In the second half of her twenties, Thaïs is looking straight ahead and finding a perfect balance for the pieces of her life. Accustomed to living with the type of fear that leads to pride – and convinced that grief leaves faster when dancing than when feeling sorry for yourself – she arrives with a fully-formed album that allows us to see both sides of a coin without having to flip it. On Oct. 7, 2022, she pieces everything together: Act 1 and Act 2 of Tout est parfait will become whole, and form her first LP.
“I cry when I’m happy. I cry when I’m sad,” says Thaïs. “I love contradictions, and this project is a bit like a statement that says, ‘OK, it’s sad, but let’s dance.’’’ The singer-songwriter is comfortably with the kind of spontaneity that comes by collecting endless song ideas in her phone, knowing that she’ll have to circle back to them. “There will always be a dose of solitude and melancholy in what I do, but I feel in control, I love my life,” she says.
The first stage of Tout est parfait was born during a creative bubble, alongside Renaud Bastien, during the pandemic. “I really enjoy recording demos on my own and then, with Renaud, who co-produced the album, it becomes easier to express what I want to,” says Thaïs. In this two-headed production process, the young singer-songwriter feels the need to hold the pieces together herself, to make sure that nothing escapes.
“I think it’s important that I reclaim that as a woman,” she says. “To confirm that I can make things happen. Producing as a team does bring some fresh air to my music, and lets my songs breathe while they’re in someone else’s hands.”
Her creative mode is often triggered by solitude. “I doodle on my keyboard and play around in Logic,” she says. “I create rough sketches of beats, with no precise idea of what they’ll become. I play songs that I’m obsessed with over and over, and I use elements I love as starting points for my own creations, a bit like you would trace a drawing and create an entire new one with your own style. It almost becomes an exercise in style.”
Relationships, family and heartbreak are central to her work, but all of that is presented as a huge fresco that’s not easily deciphered. “I’m very prudish, all things considered,” she says. “You’ll understand a lot if you take a moment to look a little closer.” It’s very important for her to place imagination at the heart of things, not just for her own power to generate ideas, but also ours.
“We can question, imagine, philosophize with Tout est parfait,” says Thaïs. “I’ll turn 27 this fall, and I often wonder what I did with all the time I wasted. But is that time really wasted? I want to know if I’ve properly managed my time on Earth so far.” Not a lighthearted line of questioning! “I know!” Thaïs says, giggling. “It’s intense, but I’m a lot less of a party pooper than I used to be. I dive deep into stuff that upsets me, but it’s to better emerge with something that makes me feel good.”
Once the songs were finished, the two acts were presented to the team as a matter of course: “Something happy and dance-y in Act 1, and something with autumnal melancholy and tranquility in Act 2.” It’s also to make the pleasure last that things are done this way. “We work so hard on these songs. We want the pleasure to last as long as possible,” says Thaïs.
She thinks of the song “Banksy” as “a bridge between her present and her future.” “It’s not the most radio-friendly, or the most danceable, but I open my shows with it because it’s kind of a portrait of who I am today,” she says.
Speaking of live shows, she does explore a variety of approaches. Jérémie Essiambre regularly joins her for a duo show. Then Antoine Perreault sometimes joins them on guitar. And on the album proper, we hear strings, played by Eugénie Lalonde and Camille Poirier-Vachon. “It’s super-moving to hear that. I played those strings lines on my keyboard, but it takes on a whole new dimension when it’s played in the flesh, there’s something magical about it,” says Thaïs.
Armed with her début album, she’s poised to conquer Europe as the opening act for Cœur de pirate. “I feel very lucky, and I sometimes find that de-stabilizing, but I always do everything with joy,” she says. “I talk about shows in Europe like it’s super-normal, but I’m always kind of pinching myself.”
Photo by Francis Champoux
Daniel Bélanger: A Metaphor for Life
Story by Élise Jetté | October 17, 2022
Mercure en mai (Mercury In May) is a simply beautiful title, according to Daniel Bélanger, who has released the 12th album of his 30-year career. Anyone living in Québec during the past three decades can whistle one of his songs, some of which might even, for some, be the soundtrack to a crucial moment in their life, and evoke nostalgia whenever they hear it. Whether in May or at any other point in the year, he’s always had a unique perspective on the days of our lives, and the time that goes by.
