On the other end of the line, in rural Québec area code 819, Denis Massé couldn’t be happier to share the 20th anniversary of his band, Les Tireux d’Roches, born in 1998 at the Ste-Élie-de-Caxton’s café La Pierre Angulaire. He was the owner of the place back then. A 16-year-old Fred Pellerin, at the time, swept the floor, when he wasn’t presenting – under the guise of a folk tale – the roughly 100 shows a year that the place hosted.

Les Tireux d’Roches“It was built on a cliff,” says Massé. “At the end of a rural road. The café printed its own newspaper and Fred distributed it in and around the village to about 60 drop points. It was a great era to own a café venue: Pierre Calvé, Pierre Létourneau and Bertrand Gosselin, to name just a few, were all doing comebacks.”

Six albums later, and more than 1,000 gigs in Québec, Europe and Asia, the fiuve members of Les Tireux d’Roches’ are still going strong, sharing traditional Québécois songs.

“The source is inexhaustible,” says Massé. “We cherish those little gems of memory. I live in the countryside, and on the road to my house there lives an 87-year-old woman who wants to sing me the 21 songs she knows by heart, which she learned from her father, who also learned them by heart. I recorded all of it, and one of them is featured on our latest album, Tarmacadam.

“Every region of Québec has deep repertoires like this. But Lanaudière, an outstanding traditional region, stands apart: St-Côme is the Mecca of traditional songs in Québec. I truly believe each house has its own repertoire of songs. André Marchand (Les Charbonniers de l’enfer) and Yves Lambert (La Bottine souriante) unearthed those treasures.”

Davy Hay Gallant – known for producing for Cirque Éloize, artistic-directing the Mondial des Cultures, as well as having played guitar for the Francophone Saskatchewan band Hart Rouge (1995–2005), as well as for Chloé Sainte-Marie – contributed his studio in Drummondville, Dogger Pound. “Usually, we record in a cabin, we do our own thing,” says Massé. We “weren’t necessarily thrilled to have a producer meddle in our stuff, but the connection with Davy was instantaneous. We got to his studio with fully formed and arranged songs. Usually, a producer will want to put his stamp on that aspect of creation, so you take him aback a little. He did shine bright, thanks to his immense talent as a multi-instrumentalist; you can hear all kinds of new sounds, thanks to him.

“Each new album by the Tireux d’Roches is always a little bit disorienting,” says Massé. “We never have a very precise direction. But this time around, we wanted something closer to our roots, rooted in our territory. And we also write a lot, so much so that now, people can no longer distinguish between a public domain song and one of our new ones.”

Yet, it’s outside of the studio that the magic truly happens. “We exist for the stage, we basically have a rock attitude, but with acoustic instruments in our hands,” says Massé. “Unavoidably, the energy is irresistible, and even people outside of Québec succumb to it, even if the lyrics are unintelligible to them. And although we do hybridize a lot, it’s style music from Québec’s terroir, and people know it, regardless of the fact that they’re Chinese, German or Spanish. Obviously, it’s very festive…”

Ironically, it’s often far from Québec that the band finds its inspiration. There are frequently pauses of several days between gigs. “We rent a house in the hills or by the seaside, we’re like a closed-circuit, and we work relentlessly,” says Massé. “Our most fruitful writing sessions are always on tour, which happens four or five times a year.

“Time has bonded the Tireux d’Roches. While on tour, we spend two hours on stage, and the 22 other hours together, non-stop. Thank God we get along!”

To top it all off, Massé also tours another show: Henri Godon, chansons pour toute sorte d’enfants (songs for all kinds of kids), which he co-presents with Jeannot Bournival, a fellow Ste-Élie resident, and also tours a lot in Europe. “I truly believe in the trade of songwriting for children,” he says.


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SEAN LEON

Prolific, Toronto-based rapper and screen director Sean Leon boasts an artistic range and clear-eyed vision that sets him apart, with a style that changes all the time. He founded an artistic collective called IXXI, or The Initiative, in 2012, and has now seen that bear fruit with the 2017 breakthrough success of his colleague and friend Daniel Caesar. Leon’s relentless, obsessive love for music translates into his songs, and he often makes dark aesthetic choices in his music that can be powerful and affecting. Originally from Toronto’s Eastern suburb of Ajax, he dropped out of high school to pursue music, and often spent more than 20 hours each day in the studio. He’s confident, brash, even arrogant—and his new audio/screen project, CCWMTT, released late in 2017, is poised to break him through to widespread commercial success in 2018.

