William HennesseyAfter being recruited by the rap label Joy Ride Records, William Hennessey (formerly known as Maldito) offers us an album that’s as fascinating as it is impossible to pigeonhole: De pire en pire. We spoke with this truly free spirit, who seems at one with nature.

William Hennessey doesn’t do anything like everyone else. When he composes, in a room at the Université Laval, he simply “entrenches” himself, even he risks getting kicked out. Here rejects the rules, whatever they may be. “I flunked my music classes in high schoo,” says Hennessey. “It was all theory, and I don’t read music… I compare it to swimming lengths in a lane in an indoor pool, compared to swimming in a lake. I much prefer swimming in a lake.”

He’s marked by a somewhat scandalous reputation, of which certain traces still persist to this day. Hennessey abandoned his Maldito name to start anew, and make a new name for himself. He sand-papered his image and found a new balance, he explains with stars in his eyes, like a carriage horse wearing blinders. The animal is featured on the cover of his still hot-from-the-press album. “It completely changed me,” he says. “I used to have real vices that disappeared. It happened progressively, and they’re almost totally gone now, thanks to this presence and energy that brings out the best in me… Ever since I got that horse, I get the impression that it’s me, but in another form. It’s like we’re one and the same.”

Empowered by those DYI zoo-therapy sessions, the singer-songwriter was ready when Joy Ride Records came knocking, but he played hard-to-get for a little while. He wasn’t initially convinced he would accept Carlos Munoz’s offer of a “carte blanche” that would allow him to fully express his “dual personality” and sonic eclecticism. “I’d just been screwed and used by my old label, so I was a little hesitant,” says Hennessey. “When he approached me, I thought it would be the same scenario all over again. He told me the same stuff… In the end, I asked all the right questions, Carlos answered them clearly, and I said OK. He’s got cash, so that’s reassuring.”

“I don’t like the image of the eternally poor artist.”

Backed by a solid team that propelled Loud to Cloud 9, as well as radio trackers and other professionals devoted to the promotion of his songs, the Québec City-based musician is currently busy courting radio pundits. His calling card? “Fous,” a breakup song punctuated by cheerful handclaps and staggered images, in which an older woman is his fictional girlfriend.

“The label people asked me to do a song for the radio,” he says. “I understand the game, I get that they need to capitalize, one way or another. They have good deals with radio stations, and I get royalties… I can do radio hits, so I did it. It’s not like I’m going to lose my identity because of this. I want to be true to myself, and that’s the concept of the video… It generates revenues. I mean, we have to earn a living, too. I don’t like the image of the eternally poor artist.”

And although he’s bet on the international market so far – his Maldito-era videos raking views in the six digits – he’s lately realized that “Glaciers,” “Ovnis,” and “Zodiac” also reach followers who don’t understand a single word of French. Could his music have a universal appeal after all? His YouTube channel sees kudos thrown his way from as far as Kyrgyzstan.

“Goes to show just the sound touches people,” he says. “Lyrics are important, but there’s more to life than that. Seriously, from a musical standpoint, I get nothing but positive feedback, most of the time. That’s the only truth I will allow myself. I’ve never had negative feedback saying that I’m not good, or I copy someone else.”

As confident as he ever was, Hennessey is only at the beginning of his collaboration with Joy Ride Records. An English-language album is next, as well as a documentary/bio on his rise to fame. “It should come out this spring or summer,” he says. “Cameras have been following me for a year now. People will find out everything about me and my life. It’s hot.”

Record launch: February 20, 8:00 p.m., at Lion d’Or in Montréal

On one side you’ve got your Kanye-types, artists who think they’re the best thing since sliced bread, or Prince; on the other, there’s someone like Jeff Hazin – who wonders why anyone is even interested in his career, or wants to work with him.  It’s refreshing, and funny.

“I still don’t even know if I have a skill,” quips the self-deprecating producer-songwriter, who’s recently watched two artists he’s developed land big record deals — alt-pop act Ren with Interscope/Geffen, and indie-pop singer Anna Sofia with Republic.  “I’m, like, why are these people coming to me?”

Another, the intriguing genre-merger j. ember has been called “one to watch,” and urban artist Yoko Gold was selected to play the VIP reception prior to Barack Obama’s January appearance at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

“The biggest thing is that I just do it. I have a need to be creative. That’s a part of who I am and what continues to push me forward,” explains Hazin, 28, who co-writes with all the artists he produces.  “I think a lot of artists have that same feeling, because there’s nothing logical about being in the arts, and finding a stable career in the arts. That’s not what you’re after at first.”

Born and raised in Toronto, Hazin is the only musician in his family. He picked up the guitar at age 11, and “it was game over,” he says. A year or two later, he put bands together with his friends and started writing music he, of course, calls “terrible.”

Did he sing? “I tried, but no. People wouldn’t listen,” he deadpans. “I sing to myself, like in the shower and to the artists I work with, but you’re not going to really hear me on a lead vocal anytime soon.”

Hazin basically fell into producing and songwriting after getting simple recording software, Cakewalk Home Studio, and experimenting, and working away on GarageBand on one of the computers at his high school (“instead of doing real work”). He then learned how to use Ableton Live.

 “I always stress, to every artist I work with, to be yourself”

“I started as an artist doing my own produced music, very weird conceptual-based experimental electronic music,” he says. “It was under my last name. Don’t go looking for it though ‘cause it’s not very good.”

A voracious learner, he explains, “I’m very obsessive in arts, in general. I love poetry, and art, and museums, and sculptures, and movies, and music, just the whole culture. So those projects, I was taking spoken poetry and chopping it up, and doing weird stuff. It was fun.”

