a l l i e admits that the first song she ever wrote was perhaps a little too long. It was a fusion of melodies and poetry, a new way for the artist to channel her first heartbreak. It was a cathartic moment, but more importantly, it was the beginning of what she calls an addiction to songwriting.

Since then, it feels like a l l i e hasn’t stopped creating. Over the last few years, the Toronto-based artist has put out a number of singles and EPs, a creative sampling of beat-driven R&B jams, often showing off elements of the jazz, reggae and soul music she grew up with in her musical household. Some of her collaborative efforts may sound familiar, as she’s embedded herself in a burgeoning scene of musicians and producers including Charlotte Day Wilson, Harrison, River Tiber and Birthday Boy. “Our community is super-strong and so supportive,” she says. “Everyone is so strong at doing their own thing, so when we come together it always works pretty naturally.”

All of that has culminated this year on her debut album, Nightshade, a record that’s been in the works for two years. While some of the music came to her naturally, a l l i e did hit a writer’s block. How did she get through it? She credits meditation, and an escape from the bustling city to focus and, as she says, “reflect in quiet spaces in nature.” The album was completed in a cabin in Bracebridge, ON, two hours outside of Toronto, where a l l i e says she finally got the clarity she needed.

As she continues to gain attention from colleague artists and critics alike, she hopes that people will grasp the album’s driving force of feminine divinity, and the determined voice of a woman fighting a male-dominated industry. “We’re divine, we nurture, we give life,” she says. “At this point, we want our strength to be acknowledged, and we want to see a world where gender equality is reflected in every way.”

For Laura Sauvage and Julie Aubé of Acadian folk trio Les Hay Babies (the third member being Katrin Noël), flying solo is a way to release their creative overflow. Launched a week apart, their respective solo albums are the result of very different sonic journeys.

Julie Aubé, Laura Sauvage

Julie Aubé (left) and Laura Sauvage (right). (Photo: Eric Parazelli)

On Joie de vivre, her first solo outing, Julie Aubé chose to record using an analog 16-track console. “I wanted to experience that trip,” she explains, adding that during the recording process, she was “really into Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, Captain Beefheart,” and ‘60s psychedelic rock bands. “When we started recording, I realized that the tape I had ordered from the States was defective, it wasn’t cut right. It had an impact, barely audible, on the sound, but it shaped the experience.”

“It’s the exact opposite for me,” says Vivianne Roy, a.k.a.  Laura Sauvage, about her second solo album, The Beautiful, which delves into ‘80s garage-rock and new wave. “We used a digital console, but using old guitars and mics. We recorded as many layers as possible, because I really wanted to tinker with effects and sounds, play sequences backwards, add some noise on top of it… And then we cut everything that wasn’t necessary.”

These seemingly opposite ways of approaching songwriting are both tinged with an overwhelming artistic freedom that also infused the creative process for La 4ième dimension (version longue), The Hay Babies’ second album, from October 2016. Far from the pop compromise many young artists have to contend with after a meteoric rise, that album, recorded in a few days in a cabin, was a portrait of intense human and musical chemistry.

That lively and prolific energy carried over to both new projects, created in their spare time in between the various legs of The Hay Babies’ last tour. “Whether we’re working together, or each doing our thing separately, we never stop – because creativity is something you need to work on. If you don’t use it, you lose it,” says Aubé. “When I didn’t have this solo project, I’d sometimes spend two months with a song idea bouncing around in my head. Now, I can express it in my free time, and I feel more open-minded when we record as The Hay Babies.”

Julie Aubé, Laura Sauvage“All three of us are rarely together outside of touring. It’s more spontaneous to work alone,” says Sauvage, based in Montréal for two years now. “I really do see writing as my job. I think about themes and other ideas during the day, and as soon as I get home, I turn on my computer and grab my guitar.”

Sauvage, a very prolific singer-songwriter, has learned to trust herself over the last few years. With the support of Dany Placard, who encouraged her to record her first EP in 2015, she used her solo career as a platform from which to live one of her teenage dreams: producing albums. “There was no better way to learn this trade than to just start doing it,” she says. “I didn’t want to shoot myself in the foot by producing someone else… I was too afraid I’d do a shitty job.”

Aubé co-produced Joie de vivre with Marc Pérusse, and her solo venture also brought her a lot of self-assurance and autonomy, both in songwriting and recording. “It’s the type of experience that takes you further,” says Aubé, now based in Memramcook, about 30 km from Moncton. “For the first time in my life, I had to trust myself, because I couldn’t rely on Viv or Kat or Marc Pérusse, who weren’t there during the recording sessions. That was the biggest challenge.”

