In 2014, trade publication Playback placed Todor Kobakov on their New Establishment Top Five in Canadian film. The acclaimed film composer, keyboardist, string arranger and producer has since justified the tag with his prolific and high-quality work. The 2015 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) premiered four films scored by Tobakov: Bruce McDonald’s Hellions (co-composed with Ian LeFeuvre), Stephen Dunn’s Closet Monster (with Maya Postepski), Robert Budreau’s Born To Be Blue (with co-composers David Braid and Steve London), and Andrew Currie’s The Steps (LeFeuvre again).
Prominent earlier films Kobakov has scored include the infamous Young People Fucking and Bruce McDonald’s The Husband, and he’s been the only composer used on the two seasons of hit Space TV series Bitten.
“Every project is different. It keeps my life interesting.”
The film bug hit the Bulgarian-born, University of Toronto-educated Kobakov early, he explains. “My mom worked in television all my life [as a music programmer] so I grew up on the set with her, around cameras and editing suites,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to work in film but it takes awhile to have those opportunities. It requires a little more maturity and experience to get into film, and I followed some different musical avenues.”
Kobakov has long worked as a keyboardist, string arranger and producer for such major Canadian artists as Metric, Stars, Dan Mangan, Emily Haines, k-os, and Luke Doucet. “That experience has been invaluable,” he says. “For example, on season two of Bitten, I used a real string quartet for each episode. Having done so many string arrangements for pop artists, that was an easy transition. In the pop world, you’re working on projects that may not have your own songs, but you’re trying to complement them as much as possible. Being a producer or arranger is very much like being a composer, [because] film is very much a team effort.”
Film suits his eclectic tastes, he says: “Every project is different. It keeps my life interesting, and I always try to inject some of my own thing into everything I do.” Career advice he treasures came from Robert Messinger, the agent for Mychael Danna, Kobakov’s mentor at The Canadian Film Centre. “He told me, ‘Make sure you’re known for the work you do, and do movies that reflect your musical voice, rather than just as the guy who does everything. Make sure you’re cast in the movie, as opposed to being hired in the movie.’”
In 2006, Kobakov and acclaimed singer-songwriter Lindy Vopnfjörd formed indie rockers Major Maker and notched a 2007 Top 40 radio hit with the song “Rollercoaster,” which was then licensed for a TV ad campaign. Kobakov is now producing the new Lindy album.
In 2013, Kobakov was part of the inaugural Canadian Film Centre Slaight Family Music Lab composer residency, an experience he calls “life-changing.” He met Bruce McDonald there, and nine months later he and Ian LeFeuvre were scoring The Husband.
Kobakov released an acclaimed piano album, Pop Music, in 2009. He was once named Toronto’s Best Keyboardist by NOW
FYI Publisher: N/A
Selected Filmography: Young People Fucking (2007), The Husband (2013), Bitten (TV series, 2014-2015), Hellions (2015), Born To Be Blue (2015)
Member since 1999
SOCAN Classics: “Un peu plus haut, un peu plus loin” (1969)
Story by Philippe Rezzonico | November 5, 2015
Bell Centre, May 9, 2003. Two-thirds of the way through a Ginette Reno concert, Jean-Pierre Ferland steps on stage to duet with the evening’s star on “Un peu plus haut, un peu plus loin” (“A little higher, a little further”). The concert was part of a series that celebrated Reno’s decades-spanning (‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s) career and hits, and Ferland’s appearance took on the air of a major event in and of itself.
As I sat in seat 5, row M of section 123, I thought to myself that the surprise guest could also show up during the next night’s concert, where her hits of the ‘70s would be performed. It is, after all, during that decade that the singer made Ferland’s classic song hers. But there was no chronological mistake, since the song was indeed written in the sixties.
The song, a true monument in the “Chanson Québécoise” catalog, has, it turns out, quite an uncommon story. It’s a song that was a hit twice, with two different titles, and many, many singers, and its very meaning has evolved with time.
“I wanted this song to be an anthem for hope. A song is the reflection of the songwriter’s mood.”
How does a homegrown hit come to be? Sometimes, they’re born on foreign soil. “It was composed and written in a small hotel room in Paris’ eighth arrondissement,” Ferland recalls.
It would also be featured on the greatest hits compilation launched three years later – Les grands succès Barclay de Jean-Pierre Ferland – but it wasn’t released as a 45 rpm single, and was overshadowed by Ferland’s other hits at the time. “Je reviens chez nous,” the 45 launched in June of 1968, became a huge hit and his signature song. Then came the album Jaune, in December 1970, which firmly established Ferland’s output in the ‘70s.
