At 20, Soran knows exactly what he wants. Released last month by Audiogram, his first eponymous EP showcases the talent of a multi-instrumentalist in full control of his art.

SoranLocated at the confluence of dance music, reggae, funk, and soul, Soran is reminiscent of Jason Mraz or Michael Jackson as much as it is of Justin Timberlake or The Weeknd. Instinctively, one surmises that its creator must be a young music lover who grew up with pop right from the crib, and who’s probably an avid consumer of anything on the radio. But it’s not the case: Soran Dussaigne doesn’t listen to music, at all… except his own.

Seeing how this scribe is perplexed by such an affirmation, he clarifies. “To be clear, I stopped listening to music when I started making my own,” says Soran. “I just don’t feel like it, nor do I feel like forcing myself to. Obviously, there are exceptions, like when I’m in a car, or at a party with friends. I guess sometimes, the music I hear indirectly like that can influence my songs. But on the plus side, I’m inspired by my memory of that song, which yields a much more original and stimulating creation.”

His musical upbringing also bears a lot of influence on his current style. A fan of The Police as a child, the Longueuil-based artist, with Japanese and French roots, benefited from a family environment that fostered creativity and learning. “There were instruments all over the house,” says Soran. “My brother and father didn’t really play with me, so I had to develop that passion through my own will. I first fell in love with drums at around four years old, and to this day, it’s my favourite instrument. Rhythm is the foundation of any song, it’s the groove.”

Curious by nature, the young auto-didact taught himself the guitar in his teens, captivated by the live performances of soul artists, like Allen Stone, that he found on YouTube. Realizing he could also sing, he introduced his first songs on his Facebook profile and rapidly raked in hundreds of views. “The reaction was incredible,” he says. “Only my closest friends said it was crap!” he says, smirking.

The Turning Point

Not one to be easily discouraged, Soran tried his hand at busking in Montréal’s metro (subway) stations. For a year, he honed his ability to attract the attention of the people walking by him. “It was, to me, the best possible rehearsal,” he says. “After a couple of hours, I was able to hit notes I never thought I could hit. It was rough on my voice, but that’s how I discovered that’s what I wanted to do. It also taught me to be more humble, because most people didn’t give a damn about me. I wanted people to stop and pay attention.”

That’s exactly what happened when, in 2015, a staffer from La Voix [the Québec franchise of The Voice televised singing competition] walked by Soran in the metro and convinced him to sign up for the next season of the popular TVA network talent show. He was just 16 when he showed up for the audition.

“Honestly, I had zero confidence,” says Soran. “I saw the people sitting next to me, one who said she’d toured the world with AC/DC, and another who said she had a dozen years of experience on Broadway… I was really stressed out,” remembers the young man, who forged ahead and managed to make all four judges spin their seast around, thanks to his stunning rendition of  The Eagles’ “Hotel California.” “In the end, I realized that, contrary to other versions of La Voix abroad, the coaches here weren’t looking for the most powerful voice, but for different voices,” he says. “I remember telling Ariane Moffatt that I felt bad for being so off-key during my audition. She immediately told me that it didn’t matter, because they were looking for something unique.”

Despite elimination in the quarter-finals, Soran’s experience on La Voix was memorable. What came out of it was basically his optimal plan. “Before I even entered the contest, my goal was to lose it and sign with Audiogram… And, lo and behold, the day after I was eliminated, Audiogram gave me a call,” says the young artist, who’d been coached by Matt Holubowski, also an alumnus of the show, who’s also signed to the famous Montréal record label. “What mattered the most to me was artistic freedom, and I knew the label’s excellent reputation for that. In the end, we waited until I turned 18, about six months, before making my signature official.”

