On her first album Premier juin (June First)Lydia Képinski sings about love and death with stunning poetry and aplomb. Somewhere between “chanson française”, prog-rock and synth-pop, the singer-songwriter offers an eclectic and rich musical direction, in collaboration with her sidekick Blaise Borboën-Léonard. Two weeks after the unexpected appearance of her album on the web, the 24-year-old, Montréal-based musician re-visits the process that led to the creation of each of the eight new songs.
Lydia Képinski

“Les routes indolores” (“Painless Roads”)
“That song was part of my solo show, and every time, it was the moment people chose to go take a leak or get a beer. It was clearly a little boring! I looked back at the lyrics and spotted a few references to Mayan and Aztec traditions. That made me want to play the music theme of Les Mystérieuses Cités d’or just before singing that song. The reaction was instantaneous: no matter where the people were standing in the venue, they’d turn to the stage, stunned. From that point on, Blaise and I had no choice: that song needed to be epic and we had to have synths towards the end of it. It creates a nice crescendo that leads into the album.”

“Premier juin” (“June First”)
“That’s where the album really takes off. It’s a catchier song, with pop arrangements. I wrote it on my 23rd birthday, on June 1st, 2016. Instead of what I usually do – focusing on the dramatic elements of my life – I tried looking at myself in a naive way. Everything is fine until I make a veiled reference to suicide during the bridge. I looked for different ways to express my thoughts, but in the end I kept it as is: Aujourd’hui c’est mon anniversaire / Ce que je n’ai pas fait je vais le faire / Car si j’avais tout vécu / Sans doute que je me serais pendue.” (It’s my birthday today / What I haven’t done I’ll do/ ’Cause if I’d experienced everything / I would surely have hanged myself) My birthday is not just one more year, it’s also proof that I’ve survived everything that came before.”

“360 jours” (“360 Days”)
“I really like songs with long intros, a bit like the introduction of the narrative, if you will. A minute into it, when the music changes completely, it’s like a triggering element. [laughs] The first draft of the lyrics were written on the spur of the moment. I was in a relationship, but I had issues to deal with, and other shit to live through. I use the imperative mood a lot in it. I accuse the other, and give them orders, as if I resented him and, at the same time, wanted to come across as the victim in this story.”

“The story behind this song is really lame! [laughs] It started on an evening when I was supposed to meet my university buddies, but was stuck in a PR function with my manager and producer. I was torn, and deep inside, I felt that I was slowly growing apart from those friends, because we don’t share relationship circles. In other words, I felt I had failed… So, in short, it stems from the emotion I felt that night, which I extrapolated in a fairytale-like way. Music-wise, our reference was ‘Billie Jean.’ We wanted an ultra-simple dance beat, but slightly bizarre. I came up with the bass line and Blaise played it back on his Moog. We wanted to invite a bass player to fill in certain parts, and in the end, Jean-François Lemieux accepted our invitation. That guy is a fuckin’ legend, to me. He played on Le Dôme! [Jean Leloup’s most commercially and critically acclaimed album, released in October 1996]”

“To me, Belmont Park isn’t emblematic of joy; it’s the ruins of an amusement park. There was an accident way back when, somebody died on a ride, which led to the shutdown of the park in 1983. Some have said that the mafia was involved, to kill off any competition with La Ronde… Musically, there’s something cyclical in the song, like a ride going round and round. Then, at one point, the song goes off the rails, and that’s where I sing “emmenez-moi au parc Belmont” (“take me to Belmont Park”). The thing is, when you get on a ride and are all excited about it, it’s possible that at some point, you just want to get off, but that’s impossible. The same goes for the relationship I was in at the time. I knew, objectively, that it was shite, but I was stuck in it.”

