Richard Séguin

Photo: Jean-Charles Labarre

Richard Séguin earned the Lifetime Achievement Award during the 2016 edition of the Gala de la SOCAN at Montréal’s Métropolis on Sept. 12. It was the perfect opportunity for Paroles & Musique to have a heart-to-heart with the Saint-Venant-based songwriter about his songwriting process, his songs, and their evolution.

“When I look back at what Les Séguin sang about in the early ‘70s and what I sing about today, not much has changed,” says Séguin. “Surely I’m more pragmatic and less of a dreamer. But I haven’t left the ecology theme behind; that era’s stakes are still present today in the social debate, in wealth distribution, in respecting outlying regions, in the democratization of culture, all of which were themes we sang about in the ‘70s. These values are important to me and the discourse hasn’t changed all that much.”

From his first steps with psychedelic band La Nouvelle Frontière (1969-71), then on to Les Séguin (1972–1976) and their glorious Café du quai, as well as the Fiori-Séguin (1978) adventure, followed by about fifteen solo albums, Richard Séguin, like still, deep water, forged himself a very strong identity. His head is filled with a thirst for justice. His boots walk on America’s rural roads.

Flashback to 1978. The Fiori-Séguin adventure. A single album. Torch songs, such as “Deux-cent nuits à l’heure” (“Two Hunderd Nights an Hour”) and “Viens danser” (“Come Dancing”).  Three Felix awards. Two hundred thousand copies sold. Richard was only 26 years old.

“Serge [Fiori] and I knew each other since the Café du quai era in Magog around 1972,” says Séguin. “Back in 1977, many bands such as Beau Dommage, Harmonium, Octobre and Les Séguins basically stopped producing. Initially, our project was really simple: two guitars, two voices and an acoustic bass. And then there was the collaboration of other Harmonium musicians, who saw the opportunity as a kind of renaissance.”

Yet the Fiori-Séguin experiment was very short-lived, despite its phenomenal success. “We agreed on it right from the get-go,” says Séguin. “We weren’t going to start a new band or tour. That was very liberating, it allowed us to explore a new musical language, and Serge acted as my guide through it. It was a very beneficial meeting of the minds. It allowed us to each go our own way afterwards.”

A year later, he launched his first solo album. Then, in 1985, his whole life changed.

That’s when the trilogy of Double Vie, Journée d’Amérique, and Aux portes du matin, released between 1985 and 1991, saw Séguin become a bona fide star. He played 24 sold-out shows at the legendary Spectrum, and saw his picture hoisted on the venue’s Wall of Fame, alongside such luminaries as Spectrum, Jacques Higelin, Michel Rivard, and The Plasmatics’ Wendy O. Williams! Séguin remembers that era.

“Hélène Dalair, the musical director, played a crucial role,” he says. “She has this uncanny ability to bring the best out of musicians. She was a true conductor. There’s a lot that came from her in the final, rock-oriented sound that ended up on those albums. Réjean Bouchard also had a big influence on that era. But those were also taxing years on my family life since we were constantly on the road: the stars were aligned, the sales of francophone artists were up, radio was getting on board, we were coming out of the post-referendum darkness. It was my way of singing about our America that people would identify with. I was following in the footsteps of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Springsteen, Mellencamp, and Neil Young. They were all big influences. I felt like I was in the same musical family as these great songsmiths.”

With songs such as “Double Vie” (“Double Life”), “J’te cherche” (“Looking for You”), “Protest Song,” “Ici comme ailleurs” (“Here, Like Eleswhere”), “L’ange vagabond” (“Vagabond Angel”) “Et tu marches” (“And You Walk”), “Journée d’Amérique” (“A Day in America”), “Aux portes du matin” (“At the Gates of Morning”), and so many more, Séguin offered us classics, in a unique voice that still creates joy on every hearing. “And you know what? I’m not tired of singing them yet,” he says.

All of his albums were written in Saint-Venant, a tiny, village of 112 souls in Québec’s Eastern Townships, and that’s no different for huis current album Les nouveaux horizons, launched earlier this year by Spectra Musique.

“It all happened very simply,” says Séguin. “At 62, I gave myself the project of building a place where I could write, and just let go completely. Even being here, in Saint-Venant, away from everything, with no cellphone signal and an Internet connection that’s shaky at best, those things were still a source of distraction. So I built myself a shack, 500 feet from the house, where I could go to write. I also promised myself I would devote well-defined periods of time to this task. And it was a revelation! I’m taken away by this spiral that never stops, all my thoughts are devoted to songs. I gave myself a specific period of time to write. Four to six hours a day. You have no idea how liberating that felt! I get the impression I’ve accomplished something, and it’s like a breath of fresh air in my day.

