Let’s get one thing straight right from the get-go: poutine was invented in Québec and nowhere else!

Now, with that out of the way, we can debate endlessly on the proper balance of ingredients in this dish and the establishments where best to experience this gastronomic wonder. There’s even an underlying debate on whether all the eccentric and bizarre variations proposed by chefs during Poutine Week are actually poutine because they stray so far from the tried and true fries-cheese-gravy trinity…

There is, however, one other ingredient the co-owners of Resto La Banquise located right at the heart of Montréal’s famous Plateau neighbourhood, will never omit: music! La Banquise is nothing short of a proverbial institution in Montréal, serving poutine since 1968, and being Licensed to Play by SOCAN made complete sense, according to Annie Barsalou, co-owner and daughter of the establishment’s founder, Pierre Barsalou.

“Music has a clear and direct impact on business, on the clients, and on the atmosphere of the place.” – Annie Barsalou

“We could look at our ledger and think that this licence is one more item in our expenses column,” says Annie. “But take a step back and it quickly becomes obvious that we need the music from all those songwriters, and it’s important to us that they get fairly compensated for their work. It’s perfectly in line with our values as restaurateurs.”

For Marc Latendresse, her life partner and co-owner, the Licensed to Play sticker proudly displayed at La Banquise is more than just proof that their restaurant is among the more than 30,000 establishments in Canada that are legally licensed by SOCAN to play music in their business.

“We’ve had comments from customers who said they appreciated our respect for artists and songwriters,” he says. “It’s particularly important in our neighbourhood, Plateau Mont-Royal, which is a major cultural hub in this province.”

And indeed, staffers of the restaurant can tell you that many a well-known or up-and-coming musician visit their eatery, such as We Are Wolves or Random Recipe, to name but a few…

“Music has a clear and direct impact on business, on the clients, and on the atmosphere of the place,” says Barsalou. “We adapt our playlist and the volume we play it at according the the time of day. Our employees are the ones feeding the choice of music and we give them full latitude. We often get questions from customers curious to know what they’re hearing, and that creates a bond between the staff and our clients. We even have one regular customer who comes in and shares his latest musical discoveries with us!”

“Our musical choices vary according to the time of day – something crucial since we operate 24/7 – and they help define our identity and unique atmosphere,” adds Latendresse. “To us, music is an essential part of a positive customer experience and therefore an integral part of our restaurant’s success.”

Poutine has frequently been part of Québec’s musical culture – think Hommage en grain by Mes Aïeux, Mononc’ Serge’s Les Patates or Québec-France duo Omnikrom and TTC’s Danse la poutine – so it seems only fitting that the Mecca of such a staple of comfort food would use music to offer its patrons a complete experience, while fairly compensating the creators thanks to SOCAN’s Licensed to Play program

Kiesza didn’t grow up inspired by Joni or Janis or Aretha, or any other big-name songwriter or artist. The 26-year-old Calgary native, whose video for her hit dance song “Hideaway” is fast approaching 200 million views on YouTube, didn’t give a music career a second thought until she was sailing tall ships in the Royal Canadian Navy and met a bosun.

“The bosun played guitar and he used to be able to sing people to sleep in the middle of a storm, practically,” says Kiesza, whose birth name is Kiesa Ellestad. “I was in awe of the power that music had over people, so I just wanted to be able to do the same thing. That’s what inspired me to start writing.”

“The year after I started songwriting, I wrote a song every single day of the summer.”

She was 17 by then. Of course her first songs weren’t sea shanties, but they were in a folk vein, she says, a far cry from the retro, soulful dance music found on her 2014 major label debut, Sound of a Woman, which lyrically “channeled a real love story,” she says. The album came together with her main collaborator, producer/co-writer Rami Samir Afuni,

“We were both babies in the ‘90s, and our moms both liked ‘90s music, played it a lot, and that’s what ‘Hideaway’ sounded like,” says Kiesza. “So we thought it would be fun to make a throwback-themed album, that had that deep-house element in some of the music, but also explored the R&B of the early ‘90s, and some of the hip-hop sounds. We put it together in a more modern way to create this album.”

Although Kiesza didn’t set out to be a recording artist, as a child she would “compulsively hum and sing.” She was shy, but performed for the first time in front of a crowd with the Young Canadians of the Calgary Stampede. She did some musical theatre, but her heart and soul was in ballet. She danced until she was 15, when hip and knee injuries squashed that dream. “I needed a new passion to focus on, so I got my licence and started sailing tall ships,” she says.

Inspired by the bosun, she picked up a classical guitar and wrote her first song, “When the Rain Falls.” “I only knew a few chords. The song was very slow and soft,” she says, singing a couple of lines. “I just had a natural sense of melody and my instinct for songwriting came instantaneously.

