Jean-Michel Pigeon, Monogrenade’s young lead singer, describes how his creative station was put in orbit. His first trials took place in the touring truck of his first band, Winter Gloves, in which he mostly followed orders as a guitarist. In 2008, after completing three Canadian and U.S. tours, he launched Monogrenade, his new rocket, by recording the eight songs of their debut EP, La saveur des fruits (The flavour of fruit), in a cottage with friends. His brand of imaginative pop with a taste for weightlessness really took off.

Following a much-noticed appearance in the 2010 Les Francouvertes showcase competition, where Monogrenade reached the finals and won SODRAC’s Prix chapeau aux compositeurs (Hats Off to Composers Prize) for “M’en aller” (“Going Away”), the band was signed by Bonsound, and released their first album, Tantale, a year later. This first major opus helped Monogrenade burst onto the bubbling local indie scene and get their show on the road in the rest of Canada and in France, where Tantale elicited high praise in the influential Les Inrockuptibles magazine.

“I’m not very fond of talking about myself and baring my soul through my songs.” – Jean-Michel Pigeon of Monogrenade

That brings us right up to the painstaking creation (with fellow band members François Lessard, Marianne Houle, Mathieu Collette, Ingrid Wissink and Julie Boivin) of their current album, Composite, a recording that was nearly a year in the making and actually placed Monogrenade in orbit. That drawn-out creative experience was perfectly in sync with Jean-Michel Pigeon’s personal style. “It is true that it’s nice to try and take things to the next level,” he says, “but there’s always a chance that a song’s basic essence will get lost along the way. Taking your time is a healthy way to go about your creative work. Personally, I like to create layered compositions. It’s a slower process, but I like to compose naturally without any pressure.”

The results of that more “natural” recording pace are plain to see on Composite, a concept album (retro-futuristic movie style) that is much more cohesive than the more tentative Tantale.

Strangely, in spite of the fact that the Composite lyrics deal with the diversity and complexity of human relationships, Pigeon is the last person you could bring to share his innermost feelings in a song. Is it out of a sense of modesty? “Yes, that could be a reason,” he admits. “I must say that I’m not very fond of talking about myself and baring my soul through my songs. What I like doing best is making up stories, pretending I’m someone else… Not all composers have exciting lives to use as song material, you know. What I like about writing in a more generic style is that listeners can interpret your lyrics any way they like. Your music can touch people even if you stand back.

“I think people could look at us as musical impressionists of some sort,” Pigeon suggests, explaining how the band’s Composite album was influenced by the esthetics of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. “The music often comes first. It generates images in our minds that dictate the topics that we’ll develop. The human relationships theme of that album probably came out of our experience of the previous two years, being together as a group all the time with the forced intimacy and the intense brief encounters involved. The life of the touring musician can prove a bit strange for someone like me, who loves spending time alone and burning the midnight oil when in a music-writing mode.”

Obviously, Monogrenade has not found it easy to reconcile their pursuit of compositional sophistication with the day-to-day realities of concert performance. Admitting that he considers himself to be a studio artist more than a stage performer, Pigeon explains that he compensates by concentrating on the band’s sound rather than on their collective personality: “I’m actually of two minds about performing onstage,” he says. “It’s quite rewarding to go play in real time with people who love your music, but it’s not my main driver. Some people are born stage magicians. Give them a guitar and a mic, and they’re on. It’s unbelievable! With Monogrenade, though, what matters most onstage for us is our ability to reproduce our vision as a musical unit. I’m in music, not show business.”

Though Pigeon maintains that Monogrenade actually has a pop music sound, their recordings don’t get played on commercial radio – only on community and university radio stations. On that topic, the musician says that he must watch his words as this situation has the potential to make him more vocal than he would like to be. “They told us we didn’t have the right format, that the voice was not up front enough,” he says. “I personally think that it would be a good thing for us to broaden our radio-listening horizons here in Quebec. I feel we’re always hearing the same artists in spite of the fact that, over the past five years, a lot of great pop music has been created here. I’m thinking of Marie-Pierre Arthur, Peter Peter, Jimmy Hunt… I don’t understand why the public is not more interested in this new wave.”

If Harmonium fans are able to enjoy a new Serge Fiori album these days, a lot of the credit must go to Pierre Lachance, a music producer and artist manager (Luc De Larochellière, Marie Denise Pelletier) who morphed into a music publisher accidentally when he became co-owner of the GSI record company. Many gold records later, Lachance was the inspiration behind the unprecedented series of tribute albums featuring multiple artists that have hit Quebec record stores over the past decade. “Our 2004 release of a tribute album to Jean-Pierre Ferland was so successful that others soon followed suit,” Lachance says with a wry smile, as he tries to explain how the trend got started.

By the time Lachance joined the record industry in spite of himself, in 1988, he was working as an entertainment lawyer specializing in film. “I completed a B.A. in Communication at Concordia with a specialization in film studies,” he explains. “Then I went to law school to become an executive producer – eventually working, among others, on the Cruising Bar film – but I have always been a great music lover deep down. I worked in student radio while attending the Bois-de-Boulogne College, and I can still see myself carting huge cases of vinyl records in the hallways of that institution in 1973, a year after Serge Fiori had studied there.”

“I wasn’t too sure of the project’s chances for success, but we ended up selling 95,000 copies!”

The reason Lachance mentions Fiori again is that the former Harmonium leader played a key role in his career in the late 1980s. “As I was a lawyer, a friend called me one day saying that Nanette Workman and Serge Fiori were working together on an album, but that they were having problems with their producer,” he says. “They needed someone to help them out.”

