Roch Voisine’s 22nd album was released with 10 new, finely-crafted pop songs that are primed to take over radio throughout the Francophone world. Who knows, maybe even the whole planet, with such irresistible choruses, and strong musical hooks that go well beyond any linguistic consideration. The album, Devant nous (which can both mean “ahead of us” and “in front of us”), is a promising return to pop form after 10 years Voisine spent exploring outside his comfort zone, only to re-centre himself.

“During this period,” says Voisine, “I released three albums of Americana, as well as two other projects, Confidences and Duophonique; a crooner showcase with Corneille and Garou called Forever Gentlemen; and, two years ago, I released Movin’ on Maybe, an English album… There’s quite a bit of variety there! But then, I also realized that if I wanted to make something meaningful, that will reach people where they’re at right now, I needed to go back to pop. Life changes, and we no longer touch people in the same way.”

But how?

“Before we dove into the production of this album,” says Voisine, “my manager, Mario Lefebvre, and I decided to get up-to-date to figure out how we’d adapt to this new reality: people don’t listen to music the way they used to. I also wanted to change the way I work, with a different team; in other words, I wanted to re-invent myself. Mario put together a great team, everything was in place for me to work the way I wanted to. One thing I knew for sure was that there weren’t going to be a lot of ballads or sappy love songs. I had a head full of songs that make you want to move.

“My problem wasn’t that I’d lost my drive to write songs, but rather that I wanted a more meaningful musical format. You get to a point in life where you want to reach out to more than a small group of people with your songs. More universal themes and looking to the future. It’s possible to make intelligent pop songs, and I believe these 10 songs are proof of that.”

Many Québecois and European collaborators contributed to the music and lyrics of Devant nous, but the most important role in this new odyssey was entrusted to Jay Lefebvre – credited as a composer, co-producer and arranger – who is also a creative partner for pop-punk band Simple Plan.

There were challenges, Voisine admits. “One of them was singing  ‘Entre mes mains’ (‘In My Hands’),” he says. “It’s uber-poppy, with broken beats, and I really wondered how I would properly deliver it.”  “Tout me ramène à toi” (“Everything Brings Me Back to You”) is the album’s first single and it promptly reached the top of the Francophone Canadian Top 100. “We wrote one chorus and one verse and the magic was there, we didn’t have to change anything,” he says. “‘Devant nous’ started out as a ballad, and as we worked on it, it became more uptempo. Yet, when you slow things down a bit, the meaning of the lyrics becomes more evident, especially in French.”

Roch Voisine

Roch Voisine at the 2016 Gala de la SOCAN. (Photo: Frédérique Ménard-Aubin)

The album was recorded in November and December of 2016 in three different studios. Two months prior, Voisine participated in a musical tribute to legendary songwriter Luc Plamondon during the 27th Gala de la SOCAN in Montréal. He sang an emotional rendition of Plamondon’s SOCAN Classic “Ma mère chantait toujours,” which Voisine sang 25 years ago.

What’s really surprising, however, is that for the first time in his career, Voisine sings a Plamondon-penned song on his new album. “I didn’t want a Plamondon song, I wanted to write with Plamondon,” he says. Plamondon wrote the lyrics to “Nos Combats”, while the singer wrote the music, and tweaked the lyricist’s words.

Successful Québec singer-songwriter Corneille invited his friend Barnev Valsaint to do vocal harmonies on the song. “He’s a personal friend and we live five minutes from each other,” says Voisine. “I’d tell him, ‘Once you’ve dropped your son off at school, swing by for coffee and to swap a few ideas…’”

Voisine is the sole owner of his entire 22-album catalogue, including the publishing rights; he has long understood that a well-organized company, from the studio to the stage, from production to legacy management, was a must. “Hélène” belongs to him;’ she always will.

