Megative started out as a seedling,” Tim Fletcher says. It was an idea he and producer Gus Van Go had been discussing for a decade.

“We’ve known each other for over 20 years,” Fletcher continues, noting their mutual desire to bridge the “beautiful universes” of 1970s British punk, rock steady, Two Tone, reggae and dub. That, he says, was their initial inspiration. “We really wanted to put [all] that into a soup and make a band with it,” he says.

“We didn’t exactly know the details of what we were going to do,” adds Van Go.  “It was only when we had the right people that we pulled the trigger.”

With the exception of Fletcher, who’s based in Montréal, Megative’s core members –Jesse Singer and Chris Soper (collectively known as Likeminds), Jamaican-born reggae vocalist Screechy Dan, and Van Go – are all based in New York City or Brooklyn. But both Fletcher (as guitarist/lead vocalist for The Stills) and Van Go (in Me, Mom and Morgantaler) cut their teeth in Montréal’s indie scene.

The resulting many-headed beast is a collective whose songwriting process derives as much from the individual members’ diverse backgrounds as by their shared experiences, influences, and lengthy tenures in the music industry. “That keeps things fresh and very ego-less,” says Fletcher. “Getting older and maturing as a person, too, you realize that your life and time are precious, and you just want to enjoy making music. And we’re all at that stage.”

Singer and Soper (Grammy-nominated producers in their own right), though younger, are equally knowledgeable “about the connection between reggae and punk… but also Gorillaz, Massive Attack, and modern dancehall,” says Van Go. Similarly, Screechy Dan brings a wealth of experience to the table, as do percussionist/MC/singer/DJ Jonny Go Figure, guitarist Alex Barbeau, and drummer Demetrius Pass, who round out Megative’s current live lineup.

The songs on Megative’s self-titled came from a variety of sources, Van Go and Fletcher explain – from previously-written tunes, to grooves generated in the studio, or full-on jams. “It’s really a song-by-song process,” says Fletcher. It was also a fairly relaxed one, says Van Go. “It was a process of discovery for us because we didn’t know what it was to write a Megative song.”

There was a core vision, however. “What we love about reggae is the apocalyptic heaviness of it. It’s not all fun, sunshine, hacky-sacks, and good vibes,” says Fletcher, adding that the band wanted to address what he calls “an increasing epidemic of a lack of meaning” – a by-product the cultural and personal traumas impacting society collectively and individually.

Combat Rockin’
Megative was conceived in the mid-2000s, on a long drive to San Diego, during which Van Go and Fletcher bonded over a shared love of the almost-final 1982 Clash Album, Combat Rock. while it yielded perennial party favourites “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” and “Rock The Casbah,” Combat Rock also dealt with a similar kind of alienation that Megative does – and did so at a time, not unlike now, when the sense of living in a society in decline was prevalent. Fletcher and Van Go both agree that the tone of the album, and their discussion of it on the road, was the initial spark, and the primary sonic and lyrical reference point, that led to them founding Megative.

“There’s a tremendous sense of abandonment and neglect and a lot of people are just grappling for meaning… The opioid crisis, addiction to ever more robust painkillers,” he continues. “It’s not some anomaly… People are in pain, and are unable to cope with this sense of isolation without help.”

Consequently, Megative’s music depends heavily on lyrical themes of paranoia and existential dread, while calling for brave living in dark ages. “This all sounds very serious and dark,” says Fletcher, “but there is a side of it that’s very absurd… so there’s humour, too.”

Onstage, that comes across loud and clear. “Halfway through our very first show, in this super-small town in Quebec, I’m standing on a table playing my bass, and Screechy’s hanging off the rafters. I was like, ‘Oh, we’re that kind of band,’” says Van Go. “But we didn’t know it was going to be this much fun, or what kind of energy the live show was going to have.”

And that’s as it should be, he adds. “I produce a lot of records, and bands always seem preoccupied about that, but I always tell them, ‘Don’t think about it. Start by making the best record you possibly can, one that excites you. That’s your North Star.’”

