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.”


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Editorial Avenue - Daniel Lafrance, winner of the Publisher of the Year Award at the Montréal SOCAN Gala 2017.

Editorial Avenue – Daniel Lafrance, winner of the Publisher of the Year Award at the Montréal SOCAN Gala 2017.

Daniel Lafrance’s is a forward thinker who seldom looks back. When ask to recount his career path, he’s a man of few words. What stimulates Lafrance clearly lies ahead. Making Éditorial Avenue ever more active, relevant and versatile has been his modus operandi since he founded the company in 2000.

Daniel Lafrance’s ties to the world of music go back to 1969, when he was a musician in a jazz combo, and many other things. Early on, Lafrance played such roles as album producer, venue booker, artist manager and music publisher, while also taking on distribution and promotion duties. “That’s how I learned the ropes,” he says. In 1976, while he’s a member of Solstice, Lafrance also produced Conventum, L’Orchestre Sympathique and Pierre Moreau. Although he played less and less, he kept himself busy being a Jack-of-all-trades for various artists, including Francine Raymond and UZEB.

But when UZEB split up in 1992, Lafrance opted to focus entirely to publishing. “I decided to go all-in and do what I like most,” he says. “When I look back now, I think I really had a visionary moment.” Lafrance left for France alongside Daniel DeShaime to develop a rights management software called Ze Publisher! which was bought by more than 50 European music publishers.

“Being a music publisher is being a developer, first and foremost”

Éditorial Avenue

When Rosaire Archambault and Michel Bélanger contacted him in the year 2000 to offer him the opportnity to run a new publishing company, Lafrance accepted the challenge posed by Éditorial Avenue, and moved back to Québec. From that point on, his man-wearing-many-hats career path served him more than well. “When you accompany an artist from the get-go, when they generally are without a manager, it’s quite useful to have a perspective on record contracts,” he says. “You’re in a better position to advise them and negotiate on their behalf, when necessary. In short, it gives you a wider scope on artist development. And being a music publisher is being a developer, first and foremost.”

Looking to head Éditorial Avenue, Lafrance came back to Québec with a desire to re-invent the music publishing model. He set up preference pacts, a way of doing things inspired by his stay in France. These contracts bind an artist and the rights to their songs over a period of time in exchange not only for advances, but also for musical instruments and other work tools.

“Obviously, you need to be financially solid to offer such contracts.,” says Lafrance. “But the objective is to support the artist and bring them what they need to reach their full potential. We take risks here. And that when it becomes interesting. It’s to our advantage to sign young artists looking for that kind of support. That’s where a publisher can make a real difference, at that stage. Later on, they get more experienced and many artists, nowadays, leave publishing houses to become publishers themselves. It’s a global trend. However, those artists often come back for rights management services, an expertise they don’t have.”

For Lafrance, success is a multi-faceted thing. Publishers can be satisfied with critical success or with a one-radio-hit artist, whereas a record company might find that situation dire because a radio hit doesn’t necessarily translate into music sales. “To be a publisher, you need to be in for the long run,” he says. “We don’t operate in the here and now, like record labels. We’re visionaries.” A publisher’s support also applies to supporting their artists’ career paths, such as was the case for Jason Bajada, Aliocha and Matt Holubowski, all of whom recently took part in a songwriting workshop in L.A.

For all of his vision, Lafrance is not a fan of tight yearly plans. Éditorial Avenue doesn’t have catalogue acquisition, artist signing or European sub-catalogue targets. “We don’t really control the number of catalogue signings,” he says. “It’s quite like real estate. Some years are good and we get nice offers. I’m thinking, for example, of the acquisition of such catalogues as those of Claude Léveillée, Jean-Pierre Ferland, Marcel Lefebvre’s – the ’70s Luc Plamondon – Laurence Jalbert, or Jean Lapointe… But I never set a number of signing per year.”

What he does have a say on is the diversification of his activities. This year, Éditorial developed two new sectors: a neighbouring rights department and international rights clearance. The latter’s latest negotiation was for Nintendo Japan to clear the rights for songs by Katy Perry and Taylor Swift for two video games.

