The voice is as clear as at 20. The words are true, as always. The passion remains as one day one. “It feels like it all started 30 minutes ago,” confides Pierre Létourneau, now 74, stunned by the speed at which the years went by. “I was so privileged to earn a living doing what fulfills me.”

“I was so privileged to earn a living doing what fulfills me.”


Fifty-four years after his first stage appearance, the slightly romantic singer-songwriter of old is back with a new album of original material, his 16th, titled Foutue société (loosely: Damned Society). It’s a coherent patchwork of songs whose themes range from the vacuity of our time to a sensual declaration of love while musically ranging from ethereal bossa to energetic pop-rock. “People constantly try to pigeonhole us. Me, I’m all over the map, I write what I feel. I hope people will say: ‘He was a good one, we liked him.’ Those words are very noble. In the end, they simply mean that we connected with people.”

Popularity is something Pierre Létourneau was acquainted with more often than not. The first time around was during the glorious days of the “boîtes à chansons”. (NdT: nightclubs where the tradition of French “chanson” was perpetuated in Québec in the 50s and 60s mainly) “It was an extraordinary artistic phenomenon. We had just disavowed the clergy. Yet, those venues were as quiet as churches. Artists were telling things like they were, naming things, streets, cities, feelings. The songs were ours and they were also the people’s.” In 1963, “La chanson des pissenlits” and “Les colombes” catapulted the “singing author that sometimes also composes” to the top of the sales charts.

After his first trip to Paris in 1970, a trip during which “instead of plugging myself into the French culture, I spent the whole year just entertaining visitors such as Charlebois, Renée Claude and Stéphane Venne!”, Létourneau came back home to Québec. Which meant coming back to stardom. “I missed Québec so much when I was in France that I wrote an homage to Maurice Richard. I recorded it over there with a choir and 35 musicians!” Obviously, the audience here fell in love with this now mythical song. “When I came back, I felt like I needed a new direction, a more straightforward language. I also wanted to work with composers.” What resulted of this new orientation were songs such as “Tous les jours de la semaine”, sang to a Germain Gauthier melody, as well as several songs for Nicole Martin, most notably “Laisse-moi partir”, co-written with Angelo Finaldi.

From record to stages to tours to television – Pulsion, on Radio-Canada — to visiting primary schools to teach the art of the lyricist, Pierre Létourneau reunited, in 2009, with his old brothers in arms – Pierre Calvé, Claude Gauthier and the late Jean-Guy Moreau in a musical review directed by Robert Charlebois entitled Il était une fois… la boîte à chansons. New success, new beginnings, renewed need to sing and tell.

Today, the topics on Foutue société are wide-ranging – from life as a musician (“Souvenirs de tournée”), to the decline of a generation (“Les Bébé-Boomers”), to passionate love (“Tout de toi”), to a world without bearings (Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait pour en arriver là?”) – and the words are as impressionist as ever, yet straightforward and rooted in daily life. Long-time companions and newfound collaborators alike worked on this album “created for the most part in the studio but with tremendous freedom”: Robert Léger and Michel Pagliaro wrote the music, as did also Michel Robidoux and Gérald Da Sylva, in addition to arranging and producing them, Claire Pelletier and Priscilla sang the back vocals, not to mention the team behind Edgar Bori’s new imprint, Vu de la lune. “Making music still gives me great, great joy. But I want to feel useful, first and foremost. Useful to others, so they don’t feel alone so much. Useful to society, in the hope I can contribute to making it less ‘damned’. Imagine a world without music. There would surely be more violence, more aggression.”

 

Inducted to the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2011, he also had the privilege of seeing two of his songs become SOCAN Classics. He casts a lucid gaze upon our mutating industry. “Making music nowadays is dangerous. Success can pounce on you at any moment and be gone the next. One must protect oneself. As far as copyrights go, the laws need to change. We, as artists, must make our voices heard. Luckily, we have organizations such as SOCAN, SODRAC and SPACQ who understand us and fight for us.”

Since his travels are not over yet, Pierre Létourneau has lent his writing skills to Luc Cousineau for an upcoming album and he his himself working on a tour of small, intimate venues that should happen sometime in 2013. “It’s going to be just me and Michel Robidoux on guitar, and I’m going to tell a long, true story and talk about events I’d like to see happen.” Naturally. Like fifty-four springs ago. When it all began.

 

 


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When Toronto’s Dragonette first began making waves with its shimmering brand of electropop back in 2007, they did something unusual: they left the country.

The husband-and-wife team of Dan Kurtz and Martina Sorbara, who – along with drummer Joel Stouffer – comprise Dragonette, high-tailed it across the Atlantic and settled in London as soon as the ink was dry on their contract with Mercury Records U.K., the label that signed them at the time.
The relocation was about more than business.

“We lived in London for seven years, and our relationship with our label ended two years into that move,” recalls singer Sorbara. “One of the reasons we stayed there is because we needed to prove to ourselves that we weren’t there because of the label, but because we wanted to be there.”
Dragonette had their work cut out for them when it came to promoting and exploiting their music. Radio formats in Europe and Asia are very fragmented, and Dragonette were reportedly blacklisted by the BBC, so things weren’t easy.

