En un peu plus de 30 ans de carrière, le groupe Men Without Hats a connu d’innombrables incarnations peuplées de multiples personnages. Une seule constante : Ivan Doroschuk. De Rhythm of Youth à No Hats Beyond This Point en passant par Folk of the 80’s (Part III), Pop Goes The World, …In The 21st Century et Sideways, Ivan et ses acolytes ont touché autant à l’électro-pop, à la pop orchestrée et au pop-rock qu’au gros rock à guitares teinté de psychédélisme.

Installé à Victoria en Colombie-Britannique depuis presque dix ans, Ivan s’est essentiellement consacré à son rôle de père au cours des dernières années. Après une absence prolongée de la scène, l’homme ressuscitait Men Without Hats l’an dernier et remontait sur les planches, entouré de jeunes musiciens. « J’étais enfin en mesure de partir sur la route. C’était plus difficile il y a quelques années parce que mon fils était trop jeune. Pour les shows, la demande était là. Puis, mes chansons étaient de plus en plus présentes dans la culture populaire (on a entendu “Pop Goes the World” dans une pub du Fonds de solidarité FTQ et une autre de Tide, puis “Safety Dance” dans la série Glee, entre autres). À chaque fois que j’écoute la radio, j’entends une foule d’influences des années 1980, ce qu’on appelait la new wave et qui est en réalité un produit de la musique progressive et du disco. J’ai senti un intérêt pour le retour à ce son au début des années 2000. Aujourd’hui, on le retrouve partout, » raconte-t-il.

Retour vers le futur
Après une absence sur disque de neuf ans, Ivan vient de faire paraître un nouvel album, Love In The Age Of War. Réalisé par Dave Ogilvie (Skinny Puppy, Marilyn Manson, Images In Vogue) et enregistré au légendaire studio Mushroom à Vancouver, l’opus marque un retour aux sonorités synth-pop eighties des Hommes sans chapeau. « La plupart des morceaux furent écrits après avoir réanimé le projet, l’an dernier. La tournée m’a replongé dans cette ambiance des années 80 et m’a donné le goût d’écrire des chansons. Ça m’a fait voyager dans le temps. On a tenté d’imaginer quel album aurait pu voir le jour après Folk Of The 80’s (Part III) paru en 1984, juste avant Pop Goes The World. On ne voulait pas imiter le son original, mais plutôt arriver avec un son techno-pop moins orchestral. Même si la technologie est avancée et que tout nous est permis aujourd’hui, on a décidé de se limiter à 24 pistes en studio, comme à l’époque. On s’est remis dans cet état d’esprit des années 1980 où tout était joué à la main et où il fallait se concentrer sur chaque son, » avance l’homme de 50 ans.

Parfois personnelles, introspectives (comme le premier single, « Head Above Water »), les chansons du nouveau disque furent teintées par l’expérience d’un divorce. Alors que Doroschuk s’est chargé d’écrire les textes et de composer la musique des dix titres du compact, la nouvelle claviériste Lou Dawson a prêté sa voix à une poignée de morceaux tandis que James Love a joué de la guitare. On pourra même entendre Colin Doroschuk, membre original de la formation et frère d’Ivan, sur quelques chansons. Une méthode de travail particulière pour Ivan? « Règle générale, c’est la musique qui arrive avant les textes. Les thèmes vont venir avec la mélodie. Les mélodies vont inspirer des sons. Les sons vont inspirer des mots. Et les mots vont inspirer des concepts, » précise-t-il.

 « Avec le temps, j’ai appris que faire de la musique, c’était un métier. J’avais du mal à comprendre ce concept au début de ma carrière. C’est de l’artisanat. Ça se travaille méticuleusement. Ce n’est pas que du plaisir. »

