Born in a farmhouse in the countryside of Waterloo, ON, to music-loving parents, rising country star Nate Haller fell in love with the great outdoors. By the time his family moved to the suburbs, the stuff he’d been raised on – dirt biking, bonfires with country music blasting into the wee hours – were ingrained in his DNA. “It’s always been in me,” says Haller.

Catching up with the songwriter via Zoom on a mid-summer’s day finds him sporting a Budweiser trucker hat, holed up in a hotel room in Calgary. Haller, who was signed to Starseed Entertainment in 2021 (the management home of Dean Brody, James Barker Band, and The Reklaws) had just played a raucous gig in the Nashville North tent at the Calgary Stampede the previous night, and was taking a brief break before flying to Nashville.

After more than a decade in the music industry, Haller is making waves. He was a semi-finalist in the 2021 SiriusXM Top of The Country; scored a 2022 County Music Association of Ontario (CMAO) Rising Star nomination; was named Amazon Music’s Breakthrough Artist of the Month; and secured a spot on Spotify Canada’s RADAR program. The artist visits Nashville often, usually for co-writes, and still remembers his first time there: he headed to The Listening Room Café with a couple of friends, and one of the performers that day was a co-writer of the Zac Brown gold-selling single “Sweet Annie.”

“The amount of talented writers there is incredible,” he says. “That blew my mind, to watch people play the songs exactly how they were written.”

Growing up, Haller’s siblings were both musical, but it took a live-show epiphany to motivate him to take music seriously. “Before that, I would just mess around on my brother’s guitar and play a couple of chords,” he recalls. “Then, in high school, I saw [Australian singer-songwriter] Xavier Rudd play the didgeridoo and the stomp box at the same time. That really inspired me.”

Another seminal moment came in Grade 11. Thanks to a teacher’s encouragement, Haller overcame stage fright and performed at his school’s talent show. “That changed everything,” he says. “After that, I started to write my own songs.”

These days, in between playing gigs this summer, Haller is busy writing, and determining the final songs for his debut EP, planned for release later in 2022. Some songs were written in Nashville; others were written on the back deck, or in the bedroom (converted into a studio), of the Toronto house he was renting. After years spent playing in other bands, and co-writing songs with the likes of Stuart and Jenna Walker (The Reklaws) – who were featured on his latest single “Broken” – Haller felt the time was right to step into the spotlight. The Reklaws, along with 18-time Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) winner Brett Kissell, also co-wrote with Haller on “Somewhere to Drink,” released in the middle of the pandemic.

“I’ve been lucky to play guitar for other people, and that allowed me to work silently on my own writing,” he says. “I’ve been working towards this project for the past five years. In a weird way, the pandemic prompted that to happen… It was a quick pause that allowed me to kick my project into the next gear of what I wanted people to hear.

“Years ago, I was trying to write these little pop songs,” he adds. “Some were cool, but they didn’t really feel like me.”

The first radio single Haller released in 2021 was “Lightning in a Bottle,” written by frequent James Barker Band co-writers Travis Wood and Gavin Slate, along with Shawn Austin. The song grabbed the No. 2 most-added spot at Canadian Country radio, and landed the artist his first Top 10 hit. Then, in the spring of 2022, Haller released the infectious single “Ain’t Like Me.” After all of the miles, the songwriter now knows his true artistic self and accompanying vibe he wants for this EP: just a guy with a guitar telling stories that resonate.

“I grew up listening to that sort of stuff,” says Haller. “My grandpa was in the radio business his whole life, and he got me into guys like Johnny Cash from a young age. I realized recently that I do not have to be super polished… I can have this natural grit that’s in my voice, and bring everything back down to just the guitar and me.”

 



A new revelation on the prolific Québec City music scene, Narcisse is de-constructing some of our most tenacious pre-conceived notions on La fin n’arrive jamais, a concept album where he weaves together electropop, spoken word, and documentary music.

NarcisseWhat might come as a surprise, knowing this, is that Jorie Pedneault’s main inspiration for this debut album is a pop-punk album from the 2000s.