 


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At 20, Soran knows exactly what he wants. Released last month by Audiogram, his first eponymous EP showcases the talent of a multi-instrumentalist in full control of his art.

SoranLocated at the confluence of dance music, reggae, funk, and soul, Soran is reminiscent of Jason Mraz or Michael Jackson as much as it is of Justin Timberlake or The Weeknd. Instinctively, one surmises that its creator must be a young music lover who grew up with pop right from the crib, and who’s probably an avid consumer of anything on the radio. But it’s not the case: Soran Dussaigne doesn’t listen to music, at all… except his own.

Seeing how this scribe is perplexed by such an affirmation, he clarifies. “To be clear, I stopped listening to music when I started making my own,” says Soran. “I just don’t feel like it, nor do I feel like forcing myself to. Obviously, there are exceptions, like when I’m in a car, or at a party with friends. I guess sometimes, the music I hear indirectly like that can influence my songs. But on the plus side, I’m inspired by my memory of that song, which yields a much more original and stimulating creation.”

His musical upbringing also bears a lot of influence on his current style. A fan of The Police as a child, the Longueuil-based artist, with Japanese and French roots, benefited from a family environment that fostered creativity and learning. “There were instruments all over the house,” says Soran. “My brother and father didn’t really play with me, so I had to develop that passion through my own will. I first fell in love with drums at around four years old, and to this day, it’s my favourite instrument. Rhythm is the foundation of any song, it’s the groove.”

Curious by nature, the young auto-didact taught himself the guitar in his teens, captivated by the live performances of soul artists, like Allen Stone, that he found on YouTube. Realizing he could also sing, he introduced his first songs on his Facebook profile and rapidly raked in hundreds of views. “The reaction was incredible,” he says. “Only my closest friends said it was crap!” he says, smirking.

The Turning Point

Not one to be easily discouraged, Soran tried his hand at busking in Montréal’s metro (subway) stations. For a year, he honed his ability to attract the attention of the people walking by him. “It was, to me, the best possible rehearsal,” he says. “After a couple of hours, I was able to hit notes I never thought I could hit. It was rough on my voice, but that’s how I discovered that’s what I wanted to do. It also taught me to be more humble, because most people didn’t give a damn about me. I wanted people to stop and pay attention.”

That’s exactly what happened when, in 2015, a staffer from La Voix [the Québec franchise of The Voice televised singing competition] walked by Soran in the metro and convinced him to sign up for the next season of the popular TVA network talent show. He was just 16 when he showed up for the audition.

“Honestly, I had zero confidence,” says Soran. “I saw the people sitting next to me, one who said she’d toured the world with AC/DC, and another who said she had a dozen years of experience on Broadway… I was really stressed out,” remembers the young man, who forged ahead and managed to make all four judges spin their seast around, thanks to his stunning rendition of  The Eagles’ “Hotel California.” “In the end, I realized that, contrary to other versions of La Voix abroad, the coaches here weren’t looking for the most powerful voice, but for different voices,” he says. “I remember telling Ariane Moffatt that I felt bad for being so off-key during my audition. She immediately told me that it didn’t matter, because they were looking for something unique.”

Despite elimination in the quarter-finals, Soran’s experience on La Voix was memorable. What came out of it was basically his optimal plan. “Before I even entered the contest, my goal was to lose it and sign with Audiogram… And, lo and behold, the day after I was eliminated, Audiogram gave me a call,” says the young artist, who’d been coached by Matt Holubowski, also an alumnus of the show, who’s also signed to the famous Montréal record label. “What mattered the most to me was artistic freedom, and I knew the label’s excellent reputation for that. In the end, we waited until I turned 18, about six months, before making my signature official.”

And ever since, Soran has worked twice as hard. Over the past two years, he started actively playing drums again, and learned to play bass and piano, on top of honing his production, arranging, and mixing skills with the recording software Logic. In other words, this Jack of all Trades was constantly in pro-active mode, writing and recording the vast majority of his EP in the basement of his family home in Greenfield Park. “I like being able to record whenever I want to, without having to wait for anyone,” says Soran. “I’ll sometimes wake up at three in the morning and create an entire new song that’s done by noon. My mom’s patience is quite remarkable. She never complains, not even when I play drums in the middle of the night.”

