At two in the afternoon, Gazoline’s singer/bassist Xavier Dufour Thériault was still lounging in bed waiting for the journalist to arrive. At a time when many musicians consider solo singer-songwriter careers more manageable and financially rewarding than collective endeavours, Gazoline not only thrives on rock music, but is doing so miles away from the current folk, pop or rap trends.

Since the waning, in the early 2000s, of the Rock wave surfed by the likes of The Strokes, The Hives, The White Stripes and, in Québec, Malajube, Les Breastfeeders and Le Nombre, many have claimed that rock was dead, or near death. “We were talking about that recently with [Gazoline’s first album producer] Xavier Caféïne,” Dufour Thériault says, “and we came to the conclusion that nothing is more rock-and-roll and provocative, in 2014, than writing a great rock song. It takes balls, because nobody is doing it anymore in French, and that’s where Gazoline comes in. So, rock is dead? I see this as a vacuum to be filled. An opportunity, even.” 

“So, rock is dead? I see this as a vacuum to be filled. An opportunity, even.” – Xavier Dufour Thériault of Gazoline

The Saguenay, Quebec, musician has a point. Since his band settled in Montreal, they’ve reached the finals of the Francouvertes festival, released a critically acclaimed first album, and watched several of their songs climb the NRJ French music station chart, with the catchy “Ces gens qui dansent” making the trio the “NRJ Buzz” for March 2014.

“NRJ adopted a rock format this past January to set itself apart from other commercial radio stations playing the same pop artists over and over again,” the station’s music director Geneviève Moreau explained. Following the fuss made by Les Respectables in 2009 over commercial radio shunning rock music, NRJ’s shift was great news for distortion lovers.

“Obviously, we’re not as hardcore as CHOM is,” Moreau continues, “but the word is out in the industry. We’re receiving more demos from young Francophone rock bands. There seems to be a new wave of artists who are less interested in sticking to a single sound. Gazoline’s compositions have more of a pop feeling than the wall-to-wall garage rock sound of the early 2000s.” Also a Mordicus fan, Moreau adds that she “loves the British music influences of their [February 2014 album Cri primal]. They remind me of Oasis, and this shows that the Quebec rock palette is widening.”

The Mordicus sound, according to the Chicoutimi, Québec, group’s bassist Martin Moe, came out of a need to be different. “Being from the Saguenay area,” says Moe, “the moment we break into a serious guitar riff, we’re being compared with Fred Fortin or Galaxie. With Cri primal, what we wanted to achieve was blending British rock and American blues music, and making them sound good in French.”

According to Maxime Desrosiers, the band’s singer, the continued support of Mordicus songs by NRJ and Radio X has had a major impact on the young band’s career. “You can easily measure that on YouTube and the social networks,” he says. “We can also feel it during our shows. When we play certain songs now, the audience starts singing along.”

At the opposite end of the FM band, the cases may be different, but the trend is the same, according to the University of Montreal’s CISM student radio station music director Benoît Poirier. “After a few lean years, I’ve received a lot more rock albums in the first quarter of 2014,” says this broadcaster, who moonlights as the drummer in the explosive rock band Jesuslesfilles.


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“When you’re in a punk band, people never ask you about songwriting.”

So bemoans Jonah Falco, drummer for F***ed Up. Since springing from Toronto’s hardcore scene in the early 2000s, the band has gotten its share of ink. Initially, for its unpredictably wild live shows, from which lead singer Damian Abraham is known to emerge bleeding from the head; for being banned from entering MTV studios after a predictably wild in-studio performance that resulted in significant damages; for the band’s very name, unprintable in most newspapers. In other words, for being punk.

After they signed to Matador Records in 2008, more attention was paid to the actual music, mostly for how “un-punk” it was. The Chemistry of Common Life, with its ambitious layering of textures, and unconventionally long songs (i.e., more than 3 minutes), won the 2009 Polaris Music Prize, and 2011’s David Comes to Life, a self-proclaimed “rock opera,” was named the No. 1 album of that year by Spin magazine. Now, the band critically acclaimed for pushing the boundaries of hardcore presents Glass Boys, a reflection on aging and ambition that’s both raw and complex.

