Deep in the sky, a star dies, in a brutal, blinding explosion that sends shards of light throughout space. Les soeurs Boulay set out on a quest for this intense brightness, for what’s left after us. Their third album, La mort des étoiles (The Death of Stars), is carried by their adult voices, the voices of strong women who’ve grasped their fragility, and the fragility of the world. Co-produced by Connor Seidel, Mélanie and Stéphanie Boulay’s heady project sees them officially out of their teens, and confirms all of their previous choices.

“S’il vous plaît quelqu’un, faites quelque chose pour virer le courant” (“Somebody, please do something to turn the tide”), they sing on the title track. While we’re connected to everything that exists, we’re also navigating in a paradoxical era, where everything that allows us to communicate with each other also isolates us. “It’s a song about the downfall of humanity, but also the downfall of the reign of the image,” says Stéphanie. “We’re basically saying that we would love, in an ideal world, to not have to sell ourselves on Instagram. Apparently, God is dead and Man took his place, but it’s not mankind that’s at the centre of everything; it’s the omniscient stare of all of our networks, invisible, yet constantly judging us, and making us doubt ourselves.”

The Boulay sisters’ hiatus, following the 4488 de l’Amour tour in 2015, allowed Stéphanie to release a solo album, and Mélanie to take a maternity leave after the birth of her son. “It was clear it was only a hiatus, and it was planned for before my child,” says Mélanie. “People are afraid of a hiatus, because artists often don’t actually come back. But for us, it was the only way to find out who we are without the other one.” That hiatus also allowed Mélanie to get rid of the calluses she’d always had on her fingers. Each on their own, they heard and witnessed things that led them to the remains of those stars.

This third album arrangements shelter such subjects as a warm blanket in the winter, and are the result of collaborating with a prolific entourage. “We were used to working together, and we didn’t want to let anybody in,” says Mélanie. “We were afraid to lose our essence. But now, we have such confidence in ourselves as a duo that we’re not afraid of going out and getting all the best that others have to offer.” “We barely played on the album,” Stéphanie adds. “We delegated. We discovered colours we didn’t know we could have. We showed talented people what we’d come up with, and asked them what they heard in it.” So we can hear Marie-Pierre Arthur’s bass playing, and the meticulous guitar stylings of Joseph Marchand and Simon Angell, the latter a real savant of the instrument. To wit, his breathtaking fretwork on the album’s closer, “Immensité.” “I believe we hired the best guitar player in existence,” Mélanie says. “His playing sounds like the instrument is moving back and forth. It’s like the music is holding its breath.”

The sisters stopped denying themselves what they enjoy, and dove right into what they once loved, finding inspiration in Jean-Pierre Ferland, Michael Kiwanuka, Sinatra, and Julie Masse. “We learned new chords, and I got back to composing on the piano, an instrument that affords me a lot more creativity,” says Mélanie.

Ambition is no longer at the centre of their lives, now that the girls have taken heed of their impact on things to come, especially since the birth of Léonard, Mélanie’s son, who sees his name used as a song title on the album.

They obviously couldn’t ignore everything that came in the wake of the #metoo movement. “Il me voulait dans la maison” (“He Wanted Me in the House”) is an intense testimonial on psychological violence. “We watched the documentary on R. Kelly and realized that narcissistic perverts truly are everywhere,” says Stéphanie. Women lived through #metoo, they assimilated all of that. Now, the time has come to dissect it. “Invisible violence is very frustrating, because it leaves no evidence, and is often blamed on the woman,” says Stéphanie. “I lived it, so many women lived it. On the day we recorded that song, I couldn’t stop crying, and everyone had to leave the studio so that I could get on with it. I was crying from rage. Psychological, verbal, and economic violence goes unpunished, because it’s intangible.” “Au doigt” touches on similar themes, and describes the weight of what’s expected of women on a daily basis, in society. “Boys are sometimes afraid of being crushed, when all we want to do is walk by their side,” says Mélanie.

Politics aren’t spared either, since the society in which we live is still subjected to values that are imposed from above, and have a real impact. “We sang ‘La fatigue du nombre’ in front of 300 MPs and Senators, last May at the SOCAN reception on Parliament Hill. We sang, ‘Vous étiez jeunes avant nous votre feu a tout brulé’ (‘You were young before us, and your fire burned everything to the ground’). It was only once we were onstage that we realized what we were telling them,” the sisters say, giggling. “That’s the role of music: carrying messages. After that, it’s up to you to digest it at your own pace,” says Stéphanie. “What we were telling them, in a song, is that if no law comes into effect, all you’ll ever hear are songs by the same 12 people who have to means to make music.” “Music is a psychotherapy that you pay $10 a month for on Spotify,” her sister adds. “It’s more important that we think.”