“If you want radio play but don’t do pop songs, well, good luck,” says Voisine. “Markets are different from one country to the next, and at the centre of the Francophonie. What I want is to play everywhere! Radio in France is transforming, looking for an identity, while here, we’re lucky, because there’s still adult-oriented radio [AOR] that gives some space to its artists. We want to be able to promote ourselves decently. Whatever might be said about the internet, it’s not always the solution; people who use those platforms don’t want to pay for music, while Facebook is not – in my case, anyway – what helps me sell records to a wider audience, as TV used to do a while back.”


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Sophie PelletierStanding out in such a talent-rich musical landscape as that of Québec isn’t an easy task, but it’s always easier when one has a clear vision of where one wants to go, and what one wants to accomplish. Singer-songwriter Sophie Pelletier is from that breed of artists whose path in music has been traced since her childhood.

The whole province got acquainted with her in 2012 when she was a finalist on the popular talent show Star Académie, which afforded her the opportunity to sing with Lionel Richie, Johnny Hallyday and Mika. But her art was really informed by years and years of watching her family onstage, and exploring her big brother’s album collection. The young Rivière-Ouelle native had already accumulated two decades of experience since she first attempted writing lyrics and playing on her dad’s guitar.

Pelletier knows what she wants, how she wants to hear it, and how it’s supposed to sound. In her mind, everything is crystal-clear. Following the head rush of Star Académie, which left her confident and strong, she took her time to cherry-pick the collaborators who would understand her. She found just the right ear in André Papanicolaou, Vincent Vallières’ guitar player. She appreciates the praise of the man she chose to produce her first album. “He’s the one that made me believe that my songs are good, and that I should keep going in that direction,” says Pelletier. “He was the catalyst of my creative process.” Le désert, la tempête was launched in 2015, and spawned two pristine folk-pop radio hit singles, “Sans remords” and “Accroche-toi.”

Two years later, Pelletier tapped Gaële to help fine-tune the lyrics of her second offering, Les météores, released on April 24, 2017. “She was amazing!” says Pelletier. “She taught me two essential things: how to have fun writing and how to structure my creative process.” As the organized woman that she is, Pelletier adopted a work ethic that helps her drive a song idea to completion. Lines that come to her during the day are further explored during the evening (“with a couple of glasses of wine,” she admits, laughing). The next day, she’ll re-visit the structure, fine-tune the rhymes, and dig through her lexicon to take the song to its logical conclusion.

Yet one needs to have their mind on writing in order to create new songs. The self-described “intermittent creator” needs a calm environment. She can only get into the right frame of mind for writing when the hubbub of touring and promotion slows down.

For her second album, she surrounded herself with an all-star cast of collaborators: Dumas (who wrote a song for her), Fred St-Gelais, Marc Dupré and Samuel Joly, as well as Gautier Marinof on production duties. The latter has recently worked with Jérôme Couture, Renée Wilkin, and Étienne Drapeau, as well as co-producing one of Dupré’s albums.

But Pelletier is the one firmly holding the reins of her destiny. “People have encouraged me to keep control of my career, to manage my copyrights, keep ownership of my masters and self-publish my songs,” she says. “That’s why I created my own company, Uniforce Production, alongside Geneviève Morin, my manager and my associate, to whom I delegate the administrative and marketing aspects of my career.”

A long time ago, she realized her songs are good. Not good as in “a good song,” but good as in “they do good for people,” including herself. Music can heal. Music is precisely what allowed her to see clearly during less rosy periods in her life. Now, she imparts her know-how through Projet Victoire Musique. “I created workshops where everyone is welcome, where people learn how to use music as a moral support, for the good it does them,” says Pelletier. “Children are especially fond of this approach.” Her experience and studies in specialized education are still useful in this regard.

Helping others is a recurring theme among her mid- and long-term goals: “I’d love to write and compose for other artists, becoming a mentor for younger artists, while carrying one with my own evolving career,” she says. This curious and ambitious artist would love to explore Europe, and France in particular, but also wishes to explore writing in English so she can play with her voice, her music and dig deeper in that direction.

