“It really is my guitar that opened doors for me,” says Pierre-Luc Rioux. As a lyricist, composer, musician, and producer over the last 15 years, we’ve heard his instruments on hits by Céline Dion, Lady Gaga, David Guetta, Nick Jonas, and Loud, to name just a few. In the shadow of such stars, the Montrealer – who splits his professional life between California and Québec – is now focusing his attention on the project that brought him back to the stage: Chiiild.

“I’ve always dreamt of building a bridge between Los Angeles and Montréal,” says Rioux, with whom we caught up a week before he flies back to his West Coast apartment. “The music industry in Québec and in the U.S. are so different, especially their structures. Here, for example, some musicians do TV shows, collaborate with others, and also play live; in L.A., it’s a lot more compartmentalized.”

For a very long time, Rioux was pigeonholed as a session guitarist. Except for one nuance: “I’m mostly a producer that specializes in guitars,” he says. “Most of the time, when I get somewhere and I get introduced, it’s as a guitarist, and that’s how I got into a lot of studio sessions with pop artists in the U.S.,” he says before name-dropping Usher, Mary J. Blige, and Rihanna. “Nowadays, however, I want to establish myself more as a producer,” a job that, as he sees it, is much wider in scope that what people imagine. “In 2020, being a producer means you’re also a songwriter. It’s quite rare that an artist comes to the studio with a finished song, and we often start from scratch…”

So how did this Québécois become one of the most sought-after guitarists in American pop circles? Pure luck, he says. “I was the musical director for this singer [from Québec, about a dozen years ago,] and I was convinced she needed to record an album,” says Rioux. “Then I convinced her label to let me produce it.” That was his first mandate at the mixing board. He discovered his interest and talent for that function, having already gotten around as an accompanist. “I was always onstage, and to this day, that’s still what I’m most passionate about.”

Production and composition contracts quickly lined up, notably screen composer work for Dazmo, a production music studio. “Then, one day in Montréal, I met David Guetta’s production partner,” says Rioux. “I told him to let me know if they ever needed guitars. He called me back, and one thing led to another. One of the sessions I recorded ended up on a hit.” Shortly after, Rioux was invited to participate in a song camp in L.A. with Guetta. “That’s how I ended up meeting a ton of composers and producers,” he says.

“I’ve often lined up in front of a restaurant only to meet someone that led me to a new project”

So Rioux has worked closely with the Californian music industry since 2015, “a year during which I worked every day, doing two sessions a day,” he says. “It was a tough year, but the silver lining is that I basically met the entire industry within a single year! That’s another difference between Los Angeles and Montréal: the pool of musicians and industry people is so large, it takes a while to understand who does what. In Québec, the pool is so much smaller, it doesn’t take long to know everyone and cherry-pick who you want to work with. In L.A., there are so many people who gravitate around that milieu, and there are new ones arriving every year from Australia, the U.K., etc. It’s not just a question of meeting the right people at the right time, it’s mostly about choosing the right partners for a project.”

But what matters most, he quickly adds, is being there, in that creative Californian soup. “I meet a lot of Canadians who drop by in L.A. for a couple of weeks or a month, to test the waters,” says Rioux. To tell the truth, there a lot of work opportunities and contacts that happen in the most trivial way – like waiting in line to get in a restaurant! Los Angeles is such a strange place, because most of the people are there to further their career, and that means you quickly get the feeling that you’re bound to meet someone who’ll become a useful contact. I’ve often lined up in front of a restaurant, only to meet someone that led me to a new project, and that’s not the kind of thing you can plan ahead.”

