As with her musical lineage of Catherine Durand, Les soeurs Boulay, and while we’re at it, Laurence Hélie, a gentle nature permeates Léa Jarry’s music; the four songs on her first EP, Entre-Temps, makes it very clear. Her voice is perfectly suited to her style of country-folk, where she plays the ukulele, piano, or guitar. Her style is the opposite of the type of country championed by the likes of Véronique Labbé or Guylaine Tanguay, artists much closer to the Nashville archetype.

Léa Jarry“I don’t have a big, typical country voice, and I’ll never be a party girl like Shania Twain. Lyrics are very important to me,” she says when we meet, still excited that her first songs are being distributed by Rosemarie Records (Mara Tremblay, Pierre Guitard, Joseph Edgar, etc.).

Considering that Casey Musgraves’ calm, refined type of country music  earned a 2019 Grammy Award, it’s clear that there are no longer any rules. Speaking of Nashville, at interview time, the native of Baie-Saint-Paul (a town of about 7,000 located about an hour’s drive northeast of Québec City) has just returned from a trip there. She spent a week at the SOCAN House in Music City, and dove head-first into this initiatial journey. She experienced no showcases or seminars, but got to measure the scope of her dream with humility and a sense of wonderment.

“I saw a ton of shows, spoke with a ton of people, I visited a few recording studios, and I took in the atmosphere – The Bluebird Café, the legendary Grand Ole Opry, etc.,” she says. “I would chat with musicians after their shows, asking them how they got to where they are. I realized that there’s room for everyone, even though one might get the impression that it’s a jungle. That reassured me. I felt like I’d finally found people like myself.”

The four songs she released on May 10, 2019, were co-produced with Kaïn’s newest member, multi-instrumentalist John-Anthony Gagnon-Robinette. Together, they refined everything in order to provide the perfect cocoon for Jarry’s voice, and her lyrics. The music is as rich as it is discreet. Two years of work during their free time, and the full-length album should be released in 2020.

“I’m a calm person, and we didn’t want to copy an existing formula, we wanted to produce our own flavour of country-folk,” says Jarry. “Inspiration isn’t rocket science. Sometimes I simply jot down titles as a starting point for a song. Sometimes I’m buying groceries, and I’ll look at a banana and get a flash of inspiration!”

The first single, “29, Saint-Adolphe” (a street in Baie-Saint-Paul) starts at a slow trot. She sings about her exile to Montréal, where she paid her dues as a backing vocalist for 10 years – alongside Gregory Charles and his Mondial Choral in Laval, which allowed her to share the stage with the likes of Louis-Jean Cormier and Isabelle Boulay. She also sang many times on the musical variety TV show En direct de l’univers. Meanwhile, she also graduated in singing from the Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM).

“Montréal was a shock,” she says. “There were many shocks. Just seeing so many different faces every day seemed weird at first. I’d never seen any of these people before in my life, and the next day it was a whole other bunch of new faces! It was weird for someone like me, who’s used to knowing everyone. My first year there, I would take the bus back to Baie-Saint-Paul every weekend. I found it tough to find my place. Being outgoing and introducing myself didn’t come naturally to me.”

Then she talks about another song, “C’est mon tour” (“It’s My Turn”). “That’s me saying those words about the fact that I’m single, that it’s my turn to meet that special someone. I don’t know if it’s me or the guys, but it just wasn’t working!” she laughs. “Sometimes, there just isn’t the right applicant. Everyone around me was part of a couple. I was still in college, and I was searching for my own style, so “C’est mon tour” also became about my desire to make it in music.”

Now that she’s in her late 20s, does she feel like it’s going to be country music and nothing else? “It’s the music that’s been with me for my entire life,” she says. “I can’t see myself doing a 180, and starting to play electro-pop. I was truly going against the flow back in Baie-Saint-Paul. One might think country is popular there, but not at all! My parents listened to Jean Leloup or Lynda Lemay, so I didn’t have any references at home.”