On the road again…
Tournage d’un clip pour « Head Above Water », nombreux spectacles cet été en territoire nord-américain, tournée avec les B-52’s et Human League, possibilité d’une escale en Europe à l’automne (la première de l’histoire du groupe), de toute évidence, Ivan n’a pas peur de mettre la main à la pâte et continuera à trimballer sa pop synthétique sur les routes. Mais qu’on se le tienne pour dit : pas question de jouer l’intégrale du nouvel album sur scène. Du moins, pas pour l’instant. « Lorsque j’étais jeune et que j’allais voir des shows, je détestais attendre une heure de musique que je ne connaissais pas avant d’entendre un ou deux hits! Lorsque je suis devenu artiste, je me suis juré de ne jamais faire subir ça à mes fans. Ça a été un plaisir de faire la tournée des greatest hits l’année dernière. C’était la première fois que j’ai pu jouer mon catalogue sans aucune pression. Je n’avais pas d’agenda de compagnie de disques. Rien à promouvoir. C’était juste une question de plaisir. On fera sensiblement la même chose, sauf que je jouerai du clavier cette fois-ci. »

Bien que la route ait été parfois rocailleuse, au fil des ans, pour le clan Men Without Hats, Ivan n’a aucun regret, pas la moindre trace d’amertume. « Avec le temps, j’ai appris que faire de la musique, c’était un métier. J’avais du mal à comprendre ce concept au début de ma carrière. C’est de l’artisanat. Ce n’est pas que du plaisir. Tu sais, je suis très chanceux que les gens écoutent encore ma musique aujourd’hui. Oui, c’est un dur métier, mais les récompenses sont magnifiques. Lors de la dernière tournée, j’ai vu l’étincelle dans les yeux de gens qui avaient mon âge et qui étaient venus avec leurs enfants. On ne peut pas mettre de prix là-dessus. Toute ma vie, je vais conserver ces images dans mon cœur. »


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Control.

It’s a treasured commodity, the ability to call your own shots, and when you consider it in the context of a recording artist in the music business, as rare as liquid plutonium.

But with its fifth album Synthetica, Toronto’s Metric have achieved the unthinkable: Singer and synthesizer player Emily Haines and guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Shaw – the exclusive songwriters for the band – along with bass player Josh Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key are now determining their own destinies and answering to no one. With the exception of Haines and Shaw’s publishing deal with BMG-Chrysalis Music, Metric’s business is insular, operating their own MMI label, building their own T.O.-based Giant Studio, forming their own management firm and reaching the world through label-licensed partnerships.

Buoyed by the global success of 2009’s Fantasies – which sold nearly 500,000 copies, a million singles, earned the band two Juno Awards (for Group and Alternative Album of the Year in 2010), and helped secure their total independence –Metric’s 12 year career has yielded them a confident maturity and empowerment that’s evident in the sound throughout Synthetica.

: “We started getting into these really deep, heavily-distorted synth sounds that are really the sonic identity of the whole thing.” – Jimmy Shaw

The 11-song album boasts a synth-driven sonic canvas that includes such gems as the percolating “Artificial Intelligence,” the explosive “Youth Without Youth,” and even a boisterous duet between Haines and Lou Reed in “The Wanderlust.” It also signals a new creative dawn for the foursome, one that’s free of external pressure.

“The whole process felt more natural – more like us than ever before,” says Shaw on the line from New York. “At the end of the day, when you listen to it, it sounds the most like us. It’s just us having the time and space to explore everything we really always wanted the band to be. It’s everything we’ve tried to do all coming together in one sound.”

The changing circumstance surrounding Metric’s business also energized the band, creating some new precedents in shaping the album. For example, Metric began working on Synthetica in 2010 within 24 hours of concluding the Fantasies tour in Miami.

“We were literally in the studio the next day,” confirms Shaw, who also produces Metric (Synthetica was co-produced by Eight And A Half’s Liam O’ Neil). “We finished the tour in Miami and we just wanted to keep rolling. We were feeling really good at the end of that run, and we were feeling inspired, so we just took that energy and ran with it.”

Emily Haines, who writes the lyrics, also behaved against type.
“I normally don’t write on the road,” admits Haines, in a separate interview, also from New York. “This time, I had a lot of fragments – not songs, but very clear lyrical passages. Sort of a vision of the kinds of songs I wanted to write.

“So the process for me was actually gathering from various corners of various devices and scraps of paper, and kind of consolidating all those ideas into one massive book, which I then brought into the studio.”

For the sonic template, Shaw went on a vintage synthesizer-buying spree – ARPs, Moogs, Rolands – forming a compartment in Giant Studio that he calls “synth world.”

