At a time when some Québec recording industry players are aggrieved by an industry that’s undergoing a paradigm shift, with whole sectors being quickly struck down, other resourceful producers have turned instead to multiple options introduced by the new era. Among them, Montréal’s Jean-Phi Goncalves – along with a few major supporters – stands out with his XS Music sound design company. Although this “post-hierarchical” way of working leaves many wondering, the “small music box with the big sound” is a towering presence in Québec’s current musical landscape.

Jean-Phi GoncalvesThe new project was created in 2011, at a time when Goncalves was taking a break from his stellar Beast venture, and was releasing a final album with the Montréal-based electro-jazz band Plaster. It came about when Goncalves was recruited to score Filière 13, a feature film directed by comedian/actor Patrick Huard, whom the composer had met on the set of the Tout Le Monde En Parle television talk show. The rest, as they say, is history.

“Everything fell into place pretty naturally from there,” says Goncalves. “I’m not someone who needs to follow a more or less specific plan. In the sort of vibe that was happening at that time, there were opportunities, and I seized them. That’s roughly how things went.”

There is no doubt in Goncalves’ mind that all of his different projects are inter-related: “Plaster and Beast made people a bit more aware of what I was doing,” he explains. “It opened the doors to this new world – and I’d say that even today, these remain reference points in the minds of many people.”

Now for the killer question: Did the music creator morph into a businessman? “I’m not a businessman,” he says. “I’m a full-time music-maker and a part-time manager. Let’s say I devote 25 per cent of my time to administration, and 75 per cent to making music.”

How is the creative approach inside a band different from that of a client pitch? “When I’m creating music for a project, whatever it may be, specific constraints and parameters define the creative approach,” says Goncalves. “This is either a challenge or an issue, depending on how you look at it. There are times when this becomes quite beneficial, because I strongly believe that we are our own worst enemies, in terms of putting up barriers…

“If you’re writing music for an ad, they often approach you with very specific elements, when they’re not downright asking for music pieces that inspire them… So, sometimes this makes things easier and helps you hit the bullseye more quickly, while at other times the parameters that have been chosen aren’t necessarily the right ones, and direct you towards something that’s not always optimal. It really is a double-edged sword.”

Goncalves signed on as  music director of part three of Cirque du Soleil’s tribute series, Stone, which was dedicated to the repertoire of Luc Plamondon (following Hommage à Beau Dommage in 2015 and Tout écartillé, dedicated to Robert Charlebois, in 2016). This was after writing the original music of Cirque Éloize’s iD show a few years ago, “Jeannot Painchaud started the ball rolling with me and the circus,” he says. “He liked Beast and wanted something with a modern sound. One thing lead to another, and they approached me for the Beau Dommage show, which delivered beautiful results.”

Realizing that a new album could come out of the Plamondon experience, Goncalves describes it as one of the nicer mandates of his professional career. “Obviously, a context such as that one is something pretty ideal,” he says. “Being basically a music show, the music is placed at the forefront, and this puts additional pressure on me, and really stimulates me.”

Without ruling out an eventual return to a conventional stage music project, Goncalves is increasingly delighted with his new role as a studio rat. “Touring is a fleeting thing,” he says. “In the studio, however, it’s more tangible, it’s listenable. It’s almost like building a house: there’s something more solid, and that’s what’s really got me hooked.”