“Les balançoires” (“The Swings”)
“That song has a math-rock side to it, something mathematical, borderline alienating. The guiding thread is Stéphan Lemieux’s very simple drumbeat. Otherwise, the instrumentation is quite sober, and allows my voice to take over. The lyrics are about statistics, probabilities, and chemistry. I sing about medication, recreational intoxication, the chemical processes we use to balance our brains. I don’t want to get into the details of my own medication, but beyond that, I know for a fact that there is a major taboo that surrounds taking medication. I was hurt many times because people would judge me based on that. They make super-rigid generalizations, yet they have no clue what they’re talking about. They don’t get that I’ve lived through episodes where I just wanted it to be over…”

“Sous la mélamine” (“Under the Melamine”)
“That truly is automatic writing. I was at home in party mode. I’d just finished half a litre of wine and I really felt like writing something. It turned out to be quite a playful and funny text, where I throw quite a few literary references around. It was my freshman year in University, and I was smitten with Rimbaud and Baudelaire. There’s also a bit of a reference to Loco Locass. I’ve listened to those guys a lot and their Manifestif album is etched forever in my mind.”

“I began writing that song after a night in Saint-Siméon, a small town on the road to Charlevoix. It was a truly fucked-up evening… I could hear whales singing when I looked at the St. Lawrence River, and my life was really not fucking good. Shortly afterward, I was walking on Pie-IX Boulevard somewhere in Montréal-Nord. It’s a really drab, hopeless and ugly area. And all of a sudden, I felt just like I did in Saint-Siméon. In my mind, a kind of geographic triangle formed with the Louis-Hippolyte-La Fontaine tunnel, which links both places via the river. It gave a whole new meaning to the expression “the light at the end of the tunnel.” I played whatever came to mind on the guitar. The result is quite impulsive.”

Premier juin is available right now in stores and on most streaming platforms. The official record launch will be on June 1st at Centre Phi, in Montréal.

Amélie Larocque steps onto the diving board, calculates her trajectory and dives, head-first, precisely where she had aimed: at the heart of a type of pop music that entices people to move. She’s only released one album prior to Sa couleur, yet AMÉ has sown her colourful seeds all over the place in the past few years. Meet a woman who personifies herself through music.

“’Sa couleur’ is about my identity,” says AMÉ. “It’s not a protest song, it’s just me, who I am as a human being, and what I choose to reveal or not,” she says, adding that we all do things to please, fine-tuning ourselves to be appreciated.

Where her 2010 eponymous album stayed on the sonic road of folk, this one goes completely off the beaten path. “I figured if I was going to go the electro-pop route, I had to be fully committed,” says AMÉ. “I felt like I was totally alone. I’m not the type to wear makeup, but for this, I went all-out, with nail polish and paillettes.” It’s only when she committed entirely to her decision hat the stars aligned: her songs became catchy and dance-oriented.

And the opportunities have come one after the other over the past few years for the young singer-songwriter, who also devoted time to her life as a mother. “It took all that time to get to where I really wanted to be,” says AMÉ. By working for others, she afforded herself a different type of artistic evolution. “I often tell artists for whom I write songs that the importance of what we love is much less than that of what we want to do,” she says. “I love a lot of things in life. I listen to pop, blues, jazz, but those aren’t necessarily the artistic endeavours that I want to pursue.” And that’s precisely what happened when she let herself be transported by her desire to make pop music. “Some might’ve wondered where I was headed,” she says, “but I wanted laser effects and day-glo lighting. I said ‘fuck off’ to folk music; that’s not what I want to do.”

However inspired by the likes of Milk & Bone, Laurence Nerbonne, and Charlotte Cardin, she considers her roots to be in good ol’ “rap québ” (Québécois rap). “I’m trying to bring the energy and rhythm of rap to the pop world,” she says. “Stromae is a great example of this movement. He was such a revelation when it comes to amalgamating a dance song and a message song.” She uses this strategy with all manners of subjects: Love, courage, surpassing yourself, doubt.

When Justin Timberlake recently played in Montréal, AMÉ was there, notebook in hand. Accompanied on stage by a dancer, she tries to take her audience with her, inside her bubble. “It’s very demanding,” she says. “There aren’t many breaks, and I don’t tell the story of my grandmother in between two songs.”

When AMÉ steps out of her own bubble, she likes to move into those of other people. “I’m always at the service of a theme, of a piece of music,” she says. “Like with Marc Dupré [for whom she wrote Ton départ]; what he wants is super-specific. He sends me music tracks where he sings without words. It sounds like it’s in English, but it’s in nothing at all. We call it yogurt! Even though he doesn’t sing actual words, it rhymes, and sometimes, when I write, I’ll find words that rhyme with the gibberish he’s singing. It’s quite funny, and I find those limits quite stimulating.”

