Wanderlust combined with constant curiosity. Tokyo to Toronto, with plenty of whistle stops in between. Forty years on, songwriter-producer Vince Degiorgio still follows the song. Today the music industry veteran is in Japan. The following week he’s set to co-write songs in Asia with artists that he’s never met before. He’s just spent a fortnight in Europe meeting several international writers on the roster of his Chapter 2 Productions publishing company.

“As a pop writer, I’ve always been an explorer,” says Degiorgio. “I didn’t have the patience earlier in my career to try to crack the flood of self-contained acts and singer-songwriters in Canada, so I hit the road.”

Now, after 14 trips around the globe, he’s a musical trailblazer. From the fringes to the mainstream, there’s little he hasn’t seen. The road began in clubs, as an underage DJ making $40 an hour to support his record-buying habit. Later he took a turn as an A&R man for RCA, signing ‘N Sync to their first major-label deal for North America. Degiorgio’s journey is as diverse as the artists with whom he’s co-written songs; he penned his first lyrics as a teen.

“I knew I had a talent,” he recalls, “it just depended on when I could use it. Once I started my own record label, I decided I was going to be a writer, someway, somehow, and make a life from it.”

“I decided I was going to be a writer, someway, somehow, and make a life from it.”

Making a life from the music business is an understatement. Degiorgio has had chart-topping hits in six different countries. His works have been recorded in 11 different languages. Sales of his songs have exceeded 30 million units. Despite international success, he remains humble, knowing some of life’s most overwhelming gifts are only temporary.

“I write as if I’m broke,” Degiorgio says. “Every day is a new challenge. If I didn’t take the risks I have [taken], I wouldn’t have a career. I lead with my heart and I just put it out there.”

When Degiorgio puts pen to paper, success is usually not far behind. The hardest part of writing songs, he says, is finding new ways to express age-old ideas. “I laugh with my writers when I tell them that, in life, there are limitless ways to fall in love, but there are only a few ways to get people to fall in love with your songs, and that’s by telling the story each time with your signature twist,” says Degiorgio.

“My favourite songwriting quote comes from my father – a non-writer – who once said, ‘Don’t write a song, write a standard.’ In my mind, I never have. For me, The Holy Grail as a writer, despite all my success, remains waiting in the distance.”

Track Record

  • “A Night Like This,” Degiorgio’s co-write with Dutch-based international artist Caro Emerald, is the longest-running No. 1 record in The Netherlands.
  • Degiorgio co-wrote all the songs on Emerald’s debut album, which recently achieved platinum status in Europe for sales of more than one million.
  • Chapter 2 Productions has provided music for more than 150 television shows, including America’s Next Top Model, Degrassi and Keeping Up With The Kardashians.FYIPublisher: Chapter 2 ProductionsSelected Discography: Tapps’ My Forbidden Lover (1983); Carol Emerald’s Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor (2010) and The Shocking Miss Emerald (2013).FYI
    Chapter 2 Productions
    Selected Discography: Tapps’ My Forbidden Lover (1983); Carol Emerald’s Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor (2010) and The Shocking Miss Emerald (2013).
    SOCAN member since 1984
    Visit www.chapter2prod.com

She moved to Leukemia
She left me all her books, she went to live
In Chemotherapy, in Chemotherapy
It’s a new country

With shocking lyrics fit to blow the listener away from the word go, “La fièvre des fleurs” (“Flower Fever”), the second track of Klô Pelgag’s debut album, sets the tone for an unusual semantic experience created by outlandish word associations and wordplay that have the power to amuse, de-stabilize, and even move the listener.

Klô Pelgag – Chloé Pelletier-Gagnon by her real name – is a 23-year-old artist who recently burst onto the music scene with a ready-made style, a distinct personality, an ethereal voice and disorienting lyrics.

The release, last September, of her first album L’Alchimie des monstres was met with an immediate audience reaction similar to the excitement produced several years ago by Pierre Lapointe’s first recording. But this is as far as the comparison goes, and Pelgag herself refuses to try to describe her own writing style, simply offering: “I’m just trying to be free, someone who writes knee-jerk songs without a helmet. I love taking risks.”

The daughter of two social workers posted in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, in the Gaspé region, Klô Pelgag eventually moved back with her family to Rivière-Ouelle, near La Pocatière, on the South shore of the St. Lawrence River. “Whenever I find myself out in the country again, I don’t know why, but all of a sudden I can breathe easier and write more freely,” she explains. The scent of the Lower St. Lawrence region is all over L’Alchimie des monstres, whose seabreeze permeated tracks were entirely recorded in the Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière College chapel.

“I’m just trying to be free, someone who writes knee-jerk songs without a helmet.”

Klô Pelgag had aspirations to become a school crossing guard until she read Boris Vian’s novel L’Écume des jours (Froth on the Daydream) and realized that reading a book could be a “fun” experience. A changed person, she dove into the plays of Eugène Ionesco and the poetry of Claude Gauvreau when she was in theatre school, delighted in the art of Dali, Botero and Magritte, and listened to the music of Gentle Giant, L’Infonie and Raôul Duguay, Aut’Chose and the like. Even as a teenager, Klô Pelgag’s tastes were uncommon.

Petite and apparently shy, Klô, never at a loss for words, expresses some annoyance at being asked to explain the meaning of her lyrics. “It’s not anything that comes from super deep reflection,” she stresses, adding: “I hate analyzing myself. I wouldn’t be doing it normally. My songs are and should remain moments in time. My writing changes with each successive mood.”

