to truck it to their homes from a water dispensary, which was recently replaced. The city’s water plant draws not from the Attawapiskat River, where residents wanted it, but an inland lake where organic material reacts negatively to chlorine, creating unsafe water. That’s been the case for more than 40 years now. What made it worse for Sutherland was when he visited the De Beers diamond mine down the river – population 300 – where the drinking water “was as clean as the water in downtown Toronto,” he says. “They were out there in the bush, as are we. They had state-of-the-art everything there. It’s like a whole different world, a 20-minute flight away from Attawapiskat. If they could do it, why can’t we? I’m in the dark like everyone else – and I live here, which is crazy.”

Sutherland does have a lot to say. He’s lived several lives during his 43 years: as an EMT for more than a decade, as a Canadian Ranger, a MusiCounts ambassador at his local school, a business owner, a grandfather, and a community leader passing on traditional knowledge (our interview had to be postponed because he was on a moose hunt for a week). He lived in a boarding home while attending high school in Timmins. He only recently, after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, heard his mother speak about her experiences at the notorious St. Anne’s residential school in Fort Albany.

“Music… has always been a way for me to find a way through some of those experiences,” he says. “Writing about those things and sharing them really helps me in my own journey to become a better person, to heal. We have to talk about those things; we can’t carry them. Music is my way of doing that.”

It’s not the only way. With encouragement from Tom Wilson, who he met while touring with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings last year, Sutherland recently inked a deal with Penguin Random House to write a memoir, due out in 2022.

“Attawapiskat has been in the media for so many years, and been portrayed a certain way by mainstream media, but never by anyone who actually lives here, who’s been grinding it out here for years,” says Sutherland, who has also blogged for the Huffington Post. “I bring a different perspective. I live and breathe everything about this place, good and bad, and I want to touch on all that stuff, as well as historical stuff, how the Cree see the universe, and the context of what’s happening today.”