“Here’s how to choose a title in three easy steps,” says Bélanger. “Mercure. That word has always resonated with me. When I was a kid, my brother came home with quicksilver [liquid mercury, i.e., mercure, in French], and I found it fascinating. Mercury is also the planet closest to our sun, and I wanted this album to be very luminous. May is the fifth month of the year, and I come from a family of five siblings. I even called an astrologer friend and asked, Mercure en mai, what does that mean? He said, ‘It means absolutely nothing, Daniel.’ I said, ‘Perfect!’”
The singer-songwriter has forged ahead with several projects at once, over the course of the last two years: a poetry book, Poids lourd, which was published by Les Herbes Rouge in the late summer of 2022; an instrumental album, Travelling, released during the pandemic – which is the soundtrack to Luc Picard’s movie Confessions; and, of course, Mercure en mai.
“I had the poems in Poids lourd since 2019,” says Bélanger. “Luc Picard reached out to me about scoring his movie while I was working on my album. The pandemic afforded me freedom in each of those projects,” says the artist, who gladly switched from one discipline to the next.
Words exist without music for Poids lourd, Bélanger’s first book of poetry. “A poem is only concerned with itself, whereas a song’s lyrics are like [part of] a couple,” says Bélanger. “They have a project, and they need to have a talk with the music. It’s tedious to set a poem to music. A poem already has its own musicality embedded in the words. I’n thinking of Robert Charlebois’s ‘Sensation,’ a song where he used a poem by Rimbaud. He succeeded beautifully. You need to think of everything… The music needs to think of everything.”
In a film, however, the music also thinks about the image, and reacts to it like a custom glove. “They send me 20-minute sections of the movie,” says Bélanger. “Obviously, I don’t start by scoring the end of the movie, but sometimes, I’ll place an arrangement at the end of a 20-minute segment, and then I circle back to the beginning of it. I always work with a first draft, followed by fine-tuning – once I get the bigger picture. It’s a bit like making a pie before cutting the excess dough around it.”
When it comes to writing the text of a song, Bélanger always starts with the music, which becomes the guide for the lyrics – never the reverse “Except for ‘Joie’ and ‘Dormir dans l’auto,’ songs for which lyrics were already written, he says. “They were like hockey players waiting for the draft, but it had been a very long time since I’d worked that way.”
After circling back to listen to all the songs he’d written willy-nilly for Mercure en mai, Bélanger examined the lot and questioned himself. “I had a full month of work before me, and I thought it was all quite luminous. Then I said to myself ‘The challenge now is to not kill all that light,’” he says, laughing. “But at the same time, my outlook on things has changed over the years. Who knows? Maybe three years from now I’ll feel like this is a very pessimistic album. But there’s no doubt I was influenced by the lifestyle imposed on us by the pandemic. Except I didn’t want to talk about that; it’s all we heard around us, how life was hard. So I set to work in a transformation factory: starting with a harsh reality and transforming it into something a little brighter. I humbly believe it was a very noble endeavour.”
Thirty years ago, Bélanger introduced Québec to a writing style and a way of doing things that – over time, but relatively quickly nonetheless – became a bona fide classic. His debut album, Les insomniaques s’amusent, released in 1992, included the hit singles “Ensorcelée,” “Opium,” and “Sèche tes pleurs,” songs that unite people no matter what the current dominant emotion of the group is.
“There’s nothing left of the way I worked 30 years ago,” says Bélanger adamantly. “Technically, I composed with a guitar, a pen, and a piece of paper. I didn’t have the means to record at home. I worked in a studio with a producer, who had his idea of what it could be. I knew what I didn’t want, but I had no idea what I wanted.”
In hindsight, Bélanger’s incredibly grateful to have had the chance to work with Rick Haworth, who left his sound unadulterated. “I was in good hands before I reached a point where I was technically competent and had the means to my ends,” he says. “Nowadays, I can basically do everything from my home studio. I only go out to record drum tracks.”
The final musical product to which he now has access is the result of a reflection process that occurs ahead of the range of possibilities. “I think a lot,” he says, “because everything is possible. Do I replace my bass with someone else’s? Who’s going to do what, so it’s even better? These are questions related to composing, that will force me out of the studio.”