Léa Jarry is an intriguing musician. Innovative? Only time will tell. Her next goal: small, intimate concerts in the fall of 2019.



Reid Jamieson, Carolyn MillThe first thing you notice when listening to his new album Me Daza is Reid Jamieson’s voice.

Like lead singer Thom Yorke back when Radiohead were writing conventional songs, or the late Jeff Buckley, or the current Jeremy Dutcher, Jamieson has one of those rich, resonant voices, with a high-end range that never ceases to astonish.

Then there’s the artistic voice of the songs, co-written with his life and musical partner Carolyn Victoria Mill. Those include thoughtful meditations on human self-doubt (“Enough”),  and encroaching middle age (“Evergreen”), and portraits of the dogged resilience of spirit required to best meet those challenges (“Better Man”). There are conscious views of the way humanity continues to re-visit the same problems (“Circles”), and how we so often fall in line, especially on social media (“Dominoes”). And there’s a gentle but moving pro-choice song (“She”).

Recorded with producer Kieran Kennedy at a small seaside cabin in County Cork, Ireland, the album sounds plush and cinematic, centred around Jamieson’s nylon-string acoustic guitar. The words of the album title, “me daza,” are local slang for “most excellent,” though the direct translation is, “I’m dying.” In the face of inevitable mortality, this is an album made by adults, for adults, that stands up to it.

It was recorded quickly, in just a week. “The first morning, I figure I’m just testing the sound of the guitar,” says Jamieson. “ ‘I’ll just do a run-through of the songs, just to test it out.’ No, those are the takes that are on the record… I realized that every time I do any little thing and the tape is rolling, I’ve got to mean it.”

“Most of the week was spent at the pub!” says Mill, still incredulous. “Work was furious between 10 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Giv’er, giv’er, giv’er. Then… pub. The first day, we’re a couple of hours into it, and Kieran’s, like, ‘So… to the pub?’ Me and Reid were, like, ‘Are you serious?!’ Then you realize, hey, this is Ireland. It’s part of the process.”

And how does the couple’s own songwriting process work?  “I think that it’s moved in the direction now where we’re trying to use our strengths as best we can,” says Jamieson. “I always seem to have music there to use. But I don’t always have subject matter, or something I’m interested in saying.” Which is where Mill comes in.

Take “Evergreen,” for example, a song about how a couple’s love can grow, even beyond middle age. “I was getting ready to turn 50, and I thought, ‘There’s love songs for the maiden, there’s love songs for the mother, but where are the love songs for the crone?’” says Mill. “Reid reassures me all the time, and some of the things he says are so beautiful. I wanted to capture what he says when I worry, when I’m insecure… when I feel the cloak of invisibility that a woman unwillingly dons at a certain age. I realized that I’m not the only woman out here that needs to hear it.”

Songwriting between the (Spread)sheets
Jamieson and Mill often co-write their songs not via voice memos, texts, e-mail, Pro Tools, or even using pen on paper; rather, in a kind of update of cut-up literary technique, they use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. “Line by line and column by column,” says Mill. “You can have a column for the chords, a column for the words, and a column for alternate words. You can boldface really good ones, and collect words that don’t work from one song and apply them to another.”

“I find it a huge compliment that Carolyn’s able to write lyrics that, by the time I’ve run through the song a few times, feel like I wrote them,” says Jamieson. To which Mill instantly replies, “But he did! He’s said them to me; I’m just translating them into a song.”

In “Better Man,” that translation looks at how challenging it can be for men to become evolved human beings in the current social climate, “Enough” offers words of encouragement in the face of that sort of self-doubt. “I wish everybody could just have that song ‘Enough’ replace the tape that plays in our minds every day,” says Mill. “The one that says, ‘OMG, you’re fat. Look at that old face on you. You really screwed that up. You probably shouldn’t have said that.’”

