LU KALA knew she was going to be a singer. She never deviated from her dream. But not everyone had faith in Lu’s vision. “No one believed me when I said, ‘I’m a singer, this is what I’m going to do!’” LU tells us. “I just remember being young, like, singing and annoying every single person near me,” she says with a laugh, “And just believing in this dream that was bigger than myself.”

It’s this persistent confidence in herself that led Lu to self-release her first single as a solo pop artist, the anthemic “DCMO (Don’t Count Me Out).” The track – apropos, as it traces the feelings of being overlooked – begins with a sparse rhythmic base before soaring into a catchy chorus. She wasn’t expecting much, other than the personal satisfaction that comes with creating music. But then the song popped the hell off.

So far, the track, released last year, has almost half a million streams on Spotify, with the French version at almost 40,000 streams. “I never expected it to go so far,” says LU. “Not that I didn’t have any confidence in it – I believed in the song – but I didn’t know if people would actually listen to it.”

LU has almost 40,000 followers on Instagram. She’s flown to L.A. and New York, writing with prominent producers and songwriters, hoping to shape her career the way she’d always envisioned it after this enormous propulsion. She also just released the video for “DCMO.” She’s continuing to build a steady following, again, off the strength of one song. A not unheard-of feat (hello, “Old Town Road”) but the high quality of a track – which is true of  “DCMO” – can propel an artist much further than its status as a trendy hit. “As much as I talked about ‘this is what I’m going to do’ and ‘this is what is going to happen,’ to see it happening in front of your eyes is something very different,” says LU.

Before the release of “DCMO,” LU had already garnered early praise for her performances. Reviewing her performance at the Manifesto Festival in Toronto, NOW Magazine wrote that LU “stole the show with her powerhouse voice and stage presence that seems ready for international success.” The Congo-born Ajax resident has been chipping away at her goal of pop success for awhile now, despite the seeming curveball appearance of her immediate, single-song success. She’s been professionally working in the industry as a songwriter since 2013, working with the likes of DVSN, and Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson on her JHUD album in 2014. She knows her way around crafting a pop song for others (lovingly calling herself Dr. LU), helping to coax the most out of the performers with whom she’s writing. But writing for herself, promoting herself as this formidable artist, too, is a whole other task.

LU KALA is a compelling artist, not simply because of her enormous skill as a singer, but because her dedication to honesty in her work complements her performance. As a singer, her vocals are interesting, both jagged and lofty. She’s so perfectly studied pop music that her delivery is just as impeccable as pop stars who’ve been at it for years. But her songwriting, the material she’s bringing us in these verses, is so authentically LU, you pay closer attention to the message she’s delivering.

“I’m actually living my dream.”

“I remember when we were writing ‘DCMO,’” she says, “I [closed] my eyes, singing ‘I know I’m a big girl/ you are afraid to claim me,” and I remember opening my eyes feeling embarrassed a bit,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I said that in front of someone!’ But at the same time, there was this feeling of relief that felt good. It was almost me realizing that I felt that about those situations.” From that moment on, LU says she made a promise to herself to put forth honest music; to have a body of work representative of her innermost thoughts and feelings.

We come back to the point of confidence. LU’s belief in herself feels like a form of survival. Her belief, as with that of many others who don’t fit a specific mold in pop music (hello, Lizzo), is the singular truth that the only person you can trust is yourself. It begins and ends with LU, first and foremost. “I’ve always had to be confident growing up and being this plus-size girl,” she says. “Automatically, I think that was something I needed to have when I was really young. I knew I had to believe in myself more than others would. [That] I’d have to turn down the naysayers.”

With this much impact on her one song so far, it’ll be thrilling to see where she’ll go when she releases her as titled first EP in 2020. “I’m actually living my dream and making money off of my dream,” she says, “And that’s really cool.”

Many artists deal with mental health issues in their daily lives. But not that many discuss their issues openly and directly in their work, which is one of the reasons why Rae Spoon’s latest album, Mental Health, is so powerful.