That said, Rioux plans on spending a lot less time in restaurant lines and in the studio during 2020, and a lot more time on stage with Chiiild, a “synthetic psychedelic soul” project (according to the record label) abolut which he’s thrilled. “What really excites me about this is the fusion between production and stage.” A first EP will be released shortly, about six months after being noticed thanks to the single “Count Me Ou,”t “which was popular on playlists, and then on TV, thanks to placements in shows aired on Fox and HBO,” he says. “We’re happy, because we have a good team behind us, a management team, a booker, and a good label,” namely Avant Garden Music, a division of Island Records. To be continued…

Caveboy enjoy doing most things together. This interview, for example, is something the eclectic Montreal pop band asks to do together. With no one mouthpiece for the group, Caveboy prefers to give space equally, for everyone to tell their story. We call Isabelle Banos, she asks us to hold, and a couple of minutes later we’re joined by Michelle Bensimon and Lana Cooney. They’re timid at first, of course, because interviews are exhausting and daunting. But they soon warm up, and energetically bounce comments off of each other. It’s as close as one can get to being a fly on the wall observing their friendship, one that’s woven so tightly with their creative and business partnership.

Caveboy wasn’t originally Caveboy. The group began back in 2015 as Diamond Bones. The name quickly seemed like it didn’t, or couldn’t, stick all that well. “It was a time of transition, and we really honed in on our sound, and felt really solid on who we are,” says Bensimon. “We always think about things that connect the three of us – things that are authentic and unique to us. When we came up with Caveboy, it was just like an ‘aha’ moment.”

Since then, Caveboy have been able to propel themselves forward, based on their electrifying live shows, along with a self-released debut EP in 2015. They won the Allan Slaight JUNO Master Class in 2017. Then there’s their string of well-crafted pop singles, which did very well in 2019: “Landslide” and “I Wonder” were heavily playlisted on stearming platforms; “Silk for Gold” premiered exclusively on Billboard; and ”Hide Your Love” reached No. 1 on the CBC Music Top 20 chart.The band’s been working to figure out who and what they want to be, and how to channel that into the music. This month, they’ve been readying the release of their first full-length, self-released debut album.

Out Jan. 31, 2020, Night in the Park, Kiss in the Dark is an effervescent synth-pop album. It sounds big, likely due to the added honourary member, producer Derek Hoffman – who’s worked on records by The Arkells, The Trews, and Ralph, all of whom have bombastic and anthemic sonic tendencies. Hoffman added what the group says was the magic they needed.

“Having this kind of sisterhood bond that we have has been so important.” – Isabelle Banos of Caveboy

“Up until this record, we basically did everything on our own,” says Cooney. “Most of what we did was self-produced, or at least 90 percent. When we were starting to write songs for this record we knew that it was going to be time to bring in another person.” With more than 30 songs written for the album, Hoffman, over a period of six months in the studio, was able to help whittle them down to the ones on the LP. He’d intuitively hear which songs connected where, the band says, and shape some of the three- to four-year-old material.

Night in the Park, Kiss in the Dark is one of those pop albums that feels eternally youthful. The band chalks it up to their own personal nostalgia for the way things were, or could have been – tracing the contours of new love, lost love, frivolous antics. Still, the album is consistently vibrant in the present moment. The synth-based parts of these pop songs are bubbly, and bring to my mind the vision of a nighttime when everything feels possible and endless. That’s true even amid songs that are also anguished (“Guess I’ve Changed”), lustful (“Obsession), and pensive (“Up in Flames”).

Caveboy tell us that they’ve really grown up together with this project, even while watching their contemporaries fade out and away from the tough business of music-making. Working on, and at the end of the day, holding a physical representation of their work was always the goal of a full-length LP, despite what others in the industry advised Caveboy to do.

“Everyone told us not to make an album, not to make a record, just because the trend these days is singles,” says Cooney, acknowledging Caveboy’s successful run of songs released in 2019. I’m personally really happy about it [making an album], because I think it’s one of those things that’s a rite of passage as a musician. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Banos, tenderly, doesn’t take for granted the experience of being able to grow up with Bensimon and Cooney, in the band. “I think each of us is super-lucky to have the others to be able to be artistically vulnerable with, which is a really scary thing,” she says. “Like writing songs, making weird sounds together, and, you know, making mistakes, and looking like a fool.”

