ModleeNearly 15 years after her musical debut alongside Vlooper, visionary Alaclair Ensemble producer Modlee offers us Soul Urge, her first full-length album – which showcases her talent, ambition, and inner strength.

The Québec City-based R&B singer has once again tapped her producing partner in crime for this project, launched in April 2022 on the well-known Disques 7 ième Ciel imprint. At the helm of each composition, Vlooper has nonetheless taken a step back compared to the writer and singer’s previous EPs and mixtapes.

“Vlooper has been making music for 20 years now,” says Modlee. “He’s the one who saw my potential and understood my voice. He has tons of ideas, and we’ve always worked collaboratively. But for this album, I took control of the artistic direction and what I wanted to put forward as my musical essence. I played with my voice and intonations the way I wanted to,” she explains. “I embrace myself in my imperfections, in my discovery… in the power of what I have to represent.”

Born in Montréal, Modlee spent her formative years shuttling between Québec, the U.S., and Jamaica, her father’s home land. It’s that journey, partly, that she wished to “represent” on her first LP, an incredibly rich offering with layers of bewitching R&B, cosmic funk hues, smoky soul, and thrilling hip-hop beats. All in all, it’s quite far from the more spontaneous sonic signature of Digital Flower or Analog Love, Modlee’s first projects, released at the turn of the 2010s. “Back then, I was really into sounds and the repetitive aspect of music,” she says. “I used my voice as an instrument, as a layer of atmosphere. I still have that exploratory side in me, but it’s more fine-tuned and thought-through.”

The name of the album evokes the will to take flight. “Soul Urge is a notion that comes from astrology and numerology,” says Modlee. “It means the desire of the soul, that is your inner purpose, your deepest aspiration. The album brings out desires that I’ve been hiding for too long. The pandemic gave us a lot of time to think, and time to kill. It was a mega-wake-up call for me. I lived through personal issues that turned out to be awakenings. I finally had time to make music. I no longer had any excuse not to do it.”

Awakenings are an important theme on Soul Urge. Far from the canon of modern R&B, the lyrics of which often revolve around “love and relationships,” the songs on this album have a more philosophical side, rooted in Modlee’s desire for human and spiritual evolution.

The opener, “Birds,” sets the tone right after a short intro titled “Mornin’,” and the song title is significant to the concept of being re-born: ‘Birds’ is a very important song, where I talk to myself,” says Modlee. “It’s rooted in a depressing moment, where I had to recognize the darkness inside me. I had to learn to admit, and tell myself, that I wasn’t feeling good. It was a period where I slept a lot, but was constantly exhausted. Nothing made me smile. I felt guilty of never being enough. I had to learn to recognize this darkness… the time had come to move on.”

At the other end of the album, “Rise” examines a complicated relationship that Modlee obstinately tried to maintain with a member of her family. But at a certain point, she had to choose herself above them, and burn that bridge. “It’s hard to accept when you’re trying to save someone, but realize it’s not your place to do it,” she says. “The relationship changes, it dulls, and you have to let it go. In hindsight, it’s a very decisive experience. I learned a lot about myself.”

“Rise,” in a way, embodies the very mission of Soul Urge: winding oneself up to achieve self-realization on a human and artistic level. Hence the idea of teaming up with a renowned label, Disques 7 ième Ciel, for this album, rather than relying on self-production, and a more discreet release on digital platforms. Modlee, it’s worth remembering, marked the label’s almost 20-year-old history – it was founded in 2003 – as the first woman signed to its roster.

“Initially, I was making this album with a single goal: making the best possible music,” says Modlee. “But once we started realizing where the finished product was heading, we felt it would be appropriate to give it a little more love by releasing it more professionally. We wanted to share the dose.”

Modlee’s inner journey is as radiant as it is important.