“The studio is in a building right behind my house, and in order to get to my car, I have to walk through it,” he explains. “Every time I left the house, I would walk through, hit ‘record,’ walk over to the synth, play something for 10 minutes, and then leave. That’s where a lot of the writing came from, for me.

“Right away, those little seeds had an energy to them that we just tried to keep throughout the making of the record. Then we started getting into these really deep, heavily-distorted synth sounds,” that are, like in the beginning of “Artificial Nocturne” and “Dreams So Real,” “really the sonic identity of the whole thing.”

Shaw says the creative process between him and Haines works different ways.
“Usually it’s a musical idea that I’ll present to her,” he says. “I’ll write a whole song – an ‘A’ section and a ‘B’ section – with bunch of instruments and drums and a beat. I’ll send it to her, and usually she’ll throw it into GarageBand and start singing over top of it.

“Then we get together and form it into a completed song. The other process is that she’ll come in with a completed song and I’ll start to ‘Metricize’ it: Speeding it up by 20 bpm [beats per minute], and then suggest things like moving a section over there…Why don’t we say that line three times in the chorus… Or instead of doing that, chop it all up.”

For Haines, her album priority became lyrical clarity, and Shaw feels she’s achieved a breakthrough on Synthetica.

“Emily has a way of lyrically tricking, and I’ve tried for years to get her instead to tell me how she feels,” he says. “We’re finally at the point where she’s doing that more than we ever have in the past.”


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Toronto roots-rockers The Skydiggers emerged from the city’s vibrant club scene of the late 1980s, when Queen Street West and its environs were bursting with young performers packing acoustic guitars and great songs. The band’s 1990 self-titled debut included the ballad “I Will Give You Everything,” the video for which earned them heavy rotation on MuchMusic and led the way for the breakthrough album Restless and a Most Promising Artist Juno Award. While many groups from Queen Street’s heyday have since disbanded, The Skydiggers continue to write and perform: their eighth studio album Northern Shore was released in April, with a national tour that followed. Singer Andy Maize tells Words + Music about the vocal and songwriting inspirations that produced the Skydiggers’ first radio hit.

Take me back to when the song was written: where were you in your career?
It was pretty much the first song I ever wrote, before the Skydiggers existed actually, around 1985. I had been singing with Andrew Cash and I remember he had one of the first portastudios, a cassette four-track studio. So I went over to his house with an idea for this song. That’s where it started. Later, when [guitarist] Josh Finlayson and I were playing as a duo called West Montrose, I showed it to him and we worked on the arrangement together. The Skydiggers formed shortly after and that was a song we were always working on.

The song has an unconventional structure, with only a few lines repeated throughout, almost prayer-like. What inspired you to write in that way?
It’s true there are only about 16 words in the whole song! I didn’t really think of it as unconventional. At the time I was a big R.E.M. fan. I loved the way they used counter-melodies and I realized that as a kid I would love singing rounds, like “Frère Jacques,” when you’d have two or three different parts of a song going. I guess that was something always inside of me. So when I used Andrew’s portastudio I got to try out all the counter-vocals and harmonies and I could see that they would work together. I didn’t have any proof before that.

How did a ballad become the Skydiggers first-ever single?
The fellow who first spotted us was Mark Smith, who saw us play our weekly gig at the Spadina Hotel. He was working for the Canadian branch of Enigma Records, which was run by Derrick Ross, and they had been given the green light to sign domestic acts. Derrick did all the radio promotion and he always had a vision for that song, right from the first time he heard it. He said, “I need some changes to take it to radio.” We were young and thought we knew everything, so we were initially reluctant, but we went back into the studio with [producer] Michael Phillip Wojewoda. He sped it up slightly, and we added another chorus at the end. And Derrick was right; it did very well for us.

The band will go out on tour this year with a new record. How does it feel to perform a song from 1985 in 2012?
We sing it at every show, and it’s a pleasure to do it. We’ve even played it at several weddings. The great thing about music is that we all have moments in our lives associated with certain songs, so when people come to see us we want to make sure we’re not only playing new material but we’re playing people’s memories


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