Bachman’s songwriting has always been about the hook. “Songs that you like are songs that you remember,” he says. “There are little bits and pieces that resonate. It’s called the hook, and you sing it every single time and that’s why you like it. You listen to the verses and the story they’re telling, but it’s always all about the hook.”

He also preaches the power of the simple but memorable intro – that immediately recognizable riff or musical figure that grabs you right at the get-go. Think “Day Tripper,” “Oh, Pretty Woman” or “Folsom Prison Blues.” Now think “American Woman,” “Takin’ Care of Business” or “No Time.”

Those memorable hooks and simple but powerful intros and riffs have always been the meat and potatoes of Bachman’s songwriting. He says he really hit his stride when he wrote the piano intro to “These Eyes.”

“You listen to the verses and the story they’re telling, but it’s always all about the hook.”

“When I played it for Burton Cummings, he said ‘That is so absolutely primitive, lowest-common-denominator and simple; I would have never have thought of that,’ because he’s grade 12 piano, right, and all kinds of boogie-woogie stuff. It’s the little, simple things.”

There’s no room in the Bachman Book of Hit-making for self-indulgence or musical pretentiousness. “You don’t want to write for yourself, or you’re gonna sell one record,” he says. “You’re not trying to appeal to other musicians, who are just as broke as you; you’re trying to sell to people, the masses.”

His new album, Heavy Blues, his 13th release as a solo artist, is giving him another chance to reach those masses. It’s also given him a chance to take a fresh approach to some familiar musical territory. It presents 11 tracks that draw their DNA from the kind of guitar-driven blues-rock that ruled the roost from the late 1960s through the early ’70s with bands like Cream, The Who and Led Zeppelin, an era that Bachman knows all too well.

But rather than cover old ground, producer Kevin Shirley (Iron Maiden, Rush, Led Zeppelin) challenged Bachman instead to write some new blues tunes of his own. He accepted the challenge as a kind of songwriting exercise.

“So I go back and I say ‘What’s the essence of this song?’ Well, I’m gonna keep the tempo and the beat, [but] I’m gonna write my own thing. I’m gonna take this riff from ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ and make it even more simple than the original; play three of the notes instead of eight. Or I took Hendrix’s ‘Manic Depression,’ which is kind of a 6/8 thing, and I wrote a song called ‘Bad Child.’”

Bachman says he relished the challenge to “write some new blues; take these old things, recycle them and make them like no one’s ever heard them before, but give it a ring of familiarity.”

On the advice of his old Winnipeg chum Neil Young – “He said ‘Do something absolutely different and new,’” Bachman recounts. “‘Get a new guitar. Get new amps. Get a new band. Re-invent and scare yourself, because scared is good; it puts you on the edge and makes you excited and gets your adrenaline going.’” –  Bachman formed his own blues-rock power trio to record the album. He recruited drummer Dale Anne Brendon, who played in the Stratford production of The Who’s Tommy, and bassist Anna Ruddick from the Montreal band Ladies of the Canyon. The three had never played together before stepping into the studio.

“I got these powerful performances out of these two ladies,” says Bachman. “And Kevin Shirley felt this energy and synergy and just kept pushing us, saying ‘Do it faster! Do it louder! Crank it!’”

Young also added his searing electric guitar playing to one of the tracks, as did a bevy of other big-time guitar-slingers, including Joe Bonamassa, Peter Frampton, Robert Randolph, Luke Doucet and the late Jeff Healey.

With Heavy Blues released, the Bachman power trio is playing the blues festival circuit in Canada this summer, as well as gigs in the States.

“I love going out and playing with the girls,” Bachman says. “We don’t rehearse. It’s a real flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of thing. There’s this excitement on stage of… imperfection. For me, it’s a great balance in my life between playing with my regular band that’s kind of classic rock, and then going with the girls and doing this wild, abandoned kind of blues stuff.”

The enthusiasm is palpable in Bachman’s voice. This new project has energized him. His mojo is rising. He may be crying out to have someone cover his songs, but his new blues are giving him reason to smile.