The Mort des étoiles tour will be carried by the incandescence of stars, thanks to enticing visuals, and new arrangements that will help us embrace once more songs that we’ve known by heart for nearly 10 years. “We wanted to renew our love of those songs we were tired of playing,” says Mélanie. “We wanted to embrace our evolution, and the evolution of our audience.”

LU KALA knew she was going to be a singer. She never deviated from her dream. But not everyone had faith in Lu’s vision. “No one believed me when I said, ‘I’m a singer, this is what I’m going to do!’” LU tells us. “I just remember being young, like, singing and annoying every single person near me,” she says with a laugh, “And just believing in this dream that was bigger than myself.”

It’s this persistent confidence in herself that led Lu to self-release her first single as a solo pop artist, the anthemic “DCMO (Don’t Count Me Out).” The track – apropos, as it traces the feelings of being overlooked – begins with a sparse rhythmic base before soaring into a catchy chorus. She wasn’t expecting much, other than the personal satisfaction that comes with creating music. But then the song popped the hell off.

So far, the track, released last year, has almost half a million streams on Spotify, with the French version at almost 40,000 streams. “I never expected it to go so far,” says LU. “Not that I didn’t have any confidence in it – I believed in the song – but I didn’t know if people would actually listen to it.”

LU has almost 40,000 followers on Instagram. She’s flown to L.A. and New York, writing with prominent producers and songwriters, hoping to shape her career the way she’d always envisioned it after this enormous propulsion. She also just released the video for “DCMO.” She’s continuing to build a steady following, again, off the strength of one song. A not unheard-of feat (hello, “Old Town Road”) but the high quality of a track – which is true of  “DCMO” – can propel an artist much further than its status as a trendy hit. “As much as I talked about ‘this is what I’m going to do’ and ‘this is what is going to happen,’ to see it happening in front of your eyes is something very different,” says LU.

Before the release of “DCMO,” LU had already garnered early praise for her performances. Reviewing her performance at the Manifesto Festival in Toronto, NOW Magazine wrote that LU “stole the show with her powerhouse voice and stage presence that seems ready for international success.” The Congo-born Ajax resident has been chipping away at her goal of pop success for awhile now, despite the seeming curveball appearance of her immediate, single-song success. She’s been professionally working in the industry as a songwriter since 2013, working with the likes of DVSN, and Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson on her JHUD album in 2014. She knows her way around crafting a pop song for others (lovingly calling herself Dr. LU), helping to coax the most out of the performers with whom she’s writing. But writing for herself, promoting herself as this formidable artist, too, is a whole other task.

LU KALA is a compelling artist, not simply because of her enormous skill as a singer, but because her dedication to honesty in her work complements her performance. As a singer, her vocals are interesting, both jagged and lofty. She’s so perfectly studied pop music that her delivery is just as impeccable as pop stars who’ve been at it for years. But her songwriting, the material she’s bringing us in these verses, is so authentically LU, you pay closer attention to the message she’s delivering.

“I’m actually living my dream.”

“I remember when we were writing ‘DCMO,’” she says, “I [closed] my eyes, singing ‘I know I’m a big girl/ you are afraid to claim me,” and I remember opening my eyes feeling embarrassed a bit,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I said that in front of someone!’ But at the same time, there was this feeling of relief that felt good. It was almost me realizing that I felt that about those situations.” From that moment on, LU says she made a promise to herself to put forth honest music; to have a body of work representative of her innermost thoughts and feelings.

We come back to the point of confidence. LU’s belief in herself feels like a form of survival. Her belief, as with that of many others who don’t fit a specific mold in pop music (hello, Lizzo), is the singular truth that the only person you can trust is yourself. It begins and ends with LU, first and foremost. “I’ve always had to be confident growing up and being this plus-size girl,” she says. “Automatically, I think that was something I needed to have when I was really young. I knew I had to believe in myself more than others would. [That] I’d have to turn down the naysayers.”

With this much impact on her one song so far, it’ll be thrilling to see where she’ll go when she releases her as titled first EP in 2020. “I’m actually living my dream and making money off of my dream,” she says, “And that’s really cool.”

“Singing has always intrigued me,” says Alex Erian in the middle of a conversation about Balance, the fourth album by his band Obey The Brave, released in July on the Hell for Breakfast imprint, a subsidiary of Slam Disques. The statement seems odd, since Alex Erian has been OTB’s singer since it was created, in 2012 and was previously the singer for deathcore band Despised Icon starting in 2004.