Once that contract ended, Lachance’s hidden business talent came to the fore. “I offered Nanette and Serge [the idea] to create a small company, Inner Sound Production, to finalize the recording,” he says. “The result was Changement d’adresse, a Sony-licensed Nanette Workman album composed and produced by Serge Fiori, who soon became a friend.”

Lachance and Fiori went on to start Les Disques Gipsy, a label on which Fiori released two mantra CDs and two recordings with his father Georges Fiori’s orchestra in the 1990s. This comeback experience gave Serge Fiori the confidence he needed to release the new album Le Monde est virtuel.

But the big break came in the early 2000s following a call from the then GSI artistic director Patrice Duchesne, who wanted Lachance to “help him produce a tribute album to Jean-Pierre Ferland, recorded by a dozen top artists including Kevin Parent, Éric Lapointe, Isabelle Boulay, Gilles Vigneault and Daniel Lavoie, to name only those few. At the time, such albums were practically non-existent in Quebec. I wasn’t too sure of the project’s chances for success, but we ended up selling 95,000 copies!”

Then came the album of covers put together in aid of singer-songwriter Claude Léveillée, who was incapacitated after suffering a second stroke. And there was another such project on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Félix Leclerc’s death, plus two Mario Pelchat-instigated country music tribute albums.

From a music publishing point of view, these revivals of great Quebec songs were a successful business strategy, although Lachance does not consider himself to be a publisher first and foremost: “In fact,” he explains, “I had to learn the ropes of the music publishing trade when I purchased GSI from Robert Vinet in 2010 with Disques Sphère’s Nicolas Lemieux, since our new company came with an extensive catalogue [Yvon Deschamps’ complete works, Gilles Vigneault’s 1X5 and J’ai vu le loup, le renard, le lion albums, and part of Claude Gauthier’s catalogue].”

New album titles will be added to the list as GSI signs up new artists since, nowadays, singer-songwriters generally assign part of their publishing rights to their producer, admittedly a delicate issue that is the result of music industry circumstances.

“When Robert Vinet started GSI in the early 1980s,” Lachance remembers, “he could afford to allow his artists to keep their publishing as a pension fund. Producers knew then that they could get their money back quickly through album sales. But things have changed, and today there is always an awkward moment between a creator and record producer when the time comes to negotiate royalty shares. Things can get tricky when a producer assesses his financial risks with an artist without being able to diversify his income by working as a booker and agent as well. It can get quite complicated! Basically, what you have to do is share your revenues in such a way that the artist can find satisfaction and the company can stay in business. It’s got to be in the best interests of all concerned.”

“Canada’s Duran Duran.” That’s what they called Glass Tiger, the young men from Newmarket, Ont., after they became radio and video sensations with “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone),” the first single off their debut album The Thin Red Line. Co-written by longtime SOCAN board member Jim Vallance, and featuring guest vocals from Bryan Adams – for whom Vallance was a mentor and frequent songwriting partner –  it was the launching pad for a great run of pop hits. Glass Tiger singer Alan Frew spoke to SOCAN about his first Canadian Classic.

Is it true you wrote “Don’t Forget Me” on the first day in the studio with Jim?
We wrote “Don’t Forget Me” and “Someday” on the first day!

What was in the water?
Jim picks us up at the airport and asks what we’re listening to these days, then we stopped at the record store to pick up those albums. He made tea. And then we played these CDs. And when Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” came on, Jim went, “Aha! A shuffle beat.” And so we started with a shuffle beat. And I started singing the line, “don’t forget me when I’m gone,” as if it was a verse. Jim said, “That’s a great little statement. Let’s hold that for when we get the chorus.”

How did you get Bryan Adams on there?
We met over the phone. Bryan used to call the studio occasionally, just checking in on Jim. Bryan was in Toronto for the JUNOs and popped into the studio to see us. It turned into a nice little session where we were sitting around talking about music, having a few beers. But Jim’s brain was working. He said, “Why don’t you two go in and sing some stuff?” So Bryan and I, three or four Heinekens in, we said “Sure!” It wasn’t contrived.

Did you know it was a golden song?
I can tell you exactly what clicked for me: when I came up with the idea of putting on the harmony myself. I’ll never forget, it sounded like the Everly Brothers. I remember being on the plane back to Toronto, and I had the finished Thin Red Line in my pocket, on a cassette, and I remember sitting there, thinking, “Please don’t let this plane go down before people get to hear this!”

What was more important to you: hitting No. 1 in Canada, or No. 2 in the U.S.?
There’s absolutely no doubt that “Don’t Forget Me” would have been a No. 1 song in America if they had released it simultaneously with Canada. But someone had this wacky idea that they wanted to release “Thin Red Line” there first. We had a disjointed campaign.

You were nominated for a Grammy for Best New Group in 1987. Did you go?
Yes. That was incredible. Sitting beside Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel. You go for a pee and you’re sharing space with Roger Daltrey. Whitney Houston coming over and saying “hi.” The sad thing was, we had been told by the Americans already, “ You ain’t winning it.” They said they would not give it to the Canadians. That’s O.K. We jumped on a plane to Germany the next morning to start playing with Tina Turner. And nobody remembers who won anyway. (Ed. Note: It was Bruce Hornsby and The Range.)

When you listen back to that original recording, what do you think?
I hear a young guy. I think of a time when we were really green and the world was our oyster. You land in Germany and there are screaming girls waiting for you, and you’re thinking, “How do these people even know us?” But of course they do, because your song is climbing up their charts.  I try to encourage young artists to take it all in. Because if I made one mistake it’s that I didn’t  stop quite long enough to pat myself on the back.