The artist, however, has a different explanation for the the lack of initial success for “Un peu plus loin.”
“The song didn’t get to have much of a solo career,” he says. “When I first recorded it, it was with a large orchestra. But that didn’t work. When we started singing it in a more pop, and sometimes even rock, way – after re-recording it in 1972 – that’s when people started noticing it.”
In the meantime, it had also found its way onstage. Renée Claude, who’d been singing Ferland’s songs since 1962’s “Feuille de gui,” frequently sang “Un peu plus loin” during her shows. But the song’s true renaissance would come during the 1975 St. Jean-Baptiste Day (Quebec’s “National Holiday”) celebrations in Montreal.
On June 24th – which also happens to be Ferland’s birthday – of that year, he was the star of a free concert on Mount Royal that also featured Ginette Reno, Renée Claude, Emmanuelle, and many more.
“Ginette was just back from her foray in the U.S.,” remembers Ferland, who the previous year had recorded the duet “T’es mon amour, t’es ma maîtresse” with her. “She felt like her trip was somewhat of a failure. She’s the one who asked to sing “Un peu plus loin.” She thought it was ‘a good song for (her) comeback.’ I asked Renée Claude if she minded letting Ginette sing it. Renée was incredibly generous to agree and the rest, as they say, is history.”
The rest, in this case, is a mythical interpretation of “Un peu plus loin” by Ginette Reno in front of hundreds of thousands of people. That night’s rendition became epochal, and is still flabbergasting to this day.
That is also the exact moment where Ferland’s song took on a whole different meaning, where it transformed into something else in the collective mind. What was, at first, a song about broken love, became a whole people’s anthem for hope and emancipation in a tense political context.
“Contrary to popular belief, it was a song about breaking up,” confirms Ferland. “I’d just lived through a painful breakup and it was my own personal way of finding solace. But I also didn’t want it to be overly sad. I wanted it to feel like a hymn to hope. One story ends and you move on. A song is the reflection of the songwriter’s mood. Yet, a song can have several layers of meaning: revolutionary song, love song, dream song…”
Ironically, Ferland never thought “Un peu plus loin” would become a hit, but that was before he sang it alongside stellar signers such as Reno, Mireille Mathieu and Céline Dion.
“I never thought it could become a hit. No more than ‘Le petit roi,’ for that matter. But I knew all along, however, that ‘Je reviens chez nous’ would be a huge hit.”
Nowadays, the song is known as « Un peu plus haut, un peu plus loin. » It’s been inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. Goes to show a song can, through time and popular recognition, not only become a major pop song but even change titles.
Photo by Yani Clarke
Half Moon Run : Long Distance Runners
Story by Nicolas Tittley | November 3, 2015
Even though it was formed a mere five years ago, Montréal’s Half Moon Run already belongs to the World Rock Major Leagues. As their second album is coming out, the band met with us to talk about their world-conquering ambitions.
It seems like it was only yesterday. With only one song, the hypnotic “Full Circle,” Half Moon Run had staked its claim at the heart of a music scene already replete with quality bands. In less time than it takes to yell “Arcade Fire,” the band was tipped as the Next Big Thing out of Montréal. But unlike many other bands who faltered before making it to the international scene, Half Moon Run proved that it would stop at nothing to make it.
Following the release of their first album, Dark Eyes, launched in Canada by Montreal-based Indica Records – and by Communion, a subsidiary of Glassnote Records (Mumford and Sons), for the rest of the world – the band embarked on world tour that saw them play more than 350 dates. This infernal rhythm has nowadays become the band’s routine.
“We toured so much that there were days when we didn’t know who and where we were… We were numb,” remembers Conner Molander, the band’s guitarist, vocalist and keyboardist. “When we finally stopped, we couldn’t see straight and we almost lost it. Luckily, that whole tour made us much better musicians and we found a way to channel that energy into something positive using our common language: music.”
“Nothing is premeditated in Half Moon Run: we know what we’re looking for only once we’ve found it.” – Conner Molander of Half Moon Run
When Dark Eyes came out, there was much talk about the somewhat “artificial” nature of the band, because it was born out of a Craigslist ad and united two B.C. natives, the aforementioned Molander and Dylan Phillips, as well as the Ottawa-born singer Devon Portielje. All three of them were in Montréal to study, but chose the rock life instead. Theirs is far from an unusual story, since Montréal welcomes, year in and year out, dozens of musicians seeking a similar path.