“To me, inspiration is a motivation,” he continues. “Between tours and live shows, I always have notebooks where I write thoughts and sentences. I sometimes go back to stuff I wrote 10 years ago, and it’s amazing how strongly it still resonates. Like my song ‘Roadie’; I’d been working on that one for 12 years. ‘Quand on ne saura plus chanter’ (‘When You Can’t Sing Anymore’), I’d been carrying that one inside me for at least three years. Sometimes, it’s a word, a sentence, an emotion, frustration, revolt, but as soon as I write a song about it, it becomes work.

“When I’m in the studio, I like to explore. I always compose three or four melodies for each text. Music comes easy to me, as opposed to lyrics. I can work on a single sentence for several days, because a bad rhyme follows you around like a pebble in your shoe. I’m 64 now, and I’m even more conscious of words. When you’ve sung [Québec poet and activist Gaston] Miron (on ‘Les douzes hommes rapaillés’), you tend to approach this trade with a lot more humility,” he laughs. “You’ve just trod on lofty peaks!”

Always by his side, multi-instrumentalist Hugo Perreault received the raw material and refined it in the studio (just as Réjean Bouchard used to do), in collaboration with Simon Godin and Myele. That’s also the team that’ll hit the road in late September to tour Les nouveaux horizons.

“I need to tour to remain sane, I couldn’t write all the time,” says Séguin. “I need to meet people, even though you still feel their presence even in the solitude of the writing process. You know they’re not far away. But in the end, a good song needs to be able to sound good with just a guitar and a voice. From there, we work on the instrumentation. My closest influences are the ones my musicians bring me. When we go on tour, each of them carry their own musical background, their influences; all the ideas that end up on an album come from a mix of all those things. And we work a lot on vocal harmonies.

“I kind of disappeared for a good, long while, and this album and tour is our reunion. I love that cycle. Learning to disappear. Félix Leclerc called it the deer reflex: when there’s too much noise, flee to the forest! It’s good advice. And that shack I built for myself, it’ll be there for at least 25 more years!”

If you watched any of CBC’s Summer Olympics coverage this year from Rio, you may have encountered a special opening montage set to The Strumbellas’ song “We Don’t Know.”

While the high-profile song placement was undoubtedly a welcome reward for The Strumbellas, they weren’t the only ones celebrating their golden musical moment. Much like the crack coaching staff that shapes elite athletes, the JUNO Award-winning six-piece band have the team at Six Shooter Records – including Kim Temple, its new head of licensing and publishing – helping the band reach that musical podium.

Temple, who’s the first person to hold the title of “head of licensing and publishing” at the Six Shooter empire, ranges far and wide to find opportunities for the acts she represents.

“I’ve written songs, received royalty cheques, and asked questions about publishing as an artist. I know how important it is to get paid for the work you do.”

“I’m very film and TV-centric, because I used to work with composers and I hear music in a cinematic way. I think a lot of our artists do as well,” says Temple, explaining how she finds publishing placements for Six Shooter acts. “So I’m always looking for those types of opportunities, as well as commercials, but only if it’s a good fit for the band. Special events, live broadcasts, and internet uses are also areas that I deal with.”

Other recent Six Shooter wins include getting The Strumbellas international hit “Spirits” into the season finale of Saving Hope, Sam Outlaw into an episode of Nashville, Amelia Curran into CBC’s Hello Goodbye and Tanya Tagaq to compose the original soundtrack for The Searchers, the new movie by Zacharias Kunuk. With a roster that also includes Whitehorse, The Rheostatics, Hawksley Workman, Jenn Grant, Danny Michel and more, there are undoubtedly other opportunities on the way.

Temple is particularly well suited to managing the catalogue of songs Six Shooter’s founder Shauna de Cartier and president Helen Britton have amassed over the last 16 years. A professional drummer who was on the ground floor during the great Canadian indie-rock breakout of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Temple performed with the likes of Bodega, Nerdy Girl and on her own as Temple Threat. Her day job at the time was working for composer Marty Simon (the owner/operator of Music Revenue Data) on the sci-fi television series Lexx (“I learned everything I know about publishing and royalty collection from Marty”). That eventually led to a run at Insight Productions to work on Canadian Idol (“A lot of my indie-rock friends scoffed at this show, but it taught me that a good song is timeless”). Temple has even been on the other side of the camera, blowing the minds of some suburban garage-band kids with her drum skills in a recent Toyota Camry ad (“When I dropped my kids off at school their friends thought I was a movie star, so I got my 15 minutes of fame”).

A typical day for Temple includes receiving queries from people who want to use Six Shooter music, putting together pitches for music supervisors, producers, directors, editors, special events promoters, gaming and ad agencies, listening to new music from acts she reps, doing all the related administrative paperwork around these tasks. It means a busy daily to-do list for Temple, but the artists’ rewards can sometimes be substantial.

