Le party est pogné – which means “The party is on,” and is the name of Lendemain de veille’s sophomore album – shot to the top of Francophone sales chart as soon as it was released.

Lendemain de veille“I took two screen shots to make sure it was true,” says Marc-André Rioux during our Zoom interview. On his baseball cap is the inscription “J’ai soif” (“I’m thirsty”). Behind him were the corn fields of St-Louis-de-Gonzague, near Beauharnois (Québec), where all five members of the band are from.

“There’s something highly simple that defines us: never forgetting where we’re from,” says Rioux. “As a matter of fact, it’s the subject of [our song] “Notre histoire.” It’s about remembering that we were conceived in a hay wagon not far from here. We’re not about to pretend we’re someone else.” There was The Fab Four, now here come The Farm Five!

Lendemain de veille has tallied more than three million cumulative plays on the usual digital platforms, and have been playing on the Énergie radio network and CKOI in Montréal. They have no less than three different songs in rotation on commercial radio, thanks to their finely crafted country-rock.

“We know our music was never conceived for radio, but then we look at our followers on Facebook and realize our audience is much broader than we expected,” says Rioux. “We play agricultural rock and we love instruments like the banjo, the fiddle, lap steel, mandolin, accordion – we listen to a lot of La Bottine souriante – so we never know from one song to the next where we might end up.”

Which is to say, there’s a marked difference between the more roots roots of the first album, 1 000 bouteilles, and their second one, firmly rooted in the country genre. Songs such as “On était saoul,” “Bière au ciel,” “Une bonne bouteille de vin,” and many others, would’ve been entirely at home at Deux Pierrots, the now-defunct Old Montréal live music bar where the band played for a decade. “That’s how long it took us to write our own songs. We’ve always existed to play live and party with people,” says Rioux.

Le party est pogné was recorded during the pandemic. As with many a production during this protracted period, each member recorded their bit separately, and the recorded tracks were then assembled.

This time around, the guys categorically refused to tame down, and consciously avoided overly complicated arrangements. “Un tour à maison,” “Gars de campagne,” “Notre histoire,” and “Mémère Tremblay” show that Rioux et al. know how to write a bunch of like-minded songs, with light-hearted verses and bubbly choruses. “Cowboy,” a honky-tonk-tinged roadhouse blues, was even selected as the official song of the 2020 Festival Western de St-Tite.

“The large country family is composed of people who don’t judge each other. They drink cold beer from a can and listen to good music,” Rioux says. “The rodeo at Grandes Estrades is like a mini-Bell Centre during a Habs game. People scream like you wouldn’t believe. We played there for six straight years, thanks to Bob Bissonnette, who’d recommended us highly.” What better way to sell beer like crazy?

That also means that you might have heard their “Medley Cayouche,” a set of the New Brunswick singer’s best songs, as the title makes clear. “We went to visit him to give him a case of Alpine beer, his favourite brand, a tray of shots, and copies of our albums, and he got there just after us on his Harley-Davidson. What a sight, with the wind splitting his beard right in the middle. He’s quite an imposing man, but thankfully he liked us. We spent the afternoon with him and he played some unreleased songs for us. When we stepped inside his home, we could literally see his song titles. When he sings that he has a portrait of his dad on the living room wall, he means it!”

With this unexpected success, it’s now a given that this second will open up new horizons for Lendemain de veille, and the band has already been nominated twice at the 2020 Country Gala. “The raison d’être of Lendemain de veille has always been to play festive and uniting music,” says Rioux, “so there was no way a global pandemic was going to prevent us from being as festive as ever!”

Almost a half-century separates them, age-wise, but on record, they both sound ageless. In one corner, the legendary Édith Butler, in the other, rising star Lisa LeBlanc. The girl from Paquetville and the girl from Rosaireville take us on Le Tour du grand bois, in a much more rock-oriented context than what we’re used to from Butler. Yet, “those are sounds I know; that’s what I listened to when I was younger,” says Butler, adamantly. “Big guitars like Johnny Cash – that’s not new to me, but maybe it is for the younger generation who aren’t aware of that style? Whatever the case may be, it’s totally my style!”

Edith Butler

Photo: Tony V. Hausser

“It’s been a long time that I’ve been hearing Édith playing with my band, in my mind,” says Lisa LeBlanc about this project, the first she’s taken on as a producer. “I’ve always thought that an album where we re-visit her songs, but with her singing, would be really fun. Édith has written so many good tunes, and I wanted to hear them in that setting,.” And so LeBlanc did, alongside her partners in crime – Maxime Gosselin on drums, Mico Roy on guitars, and her boyfriend Benoît Morier on bass, and various other guitars.