She certainly has everything it takes to succeed.


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AHI

AHI’s introduction to folk music wasn’t through mainstays like early Bob Dylan or rocker Bob Seger. In fact, the Brampton artist’s first taste of folk came from a different Bob — Bob Marley. For AHI (pronounced “eye”), folk isn’t a genre defined by a distinct sound, but an ethos bound by one’s acoustic instrument, storytelling abilities, and voice. Those are the qualities that make up AHI’s sound, one that’s captured the attention of music fans across Canada – and even Rita Marley, Bob’s widow.

In 2013, AHI’s cover of Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” – a stripped-down acoustic rendition that places the spotlight squarely on his raspy yowl – was featured on Marley’s official website. Along with that highlight came a personal note from Rita herself – which AHI initially thought was spam. “Once I realized it was real, I was honoured,” he explains. “Bob Marley is the primary reason why I believed I could become a singer. He taught me that music is medicinal and revolutionary.”

Since then, AHI’s music (which he sometimes refers to as “indie soul”) has been featured on CBC’s Hello Goodbye, his track “Ol’ Sweet Day” charted on Billboard’s Spotify Viral 50, and this year he was a JUNO Master Class finalist. As he continues to work on music, he hopes that his successes can help broaden our perceptions of what folk music can be, especially when it comes to racial diversity.

“The biggest challenge was convincing myself that I belonged in the folk community,” AHI reveals, of finding representation in folk. “I’ve noticed an active effort on the part of the folk community to not only be inclusive, but to celebrate their diversity. It’s an uphill climb, but the climb has made me a better and smarter musician.”

Partner

Partner’s online bio casts a pretty wide net of topics under their songwriting ambitions. Among the themes the duo hopes to “freely explore” in their songs are time, memory, intimacy, friendship, Canadiana and sexuality.

And so far, they’ve already achieved many of those – all before even releasing a full-length album.

To Sackville, New Brunswick, natives Lucy Niles and Josée Caron, no topic is too big or too small to write about. On “The Ellen Page,” they celebrate actress Ellen Page’s coming out; on “Comfort Zone,” they speak on the importance of safe spaces, be they physical or mental ones.

Sonically, Niles and Caron deliver their messages over raucous power chords and reverb galore, with garage-punk-pop drawing comparisons to bands like Weezer, Nirvana and Hole.

“We’re always striving to evolve and become more inclusive, lyrically,” Niles explains. “We’re also always striving to become better songwriters, better performers, the best we can be in every way.”

A full-length album is on the way, Niles promises. Recorded with Beliefs’ Josh Korody, it’s been in the works for a year now. While they’ve been working on some songs for as long as three years, Niles says, “The album as a whole might hold a few surprises — you’ll just have to listen and find out!”

Stella Rio

Stella Rio is a student of jazz, but also a lover of pop and R&B. All of those influences coalesce in her songwriting, especially on her single, “Don’t Go Away” — a beautifully crafted melody at its core, delivered with a soulful, jazz-inflected vocal flair. It’s a style uniquely her own, and it’s paid off in the past year.

Having trained under a local jazz artist at a young age, the Toronto singer-songwriter’s musical DNA will always include her exposure to that genre. “That was probably the moment when I realized how powerful music truly is,” Rio recalls. “I love that jazz can take you away to a different era. At the end of the day, when I need inspiration, I go back and listen to my favourite artists, like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.”

All these years later, Rio is still perfecting her mix of classic jazz and current-day pop. She’s now working closely with Kuya Productions, the team who most recently helped Alessia Cara put out hits like “Here” and “Seventeen.” Through Kuya Productions, Rio even earned a writing credit for British pop group Little Mix’s track, “F.U.”

Rio’s upcoming six-track EP promises to be filled with personal experiences, focusing on her preferred subjects of love and heartbreak. As she admits, “I see myself as a romantic and a dreamer.”


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