“Still, what I mostly find in my mailbox are demos from folk songwriters. I don’t know if it’s because of the growing popularity of competition shows like La Voix or Star Académie and their focus on solo singers, but we seem to be going through an individualistic period. It could be that social media are helping people believe in their own talent, as if people preferred to work by themselves instead of going out to play as part of a band.”

Besides the quantity of rock demos being sent to CISM, what impresses Poirier even more is the quality of the music itself. “This spring, Oktoplut came out of nowhere with a first album (Pansements) complete with their own distinctive sound,” he says. “And it rocks, trust me.”

“There are still lots of rock, punk and metal concerts being played in all parts of Québec.” – Jessy Fuchs of Slam Disques

For Jessy Fuchs, art director and president of Slam Disques, the label that signed Oktoplut, the Québec rock scene shows no sign of slowing down. “There are still lots of rock, punk and metal concerts being played in all parts of Québec,” he says. “Montebello’s Rockfest attendance records are going through the roof. Osheaga sells out each year. Rock music is still in great demand.”

Out in La Sarre, in the Western Québec area of Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Lubik band members are amazed at their fans’ acceptance of their abrasive rock style. “We played in family-friendly festivals on two occasions this summer,” singer Alexandre Picard boasts. “We even played in the middle of the afternoon in front of tons of families, baby carriages and grandparents. We thought they might run for cover, but they stayed to dance instead!”

“All the Québec rock scene needs right now,” label president Jessy Fuchs claims, “is a driving force. Galaxie and Gros Mené are occasionally cast in that role, but I still believe that there is no flagship band of the ilk of Grimskunk, Vulgaires Machins or Malajube right now. This might suggest that rock is dying, but the foundation remains strong. As long as things continue to move below the ground, the Québec rock scene will continue to enjoy good health.”

Reminded that Les Trois Accords and Marie-Mai have reached the top by channeling a rock-like energy, Fuchs admits, “This is true, but they’re not representative of today’s breakaway scene. Most young rockers don’t identify with Marie-Mai. It’s like in France – you wouldn’t assess the current state of the French rock scene based on Johnny Hallyday’s continuing success.”

Fuchs, a former eXterio member and the current Rouge Pompier singer/guitarist, takes his argument a step further. “Mind you, these new rockers are glad when their songs play on commercial radio, but popular success isn’t what many of them are after,” he says. “They’ve found a comfortable place in the underground, on the internet and in smaller venues. The rock scene has become self-sufficient, and it’s no longer aiming at wider industry recognition.”

What if the key to success actually lies in this newfound independence? After all, most music revolutions can be traced back to artists who did their thing outside commercial trends. “Once a music scene stops waiting for the industry at large to develop,” Poirier weighs in, “musicians tend to get in touch with their own individuality. They stop trying to follow fashions and are more likely to explore. This creates a diversity that, in this case, could well bring rock back to the fore.” We’ll just have to rock and see.



“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



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.