It’s been more than a decade since country-punk trio WD-40 has offered us new material. The release of La nuit juste après le déluge, their fifth album – fully rowd-funded in less than 72 hours (!) – signals the return of one of the last still-active, ferociously independent cult bands to come out of Québec’s early-‘90s alternative rock scene. We meet Alex Jones, his inseparable brother Jean-Lou, and drummer/archivist/communications person/chief bottle-washer Hugo Lachance, as they step off the stage after a memorable (as always) launch party at Montréal’s Lion d’Or.

WD-40 are celebrating 25 years of existence, or survival; of rockin’, of underground-classic songs, of excess, of not-always-controlled wipeouts, of aborted near-successes, and of often mythical and sometimes pathetic gigs. But always true to a reputation for authenticity that’s guided this Saguenay-born band since its inception.

Upon listening to La nuit après le deluge…, it’s clear that the band’s unexpected return wasn’t motivated by profit, or any desire to surf a wave of nostalgia for a bygone era. The vast majority of their 10 new songs mirror recent events, painful ones, yet expressed with more poetry and subtlety than on their previous efforts – with none of songwriter, singer, and bassist Alex Jones hurt feelings spared. The man can’t help singing the truth, to whoever cares to listen.

The genesis of the album dates two years back, a time during which Jones was going through a painful breakup. “Three-quarters of those songs were written during the year of my separation,” says Jones in the lobby of the Lion d’Or, where die-hard fans say hi to him, one by one, as they leave the venue – after buying a T-shirt at the merch table. “We’ve gotten back together since, she and I… But it still is the album where I bared my soul the most, it tells the story of what I went through, the story of my life. That’s what I’ve always done, but nowadays, the consequences are much more dire.

“It’s one thing to be 20, to go on a bender and to cheat on your girlfriend. But when you’re 40 and you cheat on your girlfriend, and there are kids involved, a mortgage to pay… That’s heavy, trying to find a balance, to make everything work again, that’s what inspired the lyrics on La nuit juste après le deluge…  I didn’t write it verbatim as I used to do; instead, I tried to capture the essence of the feelings I had. I ended up with nothing, I hit rock bottom, just like when I was a junkie… I create in pain and withdrawal.”

“The only reason I’m interesting is because I create music. Otherwise, I’m a complete nobody. It’s what gives my life meaning, and what makes my daughters proud of me.”

Pain and withdrawal, for all their creative impetus, have also been Jones’ worst enemies. The man has fallen off the addiction wagon more than once, using various substances to fill the void and numb the pain. So much so that he couldn’t keep up. “I didn’t have anything left, I’d even sold my clothes!” he admits. “But I pulled myself up by the bootstraps, I quit music, had kids, bought a bungalow in the ‘burbs, dove headfirst into [Québec] TV series [most notably Au secours de Béatrice], climbing the ladder from set technician to artistic director. And it helped me tremendously, it was how I earned a living for four years.”

As far as the music goes, La nuit juste après le deluge… is a bona fide WD-40 album, but with a greater rockabilly and psycho-billy influence. This new stylistic direction perfectly integrates into the band’s musical personality, yet gives this album a clearly defined edge. “That’s where I wanted to go, and I asked Yann Perreau if he would care to be involved in the production of the album,” says Jones. “I met with him in a café one morning, and he invited me back to his place. We drank rum and listened to the demos in his kitchen, and he’s the one who said I should explore the rockabilly side of things more. In the end, he was too busy to help with the production, but I did heed his advice! It’s his contribution to the album. I love Yann!”

In the end, it’s Mingo L’Indien, keyboardist and guitarslinger of the “petrochemical rock” outfit Les Georges Leningrad who was in charge of the recording, production and mix for La nuit juste après le deluge… It’s a choice Jones doesn’t regret for a second, despite the man’s peculiar personality. “Mingo’s a very elusive man, a truly strange man,” says Jones. “The songwriting and recording sessions were spread out over three years, and we needed somebody to corral all of that in, so that it could end being somewhat cohesive. He did a great job.”

