Louis-Jean Cormier“When this album comes out, it’ll have been five years since the last one, Les Grandes Artères, and I’m surprised by that,” says Louis-Jean Cormier. “I thought I’d never do that – like Daniel Bélanger, and other singer-songwriters, where I thought to myself, ‘Damn, how can they wait so long between albums?’ Well, as it turns out, it’s not very hard; you take a year off, do a few gigs like screen composing and circus music with Serge Fiori…” But the break is over: Cormier is back with what is arguably his best album, an offering that’s less folky, more muscular, an above all, with much more biting lyrics.

The title comes from a line in “La Photo,” the last song on the album. It’s probably the simplest song Cormier has written; it’s comprised of five small verses, all with the same melody as the chorus. No bridge, no solo, just a simple groove. “It’s a very ‘90s, Peter Gabriel kind of feel,” Cormer says, that comes from the looped percussion, and a few piano chords. The lyrics: “Quand la nuit tombe/Chaque fois qu’je vis la fin du monde/Je monte ici et prends la photo usée dans mes mains” (“When the night falls/Every time I live through the end of the world/I come up here and hold this worn-out photograph in my hands”)

It’s francophone “chanson” in its purest form. On paper are a few nostalgic rhymes, tender memories that resurface reassuringly, even though it acknowledges that one day, we too are going to pass. The song is a masterpiece: anyone with one working ear and a heartbeat will need tissues. “Marie” can go back to sleep, “La Photo” has stolen her crown as the most beautiful song in Cormier’s repertoire.

“This album has a premonitory aspect to it, it seems,” he says. “That’s because those songs come from very deep in me.” “La Photo” belongs to Cormier’s partner, who lost her father when she was young. Cormier found inspiration in her story. He would have loved for his own father to hear it, but that never happened, because his dad passed away about a month before our interview. “The songs have taken on a different meaning since my father died,” says Cormier.

“The step back I took during my sabbatical made me want to get straight to the point.”

“[‘La Photo’] happened on the penultimate day of production,” he says. “It’s one of those songs that just happen, you know? There are one or two on every album, that song that happens super-fast, words and music just coming together. It came from a quasi-esoteric discussion about life after death that I was having with my girlfriend…”

The simplicity Cormier adopted in writing “La Photo” is characteristic of the whole album’s narrative arc. “The step back I took during my sabbatical made me want to get straight to the point and talk about stuff that comes from my heart, stuff I’ve gone through and everything I feel like saying,” says Cormier. The message does come through, and over music that’s a lot less folk-tinged than his previous albums. Karkwa’s sophisticated rock aura can be heard in certain orchestrations, but with an added touch of electronics, and even some sampling – as on “Face au vent,” where he samples an orchestral recording of Gilles Vigneault’s “La Manikouta1.”

Another important thing Louis-Jean Cormier gained from taking a step back is “to not be afraid of dipping my finger in social issues,” he says. “I feel like describing and taking a stand on our society’s ills – but I want to avoid making somewhat cheap claims. I’m not afraid to rock the boat, just as I’m not afraid to write touching things to my dad or my son.”

He does indeed address his son directly on “Toi aussi,” a powerful text written with his “eternal mentor” Alan Côté, who’s a songwriter on top of also being General Manager of the Festival en chanson de Petite-Vallée. The lyrics:  “Me vois-tu comme ça toi aussi/ Les mâles comme des animaux/ Qui vénèrent les filles dans le lit/ Mais les méprisent dans leur dos” (“Do you see me like that, too/Males are animals/Who venerate women when they’re in bed/But despise them behind their backs”). Similarly, the single “Je Me Moi” set the tone for the more socially engaged and concerned side of the album, by decrying online trolls, and all the other uninvited opinion-givers that poison community life.

The songs were written in both Montréal and Los Angeles. “I wrote very little music in Los Angeles, I went there for the words,” says Cormier. “The album’s lyrics were written in L.A. during a stay at the SOCAN House.”

The hardest-hitting of them is “Les Poings ouverts,” which he co-wrote with poet and novelist David Goudreault. It speaks directly about racism and our relationship with other people, the difference of skin colour, accent, or religion. “David is a friend, I wanted to work with him,” says Cormier. “And he shares his life with a black woman, just like me. When I offered [that he] work on this song, he accepted because it spoke to him a lot.”

Les monstres ne se cachent pas sous nos lits/Mais sous notre ignorance” (“Monsters aren’t hidden under our beds/But under our ignorance”), Cormier sings, before adding that he feels like he’s living “among American rednecks.” His new love relationship, and a trip to Africa they made together made him “totally reconsider the country and the province where I live,” he says. “I had the wrong idea about my environment. We tell ourselves that there were always idiots around, we’d hear them on [radio] hotlines, and read them in the comments section of the newspaper. But now, it’s reached another level. My girlfriend literally receives messages saying, ‘Go back to your country!’ This kind of gratuitous violence towards people we don’t even know is very serious.

“It’s an interesting song coming from the mouth of two white men,” he continues. “At one point I considered inviting Dominique Fils-Aimé to collaborate on it, but she said, ‘Seriously, that song is best sung by whites,’” says Cormier.