Ten years back, SATE asked me this question: “Please, name me a Black woman in rock in Canada. It’s fucking pitiful, and can really kill a spirit!” Fast-forward 10 years, and you’d be hard-pressed to name someone other than her. [Um, Fefe Dobson? BACKXWASH? But still very few. – Ed.]

While the fierce rocker has developed a reputation for being one of this country’s most charismatic frontpeople, she confesses she internalized the thinking that hard rock is “white boy music” when she played with Blaxäm, a Toronto band that mixed rock, funk, blues. and jazz in the late ‘90s.

It was after SATE heard about the Black Rock Coalition that the daughter of the legendary, recently deceased singer Salome Bey recalls thinking, “I’m not weird, I’m not doing something wrong, I’m not doing something that Black people don’t do or don’t like. It was an affirmation and inspiration.” SATE admits she still struggles with “absorbing it [the stereotype of who can play hard rock] or deflecting it,” along with a desire to appeal to as many listeners as possible.

She says she named her latest album The Fool, after the hero of the Tarot deck, because that card is about “taking the leap into the unknown over and over again. Trusting your intuition. Opening yourself up to be this artistic vessel in spite of any doubts, fears, or insecurities that creep in.” Not only does that perfectly sum up SATE’s musical journey, but she experienced all those emotions when making The Fool. It left her emotionally spent.

“I hated everything I did,” she says. “I was like, ‘I suck!,’ ‘People are lying to me when they say they like my music,’ and I cried a lot.” She says she was also stuck “in this place of wanting to please people who don’t give a fuck about me.” SATE says. “It took this global pause” (the pandemic) to follow her intuition, and to trust in herself wholeheartedly.

So she re-visited The Fool, which she’d completed in 2018, but felt “wasn’t ready to be released,” and not only fell in love again with the songs, but re-recorded some vocals, and added background vocals and interludes. She also learned how to engineer, and produced several tracks on the album. “And when I sang, I was, like, ‘This is my rock! This is my voice! This is the way I do my thing!’” she says defiantly.

The self-doubt – and consequent revelation – she experienced has paid off. The Fool was nominated for a 2022 JUNO Award in the Alternative Album of the Year category, and SATE now sits on the SOCAN Foundation Board of Directors – helping to foster and empower the next generation of music creators in Canada. She also signed a publishing deal last year with Ninja Tune, the U.K.-based label started by Coldcut. It signed her after hearing “Warrior,” a song from her debut album that’s on the Voices For The Unheard playlist on Spotify.

“(The deal) gives me the opportunity to write with other people, work with other producers, and have my music placed in a TV show or a film,” says SATE. “As a songwriter, I don’t necessarily need to be onstage – even though I love performing – but my music can live in so many other places.”

On the topic of songwriting, SATE gives props to her mom, who was recently immortalized on a Canada Post stamp, for inspiring her to “protect her work and get paid for it if it got airplay. My mother was a member of [SOCAN’s predecessor rights organization] CAPAC, and she signed my dad, my sister, and I up,” she says, adding that it’s a no-brainer for musicians to join SOCAN.

“It’s nice getting a cheque from them,” says SATE. “It’s like, ‘My shit is out there and someone’s playing it.’”

The concept of screen music is vast and varied for musician and singer-songwriter Frannie Holder. The artist we discovered as a member of Dear Criminals and Random Recipe has felt a need to step outside of her musical boundaries for several years. But what if all of her outlets are fruitful? That’s true for her.

A hard-hitting, hyper-realistic movie about sexual and physical violence in the context of juvenile prostitution, Geneviève Albert’s first film, Noémie dit oui, features a lot of songs. And rather than commissioning instrumentals for the scenes that required music, the director opted to use existing songs.

“This movie doesn’t contain actual screen compositions. She wanted to use songs,” Holder explains. “The music I actually created specifically for this project are two songs I wrote for the fictitious band that’s in the movie. It’s teen emo-punk-pop, and I grew up with a sister that listened to a lot of that, so my inspiration was quite clear.”