 

 

BÜLOW

Bülow is a 17-year-old artist currently finishing high school in the Netherlands, but planning to move to Canada. Born Megan Bülow, she’s also lived in Germany, the U.K., and the U.S., and began busking on the streets of London, England, when she was only 11 years old, and was discovered at a summer camp in 2016. Her first release, “This is Not a Love Song,” racked up thousands of spins on SoundCloud and earned playlist action on Spotify, despite her being a virtual unknown. After writing and recording with producers in Toronto, London, and The Hague, Bülow has released her debut, three-song EP, Damaged Vol. 1, and her bouncy, catchy, subtle electro/R&B/pop songs are gaining some serious traction. She’s already begun earning rave reviews and drawing tens of thousands of listeners for her immediate, honest songs, and has recently signed a deal with Canada’s Wax Records.

 

 

JOE COUPAL

Fresh out of college, Joe Coupal went straight to work with award-winning Toronto music/post-production audio house Eggplant LF, editing music and scores for television series. After several years spent editing, mixing, and arranging screen music written by other composers, Coupal seized the opportunity to attempt his own submission for an onscreen song. It’s a testament to his talent that he won this first pitch he ever composed, for the hit original Netflix series True and The Rainbow Kingdom –  the creative team for which includes Pharrell Williams’ i am OTHER (sic) company. After he won the pitch on his single episodic, call-to-action song (“The Wishing Tree Song”), the impressed True creative team decided to have Coupal and Eggplant submit theme ideas as well. His work earned him first prize in the animated category of the 2017 SOCAN Foundation Young Audiovisual Composers Awards. Coupal’s success has only grown since then, and looks to continue to do so in 2018.

 

LOUD

The tsunami prompted by the late-2017 release of Une année record (A Record Year), the rapper Loud’s first solo album, shows no sign of abating, as evidenced by the frenzy surrounding his sold-out concerts, and his ever-increasing buzz online. By all accounts, 2018 is the year when the Québec rap scene will anoint this versatile singer-songwriter, who initially made his mark as one-third of Loud Lary Ajust. France is also hungry for him, and his album will be released there thanks to a partnership with a Universal subsidiary. In other words, he’s poised to have…  a record year!

 

 

 

 

ELI ROSE

Having emerged into the public eye as on- half of the duo Eli et Papillon, her participation in SOCAN’s very first Kenekt Québec Song Camp, in 2016, literally changed the course of her career. Thanks to Kenekt, she met Marc Vincent (Ruffsound), Mike Clay of Clay and Friends, and Étienne Dupuis-Cloutier (DRMS), and later Jeff Marco Martinez Lebron (Realmind). This group became the core of a new urban-music sound, an irresistible pop/hip-hop hybrid, of which her single “Soleil” was only the first shiny glimpse. This explosive piñata is about to burst wide open in 2018 – and not just at home in Québec, but overseas as well, where Rose has already generated a lot of interest.

 

 

 

 

GEOFFROY

The Montréal songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is the perfect example to prove that an international development strategy, carried out with determination and conviction, always bears its fruit when one has a solid musical offering. Since the release of his 2017 debut album of sophisticated electronic pop, Coastline, Geoffroy has crossed many an ocean and border, and has developed a taste for such travel. Already, his 2018 calendar is quickly filling up with European, American and Canadian gigs. He’ll also set some time aside to write and produce new material, which should be out in Spring, as well as a sophomore album slated for late 2018 or early 2019.


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The Grand Old Lady is not only getting a facelift, but a makeover.

Massey Hall, originally built in 1894 by Canadian industrialist and philanthropist Hart Massey at a cost of $152,000, is in the midst of a $139 million revitalization that will see the iconic, downtown-Toronto, 2,765-seat music venue shutter for a little over two years, starting July 30, 2018.

When it re-opens in September 2020, not only will the building emerge as a technically upgraded hybrid of history and modernization, but its restoration will also bring an expansion that will include two additional venues, one of which can run concurrently with any booked main hall performances. Massey Hall will also be home to the Eastern extension of Calgary’s National Music Centre, lodging a music museum to celebrate Toronto’s rich musical heritage.

Deane Cameron, President and CEO of The Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall Corporation, says five years of meticulous planning will hopefully pay off in increased activity, traffic, and business that will secure its future. “We feel a great sense of responsibility to revitalize it the right way, build it back to its former glory,” says Cameron, the former, longtime President and CEO of EMI Music Canada, who came out of retirement to assume the position two years ago. “Our ambition is to return to the original vision of Hart Massey, which is to make it a civic engagement venue as much as it is entertainment.”

