For the soon-to-come follow-up to his major label debut on 604 Records, The Fifth, Mathew V says he’s much more likely to show up to the studio with “a few chords and melodies” to develop with others, rather than his own full songs.

Singles Going Steadily

The prolific Mr. V releases a lot – 14 in the past four years:

“This Christmas Day”
“Stay By You”
“Catching Feelings”

“The Coast”
“Let Me Go”

“Always Be My Baby”
“Tell me Smooth”

“In the Bleak Midwinter”
“The Day I Die”
“If I’m Enough”
“No Bad News”

“Typically, I have a really heavy hand in writing my own music,” the Vancouver-based pop/soul artist explains. “When I was younger, I thought I was untouchable and knew everything. I had my artistic vision and trusted myself, only, to execute that.”

More recently, he’s come to embrace the energy and possibilities collaboration brings to his work as a singer and songwriter. “There’s so much power in ideas that don’t stem from my instincts, because my instincts only go so far,” says V. “There’s been many times recently in the studio where someone will hum a melody with phrasing I’d have never come up with, but that compliments my voice quite nicely. So 2020 is going to be a year of collaborations with other artists, producers, and writers.”

Not that he wasn’t doing well on his own.  The Fifth’s lead single, “Tell Me Smooth,” spent 18 weeks on Canadian Top 40 Hot AC/AC charts. He’s opened for the likes of Ria Mae, Hanson, and MAGIC!, and earned critical acclaim from press outlets such as Nylon and Billboard. His catalogue is approaching 10 million online streams. With strong roots in the LGBTQ+ community, V took the cover of Spotify’s Global Pride playlist during Pride 2018.

But now, by way of collaboration, and what he terms “cognitive listening,” V’s looking to expand his musical toolkit. “I’m pushing myself to throw on playlists with music I don’t know and, if I like it, to understand what aspects resonate with me. Or, if I don’t like it, what’s putting a bad taste in my mouth. That process, when I’m writing, allows me to go into my taste bank, so to speak, and call on some of those patterns I’m noticing.”

“I’m pushing myself to throw on playlists with music I don’t know.”

 Over time, V’s allowed himself increasingly more creative freedom, beginning early by singing along to “emotive, powerful” artists like Celine Dion, Shania Twain, and Mariah Carey – a definite departure from the rigorous classical, operatic vocal training he undertook for 10 years. It continued when he packed up at age 17 and moved to London, England, to study at the European Institute of Contemporary Music. “I learned so much in that time, as a human being and artist,” he says. “And I had the freedom, for the first time in my life, to sing what I wanted, to start writing, and to realize what my own sound was like.”

In his current writing and recording sessions, V’s determined to allow himself even more latitude. “I’m trying to see pop music as a wider umbrella, where my vocal delivery, my style of writing, and the branding of the product ties it all together,” he says. “But with the songs, pushing myself, showcasing more diversity, doing things I haven’t tried before.”

To some extent, V’s cover of Britney Spears’ “Lucky” (just released on Jan. 10, 2020) will present his audience with an opportunity for some “cognitive listening” of their own. Produced by one of V’s regular collaborators, Luca Fogale, it’s a dramatic and beautiful re-interpretation, informed heavily by V’s soulful pop style, and a welcome challenge: “To take a beloved and, I think, unbelievably well-written song, and present it in an entirely different way,” says V. “To take the artistic journey of production and arrangement, flex my creative muscles, and make [it] into a Mathew V song.”

Just what a Mathew V song is, however, is evolving swiftly. V would prefer not to “piggyback” on his earlier success with, as he puts it, “Tell Me Smooth 2.0.”

“The fun part of music, for me, is being able to change, adapt, and re-invent myself, so I’m trying to push the boundaries of how broad the pop music umbrella is for me,” he says. “In the past I was strict about an album having a certain sound, but I have way more freedom to change it up. And I’d rather try that, and say that I did, than sit back and wonder, what if I strayed a bit more?”

“When I sang ‘C’est Zéro’ for the first time during one of my shows,” Safia Nolin reminisces, “it was crazy, the venue was on fire. It’s the type of song everyone sings along to in a karaoke bar, y’know?”

Do we ever. As did all the people gathered in the intimate and welcoming venue that is the Moulin du Portage de Lotbinière, in September of 2016, when Nolin sang a stripped-down version of the cult hit – written by Manuel Tadros and popularized by Julie Masse. She didn’t hesitate for a second, and recorded the song – which was written in 1990 – on her album Reprises Vol. 1. “What? That song was written 30 years ago?” says the young singer-songwriter. “Come on! I wasn’t even born in 1990!”