That learning process will continue soon, onstage. Used to being on stage alone with her guitar, Sauvage now wants to put on shows with her band, in order to triumph over solitude. “Being onstage alone is the loneliest thing on earth,” she says. “You go someplace, spend a whole day not saying a word, do your five-minute soundcheck, you eat alone, do your show alone, go to bed alone,” says the woman who opened for the Barr Brothers and Patrick Watson last year. “Now that I have my band, I’m learning to hold the front. Sometimes I wonder if I’m going nuts. It’s quite weird to be at the front of the stage without the girls. You really are naked onstage.”

Despite having only one solo show under her belt – and that was the one she gave during her record release earlier this month at l’Escogriffe in Montréal – Aubé knows what she doesn’t want. “I don’t want to do solo shows,” she says. “I want things to fucking rock! I already feel I tour quite a lot with The Hay Babies, all I’d like are a few shows a year with my band.”

In short, those new beginnings come with their own set of expectations and fears, and their own moments of excitement and uncertainty. Fully aware that she’ll return to the small venues where she’s played before with her trio, Aubé is optimistic about the situation. “Right now, there are six people on stage during the Hay Babies shows, plus our techs. That means there are fewer venues who can afford our show. I’ve always loved playing in dingy bars, so the prospect of starting all over again and re-living that period thrills me!”

Whereas solo projects often mark the beginning of the end for a band, the solo forays for The Hay Babies are more like rich interludes between albums. “Still, people get ideas,” says Sauvage. “People like to believe it’s way more dramatic than it is; we’re just doing it all for art.”

“Some people have a hard time understanding that we have a life outside of the Hay Babies,” says Aubé. “Even today, if I go to a café in Moncton, people ask me where the other two girls are!”

Let’s be honest: no one can expect a musician to be in tip-top shape on the day after their record launch. But when we speak to Éliane Préfontaine, one-third of Montréal electro-pop outfit Paupière, alongside Julia Daigle and Pierre-Luc Bégin, she sounds ready as can be – to joyfully embark on a day of promotion for their album À jamais privé de réponses (Forever Deprived of Answers), a first album that deserves to be celebrated.

“We’re always ready to party, but we’re a little wiser than before,” she readily admits. “We learned the hard way, during our first tour of France, that it’s rarely a good idea to party non-stop when you have to play every night. The day we arrived to play at the TransMusicales de Rennes, in Brittany, we were supposed to meet the people from our record label for the first time and let’s just say the combination of booze and jetlag didn’t yield optimal results. The evening ended in a memorable fight.”

Luckily for the band, the people at Entreprise, one of the most interesting French labels at the moment, didn’t turn their backs, and handed them the keys to Europe – where their heavily ‘80s-tinged electro-pop has found very receptive audiences. The Parisian label, whose roster also includes the likes of Moodoïd, Grand Blanc, Fishbach and Bagarre, shares an artistic direction very similar to that of their Montréal label, Lisbon Lux. “It’s amazing to be so well supported by people who believe in us, especially since we certainly didn’t expect to actually have a career as a band when we started,” says Préfontaine.

Their first album marks a clear evolution since the release of their first EP, Jeunes Instants (Youthful Moments), and they take their personal vision of slightly retro electro-pop to new heights. Totally unabashed, their music draws as much from the British synth-pop as it does from French “variété,” and they touch upon these genres without irony. “We try to avoid pigeonholing our musical style,” says Préfontaine, “but from the moment one of our songs was put in heavy rotation on Énergie – “Rex,” which was also a finalist at the Prix de la chanson SOCAN – we immediately started accepting that what we do is pop music. We’re still an underground band, and some of our songs have dark and minimalist lyrics, but we all want to create memorable hooks.”

When she talks about Paupière’s music, Préfontaine often cites other art forms, comparing their first album to a feature film, and contrasting individual songs with novels, each with their hero. The visual arts world, from which she comes, is also part of the equation, as is the world of theatre. “We mainly create on computers, and not during jam sessions, as a rock band would, so our challenge was transposing our songs to the stage in a compelling way,” she explains. “We increasingly devote more attention to our stage presence: we work with a stage director, and strive to breathe life to each of our songs in a way that draws the audience into our universe.”

And the universe into which Paupière invites us is a nocturnal, neon-lit one, where senses are king, and one listens with their eyes and sees with their ears. “Through my eyelids (“eyelid” is the English word for “paupière,”) I perceive the universe differently,” is a lyric from the first song, “D’une autre manière.” But has the band really changed the way it perceives the world and music? “Maybe to a certain extent, yes; let’s say we’ve gained some maturity,” agrees Préfontaine. “We’ve lived our ‘Youthful Moments’ on our first EP, and we feel we took things a little further on the album, but we’re humble enough to say that we remain ‘Forever Deprived of Answers.’”