Exactly six years after La grande nuit vidéo, Philippe B is releasing Nouvelle administration, an album on which he’s recognizable in every story and melody –  or just about. The singer-songwriter is back with everything people always loved about him: a malleable, fictionalized “self,” in which one ends up seeing one’s true self, at some level.

Philippe B, Charlotte Rainville“I love the irony of a restauant that changes owners, and you can read the large sign that says Under New Ownership, but the soup continues to be made by the same dude,” says Philippe B, explaining the title of his second album. The restaurant’s menu hasn’t changed through his entire life; what’s changed is life itself. Becoming a father a year before the start of the pandemic, Mr. B wrote all of the words and music of Nouvelle administration inside a new family dynamic, one that modified the album’s main theme.

“This album is about Philippe B writing in the style of Philippe B during the pandemic,’ he says. “I wasn’t trying to re-invent myself, but instead [I was] in the process of checking whether I still existed.” The similarities between the new and the old pieces were reassuring in the context of isolation. “The fact that my character, i.e. myself, had changed after becoming a dad was renewal enough for me,” says B. “Those are songs that say something more, and I managed to control my normalcy.”

As the boss of the new administration, B built everything himself. Guido del Fabro (violins), Émilie Laforest (voice), José Major (drums) and, in this case, Philippe Brault (bass) join the singer-songwriter, who takes care of the arrangements, mixing, and production. “It was the first time I was also looking after the mixing,”he says. “Guido was my second ear for everything. He came along rather late in the process, but I gave him that responsibility. He can adjust the frequecencies, and the arrangements, and the words, all at once. Above all, he knows me inside-out.”

Becoming a parent can change a life, and that change can be felt throughout the album. “For a long time, we were stuck in a place where I meant me, and you meant my girlfriend, or some other character,” says B. “But since my daughter was born, we is a threesome, and you is a duo.” That’s the case with ‘Les filles,’ a song depicting the whole range of anguishing thoughts, large and small, that can haunt a vulnerable man, who realizes the possible pain that he might inflict on the very people he’s trying to protect.

Philippe B. Marianne S'ennuie

Click on the image to play the Philippe B video “Marianne s’ennuie”

Outside of his personal life story, two stories took shape in spite of the fact that they’re not being “played” by his character: “Marianne s’ennuie” and “Souterrain.” In the first one, B chooses to tackle the idea of polyamorous love, and all the possibilities that lie behind the “love” concept.

“The chosen name is Marianne, Leonard Cohen’s girlfriend,” says B, adding that he didn’t want to shape this story too clearly, either. “I wonder how Marianne would have faced that sort of aggressiveness today,” he says. “She was Cohen’s muse, and their long-distance love had several peculiarities, although in the end the pretty things that one heard in the songs all came from him. I acted as if, for once, one were passing the mic to her.”

The story of “Souterrain” was written in the peculiar ambience of Sophie Dupuis’ 2020 film. “To keep my brain active during the pandemic, my record company offered me, and some others, a project that represented a false order, as if we had to write a song that would be the film’s credit,” says B.

Nouvelle administration took its time coming out, and many other songs of the album took life multiple times. “I would write them, and allow enough time for me to forget about them,” says B, “before coming back to them, re-discovering them, and making sure I still liked them.” He adds that he’d adopted a creative process that made him feel “more lonely than ever before.”

At the end of the album, “L’ère du verseau” brings a conclusion to the 10 stories – unrelated ones, in spite of the songwriter’s intention of wanting to stick to his main theme of fatherhood. “Talking about your new family is a nice thing, but turning it into songs sounds a bit cheesy,” says B with a laugh. “I also wanted to make sure that a guy who has zero children could come up with his own interpretation. I wanted to go back to Philippe the chameleon, who can be just about anybody. I think, or least I hope, it worked.”

Stephen “Koz” Kozmeniuk has made some of the biggest pop hits of the last decade, particularly via his extensive work with Dermot Kennedy and Dua Lipa – his work with the latter was nominated for three Grammy Awards in 2021. He also worked on Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker the Berry,” from the landmark 2016 album To Pimp a Butterfly. He’s worked extensively with star producer Boi-1da. His credits include songs recorded and released by Nicki Minaj (“Up in Flames”) and The Game, featuring Kanye West and Common (“Jesus Piece”). In 2022, he earned the SOCAN Award for Songwriter of the Year – Producer.

Koz has seen the inside of the star-maker machine. And he wants out.

“I feel like an outsider in the pop-industrial complex, this machine that is so screwed up,” says the Whitehorse-born producer, in his Toronto home. “I watch it wrap its tentacles around people, and the way they think they have to work. It’s so fundamentally wrong to me.”

He’s talking about the demands placed on artists, songwriters, and producers in the age of streaming metrics and social media, about the compulsion to endlessly produce “content” for a system that’s increasingly becoming pay-to-play: boosted posts, streaming bots, etc. That’s before we even start talking about the potential effects of artificial intelligence (AI) on the music industry.

It all, he says, “contributes to why people don’t care about music now. It’s clear to me that people listening don’t care, and the people making it don’t care,” says the 41-year-old musician. “I don’t know if people at labels even like music. Of course there are people who love music and are doing great stuff, but as a system, it’s made people almost hate music.”