Perpetual Actualization

So is this SOCAN Classic, since 2012, still relevant today? Aside from Nolin’s gorgeous cover, New Brunswick’s Mia Martina offered us an electro-dance version in 2014. That same year, Julie Masse herself sang it during the finale of the TV music-contest show La Voix (the Québec franchise of The Voice) to an utterly ecstatic crowd.

In 2019, a podcast called “Pourquoi Julie?” (“Why Julie?”), dedicated to the singer’s career, was named one of the best podcasts of the year by Apple. On Google, the name “Julie Masse” is among the most searched in Québec. The 30-year-old song obviously benefitted from this exposure, and inspired many T-shirts worn proudly by those unafraid of “bitter, colourless mornings” (a freely translated line from the song, in French: “des matins amers, sans couleur”).

Birth of a Hit

“You want me to tell you about ‘C’est zero’? Is there really anything that hasn’t been said already?” says Manuel Tadros, jokingly. Indeed, the songwriter, actor, and jack-of-all-trades regularly gets the opportunity to talk about the birth of his hit. Here it is in a nutshell. The year is 1990, the same year that Laurence Jalbert scored with “Tomber (en amour)” (“Falling  (in Love)”), while Jean Leloup was adamant that “L’amour est sans pitié” (“Love is Merciless”), and Gerry Boulet moved us to tears with “Pour une dernière fois” (“One Last Time”). The charts could hardly have more diversity: Philippe Fontaine, Les B. B., Kashtin — take your pick!

Enter a young singer from Témiscamingue, who reached out to Tadros to ask him to write a repertoire for her. They met for the first time near Saint-Hilaire, and Tadros was struck with inspiration immediately after getting behind the wheel to drive home. “Remember, there were no cellphones back then,” says Tadros. “I know I have an awesome melody and powerful words, so I have to memorize them while I’m driving.” As soon as he got home, he quickly kissed his girlfriend and their baby, one Xavier Dolan, who was barely one at the time, and ran into his office to write everything down and record a demo.

Manuel Tadros

Manuel Tadros

However, upon hearing that demo, the singer will turn it down saying it’s “too old” for her. Tadros is discombobulated, until manager and producer Serge Brouillette contacts him. He’s just taken on a young backing vocalist with the makings of a star: at 19, Julie Masse already possessed an undeniably powerful voice and stage presence. Would Tadros have a few songs for her?

As soon as Brouillette and Masse hear “C’est zéro,” the deal is sealed. The only condition Tadros has is that he be given the task of coaching the young singer in the studio and the production duties of the song. Granted.

“Julie had never recorded anything before,” says the songwriter, “and initially, we considered making people believe she wasn’t from Québec. We really wanted the song to sound as ‘international French’ as possible. I’m really picky about pronunciation, phrasing, and word stress.”

Lest we forget, “C’est zero” was indeed distributed in France then, but it was in Québec, and in Canada, that the power ballad became extraordinarily popular as soon as it was released, on March 19, 1990. So much so that shortly after, Serge Brouillette founded Disques Victoire in order to produce Julie Masse’s albums. Trophies, No. 1 on the charts, the highest-rotation video (that was suggestive but in good taste)… It hit the jackpot. Masse even sang “C’est zero” live on the French CBC New Year’s Eve variety show as 1991 became 1992!

No Mouse

Let’s get back to the recording of the future-but-not-yet hit. Says Tadros: “My arranging partner Pierre Laurendeau and I set up at Harmonie Studio in Longueuil. Imagine this, we worked with a software called Voyetra – no one used Apple yet, back then, and we didn’t even have a mouse, it was all keyboard-based!” he remembers with a laugh.

“I’ll tell you something no one knows,” he continues. “I’m the one playing those electronic drum fills on the track! It was supposed to be Julie’s boyfriend, but he was too stiff! I told him: ‘Gimme those sticks!’

“I think one of the things that explains the continued success of this song is also its structure: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse… and then, Boom! There’s the bridge, 33 seconds before the song ends, with a new chord and a few new words: ‘espérer ton retour, c’est zéro’ (‘hoping you’ll come back, that’s a zero’). It’s unexpected, you know? As were the words ‘un coup de couteau dans la peau’ (‘a knife stab in the flesh’). Everyone thought that image was violent, especially when uttered by a young woman. But that’s precisely what struck people, such an extreme expression of heartbreak! People still talk to me about ‘that stabbing song!’

