Zen BambooHow does Simon Larose, Zen Bamboo’s frontman, spend his self-isolation? He plays guitar on his balcony, just as he was doing when we reached him at the end of an afternoon. Or he reads his girlfriend’s favourite books while she reads his. “It’s like an illumination, even though we know each other by heart,’ he says. “Our favourite books reveal a lot about who we are, it illustrates a lot of things about our respective inner worlds. It is a very rewarding and intimate experience.”

What’s on Larose’s own list of favourite books? Les fous de Bassan, by Anne Hébert, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five or the Children’s Crusade, Graham Green’s Picture Post, Romain Gary’s Les Cerfs-volants and Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.

And what might we learn about him by diving into his small, ideal library? “You’d probably learn that I’m drama queen, I’m a diva,” he says with a laugh. The 25-year-old lyricist and musician has completed two-thirds of a Bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature at the Université de Montréal. “You might also learn that I’m a cynic who loves humans. As one of my friends says, inside every cynic, there’s a disappointed optimist.”

One can detect an underlying tension between this muted aversion for humanity and a burning desire to embrace it on GLU, Zen Bamboo’s debut full-length album, released in March 2020. The record expresses the desire to work on the continuity of our world, and the fear that said world will end soon, by our own hand.

Qu’est-ce qui restera après de nous/ Qu’est-ce qui restera après/ Si nos bébés à nous/ On les avale, on les déjoue/ Si nos bébés à nous/ On les renverse sur nos joues,” ((Translation: “What will be left of us, after / What will be left after / If our babies / We swallow them and defeat them / If our babies / Are spilled on our cheeks”), Larose asks in “Xoxoxo,” a song that is to GLU what “La Monogamie” was to Malajube’s Trompe-l’œil: a work where the euphoria of sex and the anguish of death dance together through the night.

“I often write songs as one would build a beast, to fight those monsters that haunt me.”

“‘Xoxoxo’ is about the unbridgeable gap between this generation’s anxiety about having children and how we approach sex purely as a hobby, mindlessly, and without protecting ourselves,” says Simon. “I started thinking about that one night – the amount of unprotected sex that people who don’t want children have – and it started to haunt me, it became a monster. I often write songs as one would build a beast, to fight those monsters that haunt me.”

And yet, a very jovial Larose sings “Moi j’aime vivre/ Et j’aime vivre/ Et j’aime vivre encore/ Encore plus fort, ” in “J’<3 vivre” (“I love to live / I love to live / I love to live again / Ever harder”). “Je veux tout de la vie/ Sans le moindre compromis,” he goes one singing on “Glu (coule sur moi)” (« I want everything from life / Without compromise »). A bit schizophrenic, maybe? No wonder that the first incarnations of GLU were divided in two distinct entities: “Five life songs – the life side – and five death songs – the death side.” But the definitive version is fraught with babies, food, and scenes of devouring, halfway between life impulses and deadly impulses, firmly establishing Simon Larose as an author who prefers asking questions to giving answers.

Whether it’s their lyrics or music, it’s been quite a while since a band from Québec has combined such artistic ambition with such a strong desire to reach as many people as possible. GLU is the kind of album that moight renew your faith in the future of rock. Ardent admirers of Malajube, Zen Bamboo’s members (Larose, guitarist Léo Leblanc, bassist Xavier Toukan, and drummer Cao) tapped producer Julien Mineau for this album after working with Thomas Augustin, Malajube’s other “brain,” on their previous EPs.

“Ironically,” explains Larose, “I think that if we wanted to avoid sounding like a Malajube pastiche, we needed to work with Julien – because if there’s anyone who doesn’t want to sound like Malajube, it’s Julien Mineau.”

The producer, who now lives in Saint-Ursule (about a one-hour drive northeast of Montréal), brought the band what Larose calls “kamikaze ideas.” Which means? “Julien is the type of guy who’s not afraid to try stuff without knowing what the outcome will be. He’s never afraid to question everything: putting the end of the song at the beginning, making an acoustic song heavy, changing the key of a song, or its chords. We agreed that anything was possible, that a song is not a sacred thing, and that we’re allowed to twist it – and that’s when the process began in earnest.”

Nothing is sacred in his creative process, but music itself holds something sacred for Larose, and on GLU, he appears to be constantly chasing the idea that life makes no sense. “Yes, there is a transcendent need in me that’s often disappointed,” he says. “Music becomes this vehicle through which I try to dig deep to see – and this is going to sound stupidly mystical – the Great Beyond.”



Ariane Moffatt and Étienne Dupuis-Cloutier take us on a track-by-track journey behind the scenes of their new collaborative album.