“Writing songs is the most daunting thing that we face,” says Kurtz. “It’s an endless chasm of fear and self-loathing.” – Dan Kurtz

“What made our career work was that we axed Canada out of the deal that we had with Mercury in the U.K., so that made us be able to release the record [ourselves in Canada] and actually continue working as an indie band,” Sorbara explains, adding that it was imperative for them to be perceived by the rest of the world as standing on their own two feet. “I think Canada really supports its artists in a way that is amazing, but at the same time… I think it feels like when you go out of the country, you’re taken at face value.”

Dan Kurtz, whose credentials include producing Feist’s solo debut album Monarch (Lay Your Jeweled Head Down) and being the co-founding bassist of The New Deal, said a number of factors were key in helping the band survive their formative era.

“We started with a cushion of money that was our advance from our U.K. record deal, which we let trickle out so that it supported all of us for three or four years,” Kurtz explains. “That got us to the point where we were able to capitalize more on the songs that had gotten licensed into some big TV commercial campaigns and a couple of movies [included ads for Jacob’s coffee, Dell computers and Vicks medicinal products, all using “Get Lucky.”]

“There’s always been the one dream gig that’s come along at the right time… A license or a show that’s kept the band in the black and trucking along.” – Dan Kurtz

“There’s always been the one dream gig that’s come along at the right time, whether it’s a license or a show that’s kept the band in the black and trucking along. We did take advantage of the internet, and when our record Galore came out in Canada, “I Get Around” got radio play. The grassroots thing has basically been the backbone of what we are, with the exception of some great radio play in Canada in the anomaly that is ‘Hello.’”

Ah yes, “Hello.” The high-profile collaboration with French electro music DJ Martin Solveig has paid handsome dividends, landing the band its first Juno Award in 2012 for Dance Recording of the Year. On the heels of “Hello,” Dragonette’s constant touring, appearances at two crucial 2012 festivals – Lollapalooza and Coachella – and a spot on ABC’s Good Morning America have all generated a buzz for their third album Bodyparts. It debuted at No. 17 on Billboard’s retail-driven Dance/Electronic Albums chart.

Which was a great relief to Sorbara, who writes the melodies and lyrics, and Kurtz, who originates the bed tracks, since both confess they’re very slow writers.

“It’s the most daunting thing that we face,” Kurtz admits, calling it a process of “pulling teeth” and “an endless chasm of fear and self-loathing.” The duo started writing Bodyparts in Rio de Janiero, but after two months they’d only finished two songs. “We wrote two beautiful songs – ‘Run Run Run’ and ‘Lay Low’ – but we felt like we weren’t getting anything done,” says Sorbara. “I’m really precious with my own stuff and I agonize over it. I know I’m trying to represent something real and true inside of me, so I’ll go to whatever extent I can to make sure it feels true.”

As the couple relocates to Toronto, Kurtz is hoping to build on the duo’s creative momentum. “I don’t want us to take another 18 months to write another album.”


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Her name is Kay, real name Kristin Boutilier. For a spell, she went by “My Name Is Kay,” just to drive home the point. The 25-year-old Cape Breton native, signed to Interscope and Universal Music Canada, released her 2012 debut EP under that name, which featured the eponymous single.

“With ‘My Name is Kay,’ it was supposed to be a fun little interlude on the album,” says Kay. “A three-minute ‘This is who I am. This is what I like. Let me say my name 40 times.’ And people still forget.”
Today, it’s a different story. After closing in on half-million YouTube views for the “My Name Is Kay” video; earning two Top 20 CHR hits in Canada with “My Name Is Kay” and “Strangers”; touring with LMFAO and Hedley; and appearing on tracks by Far East Movement, Cobra Starship, Steve Aoki, Tiesto and Diplo, it’s safe to say people know her name. So she’s back to using just “Kay.

Her still-untitled debut album – an eclectic mix of pop, hip-hop, dance and ballads – will drop in January 2013. While the songs were co-written with various songwriters, Kay’s main foil was OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, who also produced the album.

: “When an opportunity comes up to work with anybody, I always say yes.”- Kay

“Working with Ryan has been amazing,” says Kay. “He’s a genius. He’s so smart that his ideas and his brilliance kind of rubs off on you. It’s in the air when you’re in the studio with him… Every other song he writes is a hit, so I feel like I’m in good hands.”

She also worked with Atlanta’s Organized Noize (TLC, OutKast, Ludacris). In addition to the album, in the U.S. Kay is releasing an EP every two months for the next nine months or so, each featuring three to five songs she worked on with a different producer. The first, entitled Say What You Want, was produced by Doctor Rosen Rosen (sic) and came out Nov. 13.

“It feels like I’ve been working two years on my music, and now it’s all gonna start coming out,” says Kay.

That includes the songs recorded by Tiesto, Diplo and Aoki to which she’s contributed. “When I was writing for the album,” says Kay, “I was pretty much strictly writing for the album, and everyone I worked with knew that. But now that that’s done, other people are putting out their albums, and they hit me up.

“I’ve always been the type of person that when an opportunity comes up to work with anybody, I always say yes.”

Track Record
• In 2007, Kay lived in London, England, where she hired a coach to teach her to rap.
• She later lived in Vancouver, where she tried to get a drum ‘n’ bass duo with DJ B off the ground.
• She worked with Ryan Tedder after she met his A&R representative at a house party in L.A.


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