“I can still picture myself in that brown, two-door Chevy Malibu that I’d inherited from my father,” says Tadros, repeating those words and the melody over and over. “That car didn’t look like much, it was kind of a jalopy, but it had quite a powerful engine.”

Just as “C’est zéro” probably looked like just another pop ballad, initially. Wrong! It’s propelled by a powerful engine, according to Safia Nolin: “It reminds you, with genuine beauty, that the pain of a lost love is eternal and timeless.”


Caveboy enjoy doing most things together. This interview, for example, is something the eclectic Montreal pop band asks to do together. With no one mouthpiece for the group, Caveboy prefers to give space equally, for everyone to tell their story. We call Isabelle Banos, she asks us to hold, and a couple of minutes later we’re joined by Michelle Bensimon and Lana Cooney. They’re timid at first, of course, because interviews are exhausting and daunting. But they soon warm up, and energetically bounce comments off of each other. It’s as close as one can get to being a fly on the wall observing their friendship, one that’s woven so tightly with their creative and business partnership.

Caveboy wasn’t originally Caveboy. The group began back in 2015 as Diamond Bones. The name quickly seemed like it didn’t, or couldn’t, stick all that well. “It was a time of transition, and we really honed in on our sound, and felt really solid on who we are,” says Bensimon. “We always think about things that connect the three of us – things that are authentic and unique to us. When we came up with Caveboy, it was just like an ‘aha’ moment.”

Since then, Caveboy have been able to propel themselves forward, based on their electrifying live shows, along with a self-released debut EP in 2015. They won the Allan Slaight JUNO Master Class in 2017. Then there’s their string of well-crafted pop singles, which did very well in 2019: “Landslide” and “I Wonder” were heavily playlisted on stearming platforms; “Silk for Gold” premiered exclusively on Billboard; and ”Hide Your Love” reached No. 1 on the CBC Music Top 20 chart.The band’s been working to figure out who and what they want to be, and how to channel that into the music. This month, they’ve been readying the release of their first full-length, self-released debut album.

Out Jan. 31, 2020, Night in the Park, Kiss in the Dark is an effervescent synth-pop album. It sounds big, likely due to the added honourary member, producer Derek Hoffman – who’s worked on records by The Arkells, The Trews, and Ralph, all of whom have bombastic and anthemic sonic tendencies. Hoffman added what the group says was the magic they needed.

“Having this kind of sisterhood bond that we have has been so important.” – Isabelle Banos of Caveboy

“Up until this record, we basically did everything on our own,” says Cooney. “Most of what we did was self-produced, or at least 90 percent. When we were starting to write songs for this record we knew that it was going to be time to bring in another person.” With more than 30 songs written for the album, Hoffman, over a period of six months in the studio, was able to help whittle them down to the ones on the LP. He’d intuitively hear which songs connected where, the band says, and shape some of the three- to four-year-old material.

Night in the Park, Kiss in the Dark is one of those pop albums that feels eternally youthful. The band chalks it up to their own personal nostalgia for the way things were, or could have been – tracing the contours of new love, lost love, frivolous antics. Still, the album is consistently vibrant in the present moment. The synth-based parts of these pop songs are bubbly, and bring to my mind the vision of a nighttime when everything feels possible and endless. That’s true even amid songs that are also anguished (“Guess I’ve Changed”), lustful (“Obsession), and pensive (“Up in Flames”).

Caveboy tell us that they’ve really grown up together with this project, even while watching their contemporaries fade out and away from the tough business of music-making. Working on, and at the end of the day, holding a physical representation of their work was always the goal of a full-length LP, despite what others in the industry advised Caveboy to do.

“Everyone told us not to make an album, not to make a record, just because the trend these days is singles,” says Cooney, acknowledging Caveboy’s successful run of songs released in 2019. I’m personally really happy about it [making an album], because I think it’s one of those things that’s a rite of passage as a musician. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Banos, tenderly, doesn’t take for granted the experience of being able to grow up with Bensimon and Cooney, in the band. “I think each of us is super-lucky to have the others to be able to be artistically vulnerable with, which is a really scary thing,” she says. “Like writing songs, making weird sounds together, and, you know, making mistakes, and looking like a fool.”

She continues, “Having this kind of sisterhood bond that we have has been so important throughout the years: To be able to experience learning moments in a really safe, fun, and motivating space – in a productive space.”