As this impromptu interview draws to a close, Jones won’t let go. WD-40 is his whole life. Nowadays, his desire for recognition is more aligned with the actual chances of achieving popular success. (His goal, now, is to get invited to play the music variety TV show Belle et Bum.) He’s as convinced as ever that his place is onstage, no matter which one, as long as he and his partners-in-crime are welcome – in order to celebrate and share the cathartic effect of rock.

“The only reason I’m interesting is because I create music, otherwise, I’m a complete nobody,” he says. “It’s what gives my life meaning, and what makes my daughters proud of me. That means that as long as people call me to play somewhere, I’ll go. I’m not going to wait 11 years to release another album. It’s what I like the most in life and it’s not going to stop. Life is way too short. Now is the time to do things. If you do nothing now, nothing’s going to happen later.”

WD-40 will be back on the Lion d’Or stage on March 2, 2018, during Montréal en Lumière.


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The Grand Old Lady is not only getting a facelift, but a makeover.

Massey Hall, originally built in 1894 by Canadian industrialist and philanthropist Hart Massey at a cost of $152,000, is in the midst of a $139 million revitalization that will see the iconic, downtown-Toronto, 2,765-seat music venue shutter for a little over two years, starting July 30, 2018.

When it re-opens in September 2020, not only will the building emerge as a technically upgraded hybrid of history and modernization, but its restoration will also bring an expansion that will include two additional venues, one of which can run concurrently with any booked main hall performances. Massey Hall will also be home to the Eastern extension of Calgary’s National Music Centre, lodging a music museum to celebrate Toronto’s rich musical heritage.

Deane Cameron, President and CEO of The Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall Corporation, says five years of meticulous planning will hopefully pay off in increased activity, traffic, and business that will secure its future. “We feel a great sense of responsibility to revitalize it the right way, build it back to its former glory,” says Cameron, the former, longtime President and CEO of EMI Music Canada, who came out of retirement to assume the position two years ago. “Our ambition is to return to the original vision of Hart Massey, which is to make it a civic engagement venue as much as it is entertainment.”

While there’s still much money to be raised – Cameron is hoping for an additional $70 million from the federal and Ontario provincial governments, and another $40 million from private funding (of which 25%-30% has been procured) – the first of Massey Hall’s two-phase revitalization has been completed. In 2014, the adjacent Albert Hall, initially constructed as a janitorial residence, was purchased from some condo developers and was razed last year – in order to build a much-needed loading dock for gear. The lack of a loading dock means that acts are forced to wheel their equipment through the front entrance, which takes as much as two days.

The new seven-storey replacement building for the Albert allows not only for the dock, but several other crucial “missing” components: an expanded backstage area, proper dressing and “green” rooms for visiting acts, and a new, flexible, 500-capacity, 260-seat performance space with a separate entrance, that can host events simultaneously with the main hall. The basement bar Centuries will also be expanded to a 500-capacity venue, likely for shows after the ones in the main hall are finished.  The renovations and expansion will double number of shows held at Massey, and lead to Canadian artist development, education and outreach.

“We feel a great sense of responsibility to revitalize it the right way, build it back to its former glory.” – Deane Cameron, President and CEO of The Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall Corporation

In terms of cosmetics, the outer hull of Massey, a heritage building, will be restored to its former 1894 glory, albeit with a modern twist: aside from the re-instatement of its original stone sign, and 104 original stained-glass windows, each wing will be covered by a glass passarelle revealing the second-and-third story expansions, including bars, lounges and washrooms. The fourth storey will include the newly constructed venue and also be home to National Music Centre East – the museum extension of Calgary’s music institution.

“Level 5,” which Cameron describes as a mezzanine, will be “our recording studio for content capture. We’ll be able to record right off the fourth-floor location of the new venue and directly from the hall.”