Koz’s latest project is with The Flints, identical twin brothers from Manchester, a Phoenix-esque pop act. “[They] have it all: amazing singers, virtuoso musicians, cool as f—,” he says. “They’re amazing live. They work harder than anybody. It felt so good. I was, like, how does nobody see this?” The Flints have released a series of singles and EPs, and aren’t signed to a label. Koz doesn’t see why they should bother. “It can help you,” he says, “but I’ve also seen it completely tangle you up – more often than not. Then you can’t even release music.”

Kozmeniuk’s career began with a band called Boy, who were signed to Maple Music in 2004 and placed on all the right bills: opening for Broken Social Scene, The Dears, and other era-defining acts. After watching Arcade Fire’s Win Butler perform in Japan, Kozmeniuk realized that he wasn’t cut out for that role. “That messed up my brain,” he laughs. “[He] had confidence, and I didn’t. If you don’t ooze that stuff, don’t do it. It was a good lesson.” He started writing ad jingles, and then bought a ticket to Sweden to start working in that country’s competitive music industry.

The Flints, Different Drum, Koz, Stephen Kozmeniuk

Click on the image to play The Flints video “Different Drum”

It was there that he realized he had an edge up on other writers, producers and engineers: Koz could actually play instruments. “A lot of producers don’t play,” he says. “They can program beats, which is fine – it is what it is. But it was crazy to go into a studio with people who are at the top of their game, and they literally couldn’t play a note. That should be a bare minimum before going into the studio.” Of course, some legendary producers are known just for their ear. “Oh, 100 percent,” he says. “Look at guys like Clive Davis. I don’t even know if Jimmy Iovine plays. Rick Rubin just chills: breezes in and peaces out. I was in the studio with him once; he showed up briefly, wrote a couple of things down and left. Whereas for me, making music is the only fun part of this job.”

Koz moved back to Toronto in 2010, in part for love, but also because his Swedish work visa had run out. New York or L.A. was not an option for a guy raised in a northern town of 20,000 people – even though his first big break was working on a Madonna track for her MDNA album where he got a co-writing credit. “My first 10, 15 trips to L.A. were the darkest times I’d ever had,” he says.

Toronto wasn’t a retreat, though. Far from it. In 2012 he had his first radio hit, with Tyler Shaw’s “Kiss Goodnight.” More importantly, this was the dawn of the Drake/Weeknd era, and the city was becoming a global pop hotbed of songwriters and music producers. That’s how Dua Lipa ended up in Toronto, where she was introduced to Koz, and they clicked immediately. The first song they did together, “Last Dance,” became the template for her career.

“Her voice is so distinct,” he says. “When you hear it, you know it’s her. That’s half the battle: same with Drake and The Weeknd, you know it’s them right away. A sonic fingerprint. On [Dua Lipa’s 2020 single] ‘Levitating,’ that’s her demo vocals. We re-cut the vocals several times, but they were never better than the original raw demo. And the tracks are mostly played [as opposed to programmed]. We didn’t iron out the fun.”

For a guy who’s worked with one of the biggest radio stars of the last decade, he has trouble tuning in. “Everything is way too shiny right now,” says Koz. “It’s so rounded, so perfect, tuned to oblivion. It feels like razor blades, like a robot, no personality. The thing is, a lot of those people can sing, so why are we tuning this?”

He’s looking forward to pushback against tech. “AI will take a huge chunk out of the business, so instead of trying to compete with that, just go human! Why can’t it be raw?” he asks. “It’s okay for it to be messy. I think people are looking for more, and the business doesn’t really understand that. Like Dermot Kennedy. His shows are insane: 20,000, 40,000; he just played Red Rocks. Yet, he doesn’t have any radio songs. That, to me, is exciting. That’s how you do it. The idea of superstardom might not happen like it used to. It’ll be niches, and I’m cool with that.”

Mental health, once a private conversation, is no longer only talked about behind closed doors. Those messy, unexplainable feelings are now more common, especially among youth. Statistics show that in any given year, one in five Canadians experiences a mental illness. Post-pandemic, according to Katherine Hay, President and CEO of Kids Help Phone, that number is closer to one in one.

“When COVID-19 hit three years ago, we were ready to scale and meet this increased demand,” she explains. “Since 2020, young people have connected with Kids Help Phone more than 14 million times.”

On March 2, 2023, to amplify those connections, the national charity launched its latest campaign, Feel Out Loud – the largest youth mental health movement in Canadian history – with the anthem “What I Wouldn’t Do (North Star Calling).”  Produced by Grammy nominee Bob Ezrin, Randy Lennox, and Carrie Mudd, Artists for Feel Out Loud features more than 50 Canadian musicians. SOCAN members from a variety of genres lent their voices and volunteered their time, including Serena Ryder, LOONY, Boslen, Johnny Orlando, TOBi, Roy Woods, JESSIA, JP Saxe and many more.