It’s these new playgrounds that re-kindle the flame in Lafrance’s eyes. “I want to be here at Éditorial in five years. In 10 years,” he says. “As a matter of fact, I hope to work until I’m 90, if my health will let me. Because all this isn’t actually work, for me.”

 


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Jason BajadaAs any music journalist will tell you, there are next to no sentences from an artist as tired as “this album literally saved my life.” Throughout the years, artists in all genres have told me those words nonchalantly, but coming from Jason Bajada, they ring true.

The singer-songwriter makes no bones about it: the events that inspired his ambitious double-album Loveshit II (Blondie & the Backstabberz) are the most difficult he’s ever lived through. A series of catastrophic relationships and personal hardships followed by bouts of depression took him to the edge of the abyss. And were it not for music, it’s totally plausible that he wouldn’t have made it. “It is totally true that music was a formidable outlet and a lifebuoy, but it was only part of the healing process,” says Bajada. “If I’m better now, I also owe it to other factors, especially an extraordinary therapist who crossed my path.”

Now serene and philosophical, Bajada also speaks of the inner peace he finds in meditation, the joy he finds in listening to his favourite stand-up comedians, notably Bill Hicks and George Carlin (“truly more philosophers than comedians”, he says), or the wonderment he felt while watching the Cosmos TV series. Yet, he’s a musician through and through, and he fed from the trough of personal experience to create art, pouring all of his blood, sweat and tears in this project.

“I remember the last song I wrote for this album, “In What World Do You Savages Live Where You Thought I’d Be Cool,” he says. “I was at a New Year’s Eve party and a few seconds after midnight, I was floored by a panic attack. I left, alone in the middle of the night, locked myself up in the studio, grabbed my old Gibson and that song came out. That’s how I calmed down.”

Early on, Bajada understood that he’d need two records to tell his story; the first, folksier and more lean, that would talk about the dark aftermath of his separation; the second, a more orchestrated affair that would tell the whole love story, from the fireworks of the early days to its unavoidable demise. Once he settled on the idea of a double album, he went as far as playing almost all of the album’s instruments and imagining the arrangements before he even set foot in the studio.

“It was the first time I got to the studio with almost finished songs, and from that point on, working on them with Philippe Brault was amazing,” says Bajada. “First, because he’s truly an extraordinary human being, but also because he didn’t set out to completely transform what I’d done. The sign of a good producer is not to put his paws all over the place, but rather getting the most out of an artist, which more often than not means resisting the temptation to over-do things. In that sense, Phil is a masterful producer.”

Following two French-language albums in a self-described “atmospheric pop” style, Jason has reverted back to the language of the first Loveshit, released in 2009, and allowed his influences to shine through: the theatrical melancholy of Morrissey, Elliott Smith’s hyper-emotiveness, “and Springsteen, Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt, Devendra Banhart, and so many more…”

Despite the fact that the pain behind the songs is palpable – most of the lyrics are unequivocal – the music is luminous, even when it’s skeletal. “The paradox is that my darkest period was when I was recording Volcano, a highly atmospheric and pop love album,” he says. “Loveshit II is the exact opposite: it was created in an atmosphere of joy and simplicity.”

At the end of this adventure, Bajada thought he’d gotten everything out of himself and could never get back to work after that. But his songwriting instinct rapidly took over. To wit, when we spoke, he was in L.A. with Matt Holubowski and Aliocha Schneider, at a song camp.

“SOCAN invited me to participate in a song camp last year [the Camp Kenekt Québec, where he created the song “Comme les Autres” with Laurence Nerbonne] and I thought it was very stimulating,” he says. “It’s nice out, I’m meeting people from different backgrounds and I’m discovering new aspects of songwriting.” Is happiness on the cusp of killing his inspiration? “Ha! I doubt it, because I think I still have enough material for a whole life of songs!”

Loveshit II (Blondie & the Backstabberz) will be launched on September 1 during the Festival de musique émergente and at Montréal’s Théâtre Fairmount on Sept. 7.


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