“Sharing, swapping ideas with artists from different communities, that’s the spirit of music,” enthuses Florent Vollant from the get-go. “I think I get that from the elders: as far as I can remember, I’ve always tried to use music to get close to others. And I can say that I’ve been blessed, because I’ve shared the stage with some incredibly inspiring artists.”

That’s quite an understatement! For 25 years now, Vollant has performed here and abroad, proudly representing the language and culture of Maliotenam’s Innu community all around the world. From the heyday of Kashtin to his very successful solo career, the singer-songwriter has become one of the most familiar faces of the First Nations. With the release of his most recent album, the excellent Puamuna, Vollant makes it clear that he’s not about to stop enchanting us.

“It’s true that I’m a nomad, because I’m basically always on tour.”

Although his music can’t really be called traditional – his folk-rock musings are closer to that of his friend Richard Séguin that they are to aboriginal rhythms – Vollant is well aware of the importance of his people’s ancestral traditions. It’s even thanks to them that he discovered his artistic soul: “It harks back to my earliest years,” he explains. “I would look at the traditional singers beating their drums in ritualistic ways that are millenia old, and I was mesmerized. Stretching the drum’s skin taut before the ceremonies was, for me, a way to access this culture and, above all, a way to reinforce this community feeling.”

Later, in the mid-80s, he founded Kashtin with his friend Claude McKenzie, and the duo’s first eponymous album, led by the single “E Uassiuian,” was a worldwide hit despite being sung in a language that only a handful of people speak. That adventure ended in the mid-90s and both artists went their separate ways. Just like his ancestors who roamed their territory for game, Florent went stage hunting.

“It’s true that I’m a nomad,” says Vollant, “because I’m basically always on tour, so much so that I feel I’ve been on the road for many, many moons. But I can’t help it: I need to be on the move!” Despite this unctrollable urge to move, Vollant still felt the need to settle down and plant his roots solidly in Maliotenam, where his family established itself after being uprooted from his native Labrador by a mining company.


That’s where he built his own recording studio, Makusham, in 1997. Throughout the years, his studio became a cultural epicentre both for the community, and for artists outside the community, such as Richard Séguin, Zachary Richard and Marc Déry. Yet somehow, ironically, Vollant himself never recorded an entire album of his at Makusham until Puamuna. “For each of my previous projects, I worked in part here, but this time around, I truly felt I needed to record the whole thing here,” he says. “I believe it had an impact on my mindset, and feeling of the record. There’s something more peaceful about it that comes from the environment. Before recording, I’d take long walks in the woods, this magnificent scenery, or I’d pay a visit to family and friends. Maybe that’s why the record took me three years to complete!”

One could hardly blame him for taking his time, because Puamuna truly is a great album. It’s built around the same folk and Americana frame as its predecessors, and allows us to glimpse a serene Florent Vollant, feet solidly planted on the ground, but gazing at the heavens. There’s something ethereal about it, starting with its title, which means “dream.” “Dreams are central in our culture,” explains Vollant. “The elders taught me that singing is not a game or mere entertainment. Culture, music: that’s the stuff life is made of, and all inspiration comes from dreams. It is our duty to transmit those dreams to the rest of the world using song and drums.”

And even though this album bears his name, he had a whole team of collaborators to back him up during its creation. Vollant co-produced it with Kim Fontaine and Réjean Bouchard, his brothers in sound. There was Pascale Picard, who sang a duo on one of his songs adapted from Innu. And there was his longtime friend, Richard Séguin, who gave him the only French-language song on the album, the magnificent Tout est lié, a song about the indestructible bond between First Nation peoples and their land.

“I was blown away when I read the words, and I asked Richard where he found the inspiration for all that,” says Vollant. “He simply told me that he only wrote about stuff I had told him before, and my reaction was, ‘I say beautiful stuff like that?’,” he remembers, laughing. “We’re like brothers and share many things, especially the fact that we both had a career in a duo before going solo. But, seriously, we have an obvious musical and social kinship. Richard is not the type of guy to write songs about Indians in his Montréal apartment. He came here and he partook in our rituals and our culture. He definitely is, to me, one of the dream bearers.”