Mental Health is the Victoria-based, gender non-binary singer-songwriter’s 10th album, and it frankly discusses their struggles with the lingering effects of childhood trauma, the siren call of suicide, and the inability to sleep, or pay for crucial medications. And yet despite some heart-wrenching lyrics, Spoon’s sweet melodies and lilting voice counterbalance the darkness with poppy optimism.

Perhaps that’s because Spoon finds relief in creativity, and in social connection. “Living with complicated issues is a lifelong process, and surviving another day can be a big victory for people with mental illness and other challenges,” they explain. “There have been a lot of losses in my communities – folks who didn’t make it through. In the last few years it’s felt very close to me. But I like how if you tell a story, you hear a lot of stories back. And I’m hoping if I start a discussion about it, other people will also have discussions, ‘cause it’s really important.”

“For me, songs are a way to leave space for other people in the conversation.”

Spoon’s sound has shifted over the years, from folk-country to electronic pop. That’s partly reflective of where they’ve been living. “I grew up in Alberta, so country was all around, but I wasn’t into it,” they say. “But I moved to Vancouver and heard the Be Good Tanyas, and started to wonder what parts of my background I could explore and be part of as a trans gender person. And then I moved to Germany and Montréal, and I met people who played computers like instruments, which was new to me. I was excited about an environment where teenagers were more likely to learn to DJ and make electronic music than play electric guitar.

“But I’ve always liked a traditional song. I like using everything. I have folk elements, and I enjoy bringing them together with rock and electronics.”

On Mental Health, Spoon enlisted The Pack A.D.’s drummer Maya Miller and singer-guitarist Becky Black to pump up the rock. The collaboration came about after they played B.C.’s Artswells Festival with Carole Pope. “We learned three or four of each other’s songs and played together,” they say. “That was fun, and it informed my thinking about this record. It felt very creative to work with them. If I write a vocal riff and a singer changes it, or if a guitar player adds to something in the studio, that’s great for me.”

One song, “Blaring,” was written and sung with Northcote, a.k.a. Matthew Goud. “He sang at one of my shows and I really liked the vibe. The song just came out, long before I wrote the others,” says Spoon. “We used a line I’ve wanted to use for years: ‘I will love you until I don’t.’ It always came off as harsh, but adding ‘…or I still do’ changed that. We both worked on it, and I realized it fit the context of Mental Health.”

Spoon also writes books, and was the subject of a 2014 National Film Board documentary called My Prairie Home that discussed their painful past. But though their story is difficult to share, Spoon feels less exposed and vulnerable when there’s music involved.

“People are very hesitant to talk about themselves – we talk about issues in general,” Spoon says. “For me, songs are a way to leave space for other people in the conversation, so although I feel vulnerable, there’s something cool about having the music there. Writing personal stories in a book would be more difficult. One thing I like about songs is that you can get up and play them for anybody, and people have their own experience. You don’t need to be specific for listeners to connect with it.”

Deep in the sky, a star dies, in a brutal, blinding explosion that sends shards of light throughout space. Les soeurs Boulay set out on a quest for this intense brightness, for what’s left after us. Their third album, La mort des étoiles (The Death of Stars), is carried by their adult voices, the voices of strong women who’ve grasped their fragility, and the fragility of the world. Co-produced by Connor Seidel, Mélanie and Stéphanie Boulay’s heady project sees them officially out of their teens, and confirms all of their previous choices.

“S’il vous plaît quelqu’un, faites quelque chose pour virer le courant” (“Somebody, please do something to turn the tide”), they sing on the title track. While we’re connected to everything that exists, we’re also navigating in a paradoxical era, where everything that allows us to communicate with each other also isolates us. “It’s a song about the downfall of humanity, but also the downfall of the reign of the image,” says Stéphanie. “We’re basically saying that we would love, in an ideal world, to not have to sell ourselves on Instagram. Apparently, God is dead and Man took his place, but it’s not mankind that’s at the centre of everything; it’s the omniscient stare of all of our networks, invisible, yet constantly judging us, and making us doubt ourselves.”