 Don’t miss the discussion (left) that Paroles & Musique editor Eric Parazelli had with Moffat Moffatt and Étienne Dupuis-Cloutier about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

We’ve known her for quite a while now. Ariane Moffatt seems to age backwards, and she hides her secret of the fountain of youth. Étienne Dupuis-Cloutier is a behind-the-scenes hero that loves left-of-centre pop music. As a sought-after producer, he’s set the voices of Fanny Bloom, Dumas, Cœur de pirate, and Eli Rose in his backdrop of lush, fresh instrumentation.

Together as SOMMM, Moffat and Dupuis-Cloutier have created a turbo-charged electro-pop offering, with hints of rap, trap, and even jazz. Their music is perfect for springtime, right here and now, and couldn’t have come at a better time to heal broken hearts. The duo de-constructs its eight songs for the readers of Words & Music.

“Le ciel s’est renversé”

With its slightly supernatural intro and moving bassline, the opening song  bridges the gap between Ariane’s usual universe and that of the upcoming SOMMM songs. It’s a poetic and dream-like introduction. Rosie Valland naturally finds her place here, inspired by Robyn’s “Never Again.”

“When Moffat told me she was thinking of asking Rosie to feature, she had just released her single “Blue,” and I was really a fan,” says Dupuis-Cloutier. “I really like what she does, I like her voice and her artistic approach. We clicked very quickly. And by having a timbre in mind, I even got melodic ideas.”

“Aimant”

 Thanks to its house music-inspired crescendo that leads to the chorus, “Aimant” is the first truly dance-oriented song of this project. A nu disco aesthetic has appealed to Moffat ever since the release of “Debout,” and that genre has also influenced the arrangements for the Petites mains précieuses tour. When collaborating with Dupuis-Cloutier, singer-songwriter Moffat fully embraces the genre:

“On this project, we were, like, ‘Let’s go in the studio to make current pop music!’ I’m not in an aesthetic concept, here, I’m just trying to write pop music like what’s hot now. I’ve had a taste while working on SOMMM and it’s a fun challenge, because it’s not any easier than writing a full emo, dramatic song.”

“Sunshine”

On this one, the songwriters looked towards Ruffsound, the man behind the beats and sounds of Loud’s biggest hits. They also worked with Mike of Clay and Friends to make this single even more infectious and life-affirming than it already was. It’s an ode to joy that’s made to play at full volume, with car windows rolled down, in the middle of summer, while driving to the beach.

But as Dupuis-Cloutier says, “it didn’t happen in one day!” The creative process of this fluid, light, and likeable song was indeed quite labour-intensive. “The mix contains about 100 different tracks. It’s huge, it’s very dense, but it’s the energy we were after. We wanted to give you the feeling that sound is coming from everywhere, and that each one of them is perceptible.”

“Essence”

“Essence” is a smorgasbord of succulent alliterations, and a door to the world of hip-hop that stays open until the second-last song on the album track. The song, recorded with LaF, ends with a jazzy segment reminiscent of “Tercel,” by Les Louanges – Moffat’s protégés, who also open for her on tour. This time around, however, it’s not Jérôme Beaulieu who sits at the piano, but Moffatt herself, displaying another one of her many talents.

“We decided to go for a little melodic freestyle,” she says, her face turning red in front of her cellphone screen.” I recorded that and sent it to Étienne saying that it would be cool that the song ends with something played on the piano. There’s piano throughout the track, but this is bluesier. The song is kind of a contemporary blues, a song for today’s youth, who are trying to figure out who they are. It’s fitting.”

“Get Well Soon”

Maky Lavender, a rising star on Montréal’s hip-hop scene, is the guest on this soulful, hopeful song. It’s minimalist and experimental, and features distorted flutes laid on top of a finely-syncopated beat.

“Instead of telling us he’d write his verse sometime next week, Maky followd-up on our request for a feature by sending us his takes,” says Dupuis-Cloutier, still clearly wowed. “Ariane was at a dinner function, she was getting the insigne of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres alongside Pierre Lapointe. I texted her saying she had to hear this. Seriously, it was just perfect. I had nothing to add or change. She had to hear this right away!”

“Finir seule”

Here, Moffat walks a fine line between singing and rapping, over her most trap-style recording ever in her career. Lyrically, she even dabbles with “Frenglish” in a very natural and convincing way. She’s daring, but without being a daredevil. She respects MCs too much to go overboard.

