Through our new series of stories, Visual Arts X Music, we aim to present you with visual artists for whom music plays an essential role, in both their artistic approach, and their lives.

“I have the distinction of being the first drummer ever fired by Fred Fortin,” jokes visual artist Martin Bureau, who’s created the covers of every album for the father of the so-called “Lac-Saint-Jean sound” since Joseph Antoine Frédéric Fortin Perron – a 1996 album with a mouthful of a title that Bureau quotes flawlessly. Impressive. “It’s easy for me to remember because I know both the Fortins and the Perrons,” he says.

Bureau and Fortin met in Saint-Félicien, in Québec’s Lac-Saint-Jean region, at the Polyvalente des Quatre-Vents school back in the mid-1980s. “We lived in the same neighbourhood, and started playing music together,” he says. Bureau was playing drums at the time – “the drummer of Fred’s father’s band had sold me my first drum set when I was 14 or 15” – and Fred was playing bass, which has remained his main instrument. “Right from secondary school, Fred stood out,” Bureau recalls. “His talent was out of this world.”

Because he couldn’t say as much about his own personal performance behind the drums, Bureau soon turned to photography and painting. It was only natural that he’d end up helping his pal establish his visual identity, down the line. “It happened naturally,” says Bureau. “In his early twenties, Fred put out a recording, and I’d just received my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. That we would end up working together was a foregone conclusion.”

While the cover of Fred Fortin’s debut album shows a rather classical picture of the musician, Bureau has created each of the singer’s following emblematic, naturalistic, and dream-like album covers since Plancher des vaches in 2000. “Back in those days, labels always wanted to see the singer’s face on the album cover,” the painter says, as he was looks at the first Gros Méné (1999) cover, which showed a much greater artistic freedom in spite of the fact that it used a photograph and not a painting. “The Tue ce drum Pierre Bouchard album cover reflected what we were doing at the time, which was playing hockey outside,” he says. “I had this black and white lab photo, and I was still honing my Photoshop abilities.”

The record company La Tribu, for whom Fortin recorded his sophomore album, gave free visual rein to Bureau. The label would also initiate a series of meetings between visual artists and musicians, on the initiative of the its co-founder Suzie Larivée, a visual arts enthusiast. Bureau ended up collaborating with, among others, Galaxie, Stephen Faulkner, and more recently, singer-songwriter Tire le coyote who had him design all of his album covers from Mitan (2013) on.

Bureau’s work as an album cover designer also helped him get work as a photographer, and later, as a music video producer thanks to a series of happy accidents that caused him to tackle documentary production from 2008 on. His 2015 L’Enfer marche au gaz! sheds a harsh light on the environment of stock car races in Saint-Félicien’s Autodrome.

As for the Bureau/Fortin modus operandi, Fortin usually pays a visit to Bureau in his Québec City studio, and reviews the works his old chum has produced over the last few years. “We look at some 40 to 50 paintings while listening to the new album, and we end up saying, ‘This one could be a fit,’” says Bureau. Fred will sometimes go as far as borrowing one of Bureau’s painting titles outright, as he did for the Planter le décor (2004) album.

A rare departure from their strategy, Microdose is a buzzing lysergic misdemeanor from 2009. “Fred was telling me that he was having fun pretending that he was Pink Floyd while he was writing and recording, and I came up with the idea of creating a Wish You Were Here pastiche because his female dog Wendy had just died,” says Bureau. In death, she replaced Syd Barrett. “It’s a huge reference, but there still will be people calling us copy cats on Facebook,” Bureau jokes.

Is he still playing drums? Not really. “I used to have a routine of coming home for lunch before going back to the studio, and, as I was getting sleepy, I would play some drums before going back to my paintings.” he says. The playlist included Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Black Crowes, and Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Final question: Will this 25-year-old collaboration end up lasting a lifetime? “I used to tell Fred, ‘Go ahead, try using someone else. Have fun,’ Today, however, I no longer feel that way. The fact that we’re still doing this thing together after 25 years is huge,” says the artist. All the more so because this continuity has helped consolidate Fred Fortin’s monumental life work. Just listen to Scotch, and you’ll automatically recall the orange end-of-the-world hues. Or remember the sickly trees and the cranes of the Planter le décor album cover when you hear the music. “I’m glad to hear this because I, too, love thinking about my favourite bands, and lots of images re-surface in my mind.”