“The money varies, depending on the budget of the project,” says Temple. “The commercial industry has the most money in their budget to find the perfect song. Documentaries tend to have the least, but I’m a fan of that medium. In my experience working with artists and film composers, I’ve seen songs placed in TV shows, movies, trailers, internet and radio commercials, for anywhere between $2,000 to $100,000. My dream is to place a Tanya Tagaq song in Game of Thrones.”

It sounds counter-intuitive, but Temple says one of the reasons why Six Shooter acts are successful is because they aren’t trying to write songs for a specific show, but are instead encouraged to simply write good songs. Those songs give her something worth pitching.

“There are shows out there that revolve around specific genres or themes — tear-jerkers and break-up songs,” says Temple. “One way to build a catalogue would be to stock up on sad songs and songs about farewells, pick-me-up feel-good songs, and Christmas songs. But Six Shooter’s catalogue has been created so organically, with no genre requirements. Our approach has always been focused on authenticity and craft.

“We’ll never be a jingle shop and hit-making has never been our measuring stick. Hopefully, that’s what makes Six Shooter stand apart and that’s why music supervisors and producers are starting to come to us more frequently – because they like what we stand for and who we choose to represent.”

When it comes down to it, Temple’s been there, too. So she understands how important it is – especially in a world of diminishing album sales and modest streaming revenues – for artists to earn much-needed money from song placements.

“I’ve written songs, received royalty cheques, and asked questions about publishing as an artist,” says Temple. “I know how important it is to get paid for the work you do. I know what [our artists] are sacrificing to live on the road and keep creating. It makes me want to fight for them. And I’m passionate about getting their music out there.”

Making certain acquaintances can be life-changing, and the casual connections made with them can even turn into professional relationships. It’s thanks to a common friend that Eduardo Noya Schreus met star actor/director/screenwriter Xavier Dolan. Said friend had played a few tracks by NOIA, Schreus’ and Ashley Long’s electronic music project, to the young filmmaker. Less than 24 hours later, Dolan contacted Noya to set up a meeting. “We walked and talked a lot,” says Schreus. “Then we went to his place to listen to some music. Later, Xavier admitted he had no idea what kind of music he wanted for his movie until he heard my stuff. He’d found what he was looking for.” The Peruvian-born Canadian was quickly put in charge of the soundtrack for the movie Laurence Anyways.

The pair only met again a year-and-a-half later in a post-production studio. Still, Noya made sure he had access to Dolan during his creative process, through e-mails where rushes and song drafts were paired. Dolan is a filmmaker who doesn’t shy away from giving his opinion on the musical content of his movies. Hence the dialogue between himself and Schreus, the necessity for the creators to meet. Schreus see it as the very basis of his own creative process, even more so since he’s a self-taught musician.

Still from Xavier Dolan Mommy movie“Movies often have ‘guide’ tracks, placeholders that the editor or the director chose that I use as a reference, a general idea of the atmosphere they’re looking for,” says Schreus. “Sometimes I follow their intention. Sometimes I create something based on the images I see. But most times, my creation is inspired by a meeting, an in-depth discussion with the director about his project and how it fits into our lives. I do sometimes read the script, but that’s never inspired me. Images, just as music, imprints on us immediately. And the link between them is essential.”

His work on Dolan’s Laurence Anyways won Schreus the Best Film Score Canadian Screen Award in 2013. But despite this positive experience, his participation in Dolan’s next movie, Mommy, wasn’t set in stone. In fact, he was urgently requested after the disappointing work of another composer. This situation embarrassed Schreus, but he couldn’t help feeling a tinge of pride. “I’m happy I was able to fix things,” he says. “The movie was edited very tightly to its reference music, which made it hard to switch them for new music. The biggest challenge was the final scene where Diane is alone, in tears. It took me quite a while to find the right music for that moment.” His work on Mommy wins Schreus the Achievement in Feature Film Music Award at the 2016 Montréal SOCAN Gala.

Strangely enough, this pinch-hitter situation will happen again a few months later for a France/Canada TV series titled Versailles, with a $33 million production budget. Again, Schreus was tapped after the production chose to change the composer.“The producers didn’t like the initial pairing between the images and the music, which they found too… classic,” he says. “Director Jalil Lespert decided to go in a completely different direction and use electronic music. And it worked. The biggest challenge for this series is its speed. It’s like composing music for several films all at once.” After penning about half the music for the first 10-episode season (the other half was composed by Michel Corriveau), Schreus was asked to do the same for the second season.

Although he works out of a tiny home studio a few doors down from his own apartment, the man still works on music when he gets home: His music. NOIA existed before he became a professional composer, and it still exists and nourishes him. NOIA live performances won the project the “best electronic act” title, according to Montréal magazine CULT. And NOIA is far from over, if you ask Schreus. “My personal music is my main project,” he says. “I’ll release a studio album this year and another next year. We’re getting back on stage as soon as we feel comfortable enough with the new material. My ultimate dream is to make music, non-stop, until my body gives up.”