The Creative Impulse

But as autonomous as he might be, the singer-songwriter still needed some help along the way. Known for his work on albums by Coco Méliès, Rednext Level, and the aforementioned Holubowski, Montréal-based producer Connor Seidel helped him finalize the EP at Studio Tempo. “There were songs where I had reached a dead end,” says Soran. “I immediately thought of Connor, because I really liked what he did for Matt. Our fusion was perfect, right from the get-go. We re-recorded the drums and voice tracks, but without changing the very intimate and spontaneous nature of my initial recordings. I really felt at home.”

This pared-down, instinctive approach also applies to the lyrics. Written impulsively, Soran’s songs are like emotional bombs. One thinks of “Emma,” which he wrote in a single evening after his ex-girlfriend asked him to write her a love song; or “Not In Love W Me,” which was crerated after a girl told him she “wasn’t in love with people, but with moments.”

“After she said that to me, I wrote, like, 10 songs about her in a week,” he admits. “Actually, if you listen carefully to the lyrics of all those songs, it’s mostly about me being in love with someone who doesn’t love me back… Or, rather, who thinks he’s not being loved back. That’s pretty much what goes on in my mind the second I’m with someone. I get negative ideas real fast, and afterward, I take comfort in the good things. The same happened with my EP: I was convinced it wouldn’t sell, that it would suck, and in the end I’m happy, because all kinds of unexpected stuff is happening to me.”

Among those recent “surprises” are the 120,000 views that the video for “Emma” racked up in a little less than a month; his nomination as “New Artist of the Week” on Apple Music; and his more than 2 million streams on the major platforms. “Honestly, I don’t understand,” says Soran. “It’s so much more than I could have imagined. It’s going well on the streaming side of things all over the world, but I want more. I want to see these people in person, and play more gigs outside of Canada.”

Throughout this hubbub of excitement and good news, even his old buddies from high school have conceded victory. “A couple of weeks ago, I got a few congratulations messages, notably one from the dude who was the most critical and mean about my music back then,” he says. “I was surprised that he thought my EP was good, and he apologized by saying that he should’ve been more supportive.”

Apparently, Soran did quite well without him.


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If John Alexander had only achieved one milestone in his multi-decade career – signing Alanis Morissette, and facilitating her watershed Jagged Little Pill album – it would have been more than enough to cement his position in rock music industry history.

John Alexander, Aerosmith

John Alexander (bottom) with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith (left).

But throughout a long, storied career – one that has encompassed artistry, management, record companies, publishing, performance rights, and now a very strong suit in consultancy – Alexander’s vision has resulted in some other exemplary accomplishments, thanks to his acute business acumen.

“I always negotiated good and fair deals, club dates, tours, record deals, and/or publishing deals for my artists,” says Alexander, who began his professional career in the mid-1970s as John Pulkkinen, lead singer of Octavian, a seven-piece Ottawa pop band known for such hits as “Good Feelin’ (To Know)” and “Round and Round.” They released one album, Simple Kinda People.

“I was a teacher at the time in Ottawa,” Alexander recalls. “When we got the deal, I told my parents, much to their dismay, ‘I’m going to quit teaching and join a rock band.’ They didn’t like that too much, until they heard me on the radio one day, and said, ‘That’s cool.’”

Octavian toured coast-to-coast, but eventually went their separate ways in 1979. Alexander joined bassist Terry McKeown to form Alexander/McKeown Management, representing Warner recording artists David Roberts and the Teddy Boys, as well as Montréal singer-songwriter Luba, and Toronto rockers Sheriff, the latter two signed to Capitol. It was under Alexander’s tenure that Sheriff recorded “When I’m With You,” the song that would, extraordinarily, top the Billboard Hot 100 in 1989 – four years after the band broke up.

“We sent Jagged Little Pill to every major record company in America and Canada, including MCA. Everybody passed.”

John Alexander, Alanis, Ringo

John Alexander with Alanis and Ringo.