The Boulay sisters’ hiatus, following the 4488 de l’Amour tour in 2015, allowed Stéphanie to release a solo album, and Mélanie to take a maternity leave after the birth of her son. “It was clear it was only a hiatus, and it was planned for before my child,” says Mélanie. “People are afraid of a hiatus, because artists often don’t actually come back. But for us, it was the only way to find out who we are without the other one.” That hiatus also allowed Mélanie to get rid of the calluses she’d always had on her fingers. Each on their own, they heard and witnessed things that led them to the remains of those stars.

This third album arrangements shelter such subjects as a warm blanket in the winter, and are the result of collaborating with a prolific entourage. “We were used to working together, and we didn’t want to let anybody in,” says Mélanie. “We were afraid to lose our essence. But now, we have such confidence in ourselves as a duo that we’re not afraid of going out and getting all the best that others have to offer.” “We barely played on the album,” Stéphanie adds. “We delegated. We discovered colours we didn’t know we could have. We showed talented people what we’d come up with, and asked them what they heard in it.” So we can hear Marie-Pierre Arthur’s bass playing, and the meticulous guitar stylings of Joseph Marchand and Simon Angell, the latter a real savant of the instrument. To wit, his breathtaking fretwork on the album’s closer, “Immensité.” “I believe we hired the best guitar player in existence,” Mélanie says. “His playing sounds like the instrument is moving back and forth. It’s like the music is holding its breath.”

The sisters stopped denying themselves what they enjoy, and dove right into what they once loved, finding inspiration in Jean-Pierre Ferland, Michael Kiwanuka, Sinatra, and Julie Masse. “We learned new chords, and I got back to composing on the piano, an instrument that affords me a lot more creativity,” says Mélanie.

Ambition is no longer at the centre of their lives, now that the girls have taken heed of their impact on things to come, especially since the birth of Léonard, Mélanie’s son, who sees his name used as a song title on the album.

They obviously couldn’t ignore everything that came in the wake of the #metoo movement. “Il me voulait dans la maison” (“He Wanted Me in the House”) is an intense testimonial on psychological violence. “We watched the documentary on R. Kelly and realized that narcissistic perverts truly are everywhere,” says Stéphanie. Women lived through #metoo, they assimilated all of that. Now, the time has come to dissect it. “Invisible violence is very frustrating, because it leaves no evidence, and is often blamed on the woman,” says Stéphanie. “I lived it, so many women lived it. On the day we recorded that song, I couldn’t stop crying, and everyone had to leave the studio so that I could get on with it. I was crying from rage. Psychological, verbal, and economic violence goes unpunished, because it’s intangible.” “Au doigt” touches on similar themes, and describes the weight of what’s expected of women on a daily basis, in society. “Boys are sometimes afraid of being crushed, when all we want to do is walk by their side,” says Mélanie.

Politics aren’t spared either, since the society in which we live is still subjected to values that are imposed from above, and have a real impact. “We sang ‘La fatigue du nombre’ in front of 300 MPs and Senators, last May at the SOCAN reception on Parliament Hill. We sang, ‘Vous étiez jeunes avant nous votre feu a tout brulé’ (‘You were young before us, and your fire burned everything to the ground’). It was only once we were onstage that we realized what we were telling them,” the sisters say, giggling. “That’s the role of music: carrying messages. After that, it’s up to you to digest it at your own pace,” says Stéphanie. “What we were telling them, in a song, is that if no law comes into effect, all you’ll ever hear are songs by the same 12 people who have to means to make music.” “Music is a psychotherapy that you pay $10 a month for on Spotify,” her sister adds. “It’s more important that we think.”

The Mort des étoiles tour will be carried by the incandescence of stars, thanks to enticing visuals, and new arrangements that will help us embrace once more songs that we’ve known by heart for nearly 10 years. “We wanted to renew our love of those songs we were tired of playing,” says Mélanie. “We wanted to embrace our evolution, and the evolution of our audience.”