Few, however, make it with as much brio as HMR did. Signed to Indica before even going on stage once, the band had to evolve at warp speed. When the folks at Glassnote tapped them and Half Moon Run started playing the world’s biggest stages alongside Mumford & Sons, it was obviously too late to go back to playing bars.
“One thing’s for sure, believe me: there’s nothing like pressure and adversity to build solidarity,” says Molander. Today, he can confidently say that the guys in Half Moon Run are literally like siblings: “We went through crazy times, like that one time in Europe where we played 33 gigs in 30 days. That stuff can drive people mad, but if you get through it together, you have a bond that’s nearly unbreakable!”
Strangely, the absence of deep friendship between certain members of the band was never a problem, to the contrary, even. The internal dynamics of the band evolved at the same time as their sound, in a very organic way. When one points out to Molander that the band doesn’t seem to have a leader, he immediately concurs.
“I’m actually happy you say that, because that is how we’ve felt since the first day,” he says. “Obviously, Devon is at the forefront, because he’s the lead singer, but we’re all equals in the band and everyone contributes. Even though we didn’t know each other at the beginning, we rapidly found our common language. In the same situation, a lot of musicians would’ve gone into power struggles, huffing and puffing to impress the others, but in our case it was very different: we were [each] very subdued and paid great attention to the others.”
To get a feel of how well the guys gelled, one need only listen to the vocal harmonies that are present on almost all of their songs, the best example of the fact that it’s better together. “That’s definitely something that defines Half Moon Run,” says Molander. I”f you want to be in this band, you have to sing! But seriously, that’s also something that happened on its own. At our very first jam, we all started singing and it stuck with us.”
Isaac Symonds joined the band after the recording of Dark Eyes, and HMR further refined its musical approach, which is a blend of instinct and hard work. Keys and strings became part of the mix, but without affecting the original recipe, or turning their back of the influences that were already becoming obvious on that first album.
“To us, the joy of creating music doesn’t come for establishing a goal and doing everything we can to attain it,” Molander explains. “Nothing is pre-meditated in Half Moon Run: we know what we’re looking for only once we’ve found it. It’s very cool to be able to jam together, but you still need to know when it’s time to stop, because when you play the same thing over and over again, you risk exhausting the original impulse and killing the song.”
In order to break their routine – and to surf a little during their downtime – the band members went to California to work with British producer Jim Abbiss on their follow-up album. They only had a few demos in their pockets and a desire to take their sound further. “Sometimes, you only realize in hindsight how much you’re influenced by your environment,” says Molander. “We went to California to see some new sights, and now, when I listen to the album, I find some of the songs have a bit of a beach-y feeling to them, notably ‘Hands in the Garden,’ which is definitely the most Californian of the lot.”
The Sunshine State is omnipresent on that song, replete with Byrds-like folk-rock and Beach Boys harmonies. In between those Cali sessions and the work they completed back in Montréal, the guys in Half Moon Run realized that their well was far from dry, so much so that Molander says they already have enough songs for a third album, even though the plan now is to devote all their attention to the promotion of the new one, Sun Leads Me On. “It’s become my full-time job, so I’m giving it my all,” says Molander. “I’m like everybody else: I get up early in the morning, I go for a run and then get to work. And I’m not just about music: I’m interested in all aspects of our career, from the creation to the marketing. I’m not too into the marketing side of things because I find that there’s just a little ego flattering involved, but I’m really into establishing partnerships and developing strategies to help the band’s career grow.”
Strategies? Partnerships? Is Half Moon Run’s conquest of the world a commercial venture? A game of Risk? One could be forgiven for getting that impression when listening to Molander explain it in military terms: “We’re going to start with a few small dates in the States, then move on to Europe where our fan base is solid so that we can grow it and galvanize the troops for the final assault. Of course, truly making it in the more difficult U.S. market is our goal. But it’s not a make or break issue for us either. Our main objective remains to make good music.”
Luckily for everyone, Half Moon Run knows how to do that well. Judging by the initial reaction to Sun Leads Me On, as well as a mini tour of Québec to hone the tunes, it seems unlikely the band will run out of steam. Yet, if by some unfortunate set of circumstances, international success does not materialize, Half Moon Run will always be able to count on Montréal: all four of the concerts slated at Métropolis in 2016 were sold-out in a few hours.
“There are things that can make you lose your mind, and that’s one of them,” enthuses Molander. “When we heard that all of those concerts were sold out, I got a little dizzy, so I went for a run at Jarry Park to kind of re-centre myself. Believe me, that’s not something we take lightly. Montréal is where our band was born and raised. It makes me incredibly proud to know that our hometown crowd is on board with us in this adventure.”