If Yonatan “xSDTRK” Ayal is the face of the Chiiild project, singer-songwriter Pierre-Luc Rioux is its heart and soul. Following an EP launched in February 2020, the group is back with Hope for Sale, its first proper full-length album of engaging, easy-on-the-ears, synthetic soul. The Montrealers have been based in L.A. for awhile now, offering their songwriting and producing services to various pop stars, and are now ready to fly on their own.

Chiiild, Pierre-Luc Rioux

Pierre-Luc Rioux. (Photo: Rosalie Deschênes-Grégoire )

“Yoni and I came to L.A. in 2015,” says Rioux. “We quickly started getting booked for sessions left and right” – by which he means sessions for Katy Perry, David Guetta, Jessie J, Usher, Céline Dion, and Chloe X Halle, to name only a few. “In 2016 alone, we worked on about 300 sessions – we never stopped! Then, at some point, we thought, ‘Maybe it’s time we start working on our own projects?’”

Rioux and Ayal’s approach reminds us that being a songwriter is a profession, and that experience is a valuable currency to earn a place in the sun on the California music scene. Hope for Sale, Chiiild’s first album, is the perfect example of the skills honed by the two musicians over the past few years: formidable choruses backed by a welcoming sense of groove, and slick production. First-class pop.

Most of the time, as Ayal explains, they work together. “I’m not necessarily the one who always writes the lyrics,’ he says, “but for the Chiiild project, I’m mainly in charge of that, more than I am of the music or production,” which is the purview of Rioux.

“What’s cool about the relationship I’ve built with Yoni is that it is based on collaboration, not competition,” says Rioux. “We each have our strengths, onstage and in the studio. There’s stuff I do better, the same goes for Yoni, and as time goes by we each develop further into our respective roles. Yoni [as a singer] is the face of Chiiild, but there’s a lot of his personality that shines through, especially in the lyrics.”

When it comes to writing, Yoni finds inspiration in the real world around him: “I don’t write songs about fictitious subjects, I don’t like fiction in songs,” he says. “If it didn’t happen, I won’t write about it. It’s all real,” and sometimes even predictive, Rioux adds: “We’re used to working with people with their fingers on the pulse, people who know what time it is, intuitively,” he says, citing the song “Hold On Till We Get There,” a pop-soul number propelled by a mellifluous rhythm reminiscent of a Gorillaz groove. “‘Hold On Till We Get There’ was written in December of 2019, and when the pandemic hit, that song took on a completely different meaning. That feeling that everyone’s in lockdown, and we’ll get through this together. It wasn’t written to describe that situation, but it works perfectly!”

The song was produced by their mutual friend Mathieu Jomphe-Lépine, a.k.a. Billboard, another one of those pop geniuses who deploys his talents as a composer, accompanist, and producer in the service of others (Madonna, Dua Lipa, Ariana Grande, etc.). “He’s one of our great friends, but also someone we admire: he’s such a good producer!” says Rioux. “He felt like leaving Montréal to come and work with us in L.A. for a few days, of his own volition. It’s a nice story.”

“What’s really cool about the Chiiild project is that we were able to count on the talent of many great collaborators,” Rioux goes on. “Yoni and I are obviously at the heart of the creative process, but it’s a heart that beats in every direction. We’ve participated in many a song camp over the years, and each time, we try to involve new talent in our project.” Hope For Sale, as a matter of fact, features a few guest vocalists, notably Jensen McRae, on the remix of the irresistible “Gone,” and Mahalia’s delicate voice on the ballad “Awake.”

“Throughout the lockdown, I would throw Zoom pizza parties on Fridays,” says Rioux. “I discovered Mahalia on Instagram, where she posted a cover version of Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car,’ and I clicked. Thanks to a mutual friend, I was able to contact her, and I invited her to our pizza party. Later on, she was kind enough to accept [our offer to] sing on that track, and boy did she kill it!” says the musician, who switches from French to English seamlessly throughout our conversation.

His own voice is full of charm, and his singing is inspired by the delicate stylings of Astrud Gilberto on the classic Getz/Gilberto album from 1964. “You know, some singers sing to you, and others simply sing,” he says. “I didn’t want to be that type of singer who sings ‘to someone’ – I prefer a more internalized and heart-on-the-sleeve type of interpretation.”