Truly, he’s found a renewed urgency to create, thanks to these 10 new songs.

renforshort (sic), the Toronto artist formerly known as Ren, was gearing up for the release of her EP, teenage angst, for Interscope/Geffen, when life as we know it ground to a halt. Her March showcases in Toronto, NYC and L.A. were postponed, as efforts to flatten the curve of the coronavirus spread became increasingly stringent. The 17-year-old speaks for all of us of at this crazy time when she says, “It’s not fun.”

The singer, bassist, and guitarist – who posted covers and originals for several years under her birth name Lauren Isenberg, and even won a competition for singing a classic Chinese folk song, “Mo Li Hua,” in Mandarin – more recently, under her hypocorism Ren, amassed five million streams with two originals, 2019’s heart-stealing ache “Waves” and buzzing pop-worm “Mind Games.”

After meeting producer Jeff Hazin in 2016, her sound developed from what she now calls “calm and bedroom poppy” — said as if that’s completely boring and unimaginative — to a cool, scrappy alt-pop, not unlike Billie Eilish. She takes an unfiltered say-whatever approach to lyric-writing that could be lines from Netflix’s The End of The F___ing World, but set to music.

“Sometimes I wanna stick a cigarette in my eyes,” Ren sings in the mercurial stomp “I Drive Me Mad,” and in the plucky groove “idc,” she confesses, “Right now all I wanna do is choke you till your face turns blue.” I mean, who hasn’t thought such things, perhaps even said them out loud? But renforshort puts them in a song, there for life.

Her co-writers, she says, “Love that stuff. They eat that up. They want that,” she laughs.

Although there are some other people involved in teenage angst, her main co-writers are Hazin, Matthew Kahane, and David Charles Fischer – and have been since 2016.

“As I’ve gotten older, me and Jeff, together, experimented more until we found what we wanted. It took a really long time,” says Ren. “Jeff is very adventurous with his production, and every time I come up with lyrics that I think are too edgy, or one of them does, we’re all like, ‘Wow, that’s just the best thing that I ever heard in my life,’” adding, with a laugh. “We’re all just a little bit twisted.

They have a brotherly feel to them, but they also just all feel like friends. We forget how big the age difference is when we’re all together. It doesn’t feel like I’m sitting with a bunch of mid-to-late 20-year-olds. They’ve all lived through high school and they really understand where I’m coming from. It makes it very easy to talk with them and sit down and write.”

“Every song we love more than the next.”

Ren wrote her first song at age 13: “Hopeless Town,” produced by Nathan Ferraro, then of The Midway State, and worked on three originals with producer Justin Gray in L.A. Before the emergence of renforshort, her earlier songs didn’t truly show certain aspects of her personality — self-doubt, humour, a sharp tongue, confusion — and what it’s like growing up in this social-media, “likes”-chasing world.

Back then, she says, “Sometimes I’d take personal experiences, and either blow them out of proportion, or just start becoming a character.  I dunno,” she pauses and laughs. “Nothing super-eventful in the romance world has happened to me in my short life.”

On teenage angst, the more aggressive-sounding “Luv Is Stooopid” decimates a bed-interest for even contemplating those three little words, but several of the other songs reveal insecurities. In “Bummer,” she writes,Looking in the mirror / My reflection got me triggered… I can’t hear the compliments / Just feeling shitty… Will it always be a bummer?” And in “I Drive Me Mad,” she goes so far as to write about an anxiety attack and hyperventilating. “It’s just hard being human,” she sings.

Being so open in her work is fairly new for Ren.  “It took until I had a panic attack in a session, and they didn’t think I was going to be able to write a song that day, for me to understand that writing about more personal things and experiences is actually a relief,” she says. “And it’s more true and honest. That’s when I started writing more about personal things like that. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to write a song that session, but it ended up working out and actually opening me up to a whole new side of songwriting.”

She praises Hazin, Kahane and Fischer for helping her get through the times when she did have trouble writing songs “because I just felt like garbage.”  She says all three men are very funny, and “being in a room with them is mostly us laughing. They’re all so talented, they just don’t realize it.”

Does Ren realize it? “I don’t sometimes,” she admits. “Everyone doubts themselves. If you don’t doubt yourself, you don’t have room to improve because you think everything’s already fine. So, I think it’s a good trait that we all share.”

Ren has no doubts, however, about the quality of the 7-song Teenage Angst. “I’m beyond happy with the work that I have right now, but you never know when you’re actually there,” she says. “We’re still being very adventurous with our sound, and we’ll continue to be for a long time. That’s gotten us to good places, because every song we love more than the next.”

SOCAN’s operations during the COVID-19 situation continue.

We’re following guidelines and working with employees, members, and visitors to mitigate risk of spread of the virus.

While every situation is unique and fluid, we’ve prepared well in advance to work through a crisis like this. We’ve already halted non-essential travel, moved to online meetings, and all employees will work from home starting on Monday, March 16th.

We have every reason to believe that our operations will continue to run well. We will work to keep you informed on developments.

This situation affects all people and organizations. SOCAN has taken and is taking measures to ensure that our business runs as smoothly as possible.

We wish you good health and safety as we work through this challenging situation together.