She continues, “Having this kind of sisterhood bond that we have has been so important throughout the years: To be able to experience learning moments in a really safe, fun, and motivating space – in a productive space.”

Brown FamilyIf being a good father means being an admiring father, Robin Kerr was undoubtedly a good father to his sons. “I remember recording this tape on a Fisher-Price tape recorder. It was a big deal back then, when you wanted to record something,” laughs the youngest of those sons, Greg Beaudin, while sitting in the record store and café 180g to discuss brown baby gone, Brown Family’s sophomore album, a trio composed of said father and his older brother Jam (K6A, Jam & Pdox).

“So, yeah: I recorded this tape with all the songs I’d written and gave a copy each to my mom and dad for Christmas. My dad would play it EVERY DAY! It must’ve been horrible, but to my dad it was the best rap in the world just because it was me. I was 9 and I was a rap genius. I was the Mozart of rap.”

Some 20 years later, this mutual admiration between a father and his sons is one of the main engines that powers the evocative and profound aspect of Brown Family’s music, which lies somewhere in between rap, soul, and reggae. You see, even though the songs don’t directly celebrate family, at their core they all contain the ideal of a true father-son dialogue – a precious and rare opportunity that sadly eludes so many fathers and sons.

“This project enriches our family,” says Greg. “We didn’t see our dad very often, at some points, and this brought us closer. It was the occasion for good in-depth discussions on all kinds of topics that we’d never talked about before.”

Thus, the creation of their second album was the opportunity to have bona fide debates on the meaning of a text, for example. With a background rooted in reggae, daddy Robin prefers writing that has a simple nobility at its core, such as on “Tomorrow Night”: “The sky is grey, it can be blue right now / Life is sweet, it can be sweeter somehow / The sun is shining, yes, it shines so bright / Yes I say the moon is shining, shine so bright.”

“My brother and I like writing abstract stuff,” says Greg, better known as Dead Obies’ Snail Kid. “But our dad, he names things. If he writes a love song, he’s going to tell that girl he loves her at least eight times. He’s very down-to-earth. We clashed a bit on this initially, but he explained to us that it was important to him that what we say was understood by his people in Jamaica.”

So what does the man think of the sometimes “profane” language of his sons? Greg giggles, “He said it bugged him a couple of times. When something just doesn’t fly, we’re totally cool with fixing it. That’s what’s cool about this project: we have to all meet in the middle, everything has to be coherent. Without compromising what I want to say, I do realize that, sometimes, there are things that don’t fit within this project. The whole party-all-day and ego-trip culture is OK for Dead Obies, but not so much when I’m working with my dad.” In other words, one doesn’t behave the same way with one’s family as with one’s buddies.

Writing Tips

For Brown Family’s Greg and Jam, the most important thing is to throw as many ideas as possible out there, as fast as possible. “We’ll start with something simple, a looped sample, and we just spit out whatever comes to mind. It’s not always words, often it’s just sounds, a flow with two or three ideas. When you don’t work from a pre-written text, you’ll sometimes surprise yourself doing stuff you’d never have thought of otherwise. If I write my lyrics line by line, I always know where my punchline is going to land. So I play tricks on my brain.”

The Brown Family travelled to Jamaica for the first time towards the end of the creative process. It was back to his roots for Robin Kerr, and a first visit to the land of their ancestors for Greg and Jam, while producer Jean-François Sauvé took the opportunity to film a mini-documentary and a couple of videos.

“It’s hard to pinpoint what’s Jamaican in me,” Greg confides, having been born in Québec, from a Francophone Québécois mother. “We talked a lot about the Jamaican time frame before leaving, and I did notice how everything is much slower there. Poeple don’t rush, they take the time to appreciate things. Nobody fake-smiles, or does small talk. Everything that’s different about our dad in Québec makes sense over there.”