And ever since, Soran has worked twice as hard. Over the past two years, he started actively playing drums again, and learned to play bass and piano, on top of honing his production, arranging, and mixing skills with the recording software Logic. In other words, this Jack of all Trades was constantly in pro-active mode, writing and recording the vast majority of his EP in the basement of his family home in Greenfield Park. “I like being able to record whenever I want to, without having to wait for anyone,” says Soran. “I’ll sometimes wake up at three in the morning and create an entire new song that’s done by noon. My mom’s patience is quite remarkable. She never complains, not even when I play drums in the middle of the night.”

The Creative Impulse

But as autonomous as he might be, the singer-songwriter still needed some help along the way. Known for his work on albums by Coco Méliès, Rednext Level, and the aforementioned Holubowski, Montréal-based producer Connor Seidel helped him finalize the EP at Studio Tempo. “There were songs where I had reached a dead end,” says Soran. “I immediately thought of Connor, because I really liked what he did for Matt. Our fusion was perfect, right from the get-go. We re-recorded the drums and voice tracks, but without changing the very intimate and spontaneous nature of my initial recordings. I really felt at home.”

This pared-down, instinctive approach also applies to the lyrics. Written impulsively, Soran’s songs are like emotional bombs. One thinks of “Emma,” which he wrote in a single evening after his ex-girlfriend asked him to write her a love song; or “Not In Love W Me,” which was crerated after a girl told him she “wasn’t in love with people, but with moments.”

“After she said that to me, I wrote, like, 10 songs about her in a week,” he admits. “Actually, if you listen carefully to the lyrics of all those songs, it’s mostly about me being in love with someone who doesn’t love me back… Or, rather, who thinks he’s not being loved back. That’s pretty much what goes on in my mind the second I’m with someone. I get negative ideas real fast, and afterward, I take comfort in the good things. The same happened with my EP: I was convinced it wouldn’t sell, that it would suck, and in the end I’m happy, because all kinds of unexpected stuff is happening to me.”

Among those recent “surprises” are the 120,000 views that the video for “Emma” racked up in a little less than a month; his nomination as “New Artist of the Week” on Apple Music; and his more than 2 million streams on the major platforms. “Honestly, I don’t understand,” says Soran. “It’s so much more than I could have imagined. It’s going well on the streaming side of things all over the world, but I want more. I want to see these people in person, and play more gigs outside of Canada.”

Throughout this hubbub of excitement and good news, even his old buddies from high school have conceded victory. “A couple of weeks ago, I got a few congratulations messages, notably one from the dude who was the most critical and mean about my music back then,” he says. “I was surprised that he thought my EP was good, and he apologized by saying that he should’ve been more supportive.”

Apparently, Soran did quite well without him.


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“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (Les Guêpes, 1849)

This above oft-quoted epigram from the 19th Century French critic and novelist is usually translated as “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” The phrase refers to how a large-scale change may appear monumental on the surface, but on closer inspection, the fundamentals remain.

Catching up with Dennis Ellsworth to chat about Things Change (his fifth solo album), we find the 41-year-old in the midst of a domestic existence. Ellsworth has just returned from Home Depot, where he was picking out kitchen cabinets and paint samples. Karr’s well-worn phrase sums up the songwriter’s current state; it’s also an apropos tagline to describe his new record.

Ellsworth quit drinking more than a year ago; he and his wife bought a house near where he grew up in the suburb of Stratford, PEI (on the other side of the Hillsboro River from Charlottetown); and he’s set to become a first-time father. Upon an initial spin, Things Change sounds like a departure for the songwriter. Gone is the alt-country sound that’s served as his wheelhouse. Replacing the roots vibe is a radio-friendly wall of sound, with a sprinkle of pop. Listen deeper, and you’ll still hear the poetic lyrics, and Ellsworth’s ability to make a song speak to us all – confirming Karr’s words. The building blocks of this songwriter’s art remain the same.

“I didn’t want to commit to the same old routine that everyone says you have to do.”