“The year after I started songwriting, I wrote a song every single day of the summer,” Kiesza remembers. While at Selkirk College in Nelson, BC, to study music, she received a grant from a new Calgary radio station, and made her first, self-titled album during her second semester.

“I didn’t have any idea of who I was, what I was doing, or where it was going,” she says. “So if you listen to that album, it’s all over the place. You get orchestra songs, a big-band jazz song, funky song, a country song that goes into gospel, soft rock mixed in with soul. It was more a compilation of my early songwriting, whereas Sound of a Woman really feels like my first album.”

She got a scholarship to Boston’s Berklee College of Music.  “[But] I quit all the songwriting classes because they actually weren’t helping me. It felt like they were pigeonholing me,” she says. After trying different majors, she decided she wanted to be a commercial songwriter for mainstream artists. She talked to a professor who linked her up with Berklee grad Afuni in New York.

“[Rami] introduced me to all my connections and got me into writing camps. He opened my eyes to the world of being a professional songwriter,” says Kiesza, who to date, has written for, or with, Icona Pop, Jennifer Hudson, Rihanna, Skrillex and Diplo. “I really loved it, really had a passion for it, and I thought that was it, ‘I’ll be a professional songwriter and I’ll do my fun side projects that can be whatever I want them to be.’

“As I started getting known as a songwriter in the industry, I wrote ‘Hideaway.’ That was the first time I wrote a song that was mine, and I had a vision for myself as an artist. So I kind of bet on myself, took a chance on it, and created the whole album around that vibe with Rami.”

Now her music doesn’t lull people to sleep like the bosun, but instead inspires us to dance like the ‘90s.

Turning The Page
“It was definitely writing ‘Hideaway.’ That changed everything. There were a lot of ‘wow’ moments – like playing at Wembley Stadium this summer for the first time, two months after I released my song.”

Publisher: Elephant Eye Music Publishing Ltd., EMI Music Publishing Ltd.
Discography: Kiesza (2008), Sound of a Woman (2014)
Website: www.kiesza.com
SOCAN member since 2010

Legendary American songwriter Kris Kristofferson once wrote about fumbling in his closet to find his “cleanest dirty shirt.” Kristofferson avoided doing the laundry, but washing one’s clothes is a job most do, though few enjoy. Not so for Geraldine Hollett, one third of the Newfoundland trio The Once.

“I’ve never been more excited doing laundry as I am for this trip!,” laughs the lead singer and songwriter.

Hollett was chatting a couple of weeks before the trio embarked on a short North American tour – a warm-up for a world tour with label-mate Passenger to promote its major-label debut album Departures, released on Nettwerk Records. The world tour started in Antwerp, Belgium and took The Once to many new locales throughout central Europe, Scandinavia, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. The experience is so new Hollett didn’t even know what she’d do during her downtime.

The album is called Departures, but “right now I feel like we’ve arrived,” says Geraldine Hollett of The Once.

“Maybe I’ll just lie in the grass and stare up at the sky.”

Three years since the band’s last record, the bulk of the songs were already recorded when the group signed with Nettwerk. Departures showcases a mix of styles, reflecting the trio’s eclectic influences. Besides Hollett, The Once includes multi-instrumentalists and co-writers Andrew Dale and Phil Churchill. Like the bands’ previous releases, the new record is infused with a Newfoundland spirit that encourages audience participation. The overarching theme is one of taking stock: where one’s heading, where one’s been, and the role of fate in one’s life. “We Are All Running” epitomizes this.

“All of us have lost our dads,” Hollett says. “That song is about dealing with the big stuff as quickly as possible so you can get back on track with your life.”

One of the other highlights is a cover of the Elvis Presley classic, “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Hollett explains how this classic ended up on Departures.

“We were in Nashville last year to audition to play venues in the United States and they had a list of songs we had to sing. This song was one of the ones we picked. I’m not sure if you’ve been to Newfoundland, but Elvis has been on the cover of the Herald something like 42 times. The song worked so well, we just kept doing it.”

It’s ironic, Hollett says, that the new album is called Departures because it feels in sharp contrast to where the band currently sits on its musical journey.

“Right now I feel like we’ve arrived,” she says.

Track Record

  • The Once has won three Canadian Folk Music Awards, two East Coast Music Awards, and multiple Music Newfoundland & Labrador Awards
  • Row Upon Row of the People They Know was nominated for a JUNO Award
  • The band won the Newfoundland & Labrador Art Council Artist of the Year Award in 2013

Nettwerk One Music
The Once (2009), Row Upon Row of the People They Know (2011), This is a Christmas Album (2012), Departures (2014)
Visit www.theonce.ca
SOCAN members since 2009 (Hollett, Dale), 2010 (Churchill)