“I wanted the record to be about coming to awareness that as a 32-year-old, you’re probably someone your 22-year -old self would have hated.” – Damian Abraham of  F***ed Up

“I wanted the record to be about coming to awareness that as a 32-year-old, you’re probably someone your 22-year -old self would have hated,” explains Abraham, who shares lyric writing duties with guitarist Mike Haliechuk. “The songs are about getting old, and having to accept that the things that worked for you then don’t necessarily make sense for you now. Weirdly for me, I worked through some things in the process of writing, which I haven’t in the past. I hesitate to use the word transformative, but I came out feeling a lot better.”

With six full-time members (including guitarist Josh Zucker, bassist Sandy Miranda, and guitarist/backing vocalist Ben Cook), F***ed Up learned early on that jamming out song ideas all together in a room was ineffective. Songwriting has thus evolved into a process of splitting up and coming together. “We wrote the shell of the record as five people, fine-tuned it as three people, then recorded it almost all separately,” says Falco.

If the words “songwriting” and “hardcore” don’t seem to belong in the same sentence, try this match: F***ed Up, featuring Gord Downie. The Tragically Hip singer’s appearance is just the latest in the band’s tradition of guest vocalists, who have included Dallas Green (Alexisonfire, City & Colour) Sebastien Grainger (Death from Above 1979), Katie Stelmanis (Austra) and J. Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.), whose voices complement and contrast Abraham’s harsh, screaming style. These guests are often conceived from the beginning, as part of Damian’s songwriting process.

“When I’m writing and I hear the lyrics and where they’ll fit in the song, normally I’ll have different people singing, in my head,” he says. “It’s never my own voice. That comes later, almost like a translation, in the studio. And I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve been able to reach out to some of these people and say, ‘I’ve got a song for you, would you come in and I will sing around you?’ It’s almost like casting.”

Abraham first met Downie as a customer in the video rental store he worked at. Later, the two musicians got to talking backstage at a City & Colour gig, then struck up a regular e-mail correspondence. When Damian sent Downie the lyrics to “The Art of the Patron” and asked him to sing on it, Gord was in. “I never once dealt with management or a label, he just showed up. He truly is the most down-to-earth, totally awesome, chill human being. It was surreal how normal it was.”

Normal. Another word that isn’t used much in this band’s universe. F***ed Up began as – and remains – a glorious accident, an experiment that has succeeded far beyond the dreams of its members, mixing musical sounds and ideas that shouldn’t go together, yet do. This is the spirit of punk rock, as they see it – not adhering to the convention of genres, but breaking them.

“You can always bend the rules,” explains Falco. “The thing that makes something F***ed Up is this really conflicted intersection of melody and not-melody. Maybe overreaching, the amount of lead guitar tracks, or doing something that is like squeezing into a shoe that’s too tight. Basically, going well beyond any reasonable amount of ambition. Like, ‘OK, we’ve got a great song. Cool, let’s put more stuff on it!’”

JONAH FALCO’S LESSONS LEARNED

  • Say yes to everything. “My invitation into F***ed Up was an e-mail: ‘Do you play/have access to drums?’ I said yes to both, neither of which were true.”
  • Build a mystery. F***ed Up initially used fake member names, created an enigmatic logo, and released their music in very limited editions with minimal credits. “When you make information hard to find, it creates demand.”
  • During writing and recording, take all the time you can to craft the songs to your satisfaction. “After it’s done in the studio you can no longer exert any control over it.”

FYI
Publisher:
Songs of Beggars Music, Mattitunes Music (ASCAP)
Discography: Hidden World (2006), The Chemistry of Common Life (2008), David Comes to Life (2011), Glass Boys (2014)
SOCAN member since 2005 (Cook), 2006 (Haliechuck, Zucker), 2007 (Falco), 2008 (Miranda), 2010 (Abraham),
Visit www.fuckedup.cc


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MAGIC! frontman Nasri Atweh and drummer Alex Tanas remember sitting around one day in their adopted hometown of Los Angeles, looking up the publishing splits for major bands on Wikipedia. What they saw cemented their idea of how their new reggae-based pop band MAGIC! would operate.