Klô Pelgag’s fascination with the physical body is an integral part of her album, where people may be portrayed as dismembered or sick, where “the Sun is incontinent” and where silence is compared to a “scarecrow.” “Comme des rames” (“Like Paddles”) is a pretty love song up to the point where one of the title’s paddles gets broken on a lover’s back. And Pelgag is particularly proud of having had a choir or elderly people sing the verses “You will find God in your diagnosis, He is the one hurting you by spitting holy water at you” in “Rayon X” (“X-Ray”). “Words acquire new meanings once they start singing,” she declares, visibly pleased with the way this came out.

Her album’s meticulous arrangements are the result of two years of hard work by Klô and her musician brother Mathieu Pelletier-Gagnon. Each of the album’s 13 pieces is a world unto itself, and Klô Pelgag is deeply grateful to her brother for these results: “I’ve been working with Mathieu since I was 17,” she remembers. “I knew nothing about music or arrangements. I would not be able to write my own arrangements. I have a good ear for melody, but I was unable to get that out, and my brother was.”

L’Alchimie des monstres, of course, is only a primer. Pelgag is now planning a promotional tour of Quebec and France with a show that will be directed by enfant terrible dancer Dave St-Pierre, a perfect fit for an artist who loves fun and games and is known to perform magic tricks, make cakes or fly toy drones as part of her stage performance. Future audiences, beware!

With a sophomore album in mind, Klô Pelgag intends to keep going without worrying about matters of personal fame or music industry standards: “Music comes naturally to me,” she insists, “and that’s what I want to do. It makes me happy. I don’t do it to become the best-known girl in the world or cause people to faint in my presence!” If she gets her way, one can reasonably predict that more people are likely to be willing to step into her crazy world.

Guillaume Arsenault, the star of the 2001 Petite-Vallée song festival, released his first album, the rock-rooted Guillaume & l’Arbre), a year later, and followed up in 2006 with the folkier, more intricate Le Rang des Îles. His 2009 release, the clever Géophonik, was a mixture of sophisticated arrangements and ingeniously blended electronic and folk sounds. His latest offering, the self-produced Oasis station-service, came out last September after an unusually long hiatus for the artist from Baie-des-Chaleurs in the Gaspé Peninsula.

“As a creator, you can’t force things to happen,” he says. “All you can do is condition yourself to welcome inspiration. I had planned to move in many directions from the word go, and I actively explored new avenues everywhere I turned. This also included new songwriting challenges, writing and composing in unfamiliar ways. This is one of the reasons why this latest album was so long in coming. Another reason was that some of the musicians I was working with were located in Montreal while others lived in the Gaspé Peninsula,” the 37-year-old artist explains.

An adventuresome creator

Resulting from multiple songwriting sessions, the 12 selections of Arsenault’s latest album are replete with colourful lyrical imagery and performed in a warm, yet detached voice through dusty twang-guitar riffs and Morricone-esque grooves – a significant stretch for the Bonaventure-born artist. “I joined some musicians in Montreal and we played jam sessions, recording ourselves as we went along,” he says. “On my way back home on the train, I would listen to all that stuff and set aside the best improvised sections to use them later as songwriting material. What came out of this was a distinctive sound. I fell in love with a baritone electric guitar with a sound that brought together the slow-moving melodies and the more nervous side of electronics. In some way, I wanted to create movie-like songs reminiscent of Sergio Leone’s films or [rock singer-songwriter] Fred Fortin’s early work. It was a personal challenge, and the result is much more melodic. My goal always is to get so deeply involved in the creative process that I no longer have to worry about doing things wrong.” 

“I see the horizon as a soul shaper, and I try to catch images in mid-air wherever I go.”

A veteran theatre, documentary and web music composer, Arsenault has been calling himself a full-time musician since 2009, and has since hosted numerous songwriting workshops in elementary and secondary schools as well as the Petite-Vallée Songwriting Camp. A seasoned traveller, he’s spent a considerable amount of time out West over the past few years, and was deeply moved by a Southern road trip he once took: “I hitchhiked across the U.S. and Mexico, and came back home without a single photograph or concrete reminder of my journey. I still cherish these memories, and they inform my songwriting to this day. I realize the word ‘horizon’ keeps reoccurring in my lyrics. I see the horizon as a soul shaper, and I try to catch images in mid-air wherever I go. If I were living in a large city like Montreal, I would be writing about concrete, but when I look away from my house right now, all I see is farmer’s fields, trees and bales of hay. This is where my inspiration is coming from,” the trained cabinetmaker-turned-songwriter reveals.

Working differently

As he began hosting songwriting workshops around 2002, Arsenault had to get to the root of his own personal creative process. “Once I was able to see how I was going about things, I had no desire to repeat the same process over and over,” he says. “That brought me to work differently over the years. The starting point, for me, always is a musical ambiance of some sort. The next thing is the blending of words and music – first the striking images, then the rest of the lyrics. Before this last album, I often fussed for a long time before adopting specific phrases or images because I was  bent on depicting exactly how I felt and expressing precisely what I wanted to say, with the result that I was throwing away a lot of interesting stuff. I got rid of that approach with Oasis station-service, and it’s been a relief.”

Now caught up in a whirlwind of activity, Guillaume Arsenault continues to collect new sounds for his research and creation project on the Gaspé soundscape (his “Sound Tourism” project) while performing live shows, composing theatre music, writing a play and touring local secondary schools. Far from having exhausted his materials, this all-around creator sees the songwriter as a witness to the world: “You can talk about yourself, of course, but there is a way to do that. It’s the ‘show me, don’t tell me’ kind of approach. And I feel I still have much to show people. This is a good sign for whatever comes next.”