This way of working has led her to write music before she stops to find words to put on top of it. “I’ve used the people I’ve written for, in a way!”

In other words, she’s the only one paving the way for herself. AMÉ is clear about her ambitions. “I’m not afraid,” she says. “All I have are ideas. I want to take my music to France. That’s definitely a dream. I feel like I’ve embarked on something big.”

Emerging unscathed from a severe bout of pneumonia two years ago, the 30 year-old guitrist and composer Simon Kingsbury has now followed up his first solo album, Pêcher rien (2016), after his stint with the quartet Lac Estion (“La question,” get it? – Ed.) . Kingsbury was tossing a few album titles around in his dreaming mind, before settling on the title Plaza for his new collections of nine songs.

Simon Kingsbury

Photo: Laurence et Laurent

“I didn’t feel like having to read articles about wordplay, and mean metaphors, as was the case with Pêcher rien,” he says. (The title refeto having caught no fish.) “But the simple fact is, I live right next to Plaza St-Hubert [in Montréal], which is a weird melting pot of nail salons, bridal shops, hair salons, pawn shops, Carta Magica, a store where nerds queue up to play board games, and, of course, St-Hubert, the restaurant… It’s a lot like my music, I guess. A big party mix!”

Obviously, Kingsbury’s kidding. His Plaza, co-produced with ex-Groenland guitarist Jonathan Charette, and co-written with his old partner in crime Savia Fleury, won’t make you shimmy your way to the dancefloor. Raw guitars and splenetic moods permeate each track, and the songs had a theraputic effect. Plaza tackles death, love, suicide, and abuse, and Kingsbury reminisces on his big health scare.

“Before I went to the hospital, I was working a lot and partying hard,” he says. “When they told me I was sick, I was really scared. It was the warning I needed: time to take care of myself. No more getting wasted. I’d gotten to a point where I needed to take more and more to get high… I needed to devote all my energy to my music instead to wasting it all on getting drunk. When I started writing those new songs, “Dans le corridor” was inspired by the hospital, where I ended up staying for two weeks… I have a hard time writing fiction and creating characters. I’ve tried, and trust me, it didn’t work! I let myself be guided by my emotions. Yet, I’m still young, so who knows?”

What’s the difference between the two albums? “On Pêcher rien, we’d compromised,” says Kingsbury. “The guitar riffs were more ‘hooky,’ but the background was that I needed to vent after a breakup. A therapy, if you will.” Another therapy.

The lyrics glide by on his soft, sometimes quivering voice, the guitars aren’t overdriven, the arrangements very… sober. “It’s never too dark or too sunny,” says Kingsbury. “It’s true that ‘Je t’aime pareil’ [‘I love you anyway’] is quite dark, but the melody and vocal part somewhat lighten the load. There needs to be some beauty about it! Suicide is such a taboo topic, but we do need to be understanding of that state of mind. The song is about a friend about to jump from a cliff. The other character in the song says, ‘Jump if you want, I love you anyway.’”

Being self-taught, Kingsbury willingly admits that he doesn’t know guitar chords. It’s all played by ear, and the music that emerges is an imperfect playground that he explores at will.

“I don’t want to use synths,” he says. “I prefer raw sounds. Electronic music, even in micro-doses, is not me at all. I want to create melodies and ambiance. To me, the pleasure of making music is tinkering with my guitar until I have a song, and then going out to grab a beer. That’s when I’m the happiest dude on earth. Creation is a process and that process makes me Zen. Waking up in the morning with a smile on your face because you know you’re going to spend the whole day in a studio. That alone is motivation enough to keep going.”

In Kingsbury’s artistic mind, there are clearly a million ideas bouncing around. Plaza is an intimate look at some, that might not be fully appreciated in one sitting, but are worth approaching closely. His balance between shadow and light is deftly nuanced. And there’ll be more: “I prefer releasing EPs more often rather than an album every couple of years,” he says.