The duo had met in a studio before, when they recorded the McGarrigle sisters’ “Complainte pour Sainte-Catherine” for Butler’s 2013 album Le Retour. But the true spark for this project came while filming the TV show Les Échangistes (hosted by Pénélope McQuade) about three or four years ago. The pair sang one of Butler’s songs, “Ti-Gars,” featured on this project in a pedal-to-the-metal version. “Édith was playing a washboard and she so totally outshone me, it was insane!,” LeBlanc remembers about their appearance on Radio-Canada. “We played the song only once, on that show, but the phone started ringing off the hook,” Butler adds. “Everybody was asking about the album, but there was no album! That’s when we started seriously thinking about it…”

LeBlanc had already planned a sabbatical even before the pandemic hit; this time would be devoted to planning her next album, and exploring another side of her trade: producing. “That’s when I mustered the courage to go to her with that proposition,” says Blanc, who spent a week in Québec’s Eastern Townships where the iconic Acadian Butler now lives. “There’s no denying that Édith is super important for us Acadians,” she adds. “She was one of the first to step out of Acadie playing Acadian music and singing in the Acadian vernacular. She put us on the map, as did Antonine Maillet and Angèle Arsenault. They’re true pioneers, the first to have success in France and Québec. She’s accomplished a lot for us, she paved the way.”

“Lisa came to visit and we spent two weeks together, chatting, eating and taking walks in the woods,” Butler remembers. They also listened to a lot of music. LeBlanc notably played Butler Van Lear Rose, the Jack White-produced 2004 album by the grand dame of country music, Loretta Lynn – which had a major influence on Lisa’s approach for this project: embedding the voice of the great Acadian in a rough-edged jewel box made of folk- and country-tinged rock.

“We poured our hearts, souls, and guts into the album,” says Butler. “The music came naturally; we wanted an album that would ring true. Throughout the recording, Lisa would say to me, ‘I want to bring out the real chick from Paquetville!’ She directed me. I may have a beautiful voice, but if no one gives me directions, that’s all I have: a beautiful voice. Lisa was able to bring out a grain of voice I didn’t know I had in me.”

Together, the two musicians listed the songs that would be featured on this album – original songs as well as adaptations of traditional airs by Butler (“Vishten Avina Vi,” “Le Tour du grand bois,” and “La complainte de Marie Madeleine,” her renowned Marie Caissie adaptation), and a few songs by some of her friends, such as “Ti-Gars” and “Jerrycan” (by Anique Granger).

To top it all off, they also included two covers from the Acadian repertoire. The first one, “Marie Mouri,” is a song penned by David Greely, that Linda Ronstadt also recorded. “Originally, it’s a text that was found on a slave,” says Butler who, very few people know, holds a master’s degree in Ethnography from Université Laval. “I was deeply touched when I heard that story. It’s a beautiful story told from the perspective of a father saying to his young son, ‘You don’t know, you sing and dance, but Marie is dead, and you don’t realize it…’”

The other cover is “Tit Galop pour Mamou,” by Dewey Balfa, a founding member of Frères Balfa, one of the most famous Cajun music groups in Louisiana in the 1960s and ’70s. “I’ve met the Balfa brothers!” says a thrilled Butler. “I participated in this NFB film called Les Acadiens de la dispersion [by Léonard Forest, 1968]. “We went down to Louisiana to meet people, including the Balfa brothers, and we played music together. It’s during the time I spent with them that I heard ‘Tit Galop’ for the first time. That song, to me, is the story of when I met the Balfas.”

For her first stint as a producer, LeBlanc had carte blanche for the album’s musical direction. “What I wanted above all was for Édith to be happy,” she says. “This album is an homage, it’s not my album. It’s also a collaboration, but what mattered the most was to bring out Édith’s voice and personality. That’s the beauty of being a producer: staying in the shadows, not taking up too much space, while still carrying a clear vision for the project.”

As music fans awaited the Polaris Music Prize 2021 shortlist, the organization’s Executive Director, Claire Dagenais, spent her last week certifying it. Weeks before, on June 28, 2021, Polaris announced that Dagenais would be departing the organization after 11 years, just one year into her role as Executive Director – after its founder, Steve Jordan, moved to CBC Music as Senior Director. But while some found the declaration surprising, Dagenais says that the COVID-19 pandemic was the biggest surprise announcement, one that changed the trajectory of her time as the head of Polaris.