At Ryerson University, he enrolled in the Radio and Television Arts (RTA) program. “I wanted to be surrounded by the academic environment,” says Hazin, “but I learned halfway through university that a lot of that is outside of school, so I just started doing a lot of learning on my own.”

The first artist he worked with was in 2014, a schoolmate, Maccie, creating music in an alt-pop vein.  “From there, my community started to grow more and more, and I started to work a whole bunch of different artists — I still do work with them.”

If he has an approach as a producer or co-writer, it’s this: “I always stress, to every artist I work with, to be yourself.

“There might be some other producers and writers that are always looking for something, and they might not be looking at the artist in front of them,” says Hazin. “But to me, the best stuff comes from being honest and truthful to who the person and that character is. I think when you tell that to an artist, it gives them the confidence that they’re enough.”

With Ren and Anna Sofia, Hazin co-wrote with them, but their respective sounds were arrived at after years of trying things out “until it feels right,” he says. “Sometimes it takes a journey until the artists find where they’re most comfortable being, and I’ve been a part of their journey. Where it goes from here, who knows?”

As for his personal career goals, unsurprisingly, he wants to continuing learning, and would like to continue working with rock bands, pop acts, indie-folk, or hip-hop production styles.

“I definitely think my strong suit is that I’ve recorded and produced live bands like After Funk,” says Hazin, “that’s more in a traditional, old-school sense of producing – where we’re writing and arranging songs, and then producing the sounds, as opposed to more of a beat-maker or modern-day producer approach. That’s something years ago that I wanted, to have both, of because a lot of the producers that I look up to – like Pharrell, Rick Rubin, and Frank Dukes – have best of both worlds.”

Backed by a solid team, the winner of the 2017 edition of La Voix (the Québec franchise of The Voice TV singing competition) has landed exactly where we expected him to, with a second album as pulsating as the neon at the top of the poster.

On 2, Ludovick Bourgeois proves he can stand on his own two feet, and run toward the irresistible affection of the masses. With the help of producer Fred St-Gelais, Bourgeois, now 27, co-wrote nine of the 11 songs on the project. The pop singer was propelled to centre stage, but you’d be remiss to think that he’d turn his back on his fans by becoming a songwriter.

“This album is doubly important for me, and I’ve no intention of leaving my heritage behind [he’s the son of the late Patrick Bourgeois of Les BB fame], or to deny that I was launched by a TV show, but I want people to know I make music for the right reasons,” says Bourgeois. “The music comes first. The first song I ever wrote [among the three that appeared on his 2017 eponymous album] is a hymn to freedom titled ‘Desert Song.’ It was a pretty big hit. That boosts your confidence.” But to him, the real proof of success is when crowds sing along to every word. “We can play the first riff, and stop playing right away, and people just carry on; it’s incredible.”

To avoid such daily distractions as the dog barking, or the phone ringing, Bourgeois and St-Gelais decided to hit the road and head West, between the Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree National Park, to create a closed environment for their songwriting.

“We started from scratch, with just our guitars and Fred’s laptop, and a tiny MIDI keyboard,” says Bourgeois. “Right there in our hotel rooms, we created demos that were good enough to play on the radio, quality-wise! Fred is one hard-working guy. He was up at 8:00 every morning. I’m sloppier, I get up around noon… He made sure our work schedule was just as tight as our leisure schedule. Fred trusted my ideas when it came to melodies that touch people. Within that framework, I could just go and have fun.”

“Grief is the beginning of a lot of things”

The return of Nelson Minville (“Bonsoir Solitude,” “Sans Repos”) and Ingrid St-Pierre – on “Le saut de l’ange,” a song about grief that serves as a follow-up to “Sur ton épaule,” on the first album – and their respective talents as lyricists, was clearly beneficial.

“Ingrid doesn’t really know me, yet she managed to put the best words on the situation with this line: Ton départ/ Le saut de l’ange/ Je brille plus fort/ Par ton absence (Your departure / The leap of an angel / I shine brighter / Because of your absence). It’s like Patrick leaving us made everyone shine brighter,” says Bourgeois. “Her phrasing and melodies, when she sends me a piano-voice demo, are just perfect. She is unbelievably soft-spoken, and I’m the complete opposite. Ours is an improbable meeting that works out.”

The contribution of Steve Marin (2Frères), who wrote “L’Écho,” also comes to life in this unifying universe. “We invited him to the studio to listen to our songs, and he liked that one,” says Bourgeois. “Steve is a storyteller, and he’s spot-on when he says that ‘every day is a new life.’ Grief is the beginning of a lot of things.”

The album hosts more than one potential hit, chiefl among them (thanks to an irresistible melody) “Je le ferai,” a message of hope co-written with Marc Dupré and St-Gelais. “We sang it as a duet,” says Bourgeois, “because I really liked the song so much, and it shows how generous he is to appear on the album of an emerging artist, and this song will touch everyone! I always try to bring a silver lining to a sad story, and it’s even more fun because Marc and I aren’t from the same generation.”

One of Bourgeois’ favourites on 2 is “Figé dans le temps,” which was written by Jeffrey Piton and Québécois duo Kingdom Street. “It’s often when you didn’t write a song that you like it most,” says Bourgeois. “The lyrics are powerful. It’s incredibly good!” As for “Que sera ma vie,” the video of which was launched in September 2019, it was written in an hour, says the artist.

Bourgeois does high-level pop with killer choruses – just like his dad before him. What about that BB medley he plays on stage? “I’ve inherited those hits, in a way,” he says. “I have to make them live on. I’m not saying no one else can play them, but it’s only logical that I play them.”