Pursuing Publishing PlacementsImagine turning on the TV and hearing your song played while watching a well-loved Canadian CBC drama. That’s one of the feathers Dennis Ellsworth can now add to his songwriting cap. His song “Hazy Sunshine,” from the 2013 record of the same name, appeared on Heartland last season.

Vince Degiorgio, President and founder of Chapter Two Productions (which includes Cymba Publishing) first met Ellsworth at a song camp a few years ago. Immediately, he was struck by the artist’s abilities, and a year later signed him to a publishing deal.

Another recent publishing credit is a song in the Canadian rom-com The New Romantic, which made its world premiere this past March at SXSW. “Vince sent me a message asking if I had any songs that sounded like ‘Skinny Love’ by Bon Iver,” says Ellsworth. “I said, ‘I don’t,’ but I’d just written a song that was close enough, so I sent him a demo. Vince called back immediately and asked, ‘How soon can you get in the studio?’”

Ellsworth cut the song, sent it to Degiorgio, who forwarded the track to Instinct Entertainment — the Toronto-based music supervision and licensing company representing The New Romantic. Then the publisher went to Japan for more than a month, so the songwriter didn’t hear anything. “I figured they weren’t interested,” says Ellsworth. “Then, one day after Vince got home, Instinct got in touch with him and said the song was going to be in the movie!”

“It’s not so much that I took my songwriting in a new direction, it’s more like I went back in time to an ‘old direction,’” says Ellsworth explains. “I’m a child of the late 1970s. When I first started collecting records, what I chose to listen to was late-‘80s and early-‘90s stuff. The early ‘90s were marked by alternative music that featured heavy guitars, and that music inspired me a lot in my formative years.

“When I started writing songs for this record, and I got a feel for where I was going, I intentionally listened to artists like Matthew Sweet, The Lemonheads, and The Jesus & Mary Chain,” he continues. “I used their music as my inspiration.”

Once the song bones took shape, it was “the icing on the cake” to hire fellow East Coaster Joel Plaskett to produce the record. The pair convened at the JUNO Award-winner’s New Scotland Yard studio in Dartmouth, NS. “With Thrush Hermit, he lived in that alternative rock and Sub Pop [Records] world back in the ‘90s,” says Ellsworth.

Adding to the throwback vibe, Plaskett recruited The Super Friendz’ rhythm section (Dave Marsh and Charles Austin) to join them in the studio. “Recording this made us all feel like we were in our 20s again,” says Ellsworth. “As I get older, nostalgia plays a bigger role in my life. I’ve chosen music as the way that I write and express myself. Six months on, I feel Things Change is the best record I’ve ever made.”

While not a concept album, several of the songs on the record (“Absent Mind,” “Caught in the Waves,” and “From the Bottom”) describe Ellsworth’s feelings of career ennui, and the personal transformation he experienced in the last 365 days – especially his decision to put the plug in the jug.

“I wasn’t an abusive drinker,” he admits. “I was a constant social drinker. I didn’t want to quit because I like the taste of beer, scotch, and red wine, but I realized I needed to pull myself together a bit more, on a personal level, to strengthen my chances of survival. The benefits far outweigh the losses.”

Two decades into his artistic career, Ellsworth’s music keeps getting stronger. With this maturity, he’s also re-prioritizing where best to invest his energy. That means more time in the studio, recording demos, writing and co-writing songs every week, and less time away from home in the grind of touring. Signing a publishing deal three years ago with Cymba Music Publishing (see sidebar) was the main driver for this switch.

“I’m less of a performer and more of a songwriter, anyway,” Ellsworth concludes. “I just changed the parameters and structure of what I believed in. I didn’t want to commit to the same old routine that everyone says you have to do. I still want to make music, write songs, and make records, but if I can switch my focus to songwriting more than performing, that’s a transition I want to make.”

 


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Megative started out as a seedling,” Tim Fletcher says. It was an idea he and producer Gus Van Go had been discussing for a decade.

