On Homme-objet, Luis Clavis tackles utterly contemporary themes with sarcasm, self-deprecation, and vulnerability.

Luis Clavis, Homme-objet, William ArcandListening to the 15 tracks on his debut solo album can leave you stunned. No one expected Clavis – who’s known mostly for his playful lyrics and festive charisma as a member of Valaire and Qualité Motel – to get as personal as he does on “Farewell,” an electro-pop-jazz number with a lo-fi folk aura that closes the record. “Quand ton odeur quittera mes vêtements / Il sera sûrement temps que je les brûle,” sings the singer-songwriter gloomilyt (When your smell no longer permeates my clothes / It’ll surely be time for me to burn them).

“I wanted to confront myself and do more personal stuff,” says Clavis, seated in a café near his place. “As soon as it felt even somewhat intense or shameful, I went straight for it. There’s something fucking amazing about being in a band with childhood friends, but at a certain point, it becomes important to ask yourself what you can do on your own.”

That “certain point” never manifested itself before, even after 15 years as a member of Valaire. After becoming “somewhat by default” the band’s frontman onstage, Clavis felt the need to grab the mic as a solo act about two years, ago when two of the five band members (Tō and Kilojules, aka Tōki) went on a hiatus to work on their good friend Fanny Bloom’s album.

“Before that, I’d never considered such a thing,” he says. “As an instrumental band that evolved from jazz, we didn’t want my voice to become that of a frontman. We strived to remain equals and I liked that… but when the guys went on to work with Fanny, I had a lot of time on my hands. Enough that I asked myself, ‘What do I do with my life when I don’t have my bands?’ I started writing tracks for myself, without any pre-conceived idea of where that would go.”

Clavis started by asking himself what he had to say that was relevant. As conscious as can be about his social status, namely that of “a white male in Québec who’s privileged and had a normal childhood,” he found inspiration in Julia Cameron’s best-seller The Artist’s Way. “It’s a book that motivates people who feel blocked [to overcome their inaction],” he says. “It taught me to write whatever came to mind every day, for five minutes, without judgment. The more I wrote just about anything, I started getting ideas, snippets of verses. It really helped me find an approach, and themes, that are truly mine – because I’ve never had any kind of inspirational struggle, as opposed to some of the artists to whom I listen. I’m a white, heterosexual male, who’s never really known adversity. My parents are even still married!”

Yet, despite his comfy upbringing, the Sherbrooke-born artist managed to put his finger on several of our era’s ills. On Homme-objet, he pokes fun at the cult of appearance and instant celebrity, while being really careful to avoid sounding pretentious or overly critical.

“I judge and observe myself… There’s a degree of the poetry of defeat in that,” he says. “I grew up listening to hip-hop, but instead of doing the hip-hop bragging thing, I chose the character of a loser MC who contemplates life. I like the idea of giving value to contemplation, of living my days without feeling like I need to change the world to quench my ambition.”

“I really wondered how a non-singer like me was going to manage recording of an album of songs.”

Is he trying to embody “downsizing,” in his own way? “No, I swear!” he says, laughing. “I know I’m in the same boat as everyone else, and I don’t pretend I have the solution. I do, however, like the image of contemplation, I think it might be part of the solution. If we taught our kids to observe rather than perform, we’d probably have a better world.”

This way of seeing the world takes on quite an original life on “Cycle délicat,” where Clavis puts himself in the shoes of an almost perfect house-husband. “When I wrote that, I was thinking about the whole mental load and professional burnout issue,” he says. “I’d be totally down to be a stay-at-home husband, being the guy who takes care of everything while he waits for his wife to return home after work,” he says with a grin.

Such modern themes naturally go hand-in-hand with a musical backdrop that’s just as modern. Helped by Tōki on production duties, Clavis’ compositions are electro-pop with healthy doses of funk and hip-hop. “Beck was a big creative influence for me, especially his Midnite Vultures album,” he says. “That album is a tribute to Prince, but recorded by a skinny, not-so-sexy white man. That sensual side that doesn’t take itself too seriously, that’s a trip for me.”

Vocally, he adopts the same “not too serious” attitude, thanks to a calm and at times nonchalant approach. The rapper and vocalist (he refuses to be called a singer) took quite awhile before settling on the right tone. “I really wondered how a non-singer like me was going to manage recording of an album of songs,” says Clavis. “All I had left was honesty, the honesty of a guy who works with what he’s got – I’m light-years from being able to push notes like those people on La Voix [the Québec franchise of TV singing competition The Voice]. I’m convinced I’d have to contend with four unturned chairs if I sang there.”

On the eve of his album release, Clavis says he’s satisfied, but not quite ready yet to deal with the public reaction – even though the reception for the first two singles was good, and found airplay on commercial as well as campus radio. “I’ve been oscillating between ‘OK, this is cool,’ and ‘This is the worst album ever produced in the history of music,’ for quite a while,” he admits. “Each step is a challenge, and I like it like that.”

