The release of Oobopopop, their bubbly but unpronounceably-titled album, is an opportunity to discover the leaner, meaner version of the formidable groove machine formerly known as Misteur Valaire. But fear not, the five-headed beast hasn’t lost any members, it merely simplified its name, reducing it to a simple surname. Enter Valaire, the latest incarnation of a constantly evolving band.

Yet, it’s only at the very end of our conversation that we touch on the name change, which turned out to be the least traumatic decision in the group’s history. When asked about it, KiloJules, Luis, Tô, France and DRouin can barely remember when it happened. No endless debates, just a desire to take things to the next level and subtly mark the passage. Change in continuity.

And there’s a lot of change on this very funky album, starting with the presence of a singer who could almost be considered a new, full-fledged Valaire member. Alan Prater is a living legend who once shared the stage with Michael Jackson. The Florida-born singer and musician is a familiar face to patrons of Montréal’s Dièze Onze bar, where he has a weekly gig with The Brooks. “The album’s underlying intention is quite simple: do some good to the people who hear it,” says Luis. “The lyrics are lighthearted and straight to the point, and they fit perfectly for Alan’s personality, because he’s a real party machine!”

There are other voices on the album, most notably Luis’, as well as those of their BFFs Fanny Bloom and Camille Poliquin (Milk & Bone). New York-based rapper Kahli Abdu and Pierre Kwenders are featured on the excellent “Apata Palace,” an explosive afro-funk,/hip-hop/soca number. Still, Prater’s voice stands out. “We used to pick our guests according to each song; if it had a rock or hip-hop vibe, we’d pick a singer that would be a good fit, without trying to establish continuity,” Luis explains. “It’s a fact that up to now, we’d never tried to define where vocals fit in Valaire,” admits Tô. “Enter Alan, and we immediately clicked. The first time he came in the studio to record his vocal track, he didn’t hesitate for a second and sang ‘I do the Oobopopop,’” remembers Jules. “It came out so naturally that we were all floored.”

“Everybody contributes their ideas and the ones that stick are the ones that best serve the song.” – France, of Valaire

When asked to describe the overall sound of their new offering, the band members turn to this journalist – “You’re the specialist, aren’t you?” says France with a wicked grin – but ultimately agree and settle on “funky.” The inspirations for the album were a trip to Louisiana (“We were just looking for somewhere warm in February”, offers DRouin), piles of 70s vinyl, and endless vintage hip-hop listening sessions. From that, the band members simply let the groove build organically. “Of all our albums so far, I think this is the one that will age the best, because it’s our most coherent yet,” says France.

That begs the question of how the songs – and cohesion – are born in this leaderless group. Who sets the tone? Everyone and no one, apparently. “Everybody contributes their ideas and the ones that stick are the ones that best serve the song. In the end, no one really knows who did what,” says France. “Certain members of the band have known each other for 25 years, so let’s just say our ego problems have long been resolved!” quips DRouin. “Strangely, though, we still haven’t found the Valaire recipe, but we’re still looking,” admits Luis. That’s not to say Valaire is devoid of a modus operandi: “The one thing that’s changed the most in the way we create over the years is technology. We use Dropbox a lot,” says Tô. “Even if we’re all in the same room, as soon as one of us comes up with a nice riff or a good sample, we drop it in the box,” Jules explains. “Once it’s there, everyone is welcome to use it, revisit it, transform it.”

Thus, by pilfering their sonic treasure trove, the Valaire boys came up with their most organic album yet. “We’re like an old couple; there’s a ton of stuff that happens naturally, without the need for words,” says Luis. They may be an old couple, but thankfully for us, their passion hasn’t dwindled.


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Caroline Savoie had toyed with the idea of a pursuing a pop music career long before getting early exposure in France in The Voice in 2014 and taking top honours at Québec’s Festival international de la chanson de Granby in 2015. Those initial experiences helped her lose her morbid fear that her folk music might become contaminated by a “sweet pop” label. “Now I deal with it,” she says.” But for quite a long while, I was afraid of getting caught up in a model that would stick with me for the rest of my career…”

The same fear caused her to think twice before competing on The Voice: “It’s funny, because in the beginning, I was very critical of myself,” she says. “Actually, the first time they invited me, I declined. However, seeing as we were talking about 10 million viewers… Business-wise, the rewards are so great, I would never have recorded in New York if I hadn’t done it, and I developed the best work ethic I ever had. Looking back, I’m very glad I did it.”

Savoie faced the maelstrom of pop music life with tact and resilience. “What you have to do is get into it deep enough to enjoy the visibility and the benefits, but not deep enough that you get caught up in the machine,” she explains. Now that her song-competition days are over, she’s putting great store in clarity as she prepares to officially launch her career by releasing her debut album. “I found it hard to play the covers game at times,” she says. “It’s not for everyone. I’m a songwriter, so if there’s one thing that The Voice really taught me, it is the ability to say ‘no’ at times, to stay grounded.”

Caroline SavoieThe Granby song competition was a major catalyst in Savoie’s quest to accept her pop “fate.” “I still can’t believe I won the Granby contest,” she says. “So many talented people have come out of there! It did a lot for my self-esteem. Better still, since I was slated to perform on the last night of the preliminaries, I was able to watch all 23 people who were scheduled to perform ahead of me! I think it helped me accept myself for what I am. My lyrics are very simple, I don’t try to wax too poetic… So I thought, ‘Yes, your lyrics are simple, yes, you perform pop songs, so deal with it and have fun!’” Seeing as she came out as the top winner, and collected some 15 prizes along the way, there’s no doubt that she did indeed “have fun,” and lots of it.

