Super PlageThe album has been ready for almost a year, but Super Plage carefully chose the moment of its release: launched on March 31, Magie à minuit is the summer of 2023’s first album. It’s written in black letters over a pink background in his Bandcamp page bio: “Fuck winter.” He offers us 10 delicious pop-dance gems that make us want to play them on repeat, until we can finally hang out on our balconies – but whose lyrics are “slightly more personal, this time around,” as the singer-songwriter, a.k.a. Jules Henry, explained to us. “It’s an album that’s slightly more intimate and serene, but still lighthearted and corny.”

At first glance, Magie à minuit differs from its predecessors by the number of collaborations. Henry has a knack for picking the right people to work with: on his first three projects – Super Plage (2020), Super Plage II (2020) and Électro-vacances (2021) – the majority of his songs were duets. On this new project, only four out of 10 songs have featured guests. “Maybe it’s because this was created during lockdown?” he says, offering a guess. “There wasn’t a lot of partying going on during the 2021 holidays… I had fewer opportunities to see my friends while I was creating this album. On the other hand, it’s my album with the most guest musicians – Mélanie Venditti [who sang on Super Plage II] plays the viola and the theremin on this one.”

The trio Le Couleur, who featured on the song Touristes (on Électro-vacances), is back for an appearance on “Rue Dandurand,” a song that stands out for its four-on-the-floor tempo. “That song is the result of a succession of random events,” says Henry. “I wanted something that was really ‘dancefloor,’ and I’d come across this really dirty kick-drum sound. But in the end, the chords I chose to play over the rhythm took me in a completely different direction.” Which is to say more pop and festive, the title being the name of the street where the musician’s studio (which he shares with Le Couleur) is located. “It’s a great co-working space – we work hard during the day and party hard at night!

Super Plage, NYE

Click on the image to play the Super Plage video “NYE

“You know,” he continues, “I listened to a lot of Georges Brassens, Georges Moustaki, and Nana Mouskouri all my life, and I feel like ‘Rue Dandurand’ is as much a club song as a ‘chanson française’ that evolves over several verses.” And therein lies the specificity of the project: Henry creates danceable pop music that, in an ideal world, would be in heavy rotation on commercial radio, while also claiming its lineage to the great tradition of Francophone “chanson.”

“I only discovered recording about 10 years ago,” Henry admits. “Before all that – the studio, the computers – there were the songs that I wrote on the guitar, and that’s the method I still use. I see my creations as songs, but instead of using guitars and drums, I use synths and electronic percussion. Some of my creations are really minimalist, lyrically, but I find that it leaves a lot of room for your imagination.” Such is the case with “+1” (featuring Meggie Lennon and Virginie B), “NYE,” “Safespace,” and “Attraction,” the last of which boils down to two or three sentences.

Throughout his recordings, Super Plage carved a comfortable niche for himself: each project never has more than 10 songs, totalling about 30 minutes of grooves. Yet, he always writes more than he needs. “I cut songs from every album I work on,” he says. “Not just because there are too many, but because I make a lot of bad ones! On the other hand, streaming could afford me the opportunity to explore different formats. I could give myself the goal of releasing three EPs, with three songs each, this year; and the next, a 25-track double album. The thing is, I think EPs get overlooked, while with double albums, people rarely make it to the 25th song. It’s too easy to skip the ones that don’t hook us, so that’s why I figure that 10 songs over a period of 30 minutes will mean people listen to the whole thing.”

So how does he distinguish a good song from a bad one? “Well, first, I’m my own first listener,” says Henry. “When I play it back, I ask myself, ‘Does this please you, or not?’ Then I play my demos to collaborators and close friends. I know how to recognize their enthusiasm about a song, so I rely on their opinion as much as my own. Some of them are very harsh, and even a smile from them will have great value; while others are more forgiving, and will like it too much, which is why I take their opinion with a grain of salt. My mom always loves everything I do, so I’m certainly not going to ask her which song shouldn’t make the album!”

Manager and spouse of Lary Kidd, programmer at Ausgang Plaza, event planner and founder (alongside her man) of the clothing brand Officiel in 2016 – the most notorious model for which is the rapper Loud, and whose label bears prominent laurel leaves emblazoned with the words Montreal Made Me – Dana Lluis epitomizes all the cool the music industry needs.