Alone in the studio, Holder wrote the music and the lyrics and produced the demos. Benoit Bouchard, her frequent Dear Criminals collaborator, introduced Pierre Fortin who joined the “band” on guitar. “I found inspiration in the story and what the main character was going through,” Holder remembers. “In your teens, any song is the soundtrack of your whole life. I was like that a lot at that age, like I was living in a music video.”

After easily navigating opposite musical styles with Random Recipe and Dear Criminals, Frannie is convinced that there’s she’s comfortable in any “musical zone.” “I’m not super-comfortable with musical arrangements, however,” she admits. “I played classical music when I was young, and it feels like a mountain of work to me. It’s the only part for which I would hire someone. Otherwise, whether it’s rap, grunge, reggae. . . Bring it, I’m in.”

And as someone who is accustomed to experience art as a member of a band, despite the fact that it involves making compromises, Frannie says the solitude of screen composing is what she finds the most challenging. “Screen composing is quite a solitary trade,” she believes. “You talk with authors upstream, but otherwise, it’s you and your computer alone in a studio. On the plus side, that means I did a lot of it during the pandemic when we couldn’t see anyone,” she says laughing.

Among her other recent contributions to screen music, there’s Patrick Bossé’s Territoire des Amériques, an immersive film about artist René Drouin. The art project was notably presented at Montréal’s Société des arts technologiques in November of 2021.  Frimas, a short, and Au nord d’Albany, a feature film directed by Marianne Farley, as well as season three of the comedy Trop are other projects she recently delivered.

As for Pour Toi Flora, a series by Sonia Bonspille Boileau, it will be available on Tou.TV Extra on May 26, 2022. It tells the story of an Anishinaabe brother and sister at a residential school in the ’60s. “Actress Kwena Bellemare-Boivin is also a musician and she was the inspiration for a whole world,” says Holder. “I used a melody she hums in the series as the basis for the rest of the music. The director wouldn’t have asked me if she wanted First Nations music, but it was important for both of us that we hear the roots of Indigenous music and the bridge between it and us.”

Boileau wanted to create this link between art, voices and craftspeople. “The whole point about the dialogue surrounding cultural appropriation is not to avoid working together, it’s the opposite. You just need to do things the right way,” says Holder. That’s why she enlisted the talent of Anachnid, a Montréal-based electronic music artist of Oji-Crie and Mi’kmaq origins. “I’m a fan,” admits Holder. “It was totally out of the question for me to use only my voice on a project that has nothing to do with my history. Anachnid was perfect and she came in with her voice, her flute, and her drums. All of a sudden, I felt a lot less alone.”

Never one without a story to tell, Holder humorously recounts her songwriting process for the animated documentary series Caresses magiques, a collection of five short films by Lori Malépart-Traversy about female masturbation presented by the NFB in May of 2022. “I had just moved into my home studio, and I had no idea how well it was soundproofed,” she remembers. “I work mostly at night, and I would play the same sex scenes over and over. For the longest time, I wondered what my neighbours thought of me,” she giggles.

These days, Holder is working on the music for Sophie Deraspe and Stéphane Hogue’s Motel Paradis, a six-episode series that will air on Club illico later this year.  “Sophie wanted the music beforehand to work on the scenes with the existing sound, which is quite peculiar,” says Holder. “I gave her music that I wrote according to the guidelines she gave me, and then I replaced my music while adjusting what had been used.”

Imagery is a living art form, and Holder frequently contributes, including for stage plays and choreography. She sees her role as an essential external component that envelops an existing project. Think of it as a bespoke shirt. She considers it a highly technical trade that allows her to be of service of what someone else has to say. “It’s comforting to work for someone else,” she says. “You see an image, you magnify it, you soothe it, you create a shift, you destroy it, you duplicate it, you make it bigger, or more intimate. It’s the final detail that makes the scene you’re looking at complete.”