As a creator without a clear modus operandi, intuition is the soil in which Daniel Bélanger’s creations grow. ‘It’s often the first line I write for a song that will determine the subject matter and the universe where it will live,” he says. “It’s not necessarily the music that inspires further musical ideas.” Notwithstanding his solo ideas, Guillaume Doiron (bass) and Robbie Kuster (drums) also dropped by Daniel’s studio for this album, after which Pierre Girard took charge of the mix.
And if these new songs seamlessly weave in and out of the classics he plays live, it’s out of a concerted effort to respect the past. “It’s my older songs that have allowed me to live the life I live. I will never disrespect those songs,” says Bélanger. “I’m always happy to perform them. People have heard me sing some of those songs for 30 years, so there’s always someone crying when I perform one live. It doesn’t take much to create nostalgia. Some of your first album’s songs are already part of someone’s memories when you release your second one. We listen to music alongside what we’re going through. Music is a breath of fresh air. But despite all that, each album represents, for me, the present.”
In his view, the song “Soleil levant,” from Mercure en mai, could never have existed on Les insomniaques s’amusent. “It would’ve been impossible,” says the songwriter. “There’s electronic drums in there, and I wrote it on the bass – something that, back in those days, would’ve been more of a production choice. The technical side facilitates things for me, it’s become my language.” But although studio-based decisions and actions are choreographed to better carry their message, this doesn’t mean Bélanger is a fan of written music. “I don’t write and I don’t read sheet music,” he says. “I don’t work with pieces of paper. When we recorded Chic de ville (2013), we went to Nashville to record the strings with Carl Marsh. Michel Dagenais, who was co-producing the album with me, sent him the sheet music. At that point, he was closer to a translator than anything else,” Bélanger remembers with a chuckle.
From 1992 to 2022, eras and trends have changed, ideas have evolved and so has our worldview. Themes such as the seasons, time, and the human condition have evolved in Bélanger’s body of work, as he confirms. “I’ll always be inspired by the world I live in,” he says. “Solitude will always be a source of inspiration. Whatever an individual has to confront when they step out of their home, because of their status, and what they experience in our society. What I find very interesting, and what will always be topical, is the effect of the outside world on individuals.”
If it could be said that Bélanger creates his songs the same way one would create a jigsaw puzzle: He’s the only one who knows how many pieces there are, and what the finished product looks like. “At the end of the day, it’s quite an ‘in-my-own-head’ kind of process,” he says. “I have a very hard time describing how I feel from one moment to the next. Take ‘Soleil levant.’ I wanted it to feel like someone zapping [channel surfing]. I realized I could do something that felt like when you’re zapping on your TV or tablet. I feel like we’re constantly zapping from one moment to the next. Each solo could last longer, each moment too, but we move on to the next one. It’s a metaphor for my life.”
Photo by Lisa MacIntosh
Julian Taylor presents Beyond the Reservoir
Story by Howard Druckman | October 17, 2022
(Full disclosure: My wife happens to be Julian Taylor’s Canadian publicist. So, after a brief introduction, it’ll be just Taylor talking about his album. And I’d be writing this story, this way, regardless of who his publicist is. Some quotes have been edited for length and clarity.)
It looks like Julian Taylor is poised on the verge of broadening and deepening his international breakthrough of 2020.
That year, his album The Ridge earned more than five million plays on Spotify, praise from the press worldwide, and airplay from Canada and the U.S. to Australia and the U.K. Loaded with soulful Americana and country twang, The Ridge won Taylor the Solo Artist of the Year honour at the Canadian Folk Music Awards; was nominated for two JUNO Awards (Contemporary Folk Album and Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year); and made the Polaris Prize Long List of the 40 best albums in Canada. He also won Best Male Artist at the International Acoustic Music Awards.
In October of 2022, The Globe and Mail wrote, “Taylor is a unique and important voice on the Canadian roots-and-folk scene.” The ever-expanding list on the “Contacts” page of Taylor’s website now includes booking agents, radio promoters, and publicists in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, The Netherlands, and France. He’ll be touring Europe for the first time as a solo act in 2023. With his new album Beyond the Reservoir, out Oct. 14, 2022, Taylor’s already-sharp songwriting skills have taken a quantum leap forward, with ever more powerful content, memorable melodies, and singalong choruses.