“The ones that have all broken up, and had bad break-ups, didn’t split the publishing [songwriting credits and royalties]. Bands that all did, like Foo Fighters, Radiohead, Coldplay and U2, those guys are going strong,” says Tanas.

“Yeah, it was really interesting,” echoes Atweh. “The bands that split everything stayed together and the bands that didn’t fell apart. People want to feel like they’re worth something.”

So on MAGIC!’s debut album, Don’t Kill The Magic – which includes their worldwide smash hit, “Rude,” a No. 1 hit in Canada and the U.S. that spent six weeks on top of the Billboard singles chart, with sales of more than 3 million units in America, 270,000 in Canada, and a video with more than 186 million views on YouTube – Tanas and guitarist Mark Pellizzer each have songwriting credits on eight of the 11 songs; and bassist Ben Spivak (who joined the band in May 2013, when most of the songs were already written) has three.

“The bands that split everything stayed together and the bands that didn’t fell apart.” – Nasri Atweh of MAGIC!

Atweh is on every track and “fifth member” Adam Messinger, his production/writing partner of 16 years, is on nine. Together, as The Messengers, the pair has written songs for Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, New Kids On The Block, Christina Aguilera, Michael Bolton, and Shakira, whose latest album contains “Cut Me Deep,” featuring MAGIC!.

Atweh – who writes “99 percent” of the lyrics – could shoulder all the writing if he wanted to, and take all of the publishing for the songs, or just write comfortably with Messinger, but instead encourages his bandmates to contribute and then give them a piece. He’s not simply being nice; he knows their value.

“The way our band works is they understand that I have to do a lot more work on the writing side than they do, so instead of us splitting it, I’ll take a tiny bit more,” says Atweh. “But you just get what you put in. When all of us write, then everybody gets their piece, but at the end of the day I don’t do this for the money so I was just fine with whatever.”

Says Tanas, “The cool thing about Nasri is he’s open to other musicians, but that’s necessary for the success that he’s had. All the big cuts that he’s had with Justin Bieber and all these other artists have been collaborative – like with Adam Messinger, or Rodney Jerkins, or us… I think he realizes that there’s a lot to be learned and a lot to explore when you’re working with other musicians… I feel it wouldn’t be MAGIC! if it wasn’t the four of us and Adam Messinger all coming together. I feel like this sound is the five of our voices together.”

Talking with each of the members separately by phone from Las Vegas, where they were playing a show, every one of them says how generous Atweh is and open to their input. They praise each other’s talent and Atweh does the same. Everyone says they learn from each another. It’s a team built on friendship and respect.

All four members of MAGIC!, and Messinger, are Toronto transplants. Atweh moved to L.A. with Messinger in 2007 to further their production/songwriting career.  A few years ago, Pellizzer went down to L.A. to see what doors he could open. He was staying at Atweh’s two-bedroom apartment when they started writing together. One of the early results was “Don’t Judge Me,” which grew out of an acoustic jam, and later became a single for American rapper Chris Brown.

Pellizzer is a schooled musician, a classically-trained pianist who boasts degrees from The Royal Conservatory of Toronto and the Jazz Studies program (in guitar) at the University of Toronto. He cut his teeth in soul/R&B bands and started producing and writing. He has co-written with Justin Nozuka, Vita Chambers, and has eight tracks on rapper Classified’s self-titled album, including the SOCAN No. 1 Song Award-winning single, “Inner Ninja.”

Pellizzer says it did take a shift in thought and approach when he began working in pop. “Studying complex theories and very difficult things to play at school and then suddenly finding yourself in a pop music situation, a lot of what you end up doing is reductionist, ‘Okay, let’s not do this there. Let’s keep it very simple,’” he says.

Atweh broached the topic of forming a band together when he heard Pellizzer playing a reggae groove: “I said, ‘Dude, I’ve always had this idea of starting a band that was almost like a modern-day Police. I think me and you can do it.’  And that was the start. We just went at it.” That riff eventually became “Stupid Me,” which is on Don’t Kill The Magic. Pellizzer brought in his bandmates from Nozuka’s band, Tanas and bass player Anthony Lavdanski.


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