But his greatest moment was yet to come. Invited by MCA Records to head up the Canadian label’s A&R division, Alexander received a demo tape from a young Ottawa artist looking for her first break into the record business. “I got a tape from Alanis when she was 10 years old – a song called ‘Fate Stay with Me,’” Alexander recalls. “I loved her voice, but I was so new in A&R, I figured that if I signed a 10-year-old girl from my hometown, I may not be in A&R that long. It took four more years before I was re-introduced to her.”

That re-introduction came from local musician Leslie Howe, who sent Alexander a demo of his band One To One, piquing enough interest for the A&R man to visit Howe’s Ottawa studio to hear more. While there, Howe asked Alexander if he had a minute to listen to something from a young artist he was working with at the time.

“He played me a video he did in Paris with Alanis Morissette, and I was so intrigued by what he showed me that I flew back to Toronto. I didn’t sign One To One.” Instead, he signed Alanis. But Howe did produce both dance-pop Alanis albums issued by MCA Canada – her self-titled debut and Now Is The Time­ – selling more than a total of 200,000 copies here, and earning her a JUNO Award for Most Promising Vocalist.

Despite her success, Morissette’s MCA option wasn’t renewed, and Alexander says the songwriter told him that she didn’t think she’d have a career singing other people’s lyrics, but wanted to sing her own. By then the New York-based Senior VP of East Coast Publishing for MCA Music Publishing, Alexander agreed, and stuck by her despite her un-renewed publishing option. Alexander asked his friend, professional songwriter Glen Ballard, to meet with her. Ballard was a producer at Quincy Jones Productions, who’d worked on the Michael Jackson classics Thriller and Bad. He had also co-written the MJ hit “Man In The Mirror,” the No. 1 Jack Wagner single “All I Need,” and the Wilson Phillips chart-topper “Hold On.”

“It became a fortuitous contribution,” Alexander understates. The duo co-wrote the sea-changing Jagged Little Pill, which has sold more than 33 million copies around the world, won seven Grammy Awards, and established Morissette as an international superstar. It was spearheaded by the caustic “You Oughta Know,” an angry feminist anthem that inspired a trend of similar singers,from Meredith Brooks to Tracy Bonham.

“Glen Ballard did the album on spec,” Alexander recalls. “I didn’t pay him – he just took [percentage] points [of the sales].” In hindsight, what amused Alexander was the initial lack of response to Pill by everyone to whom he submitted it. “Once the album was made – I had hired Alanis a manager named Scott Welch – he and I sent it to every major record company in America and Canada, including MCA. Everybody passed,” he says. Lawyer Ken Hertz finally convinced Madonna’s Maverick Records co-founder Freddy DeMann and A&R head Guy Oseary to hear the record. Morissette was signed immediately. “After hearing the album at Glen’s house, Freddy turned to me and said, ‘John, I think you’ve discovered the female Bob Dylan for our generation,’” Alexander recalls.

John Alexander, Avril Lavigne

John Alexander with Avril Lavigne

For Morissette’s publishing deal, Alexander recalls a moment where he was questioned – just as the writing for Jagged Little Pill was underway – whether the company should renew its option. Alexander was adamant. “When you’re in this business, and you’re in the position of believing or not believing in artists, you have to stick up for what you believe in,” he says. “And I’m proud that I said, ‘Just do it,’” says Alexander, who also negotiated to eliminate the right-of-refusal clause that cleared Morissette’s path to Maverick.

His record-company and music-publishing days behind him, the former senior VP of Membership with ASCAP has moved on to consulting, recently brokering some Yangaroo agreements with NARAS (the National Academy Recording Arts & Sciences, home of the Grammy Awards), the Academy of Country Music, and Montréal-based digital media and entertainment company HITLAB.

He’s also hoping that lightning will strike twice with Boulevard, a Vancouver-based rock band that Alexander originally signed to MCA Canada in 1988. Boulevard split, then re-united in 2015, and released a new album called Luminescence in 2017 that’s received European acclaim.

His future looks bright, but even in his past, Alexander has influenced generations through his decisions. As he humbly states, “I’ve contributed to the Canadian music scene.”


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