Chiiild was getting ready to play Lollapalooza in Chicago when we spoke, just a few weeks after being invited to perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live! “We were super-lucky,” says Rioux excitedly. “They’d secured a time slot for us, but that was before the pandemic. People make promises, but they’re generally postponed… The people at Lollapalooza, however, called us back, so we’re really stoked!”

For that gig, the band will feature five musicians on stage: Ayal on vocals and keys, Rioux, discreetly on guitar, one violinist doubling as a backing vocalist, Nick Clark on bass (“He’s an authority here in L.A., he plays for everyone including Kanye West”), and drummer Maxime Bellavance (who was the tempo master of the house band for the TV competition La Voix, the Québec franchise of The Voice).

“For us,” Rioux continues, “releasing an album isn’t about the number of views on YouTube or of plays on Spotify. It’s about being proud of being able to say we took our destiny in our own hands. Our future used to greatly depend on the success of others – now, we’re flying on our own. I’ve been a touring musician for a long time, playing for others. Being able to go on tour with our own material and releasing songs that we created with our friends is a victory in and of itself. That, and being able to represent the talent pool from Montréal.”


The career path of Toronto-based producer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Don Mills (real name Miloš Angelov) has certainly been unconventional. It’s taken him from studying classical violin in Serbia, to work with top Canadian R&B and rock acts, and now production and songwriting work on hit tracks and albums from such major international hip-hop and pop artists as J Cole, Juice WRLD, Maroon 5, Rea Garvey, and Giveon.

This is not a route Mills could have predicted, but he was always confident music-making was in his future. “Both my father and grandfather made a living from making music, so this is like the family business. It’s embedded in me,” he says.

Mills studied violin, then percussion, at Stanković Music School, and often performed with the Belgrade Youth Symphony, prior to moving to Toronto with his family at age 17. He then transitioned to playing bass, and after a stint studying at Humber College, soon became an in-demand player with Canadian R&B artists. “I played with Zaki Ibrahim and filled in for artists like Divine Brown and the Philosopher Kings,” he recalls.

His chops were also honed through regular gigs at famed (and now defunct) Toronto nightclub and muso hangout The Orbit Room, with Wade O. Brown’s The A Team and Hot Fire, and then via session work with such artists as Fito Blanko and Ray Robinson.

“I always wanted to do multiple things in music”

A stylistic detour came when he was recruited by rocker Matthew Good for his band. “I joined just prior to recording the Live At Massey Hall album in 2008, and that led to a really good run of eight years,” says Mills.

His move into writing and production came organically. “I always wanted to do multiple things in music, beyond being the bass player,” he says. “I was always an audiophile who loved listening to well-recorded music. From doing sessions, I watched producers do their thing, and I got interested in that. Around 2008, I bought my own computer, with a Logic setup and decent speakers, and went from there.”

It’s only been in the last four years that production has become a key focus for Mills, and he credits star producer— and now regular collaborator – Boi-1da as a major inspiration. “His making big records sound so good really inspired me to get better at producing and writing, and to start creating music for other genres,” he acknowledges.

A collaboration with Boi-1da on the co-writing of a Juice WRLD track, “Maze,” (featured on the 2019 No. 1 album Death Race for Love) was a turning point, and the duo continue to work together. “We’ve just scored a song for an upcoming Halle Berry movie, Bruised,” says Mills.

He recently signed a publishing deal with Sony/ATV in the U.S., and work offers are flooding in. He’ll be featured on upcoming albums by Alessia Cara, Giveon, Ne-Yo, and more, and he confides that “I’ve just finished a movie soundtrack, a big American production, my first movie score as a writer-producer.”

Canadian artists with whom Mills has worked as a producer, co-writer, or player in recent years include Tyler Shaw, Dan Talevski, Banners, and Maya Killtron.

Amidst his busy schedule, Angelov has found time to write and record his own material, released online under his Don Mills moniker, and through his own imprint, Politik Records. “I didn’t want to let good songs not come out, so this is a channel for my music to get out there,” he says.

 These cuts reflect his stylistic versatility (“all genres excite me”), and feature guest vocals from the likes of Nuela Charles, Bryn, and longtime pal JRDN. “This is more of a fun thing for me than a money grab, or an attempt to make a career as a solo artist.”