“COVID hit, literally, the week I was officially announced as Polaris [Executive Director],” she says. “We were supposed to put the press release out on March 12, [2020,] but that day the JUNOs announced they were cancelling, so we postponed the announcement until March 16. It [the pandemic] threw a wrench in a lot of ideas, especially learning how to be the face, voice, and authority of an organization in a year where we had to throw everything out – we couldn’t lean on what we’d done before.

“And it wasn’t just COVID. There were really important social justice issues that were happening: anti-Black racism, anti-Asian racism, Indigenous colonialist impact, #MeToo sexual harassment, [all] coming to the forefront. Like [they did with] everybody, they touched and impacted us, and we wanted to make sure that we were engaging in those conversations properly. We were making sure that even though we were busy, we weren’t ignoring real things that were going on around us in real time. I’m incredibly proud of what we did.”

Navigating an unprecedented year with a small but dedicated team of creatives, Polaris was able to maintain the forward-thinking trajectory for which the organization has become known – 2020 saw the $50,000 prize awarded to Montreal rapper Backxwash, the first trans winner. [Editor’s Note: Chaka V. Grier, the author of this story, was part of the 11-member Polaris Grand Jury for 2020.]  It was just the latest win to celebrate new rising voices, which have included Lido Pimienta, Kaytranada, and Haviah Mighty. And in 2020, the Polaris Prize was presented in a virtual awards show, in lieu of its usual in-person Gala, that featured dynamic music videos created by each nominee and up-and-coming filmmakers. Dagenais says that without the team, within and outside of the organization, the festival wouldn’t have gone as beautifully as it did.

“Even though our salaried team is small, we have people, our contractors, grant writers who we’ve worked with and go back to regularly, who are all A-plus individuals,” she says. “I think too often those individuals don’t get their glory or the appreciation for how much they actually put in. And they do it because they love it, not necessarily because it’s going to get them a yacht anytime soon. The only way great things happen is if there are people who believe in you and who work with you. We owe it to them to try and be our best, be transparent, and do the best we can, even if it’s not our ideal situation. Always show up.”

Lessons Learned
A solid foundation keeps an organization going during unexpected changes. Here are three lessons Dagenais learned while leading a team during the pandemic.
A: “Being able to lead and pull through a crisis has as much to do with what you did before the crisis as what you do during. Being prepared, organized, and having a great team that’s engaged, passionate, and empowered means you can delegate, and often the best solutions are a team effort.”
B: “Having systems and procedures in place means you have a road map to follow when the rain starts coming down hard. And having guiding principles and mandates means that you maintain integrity and continuity of purpose as you navigate new terrain.”
C: “Finally, ask for help and be transparent. Talk your ideas out with partners, colleagues, anyone who understands your organization, who may [also] be able to think outside the box.”

As Dagenais uses her current time away from the music industry to re-focus on her young family, Polaris’ first employee – “Technically, Steve [Jordan] was the first employee, but in terms of straight-up employees, I was the first one,” Dagenais corrects with a chuckle – recalls the days of going from summer help, to welcoming some of Canada’s biggest music names to the gala. Asked what she thinks Polaris’ greatest impact on music has been thus far, she says the first is the way that it removed the velvet rope between artists and fans.

“It was never so exhilarating as when we opened up a few small tickets to the general public,” says Dagenais. “It was always just artists and media and industry people the first few years that I was working there. When we moved to The Carlu we were able to open balcony tickets to the general public, and it was really interesting to start having conversations where artists would say, ‘I’m sitting at a table, but my friend is getting GA (general admission). Where can I see them?’ And I would say, ‘Oh, anywhere. There’s no velvet rope separating this person from that person.’”

But most importantly, Dagenais says that the longlist may have been the biggest game-changer for her personally.

“What I love about the long list, and about Polaris in general, is that we present everything equally,” she says. “Without genres, there’s no way for people to pre-judge and pre-cast-off artists. Having genre categories is not a bad thing, but when you look at the long list, because it’s just listed, it forces you to open your mind. There are types of music that I may have been more resistant to giving a try because I was like, ‘Oh I’m not 100 percent into that, so I don’t know if I’m going to like that.’ But when it’s presented on a list without any sort of borders or barriers, you’re like, ‘Well, let me try that.’ It’s happened to me multiple times.

“Sometimes people create rules for themselves around what they like, and they don’t like, and I think Polaris gives you permission to step outside of those rules. And we also give you permission to not like something but still appreciate it. Something can not be for you, but you can also still appreciate that it has value for someone else.”

The 2021 Polaris Prize winner, chosen from this year’s short list, will be announced on Sept. 27.