Dana LluisBorn in Montréal’s Rosemont neighbourhood, near the Angus shops, she studied film at Collège Ahuntsic. After being a stalwart of Montréal nightlife as the manager of Le Salon Officiel – a now defunct, yet still famous watering hole in the Plateau neighbourhood – Lluis has put this experience to good use in her current professional life, a hectic one in which routine doesn’t exist.

“I’m an insomniac by nature, and I sleep a maximum of three hours per night,” admits Lluis, citing a metabolic condition that suits her perfectly, with a schedule as diverse as it is busy. “It allows me to make the most of my time on different projects,” she says.

The Officiel clothing brand is the envy of many. “We bought a batch of discontinued jackets from the ’90s, that’s how it started,” says Lluis. “It’s the scarcity effect! Twice a year, we sell Officiel in our pop-up boutiques in Montréal, and once a year in Paris. And we now sell online.”

The 34-year-old go-getter, who’s half-Catalan, half-Mexican, is very versatile.

Ausgang Plaza

Ausgang Plaza, the 4,500-square-foot multi-disciplinary room, which Lluis has run for six years, includes 15 small studios in the basement of a St-Hubert Street building. She estimates that it hosts more than 150 events per year.

“Our parties are very diverse,” she says. “We can rent the room for private parties, events, shows of all musical genres. Several renowned DJ’s, including Kaytranada, have played at the Ausgang,” says Lluis, whose personal taste in music leans toward global sounds, hip-hop, indie, and house.

Her life partner and management client Lary Kidd released two EPs, including the magnificent Le poids des livres, in 2021. A full-length debut is slated for 2024. “Since there were no shows during the pandemic, we seized the opportunity to improve all the technical equipment,” says Lluis.

Ausgang Plaza has another quiver in its bow: a Francofolies Festival showcase for beat-makers, held annually on the esplanade of Montréal’s Place des Arts. “We’re very much into that, among other things, with the monthly Loop Sessions event at Ausgang,” says Lluis. “Using the same sample, a DJ adapts it to his or her own sauce, and can play his or her remix at night in front of the other participants in the event.”

Develop, Network, Conquer

Deploying its antennae in markets outside Québec is now an integral part of being an artist manager in our current music ecosystem. It’s important to develop a network of venues and bookers in Europe, for example.

Pop-electro-R&B singer Gab Godon, alias Laroie (published by Arts & Crafts, distributed by Awal in the U.K.), participated in a SOCAN Kenekt Studio song camp in 2022, and will soon fly to London before heading to Scotland and France for a few showcases, to help launch her career in Europe.

Dana Lluis“I’m more aware of the challenge of working with an artist signed to a label [Lary Kidd is on Coyote Records] and an independent artist in all aspects; although she receives some subsidies, Laroie must necessarily self-finance her production and promotional expenses,” says Lluis.

The Québec delegations that go to the Printemps de Bourges and take advantage of the Spécimens Canadiens showcase, or to Paris for the MaMA and its Ma Cabane à Paname showcase, are all musical opportunities that serve Lluis and Québec musicians, no matter what genre they play.

Dana Lluis clearly has flawless taste and undeniable talent. Does she think it’s harder to carve out a niche for yourself as a woman? If some were scared of the rap scene, Lluis doesn’t mind it too much. “I was a little apprehensive at first about the male world of hip-hop and rap,” she says. “There aren’t a lot of female managers. You’re taken seriously when you prove yourself. The fact that I have more experience today, and more confidence, allows me, in a given situation, to disagree, and say so without fear.”

Is there a gender wage gap? “I know the salaries in the sector, and I can confirm that there’s a disparity,” says Lluis. “There’s an increasing awareness that equity is needed. On the other hand, there are more and more women in the industry.”

The spring of 2023 will, once again, be a fertile one for Lluis. She wears so many hats, one is tempted to call her the Québec music industry’s Swiss army knife! “What I love the most about my work,” she says, “is delivering a team project.”

Click on the image to play the video of Brett Kissel’s “Our Home”

For many musicians, the pandemic pause in touring was a welcome break to focus on the creative side of their career; for Brett Kissel, the opposite was true. Catching up with the multi-platinum selling songwriter on Valentine’s Day 2023, he reveals what that period was really like.