So what does he actually mean? He means that he’s been pining to escape the sometimes limiting constraints of the role of screamer, so typical in the metalcore universe. According to the current standards—and all things being relative—Balance is Obey The Brave’s most “pop” album, and undoubtedly the one where the frontman uses his voice for more melodic endeavours. Alongside him are axeman Terrence McAuley, drummer Stevie Morotti, and newcomer Ben Landreville on bass.

“I was weary of the reactions that would provoke. I was expecting more hate on the internet, but people were pretty cool,” says Erian, referring to the sometimes virulent attacks that such a move generates in the world of punk or metal, no matter how subtle it may be – because it’s usually, childishly, likened to a form of compromise or “going soft.”

“In any case,” says Erian, about those for whom the slightest modulation to a band’s intensity is nothing short of high treason, “what matters the most is creating something that comes from the heart, not fitting into a trend. In my twenties, I focused on the technical aspect of things, musical prowess. Now, it’s all about the feeling. I’ve learned that simplicity is an art form, and while it’s far beyond me to look down on screamers, I wanted to develop another talent. It was a big challenge. I had to work on myself a lot. Singing without screaming takes on an additional form of vulnerability. You can no longer hide behind lyrics that are barely audible, and I believe having lyrics that are more audible makes the message more universal. We wanted to establish a better bond with our fans, and for me, that was the way to do it.”

What message? Let’s summarize Obey The Brave’s discourse as flipping the bird at adversity. “I’d rather die standing up than live on my knees,” Erian swears on No Apologies, a tip of the hat—or of the Montréal Expos baseball cap, as it were—to his friends in the LGBTQ+ community who chose to risk rejection by their loved ones rather than denying who they are one more day. “Calme le jeu,” the compulsory French song on the album, decries the masked-identity games that go on in social media, which have become kingdoms of fakes and shams.

Although he’s never shied away from exploring the dark recesses of his mind,  Erian had rarely before spelled out so clearly his quest for serenity and light than on Balance, a project that sees him ferociously battle the harmful instinct of inward-looking attitudes. Does he sometimes feed his own dark side for the sake of creativity? He bursts out laughing over the phone. Of course he does.

“I was telling my mom just yesterday: ‘art is pain,’ but I’m really trying hard to get out of that mindset. It’s difficult, however, because you can’t avoid isolating yourself in order to create, and writer’s block can become overwhelming to deal with (which is, incidentally, the subject of the song “Cold Summer”). When you devote three or fours hours a day to writing, and you have nothing in the end, it can bear on your conscience quite a bit.”

While being careful to not come across as complaining too much, Erian does recognize that equanimity is a rare commodity on the long and winding road of heavy music. He was flying out to California on the day after our interview (on a Tuesday) to meet with the executives of Despised Icon’s record label, before flying back to Québec on Satruday, and heading straight to Rouyn-Noranda’s Festival de musique émergente to play with Despised Icon.

Writing Tips: Metalcore Breakdowns
Metalcore as a genre is quite fond of breakdowns, those syncopated interludes that often act as a bridge in a song. What is the goal of a good breakdown? “The goal of a breakdown,” says  Erian, “is to engage the crowd even more during a show, make people move, and let them express themselves physically.” In other words, a good breakdown gets the bad mojo out of your system.

As for Obey The Brave, they’ll undertake a short tour of Québec, starting in Shawinigan on September 6, before heading out to the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Austria in November for a 15-date tour. Balance, in a sense, is also the testimonial of a man who refuses to give up on his ideals, despite all the hardships he’s had to endure, and all the sacrifices of his quest.

“People think we’re living the dream, and in a way we are,” he says. “A career in music is unbelievable, but it can be quite difficult at times. I’m 38, and I’ve been touring since I was 17, and what I realize, with increasing pain, is that the life of the people you leave behind goes on without you. The people around you are experiencing things, and you are not a part of it. Then there’s what I see behind the scenes, and that’s not pretty either. People think that the “sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll” lifestyle is glamorous, but I can tell you it’s not at all. Drugs more often than not become a crutch, a way to avoid reality.”

His main incentive to carry on: the hope he sees in the eyes of the young people everywhere OTB plays, and the energy they get from the band’s metalcore explosion, an energy that fuels their desire to defend their convictions. “A lot of people of my generation are quite resistant to change,” says Erian. “To the contrary, I’ve always thought it’s important to foster new ideas, new conversations. That’s how our world evolves. If, as we’re hearing from all over the place, we’re undergoing a planetary crisis, maybe it’s time we listened to the younger ones among us.”