For the interior, the 1933 art deco lobby will be fully refurnished and supplemented with additional lighting. In the main auditorium, all the seating is being replaced – with each seat upgraded in width ranging from an inch-and-a-half to upwards of two inches “due to code.” Additional seats will be added to the balcony. More than 50 of the 80 currently obstructed seats will disappear once the new chairs are installed.  Accessible seating – currently confined to the orchestra level – will be provided on all three auditorium levels. A retractable floor will allow seats to be stored under the stage for general admission events, increasing the venue’s capacity to 2,900.

Although Massey Hall is celebrated for its musical pedigree (everyone from opera legend Enrico Caruso, to jazz innovator Charlie Parker, to Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young and Rush have graced its stage,) it’s also served as a lecture podium for the likes of activist Nellie McClung and future British PM Winston Churchill. “We want to be able to be known for our lunchtime lectures,” says Cameron. “There’s a return to being a big-picture venue. It’s become a little too niched as a popular music venue.” He also says that in order to accommodate Toronto International Film Festival screenings, Massey Hall will be film-ready.

The Downtown Yonge BIA on the renovation
Mark Garner, Executive Director and COO of the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Association, says the importance of Massey Hall in generating local business can’t be overstated. “All those restaurants around show times are booming,” he says. “The Senator Café, Jazz Bistro, all the restaurants along Victoria Street… We’re going to see about 70,000 people move onto Yonge Street in the next three-to-five years… All those people moving into those condos will want to go to a live performance show. You don’t want to drive and get onto public transit – you want to be able to walk that eight-block radius, and Massey is in that location… We’ll miss Massey during its downtime, but when it opens back up again, that’s when we’ll do the key economics, and we’ll see it just blossom.”

Gordon Lightfoot will close the venue on June 29 and 30, 2018, but not before Massey’s 124th birthday is celebrated on June 14. He also promises that during the venue’s closure, Massey Hall will continue to program other shows at such neighbourhood venues as the Elgin Theatre and the Winter Garden Theatre. Roy Thomson Hall is also going to try to take up some of the slack.

Although Massey’s closure may hurt downtown Toronto economically for the months that it is closed, Nordicity – a Toronto strategic, policy and economic consulting firm – predicts in a study that the venue will contribute $348.1 million to the GDP, create 3,950 full-time jobs, and generate $108.1 million in federal and provincial taxes between 2016 and 2025.

“We’re going to increase activity,” says Cameron. “We’re going to increase business. We’re going to be good for the neighbourhood. We’ve done estimates showing the provincial and federal governments that if they give us the $34M we’ve asked from each, one government will get their money back in eight years and the other in 12, just through taxation, and that’s conservative.”

Of course, once the Massey Hall doors re-open, the big winners are going to be arts lovers, culture enthusiasts and musicians – as well as the surrounding restaurants, bars, hotels and retailers.

 


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In the heart of an intense North American tour, DJ and producer Frédérik Durand (a.k.a. Snails) is making waves internationally thanks to “vomitstep,” a musical anti-genre he developed after trying to reproduce the metallic sounds of his biggest influence, Skrillex.

SnailsWhen we reach him on the phone in Albuquerque, the Montréaler (by way of Sainte-Émélie-de-l’Énergie, a small town 90 minutes north of the metropolis) is about to embark on a stretch of 20 gigs in 21 nights, and he’s especially enthusiastic. Who wouldn’t be? Ever since the release of his debut album The Shell, last October, the musician – who’s used to playing festivals and opening shows – is now headlining a tour with a budget of almost a million dollars.

“The challenge was to convince people who came to see me over the last three years to come see a real Snails show,” he says. “So far, it’s been way beyond my wildest expectations: 6,500 people in Seattle, 3,000 in L.A., 2,300 in Vegas… Seeing that many people, night after night, is energizing. That’s where I get a boost from when I’m feeling tired.”