“I had such a dark cloud over my life,” he says. “Honestly, it was raining all the time… My self-worth came from the stage, and I figured if I couldn’t perform, what was there? I was filled with so much doubt, and constantly asked myself questions like, ‘What good am I?’ and ‘What can I provide the world if I can’t perform?’”

The last thing Kissel wanted to do was write songs. Creativity? There was none. As time passed – and Kissel put in the work – the desire to create slowly returned. After a few years of looking in the mirror, the father of four – who enjoys a beautiful life off the road, shared with his wife on their northern Alberta ranch – realized for the first time that even without touring, and the adulation of his fans, he was enough.

This feeling is captured in the aptly-titled “Our Home.” First released as a single in May 2022 and included on the South ­album – the first instalment of Kissel’s four-album cycle to come in 2023 called The Compass Project (more on that later) – the song was written as an ode to Alberta. But on a deeper level, it speaks to his love for – and the importance of – his homestead, with lines like, “There is something strong about it / There’s something magical about it / There’s something glorious about it / It’s our home.”

“That took two full years of self-discovery,” explains Kissel of his return to songwriting. “From that point on, I was able to freely create, with no expectations. I didn’t judge. I’ve never revealed this before in such a direct way to anyone… I’m surprised I just shared such a private moment, but the reality is, I finally had creativity flowing inside me – and because of that, I could be a lot more courageous with these records.”

It All Started with a Song

Kissel says that the first song he ever wrote was called “Wasting Time.” He was seven years old, and according to him, it was terrible. To prove it, he recites the chorus: “If you ask me how I’m doing, I’ll say I’m fine/ Ask me what I’m doing and I’ll tell you I’m just wasting time.”

While the radio hits and awards over the first 10 years of Kissel’s career show he was definitely not wasting time, the truth, according to the songwriter, is that the creative side of his career was never a passion.

“I never fell in love with songwriting until the last year-and-a-half,” he explains. “It was an important part of my career, and I enjoyed it, but it didn’t fulfil me the way being onstage did. The songs I wrote when I was carefree, in my late teens and in my twenties, were all about getting a hit. My first few years I was driven by statistics.

“Now, I care more about the feeling,” Kissel continues. “I write things I genuinely enjoy rather than chasing what the radio wants. That is so freeing. For the first time in my, life, I’m excited about writing my own songs. I actually really love this.”

As our conversation ends, we ask Kissel what makes a good song. “Goosebumps,” he says. “It’s got to give you goosebumps.”

This courage and newfound desire to write from the heart started with “Make a Life, Not a Living” the single released in March 2021, from his fifth major-label studio record What is Life?, Kissel sings about this balance of living in the moment rather than chasing what’s in front of you, or regretting what you left behind.

A decade into an already successful career that includes three JUNO Awards, 18  CCMA Awards, two Gold-certified albums, and 16 Top-10 radio hits, Kissel, 32, has few regrets, but he decided it was time to go big or go home. And, more importantly, write for himself, not just chase a radio hit.

The Compass Project is the culmination of his new artistic approach. In 2023, Kissel announced that he’s releasing not just one, but four albums. Each is a nod to the four directions on the compass. Each represents a different side of his songwriting.  Why now? “I felt it was time to peel back a few more layers,” he says. “I wanted to take a deeper dive. Not just one layer, but four albums that speak to all of the important sides of my artistry.”

The South album, released Jan. 27, 2023, is the first instalment. This record is most similar to what fans of the Canadian country star have come to know and love. As he says, “it tips its hat to Nashville, and how much I love Music City.”

Kissel still owns a home in the Tennessee capitol, and, as he adds, “I’ve got a cowboy boot on either side of the border! I’m like a snowbird. I live half the year in Alberta, and when it gets cold I head south.”

Next up is the East album, which is the one sure to surprise Kissel fans. He describes it as a singer-songwriter record about love and connections that shows a different side. The third instalment—the West album— is old-time Country & Western. The songs speak to rural themes like oil and cattle. One of these, Kissel reveals, is “Strait Country,” an ode to George Strait, one of his country heroes. “That’s a song that is too country for country radio!” he laughs.

Finally, the North album is Kissel’s greatest hits from his first decade; it’s not your typical curated collection. “These are all my favourite songs, and my fans’ favourites, recorded live in various cities across Canada over the last few years,” he says.