While there’s still much money to be raised – Cameron is hoping for an additional $70 million from the federal and Ontario provincial governments, and another $40 million from private funding (of which 25%-30% has been procured) – the first of Massey Hall’s two-phase revitalization has been completed. In 2014, the adjacent Albert Hall, initially constructed as a janitorial residence, was purchased from some condo developers and was razed last year – in order to build a much-needed loading dock for gear. The lack of a loading dock means that acts are forced to wheel their equipment through the front entrance, which takes as much as two days.

The new seven-storey replacement building for the Albert allows not only for the dock, but several other crucial “missing” components: an expanded backstage area, proper dressing and “green” rooms for visiting acts, and a new, flexible, 500-capacity, 260-seat performance space with a separate entrance, that can host events simultaneously with the main hall. The basement bar Centuries will also be expanded to a 500-capacity venue, likely for shows after the ones in the main hall are finished.  The renovations and expansion will double number of shows held at Massey, and lead to Canadian artist development, education and outreach.

“We feel a great sense of responsibility to revitalize it the right way, build it back to its former glory.” – Deane Cameron, President and CEO of The Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall Corporation

In terms of cosmetics, the outer hull of Massey, a heritage building, will be restored to its former 1894 glory, albeit with a modern twist: aside from the re-instatement of its original stone sign, and 104 original stained-glass windows, each wing will be covered by a glass passarelle revealing the second-and-third story expansions, including bars, lounges and washrooms. The fourth storey will include the newly constructed venue and also be home to National Music Centre East – the museum extension of Calgary’s music institution.

“Level 5,” which Cameron describes as a mezzanine, will be “our recording studio for content capture. We’ll be able to record right off the fourth-floor location of the new venue and directly from the hall.”

For the interior, the 1933 art deco lobby will be fully refurnished and supplemented with additional lighting. In the main auditorium, all the seating is being replaced – with each seat upgraded in width ranging from an inch-and-a-half to upwards of two inches “due to code.” Additional seats will be added to the balcony. More than 50 of the 80 currently obstructed seats will disappear once the new chairs are installed.  Accessible seating – currently confined to the orchestra level – will be provided on all three auditorium levels. A retractable floor will allow seats to be stored under the stage for general admission events, increasing the venue’s capacity to 2,900.

Although Massey Hall is celebrated for its musical pedigree (everyone from opera legend Enrico Caruso, to jazz innovator Charlie Parker, to Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young and Rush have graced its stage,) it’s also served as a lecture podium for the likes of activist Nellie McClung and future British PM Winston Churchill. “We want to be able to be known for our lunchtime lectures,” says Cameron. “There’s a return to being a big-picture venue. It’s become a little too niched as a popular music venue.” He also says that in order to accommodate Toronto International Film Festival screenings, Massey Hall will be film-ready.

The Downtown Yonge BIA on the renovation
Mark Garner, Executive Director and COO of the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Association, says the importance of Massey Hall in generating local business can’t be overstated. “All those restaurants around show times are booming,” he says. “The Senator Café, Jazz Bistro, all the restaurants along Victoria Street… We’re going to see about 70,000 people move onto Yonge Street in the next three-to-five years… All those people moving into those condos will want to go to a live performance show. You don’t want to drive and get onto public transit – you want to be able to walk that eight-block radius, and Massey is in that location… We’ll miss Massey during its downtime, but when it opens back up again, that’s when we’ll do the key economics, and we’ll see it just blossom.”

Gordon Lightfoot will close the venue on June 29 and 30, 2018, but not before Massey’s 124th birthday is celebrated on June 14. He also promises that during the venue’s closure, Massey Hall will continue to program other shows at such neighbourhood venues as the Elgin Theatre and the Winter Garden Theatre. Roy Thomson Hall is also going to try to take up some of the slack.

Although Massey’s closure may hurt downtown Toronto economically for the months that it is closed, Nordicity – a Toronto strategic, policy and economic consulting firm – predicts in a study that the venue will contribute $348.1 million to the GDP, create 3,950 full-time jobs, and generate $108.1 million in federal and provincial taxes between 2016 and 2025.

“We’re going to increase activity,” says Cameron. “We’re going to increase business. We’re going to be good for the neighbourhood. We’ve done estimates showing the provincial and federal governments that if they give us the $34M we’ve asked from each, one government will get their money back in eight years and the other in 12, just through taxation, and that’s conservative.”

Of course, once the Massey Hall doors re-open, the big winners are going to be arts lovers, culture enthusiasts and musicians – as well as the surrounding restaurants, bars, hotels and retailers.

 


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