But beyond their very presence, it’s the kindness and loyalty of his fans that motivates the man born Frédérik Durand. He’s received an impressive amount of “kandys” – hand-crafted bracelets and pendants that are an emblem of the rave culture and its “PLUR” (peace, love, unity, respect) leitmotif. “[Being offered those] truly is a huge display of respect,” says Snails. “It’s not very common in Montréal, but in the States, it’s a real craze. I’d brought a small jewelry case to store them, but it’s almost full and we’re not even halfway through the tour! It goes to show how passionate my audience is.”

Far from taking that audience for granted, the 29-year-old musician and graphic designer went all-out for this tour, developing a unique stage concept around his alter ego, Slugz. The hero of a planet inhabited by snails, under threat by a regiment of frogs that have acquired the salt spear, a special weapon that could wipe them out, Slugz embarks on a cosmic journey to reach planet Sluggtopia, where there’s an armour (“The Shell”) that will protect his people.

“The show is divided into six chapters, and I’ve created the visuals and sound collages that flesh out the story,” says Snails. “It starts with war sounds, a light show, a spaceship lights up,” explains the man who worked with two Montréal companies, Solotech and 4U2C, for this production. “I absolutely wanted to take my concept as far as I could, to give the audience all I could give. It’s partly in reaction to a lot of EDM shows I’ve seen over the last few years. More often than not, their stage show is nothing but smoke and a few visuals. I sometimes wonder if I’m too weird, or if it’s them who are too laid-back.”

The Skrillex Influence

One thing’s for sure, Snails shares neither their approach nor musical background. As a teen, he started out as a guitarist who was crazy about Led Zeppelin and The Doors, before moving on to “heavier and more intense bands” like Metallica and Slayer. Towards the end of his teens, he had an epiphany when he discovered the bold electro sounds of Boys Noize, The Bloody Beetroots, Justice and MSTRKRFT, to name but a few, as well Skrillex’s dubstep a few years later.

“When I saw his Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites project entering the Billboard 200, it really piqued my interest,” says Snails. “He burst onto the underground scene intent on smashing and revolutionizing everything. The sound he had was unheard of, and it obsessed me… so much so that I tried to reproduce his sounds! I never managed to pull it off [laughs], but it was a blessing in disguise, because that’s how I developed my own sound.”

Such was, after many trials and errors, the genesis of “vomitstep” – a musical anti-genre that he created for himself in order to stand out among other electronic genres he finds too restrictive. Using his “throat” synthesizer, this genre is akin to dubstep, yet different, with its even more guttural basslines, the influence of trap, and less metallic sounds. “There’s something more organic and grainy in vomitstep,” he says. “You can hear the substance, as if you were in someone’s throat. It’s kinda hard to explain,” the artist admits, laughing.

Increasingly recognized as its own, this musical signature made its way to Skrillex’s ear a few years ago. Having been invited to collaborate with his idol when he was in Los Angeles, Snails still remembers the stress he felt when they first met. The result was the song “Holla Out,” which was featured on the first and only Jack Ü album, the collaborative project between Skrillex and Diplo.

“I stood by the door for, like, 30 minutes after saying ‘Hi,” says Snails. “I was speechless. The man who changed electronic music was right there, in front of me. After awhile, Diplo and him played a few demos on which we could work and, unsurprisingly, I chose the weirdest. I sat on the couch and, totally by mistake, I created a sound that ended up becoming the main sound of the song. I wrote that in, like, 20 minutes, but for the next three hours, I was too scared to play it for them. Skrillex made me feel at ease, and we ended up jamming until 10:30 the next morning.”

Emboldened by the experience – which earned him thanks from both artists during their acceptance speeches for two Grammy awards last year – Frédérik Durand feels privileged to have had the opportunity to make a name for himself on the international electro circuit. Still, he admits being slightly disappointed by the lack of media attention in Québec. “No man is a prophet in his own land, but I was expecting that, because I think my music has a more Anglophone audience,” says the artist, whose tour will enter its home stretch on December 28 at Montréal’s MTELUS. “I’d obviously like to have more exposure in Montréal, have people here recognize the value of my work, but I’m not gonna let that get me down. It just motivates me to work harder.”


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