Before letting him get back on the road (when we met for this interview, Vollant was getting ready for a concert in Rouyn-Noranda), we were compelled to ask Vollant’s opinion on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a proceeding that stirred very painful memories for all the Native people of his generation. “It’s difficult but unavoidable if we want to move forward,” says the artist.

“We need to turn towards the future now,” says Vollant. “You know, 50 percent of the Natives in Canada are less than 30 years old, and they’re starting to get involved in band councils, some even becoming chiefs. Those young people didn’t not know [about] the boarding schools, but they still have to deal with the old clichés and die-hard stereotypes natives have always had to deal with. It might sound somber, but I’m very positive about what I see happening all around me, youngsters honouring their roots while doing completely new stuff. Think of artists like Samian, A Tribe Called Red, Shauit… They’re shaking things up and giving our culture a very positive appeal.”

Are you some kind of optimist, Vollant? “I have no choice,” he answers. “I have to be. For my own kids and the future generations, we must believe that things can get better.” And no doubt, Vollant will keep contributing to this movement… one dream at a time.

It’s no secret that music is a key component of any restaurant experience. It influences the atmosphere of the space and, by extension, the way customers experience it. Thus, restaurateurs that tailor their atmosphere through a wisely chosen music selection maximize their chances for success.

Louis McNeil is the owner of all four Cosmos restaurants in the Québec City metropolitan area, and he’s always placed music right at the heart of what sets his establishments’ customer experience apart from the rest; it’s what has ensured his success. “Twenty years ago in Québec City, there were no restaurants with an ‘atmosphere,’ only restaurants with tablecloths,” says McNeil. “We made a conscious choice to be a restaurant with no tablecloths. Music is definitely a big part of our customers’ experience.”

Twenty years ago, at the first Cosmos Café on Grande-Allée, the music was played via cassette tapes, later using 8-track tapes, and later using a system that played multiple tapes in a loop. After migrating to CDs, Cosmos began hiring DJs to make sure it kept that distinctive vibe.
Cosmos CoverA few years ago, inspired by the huge wave of boutique hotel and restaurant compilations à la Buddha Bar, Louis McNeil thought to himself, “Why not us, too?” Daniel Lussier, Cosmos’ head designer, recruited SOCAN member Alain Simard who, under the moniker Mr. Smith, created original music to fit with the restaurant’s unique personality. And now, the fourth album in the Cosmopop series was launched in November 2014.

“Cosmos can boast [that] it’s the only restaurant in Canada to have produced original music albums!” says McNeil. “Customers can buy the CDs in all of our locations, and it’s a great promo for the restaurant. It’s much more pleasant to see a CD cover than skewered chicken when you’re waiting at the bus stop. That way, we’re actually selling a vibe, a concept, an experience.”

There’s no half-stepping at Cosmos when it comes to sound quality: high-end speakers, acoustic panel baffles for better sound on the ceilings and walls, and anything else that’s required to give customers the best possible music experience. “We also don’t hesitate to put our equipment on display, like our amp banks right next to the kitchen,” says McNeil. “At Cosmos Lévis, we feature live music every Friday and Saturday night.”

Everyone can enjoy the Cosmos Ste-Foy vibe thanks to the restaurant’s website, where anyone can listen to Cosmos Radio, a web radio station that broadcasts the actual music being played at that location in real time.

Furthermore, throughout the years, Cosmos also played an important role in talent development. Such is the case of The Seasons, who honed their chops at the restaurant before breaking out on the international music scene. “We played there every other Thursday, we were kind of like the house band”, said Hubert Chiasson in an interview with Le Soleil.

Just like their owner, all four Cosmos locations – in Québec City, Ste-Foy, Lévis and Lebourgneuf – are creative, support creativity, and are passionate about food and music. In other words, they’re proudly Licensed To Play!