“I discovered music with Green Day’s American Idiot. It’s a seminal concept album that even became a Broadway musical. It was the middle of the Bush era, and we follow teenagers on a quest for something. They leave the ’burbs to discover the city, and they kinda get lost in all of it. It’s the kind of thing you go through in your early twenties,” explains the singer-songwriter who plays Narcisse.

It’s a project that also includes bassist Michaël Lavoie, saxophonist Frédérique-Anne Desmarais, performer Philippe Després, visual artist Gabriel Paquet, videographer Félix Deconinck, and scenic artist Laurie Foster.

Far from plagiarizing the American trio’s œuvre, Pedneault imagined a concept album, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. A classic concept album, in other words, but based on resolutely contemporary themes, aligned with the concerns that are his mind on a daily basis. “I wanted to de-construct a lot of concepts, including our relationship to gender identity and polyamory, as well as our relationships to heteronormativity and monogamy.”

Another one of the social constructs he de-constructs on the album is the cliché and very romanticized concept of “soulmates.” “We’ve made it romantic, we associate it with love, with someone you’re going to spend your whole life with,” says Pedneault. “But I like to see it another way: you can meet several soulmates in one life. They can be friends or co-workers. The people I’m working with, for example, are soulmates because it made so much sense to meet them when I did.”

Hence the idea of letting those soulmates speak for themselves throughout the album. Totalling 14 songs, La fin n’arrive jamais is punctuated by four short pieces titled “Interstice.” Influenced by the documentary music of Flavien Berger – an artist from France who combined experimental pop and ambient music with minimalist recordings of interviews and narration on his 2019 album Radio Contre-Temps – Pedneault lets the people who gravitate around him speak. “I’ve been working on the album for three years, but it was really this last summer that there was a shift in the angle of the story,” he says. “I started going around and interviewing people with a recorder about the album’s various subjects. In the end, it’s the story of my peers, of my generation’s youth.”

Along the way, Pedneault saw fit to add his voice to these interstitial testimonies, after heeding to the advice of multi-disciplinary artist Olivier Arteau – who’s credited as the album’s playwright. “He really wanted to hear me, like we hear all the others. He wanted to feel the human behind the persona,” says Pedneault.

From this came one of the most beautiful and powerful sentences of the album, heard at the very end of “Interstice C”: “C’est ben beau tomber en amour toujours avec une autre personne, mais calice man, à un moment donné, il faudrait que je tombe en amour avec moi-même.” (“It’s one thing to fall in love with someone else, but for fuck’s sake, man, at some point I need to fall in love with myself.”).

“It’s something I said in the middle of a conversation [and that’s a good representation of the project as a whole],” says Pedneault. “When I started conceptualizing Narcisse, I was wondering if I should play a character that is full of himself. I quickly realized it wasn’t relevant to play such a character in the public space. It became self-evident that Narcisse had to be a vehicle to make people realize that they need to love themselves.”

Beyond the concepts of de-construction, it’s that love of self that sits at the thematic centre of the album. It’s also a way to push back against prevailing violence, especially when it comes to sexual and genre diversity. “Being non-binary existed when this project started,” says Pedneault. “Over the course of the last few years, I changed my pronoun to ‘they’ and my first name to Jorie. It’s a given for people close to me to call me that now. It feels good. But if I’m at the grocery store and the cashier calls me ‘she,’ it will obviously create some violence.”

Narcisse is a response to this violence, even though his intention isn’t fundamentally activist. “We’re just singing about our realities,” says Pedneault. “It just so happens that those realities are political.”

The participation of the band in the finals of the 2020 Francouvertes was an unexpected showcase for the propagation of these essentially political realities. “We’re a project that’s advocating for things, but we know that this kind of offer can close doors,” says Pedneualt. “The Francouvertes gave us the awareness that this project could exist, and that people would be there to receive it. I’m not sure the industry would’ve been ready for all this 10 years ago.”

At the very end of the album, “Devenir fleur” opens a dialogue about Narcisse. Narrated by Gabriel Paquet, the epilogue directly references the Greek myth of Narcissus, the young man so smitten by his own reflection in a pond that he ultimately perishes and becomes a flower.