Poised to present us with her first official release on Spectra Musique, Savoie seems excited about what she and her top-notch accomplices have committed to tape. The album is produced by Jay Newland (Norah Jones, Eric Clapton, Paul Simon) and his musicians (Adam Levy on guitars, Dan Rieser on drums, Zev Katz on bass and Glenn Patscha on keyboards), and Savoie is still pinching herself at the good luck of having had the opportunity to work with them. “I was a bit afraid of getting there and finding out I was just another product,” she says, “but they really got into in the project, they were enjoying themselves. Jay only works with his favourite artists. The first song we recorded was ‘Aux alentours,’ and when we were done, I locked myself in the bathroom and cried like a baby because I was so overwhelmed!”

 

The album’s first single, “Y’en aura,” is a great source of pride for Savoie. “It’s a tune I wrote really fast,” she says. “I basically wrote it thinking about somebody specific, and I think I got it right. Onstage, it’s a song that gets a reaction from the audience, and I’m really proud of that.”

And how does she enjoy performing? “Actually, I think it feels a bit like being in my own living room,” she says. “I love interacting with an audience, telling stories, talking with people… I think there’s something very Acadian there. In New Brunswick, people are really simple and nice. It’s very typical… Y’know, the big metropolis is Moncton, and that’s [only] 100,000 people, so it doesn’t take long to feel at home.”

Thanks to her honesty and spontaneity, Caroline Savoie seems unlikely to be swallowed by the big bad machine after all. And that’s a credit to her artistic integrity.


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In the wake of profound changes in the music world over the last few years, there are a few Cassandras heralding the impending death of the music industry. But on the frontline are visionaries who know how to re-invent themselves to adapt to the new reality. “The problem doesn’t come from lack of demand; the variety of available supports nowadays means demand for music has never been greater,” says Denis Wolff, co-founder and artistic director of Harris & Wolff. “The problem is the value of music: micro-payments generated by streaming aren’t sufficient to help artists stay afloat. Even though the new rules are known, there’s still a lot that remains unclear. We’re navigating in fog, among icebergs, but at least we know how to navigate.”

In this analogy, Denis Wolff is a Master mariner. Whether through his Maisonnette agency or his MasterKut studio, he’s been a key player on the Québec music scene for many, many years. Three years ago, he founded Harris & Wolff alongside Mary Catherine Harris, his partner, who’s in charge of marketing and business development, and also has tremendous experience in publishing (Plateau Music, Third Side Music, Genison). Behind such an understated brand name, more akin to a law firm than a cultural organization – an impression that highly pleases the two partners – lurks a small but very ambitious publishing outfit.

We met with the pair in the basement office of a Saint-Joseph boulevard building in Montréal that’s also home to L-A be, Louis Armand Bombardier’s record label. The two principals of Harris & Wolff are poised to conquer the world, one song at a time. The collapse in record sales doesn’t diminish the need for music. Ads, TV series, movies, websites, apps… visual content creators are constantly on the lookout for new sounds to augment their productions. And when these content creators are looking for a specific sound or atmosphere, they ask specialists like Harris & Wolff.

All told, Harris & Wolff represents about 50 artists, of which about 30 exclusively create audio-visual music. And their catalogue grows and diversifies on a daily basis. “What we offer is curated content,” says Harris. “A lot of companies go into licensing and simply sign as many artists as they can, who are totally interchangeable to them. We choose them carefully, and we create playlists for different atmospheres, which is very helpful for our clients.”

“We work with real artists that have actual personalities, not anonymous composers whose work is the musical equivalent of stock photography.” — Denis Wolff of Harris & Wolff

These playlists are just one facet of the company’s very accessible website, described by its owners as a one-stop shop. “It’s the heart of our business, we worked on building the user interface for two years,” says Harris. That proprietary interface is the brainchild of Wolff, and is so user-friendly that people have asked to license it.

So how does it work? Say you’re a movie producer looking for music for your next film. Do you need music in a minor or major mode? Need something lively and upbeat? Maybe German reggae? The search filters allow you to be extremely precise. Then you’re taken to a request form: what’s the desired usage? Ad, film, TV? How many seconds? Background or feature? With just a few clicks, the customer gets a quote, and a ready-to-use audio file. Harris & Wolff owns the masters, which avoids the music users having to seek the rights holders, and translates into savings in time and money.

“By combining that interface and our local and international network, we’re really looking to serve a global market,” says Harris. “What sets us apart is that we’re close to the artists in our roster,” adds Wolff. “We don’t offer generic, prefab, soulless music. We work with real artists that have actual personalities, not anonymous composers whose work is the musical equivalent of stock photography.”

Denis Wolff

Photo: Frédérique Ménard Aubin

The pair weren’t born yesterday, and they know the business inside and out, so they’re greatly appreciated. As a matter of fact, Wolff and his Ho-Tune Musique publishing company received the very first Publisher of the Year Award at Montréal’s SOCAN Awards gala on Sept. 12, 2016, an honour that truly touched the man who’s always been a champion of the Québec music scene. “It’s obviously an immense honour!” he says. “The general public doesn’t really understand what we do, or the effort required to do it, but the SOCAN people do. We’re partners.”


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