“I don’t pretend to be a rapper,” she says, “but my love of rhythm comes out in this kind of trip. But I can assure you, I’m super-careful to not come across as some kind of wannabe! I take immense pleasure in exploring such a playground, full of with phrasing like that.”

“Danger”

The single that kick-started this project – the first round, as Moffat puts it – wasn’t supposed to turn into a full-length project, yet their work with Fouki made them want another taste.

“Collaborating is in his DNA,” she says. “It was truly a great moment when he came into the studio. He was fully prepared, very impressive.” Dupuis-Cloutier adds: “He’s super-professional and collaborative.” Side note: both men play on the same garage league hockey team. “He’s really into teamwork, that Fouki. He has the same attitude when it comes to music as he does in sports.”

“Chérie”

The last fllower in this bouquet is a romantic, lusty ballad written with Marie-Pierre Arthur, a hyper-influential singer-songwriter and one of Moffat’s old friends. They’ve known each other since their time at Cégep Saint-Laurent.

“She’s a great friend, but we have a drink more often than we collaborate on music, sadly. Or maybe it’s because we don’t drink enough? Whatever the case may be, we were looking for an opportunity to work together… There are many representatives of the new generation of rappers and singers on this album, but closing it with an artist I respect so much was important to me.”



Kelsi Mayne’s debut album, As I Go, opens with the sound of a needle dropping on a scratchy record and a Gospel intro before the first song, “Woman Waiting.” It’s a nod to the emerging country star’s upbringing in Windsor, Ont., across the bridge from the epicentre of old-school R&B and soul in Detroit – and those soulful roots spread throughout her songs, subtly revealing her love for Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Destiny’s Child.

As I Go‘s release date was March 27, in the midst of the COVID-19 maelstrom, but while she’ll have to postpone the launch party, Mayne – an independent artist who’s her own manager, label, and booking agent – is way ahead of the game. She’s been dropping kickass singles over the past year and watching them soar, with Spotify streams in the six figures and 1.5 million views on TikTok in 24 hours. She was a finalist in SiriusXM’s “Top of the Country” contest and a hit with her single “Takin’ U Home” on the Rogers Hometown Hockey Tour. And she sees a silver lining in the album’s timing. “We’ll get twice the publicity, ‘cause we have to announce the cancelling and then announce the new dates,” she says. ‘It’s not the worst thing. I have a nursing background, and I’m just happy everyone’s taking precautions.”

“I have a rule for our pre-show ritual:  shots and squats.”

Mayne has a powerful, beautifully twangy voice, and she’s been wowing people with it since childhood – at school, in Windsor bars, and at festivals like Boots & Hearts. But she didn’t start writing songs until more recently. “When I graduated from university I decided it was a now-or-never time to pursue music,” she explains. “I met with a manager who told me that if I wanted to be an artist I had to learn an instrument and write my own songs. So it wasn’t till I was 21 that I picked up the guitar for the first time. Sometimes I think it would have been better to learn at a younger age, so I could be a stronger player and writer by now. But I don’t think I’d change anything, ‘cause I got to live that life and work in the hospital and have all these experiences, and now I get to write about them. I think my first couple of songs were stronger than they would have been if I ‘d started writing as a child.”

Now Mayne lives in Toronto and travels to Nashville for songwriting sessions; she co-wrote all but one of the songs on As I Go with collaborators including Brett Sheroky, Drew Powell, PJ Ju, and Andrew Peebles. “In Nashville I take all my other hats off and put my writing hat on,” she says. “That’s all I’m thinking about. And when I come back to Canada, that’s when I focus on marketing, and booking, and all the other stuff.

“Nashville is a very nurturing environment for up-and-coming artists. When I first got there, I’d go to a bar, listen to the live music, grab a beer, and start talking to people. That’s how I did a lot of networking, and I met a lot of really great singer-songwriters, because most everyone’s a songwriter there. It’s cool to be able to work with some great hit songwriters. The Canadians all tend to find each other down there, and they helped connect me to a lot of people.”

As a nurse, a singer-songwriter, a track athlete, and an actor, Mayne has a lot of career options. “For everything there’s a time and a place,” she says. “Music is my first priority, and I fit everything else in when I can. I’m not an athlete anymore, but I volunteer as a coach when I have time, and I love doing that.”

And all those skills are complementary, she points out. “I have a pretty energetic live show, and being athletic helps that,” she says. “I have a rule for our pre-show ritual:  shots and squats. We do 10 squats, do a shot and go on stage. I have another rule for when I’m on stage: no high heels, ‘cause I like to jump around and jump off things, and it doesn’t work in heels. But that’s OK: when you’re a country artist, cowboy boots are totally acceptable.”