“There is a feeling of being killed and resurrected,” says Pedneault. “It’s not a coincidence: I felt like I went through that recently. A flower is also a symbol for springtime, because this album marks the end of a cycle, as well as the beginning of something. It’s a calling card that will lead to all kinds of beautiful things in the coming years. It’s our way of saying, ‘Here we are, among you.’”



Originating from Maliotenam, an Innu community on Québec’s Côte-Nord, Matiu has made a name for himself through his folk songs, ones that travel through his blood before resonating in speakers. Following a 2017 EP and a 2018 debut album, Petikat, he’s back with his sophomore effort, Tipatshimushtunan (“tell us” in Innu) where he endeavours to tell his story. Over nine songs, where Innu and French intermingle, he tells tales that are potent as a scream.

Louis-Jean Cormier, Matiu

Louis-Jean Cormier, Matiu

“I rarely tell stories. Normally, I’m the type to talk about what I think of life in general,” says Matiu explains, seemingly as surprised as we are by the direction he’s taken. “Now, I’m telling stories, and that’s something new.”

Produced by Louis-Jean Cormier, Tipatshimushtunan allowed Matiu to try new things outside of the “guy-with-guitar” realm in which he was firmly rooted. “Just before going in the studio, I broke my thumb and couldn’t play guitar,” he says. “Louis-Jean took care of the guitars, and I think there’s a reason for everything. He’s from Sept-Îles, and I figured we’d connect easily because of that, and we did.”

The discoveries didn’t stop there. “In the studio, there were all kinds of keyboards that I’d never seen before,” says Matiu, laughing. “We had no choice but to try all kinds of things.” His good friend and pianist Alexis Dumais had a blast with everything he could get his hands on. Marco Dionne (drums), Mathieu Désy (acoustic bass), and Alex Métivier (sound effects and backing vocals) rounded out the troupe.

For musicians from Indigenous communities, an identity quest is a necessary passage that’s always very moving. “Trying to make sense of things when your language is about to disappear with your own generation will never be an outdated consideration,” says Matiu solemnly. He repeatedly mentions the notion of being “torn apart” between the desire to know his own culture and roots, and being integrated in society. “I want to live on the woods like my ancestors, but I also know I need to pay my bills and put bread on the table,” he says. “That dilemma is painfully true for Indigenous people.”

The album’s title track was also made into a documentary music video centred around residential schools. “I’ll never be the spokesperson for the Innu,” Matiu readily admits. “There’s way too many stories to tell, and I’m only one person with one experience.”

But the most moving song on the album is “4 flasheurs,” the story of a man driving around looking for his sister. “I really wanted to talk about all the Indigenous women that are murdered or have disappeared,” he says. “I didn’t live through that, but I know people who did. I wanted to put myself in the shoes of a guy whose big sister has disappeared, leaving behind a kid that’s sitting on the back seat.” The image of a slow-moving vehicle with its hazards on was the starting point of the story, a striking image that summarizes the whole story. “That song truly took me out of my comfort zone. If you close your eyes, it’s almost like a movie,” he adds.

As for his live show, Matiu wants to give himself the latitude to explore any avenue afforded by his new songs. “It’s a trip, we dance, and we jam,” he says with joy. “Sometimes it’s on a more punk-rock tip, other times it’s just me and my guitar, like on that song for my mom (“Mom”). “Nos belles chansons,” when you listen to it, feels like being in a runaway train. I’ve always joked I make bi-polar folk. These days, I’m even more all over the place.”

While re-telling the recording process, Matiu reminisces about Louis-Jean Cormier’s biggest challenge: “Respecting my influences,” he confides. “My generation is already in trouble. If we don’t share our own culture with each other, it’s too late. From the time I was born until I went to school, I only spoke Innu. I didn’t understand anything at school, and I’d come home crying. One day, at lunch, I tried saying ‘fork’ (‘fourchette’), but I never managed to get one. Then my parents started speaking French with us at home. Innu came back into my life later on, when I wanted to speak and sing it.”

Matiu doesn’t think all Indigenous languages are dead, but they’re definitely been told it’s “last call.” Thankfully, and he’s adamant about it, all doors are wide open for artists who wish to sing about their roots. “We’re invited to festivals and to perform for wide audiences and our stories are passed on,” he says. “We’re being heard.” There are, indeed, languages that will always have a story to tell.