“We’ve known each other for over 20 years,” Fletcher continues, noting their mutual desire to bridge the “beautiful universes” of 1970s British punk, rock steady, Two Tone, reggae and dub. That, he says, was their initial inspiration. “We really wanted to put [all] that into a soup and make a band with it,” he says.

“We didn’t exactly know the details of what we were going to do,” adds Van Go.  “It was only when we had the right people that we pulled the trigger.”

With the exception of Fletcher, who’s based in Montréal, Megative’s core members –Jesse Singer and Chris Soper (collectively known as Likeminds), Jamaican-born reggae vocalist Screechy Dan, and Van Go – are all based in New York City or Brooklyn. But both Fletcher (as guitarist/lead vocalist for The Stills) and Van Go (in Me, Mom and Morgantaler) cut their teeth in Montréal’s indie scene.

The resulting many-headed beast is a collective whose songwriting process derives as much from the individual members’ diverse backgrounds as by their shared experiences, influences, and lengthy tenures in the music industry. “That keeps things fresh and very ego-less,” says Fletcher. “Getting older and maturing as a person, too, you realize that your life and time are precious, and you just want to enjoy making music. And we’re all at that stage.”

Singer and Soper (Grammy-nominated producers in their own right), though younger, are equally knowledgeable “about the connection between reggae and punk… but also Gorillaz, Massive Attack, and modern dancehall,” says Van Go. Similarly, Screechy Dan brings a wealth of experience to the table, as do percussionist/MC/singer/DJ Jonny Go Figure, guitarist Alex Barbeau, and drummer Demetrius Pass, who round out Megative’s current live lineup.

The songs on Megative’s self-titled came from a variety of sources, Van Go and Fletcher explain – from previously-written tunes, to grooves generated in the studio, or full-on jams. “It’s really a song-by-song process,” says Fletcher. It was also a fairly relaxed one, says Van Go. “It was a process of discovery for us because we didn’t know what it was to write a Megative song.”

There was a core vision, however. “What we love about reggae is the apocalyptic heaviness of it. It’s not all fun, sunshine, hacky-sacks, and good vibes,” says Fletcher, adding that the band wanted to address what he calls “an increasing epidemic of a lack of meaning” – a by-product the cultural and personal traumas impacting society collectively and individually.

Combat Rockin’
Megative was conceived in the mid-2000s, on a long drive to San Diego, during which Van Go and Fletcher bonded over a shared love of the almost-final 1982 Clash Album, Combat Rock. while it yielded perennial party favourites “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” and “Rock The Casbah,” Combat Rock also dealt with a similar kind of alienation that Megative does – and did so at a time, not unlike now, when the sense of living in a society in decline was prevalent. Fletcher and Van Go both agree that the tone of the album, and their discussion of it on the road, was the initial spark, and the primary sonic and lyrical reference point, that led to them founding Megative.

“There’s a tremendous sense of abandonment and neglect and a lot of people are just grappling for meaning… The opioid crisis, addiction to ever more robust painkillers,” he continues. “It’s not some anomaly… People are in pain, and are unable to cope with this sense of isolation without help.”

Consequently, Megative’s music depends heavily on lyrical themes of paranoia and existential dread, while calling for brave living in dark ages. “This all sounds very serious and dark,” says Fletcher, “but there is a side of it that’s very absurd… so there’s humour, too.”

Onstage, that comes across loud and clear. “Halfway through our very first show, in this super-small town in Quebec, I’m standing on a table playing my bass, and Screechy’s hanging off the rafters. I was like, ‘Oh, we’re that kind of band,’” says Van Go. “But we didn’t know it was going to be this much fun, or what kind of energy the live show was going to have.”

And that’s as it should be, he adds. “I produce a lot of records, and bands always seem preoccupied about that, but I always tell them, ‘Don’t think about it. Start by making the best record you possibly can, one that excites you. That’s your North Star.’”

 


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