While that’s a hard-to-reach goal, Jamieson and Mill have achieved another, more modest one – the ability to combine touring with a vacation, in what they call “tourcation.” “Instead of playing night after night in different places, we’ll book three days in a place we want to go,” Mill explains. “We’ll get there one day early, get to know some people, and have a good time. We’ll play a show the second night, then hang out with people we met at the show on the third day. We don’t make any money, but we don’t lose any money, either. And we have a really good time, and end up with incredibly enriching experiences.” Which, of course, only fuels their artistic voice even more.

Not a bad way to go, all, told.



The tradition continues. The fourth edition of the Kenekt Québec Song Camp has, once more, left unforgettable musical and human memories in the 17 authors, composers, and producers who accepted the invitation of SOCAN A&R representative Widney Bonfils. From April 28 to May 4, 2019, they gathered at Rabaska Lodge, a resort on the majestic Baskatong Reservoir, four hours north of Montréal in the Upper Laurentians. Once there, they each worked on a different team every day, tasked with writing a song based on a theme that was revealed to them each morning, and which would be played back for everyone during the evening listening session. Bonfils, the mastermind of the Kenekt Québec Song Camp, explains:

(See photos here.)

ATTENDING
Songwriters

Yannick Rastogi (KNY Factory)
Félix Bélisle (Choses sauvages)
Lola Melita
Gabrielle Shonk
Gabriella
Sarahmée
Maude Audet
La Bronze
Cherry Lena
Naya Ali
Producers
Chloé Lacasse
Tim Buron
Clément Langlois-Légaré
Adel Kazi
Seb Ruban
Ghislain Poirier
Sean Fisher
Publishers, Managers,
Labels
Sony ATV UK
Dare to Care
Coyote Records|
Lili Louise Musique
Lady Publishing
Productions Akademy
Musicor

Organizing this kind of project – gathering 17 authors, composers, and producers from all musical genres, from rap to rock, electronica to folk – isn’t exactly a walk in the park. I’m proud of the Class of 2019 because they were incredibly open-minded and true.

For a whole week, we were lost in the backwoods, with no Internet access or phone service. Each day was a unique challenge within the teams (which changed every day), or regarding how the day proceeded. Bold or downright crazy, the choices for teams were made after spending months listening to the work of each of the participants. What’s pleasantly surprising is that despite their different styles, they all have a song, or a sound, that unites them – and it’s through experimentation, that forced them to step out of their comfort zone, that they realized it. Each morning, we revealed the day’s theme, chosen to help them work closely together.

Here are some of those themes:

Day 1: Image
We presented a different image to each team. The goal was to use that as a conversation starter.

Day 2: Country
Here, they were asked to pick one of the five proposed countries and find inspiration in it. The countries were France, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa and the Caribbean region.

Day 3: Sensations
While blindfolded, they were asked to touch and/or smell the objects we had carefully selected for them (coffee beans, wintergreen leaves, plastercene, etc.). Here again, the goal was to bring them to open up to the sensation they felt when they touched that object, in order to connect with their emotional memory.

Day 4: Introspection
Each participant had one minute to write a sentence or two about themselves. Then, as a team, they had to pick one of those messages randomly. We were amazed by the depth and the vulnerability of some of those messages. The resulting songs were all deeply moving.

This week-long experience left all of us with a deep feeling of well-being and acceptance. It’s through our differences that we learn from one another. No matter the colour of our skin, or what musical universe we inhabit, we’re all the same: we all have the same fears, the same desires, the same dreams. Music has the power to unite us, to motivate us, and to heal us. We arrived as strangers and left as friends, forever united by this incredible memory.


Here’s a short video shot during the 2019 SOCAN Kenekt Québec Song Camp that’s a perfect example of the creative and festive atmosphere of the camp and of the camaraderie between the participants:

Stay tuned in the coming months, as some of the songs created at the Kenekt Québec Camp could very well make their way to your ears!