Born, raised, and still based in the diverse city of Toronto, Taylor is proud of his mixed Black and Mohawk heritage. “I come from two strong oral traditions and cultures,” he says. “One was stolen from their land and brought here, and the other had their land stolen. It’s been an uphill battle ever since, and the fight is far from over…”
“Moonlight” “When I was 21 years old, I was just coming out of a period where I was pretty rebellious, and didn’t really want to hang out with my family. I was out on the streets, in the parks, doing whatever I could. My Aunt Roberta gave me a ring with a little stone in it. When I was about six years old, and we were in Maple Ridge, we used to collect stones on Alouette Lake. She had one put into a ring, and it was an incredible gift to receive. They say that our ancestors live within the stones. It really brought me back to the source, to the core of family, and made me feel like I was doing the wrong things.”
“It’s about a friend of mine who was the 13th murder in the city of Toronto in 2005. He went missing, and all of us were, like, ‘Where is he?’ We knew that he was trying to get back on track. Sometimes you get to that precipice where you’re in too deep to get back on track, and there’s people that want to hold you back, because they don’t want to see you anywhere further than they are. It’s a hard place to be.”
“It Hurts (Everyone Was There)” “This takes place in a space where I’m in my early twenties, my band [Staggered Crossing] is getting a bit of notoriety, I’m making a lot of friends on the open stage scene. I came up with the first line, ‘Everyone was there, everyone was happy.’ It was a time when I could have gone one way, like my friend [from “Murder 13”] or the other. So when I say that it hurts, it’s because I saw so many people meet their demise at that time. I often wonder whether the people that became fatalities, or ended up in jail, were the glue that held us together.”
“Wide Awake” “It’s about feeling incredibly hurt and saddened by some things that have happened in my life with relationships, both personal and family: the choices that I’ve made, and the heartache that I’ve caused, and that it’s caused me. And at the end of the day, just going, ‘It’s gonna be OK.’ The song was originally called ‘Aren’t We Lucky’ [a line in the bridge]. I was in a major car accident during the pandemic. I was lucky to live. I was lucky to have all of my body parts intact. I crawled out of a passenger-side window. I got up the next day and thought, ‘Wow, am I ever lucky.’”
“I can’t really take credit for the chorus. My cousin sent me a text after the announcement in Kamloops [the first broad revelation of the first 215 unmarked graves of Indigenous children who died in residential schools]. It said, ‘They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.’ From there, I proceeded to write the song. Had a conversation with my buddy [celebrated Canadian poet, and frequent Taylor collaborator] Robert Priest, who’s a co-writer on the song. He sent me a text as well, and came up with a couple of wonderful poetic lines.”
“In classrooms, up until recently, they were teaching people that “this is our land,” and it’s not. I wanted to put that in a song, to honour both my families. I didn’t grow up on a reservation; I have family that did. I didn’t grow up in the ghetto; I have family that did. I wasn’t a slave; I have family that was. I feel extremely privileged to have been taught hope and resilience by my family. I talk in this song about my grandfather crying because he no longer knows how to speak Mohawk. In the second verse, I talk about a close family friend’s son, a Black boy, who was shot by the Toronto police in broad daylight.”
“I Am a Tree” “We’re here to be truthful to our own path, and it’s so similar to everybody else’s. There are oak trees, there are maple trees, there are birch trees, all sorts of trees living in the same place, growing in the same beautiful manner, and they’re not getting in each other’s way. But we are. I wanted to say that in a simple way, so that even a child would relate to it.”
“Moving” “This is a tough one. I was in a very special relationship for a very long time. And I gave up, in a way. And felt really horrible about that. You don’t want to [give up]. Sometimes there’s moments when you feel like just giving up altogether, maybe not just on a relationship, but on yourself. I’ve got regrets. I’ve been in spaces where I haven’t taken ownership of things, ‘cause I’ve been too scared, too emotionally detached, or emotionally crippled. This is a heartbreaking story of love and loss.”
“Opening the Sky” “It’s a song of advice for my daughter, both after I’m gone and while I’m here. ‘Opening The Sky’ is also my grandfather’s Mohawk name, in English. During my car accident, I think he was looking out for me. A lot of my relatives and my ancestors were. Like, “Not you. Not yet. You have more to do.’ I’m so fortunate: ‘Look, I’ve still got my arms. I can still play guitar, I can still walk.’”
Bonus Track: “100 Proof” “Tyler Ellis wrote it, and I just loved it. I believe he’s one of Canada’s strongest songwriters, in the folk realm. I really love his songwriting. So much of the song connects to my own life, that It felt like it was almost written for me.”