Kids Help Phone, Artists for Feel Out Loud

Click on the image to play the Artists for Feel Out Loud video ““What I Wouldn’t Do (North Star Calling)”

And, as befits a truly national charity, the Francophone counterpart of Kids Help Phone – Jeunesse, J’écoute – was equally involved in the initiative, Libère tes émotions. Among the Francophone SOCAN members who joined in to sing on the charity anthem were 2Frères, Dominique Fils-Aimé, Jeanick Fournier, Jonathan Roy, Marie-Mai, Naya Ali, Preston Pablo, Rêve, and Zach Zoya.

The charity song combines the melody of Ryder’s hit “What I Wouldn’t Do” with Leela Gilday’s JUNO-winning “North Star Calling.” In two months, the YouTube video has earned 1.2 million views, and the single has been streamed more than a million times. Kids Help Phone has also seen a 31 percent increase in its service volume.

For more than 30 years, the organization has offered free, 24/7, e-mental health services for youth. The charity set a campaign fundraising goal of $300 million by the end of 2024, to expand its confidential mental health services and reach even more equity-deserving communities. All proceeds generated from “What I Wouldn’t Do (North Star Calling)” will be donated to Kids Help Phone.

“You’re not alone” is the campaign’s main message. Feel Out Loud is about breaking down barriers to mental health services and supports by creating more space for young people to express themselves, feel seen, heard, and have their feelings validated, safe from judgement. It’s no surprise Serena Ryder was involved; the multiple-JUNO-Award-winner’s last record, The Art of Falling Apart, explored her mental health journey, and she frequently talks about her emotional struggles.

“The whole idea of feeling out loud is the most important thing I feel in my life, not just as an artist, but as a human being,” says Ryder. “It was truly amazing to have all of these artists come together, because they’re affected, and because they know what it feels like to have mental and emotional wellness struggles.”

Dominique Fils-Aimé

Dominique Fils-Aimé

Dominique Fils-Aimé was happy to participate. “I want to help get rid of the taboos surrounding mental health, that have no reason to still exist,” she says. “Our emotional universes are complex, so imagine how overwhelming that can be for a young person. Having had to struggle with depression as a teenager, I know I was fortunate to have access to support – I can’t imagine what I would’ve done without it.

“Young people swiftly realize the absurdity of the world we leave them. I believe it’s our duty to make sure organizations like Kids Help Phone are there to validate their emotions and support their mental evolution. By giving them those crucial tools at a younger age, we make sure they have even better odds of becoming fulfilled, mentally healthy adults equipped for the rollercoaster ride that is life.”

Growing up in Scarborough, ON., Canadian R&B artist LOONY (aka Kira Huszar) recalls watching after-school TV and seeing Kids Help Phone commercials. She never reached out, or used any of their resources, but one of her friends called a couple of times and had a good experience; she knew that Kids Help Phone was always a resource she had “in my back pocket.” Though she never picked up the phone as a teenager, when the ask arrived to participate in Artists for Feel Out Loud, she said yes immediately.

“I am a super-anxious person and have ADD [attention deficit disorder],” admits the 2020 SOCAN Songwriting Prize nominee, during a break from recording her next project. “Like everyone, I’ve been through situations and traumatic events. I’m usually pretty insular in the way I work. I don’t do a lot of collaborations or features and I’ve never been in a commercial, but I figured if there was ever something to be a part of, this was it.”

When it comes to her mental health, what helps LOONY is to be aware of the signposts and the triggers that affect her mood. “For me, that means to get outside, remember to eat food that nourishes me and just notice the things that make me feel good and do more of that,” she says.

For Vancouver-based alternative hip-hop artist Boslen, music is the eternal saviour that always helps him heal, and keep the darkness at bay. The 23-year-old spent his formative years in rural Chilliwack, B.C., hunting with his dad and “chasing bees and lizards.” When his parents divorced, he was only 12 years old, and didn’t know how to express his feelings. Clarity came when he first heard the song “Up Up & Away.”

“Kid Cudi and that song saved my life!” says Boslen. “He was the first artist to ever say his dad wasn’t around. As a kid, you don’t know why you’re feeling depressed when you are just hanging out at the playground… You don’t know why you have anxiety. But when somebody else says it, you’re, like, ‘Oh yeah, that might be a reason!’ As a man, you have to be open to growth, and putting your ego to the side sometimes. Music is the best therapy for that.”

Like LOONY, Boslen jumped at the offer to get involved in the Feel Out Loud campaign. “I love the message behind it, and I’ve always wanted to try something in this world where it’s not just me,” he explains. “As artists, everybody on that song can relate to this fact, we constantly slave ourselves to our own music to make it perfect. I felt like with this song, we were doing something selfless for other people. How can you say no to that?”

Kids Help Phone’s Kathierine Hay is filled with gratitude that no one said no, and she thanks all of the artists, and the corporate partners, that helped make the Feel Out Loud campaign possible. For the senior executive, the following lines in the song’s second verse, sung by 2023 Breakthrough Artist of the Year Preston Pablo, are the most poignant: Life can bе like a river/ That you are floating down /You may not be a swimmer/ But I’ll never let you drown.

“That’s the most common feeling that our frontline staff say kids calling us share,” says Hay. “Our message back to all kids out there is this: We won’t let you drown. We’re here for you.”