 



Just like the rest of the music industry, the publishing business today is a lot more fluid than it used to be. Where the role of the music publisher once focused mostly on getting synchs (or placements) for songs in a variety of media – TV shows, movies, videogames, advertisements – today’s publisher wears many hats.

“Our business represents songs and songwriters,” explains Vivian Barclay, General Manager, Warner Chappell Music Canada, and member of SOCAN’s Board of Directors. “Our job is two-fold. Some people still take a very linear view of publishing, thinking it’s only about administration, like a bank or service business, but it is really multi-faceted. The proper administration of copyright, registration, and paying out royalties is one side. The other side is about creativity. We’re signing songwriters, developing them, and helping to provide them with resources and connections.”

Barclay is used to wearing many hats, and making many connections. She’s never had a five-year plan, and has always taken on whatever job needed doing. Barclay was born into the creative arts field. Her dad was a working musician and her mom was a fine art painter. After graduating with a degree in audio engineering from Ryerson, she worked for now-defunct community radio station CKLN. There, she did everything from on-air host, to program director, to acting station manager. A stint with Denise Jones, at Jones and Jones Productions, followed, as Barclay’s education continued. She learned how to manage artists, market them, and promote and host live events, among other things

“If you can’t pull it off live, I’m not interested.”

In 2001, a vacancy opened in the royalties department at Warner Chappell Music Canada. Denise Jones recommended her, and she jumped at the opportunity to learn about the world of music publishing. This temporary gig evolved into a full-time role. She moved from royalties to copyright, and by the end of the year transferred to the company’s Los Angeles office. Two years later, she was back in Toronto to head up the Canadian office.

Maple Music Makers

Warner-Chappel Music Canada’s roster includes, or has included:

  • Aaron Goodvin
  • Barenaked Ladies
  • The Be Good Tanyas
  • Begonia
  • Death From Above 1979
  • Donovan Woods
  • Gordon Lightfoot
  • Jully Black
  • Michael Bernard Fitzgerald
  • Michael Bublé
  • Nickelback
  • PartyNextDoor
  • The Rheostatics
  • Saukrates
  • Sebastian Gaskin
  • Spirit of the West
  • The Tea Party
  • Tomi Swick

Today, as General Manager of Warner Chappell Music Canada, Barclay manages an extensive and diverse song catalogue, encompassing  the American songbook compositions of George and Ira Gershwin, the storied songs of Gordon Lightfoot, and everything in between. The Canadian office of Warner Chappell Music also represents a pair of Christmas classics penned by Johnny Marks: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” Barclay finds ways to bring these classics to a new generation.

“It’s about re-invigorating the catalogue,” she explains. “We try really hard to find ways to breathe new life into these evergreen songs.”

There’s no typical day for Barclay. Each writer she represents is at a different stage in his or her artist cycle –penning new material, or releasing new recordings, or touring. She spends as much time finding and developing new artists as she does brainstorming ways to get timeless songs re-interpreted. For songwriters, earning a living today is challenging at best. As it gets harder for them to make ends meet, Barclay’s role is even more important to “try to make sure the value of what they’re creating isn’t decimated.”

Playing live is still one of the best ways for songwriters to earn an income, and attending live shows is also one of the best ways for publishers to discover new artists. Many nights, Barclay is checking out artists in clubs around Toronto, and at festivals and conferences across the country, and around the world, seeking new songwriters for Warner Chappell. “For me, no matter what genre you’re in, ‘live’ matters,” she says. “If you can’t pull it off live, I’m not interested.”

Warner Chappell Music Canada has many domestic artists on its current and past roster. The company also recently entered into a deal with The Brothers Landreth’s label (Birthday Cake), thereby picking up many Western Canadian artists. (See sidebar for some of the company’s Canadian clients.)

Digital music, and the subsequent easy access to discovering new artists, has made the world smaller. Since Canada is such a diverse country, and people settle here from so many different cultures, Barclay isn’t just searching for Canadian acts she can bring to the rest of the world, but also for international artists that resonate domestically. A couple examples are the “King of Soca,” Machel Montano of Trinidad, and Patoranking, a Nigerian reggae dancehall/Afrobeat artist.

Artists and their managers send Barclay links every day to music, via every major social media platform. SOCAN, and others in the music industry, also tip her off to potential artists to whom  she “should” listen. When searching for new clients, whether Canadian or international, genre doesn’t matter to her. It’s all about the song.

“No matter who you talk to in the publishing business, we’re all passionate about good songs,” she says. “Creating a legacy of good songs is where it starts. You can write in whatever genre you want to, as long as the song is good, and connects with your audience.”