His name is Prince. He is not funky.

Far from it. The somber singer-songwriter William Prince leads listeners into his quiet, quotidian reflections and character portraits with his beckoning baritone. Un-funkiness aside, he was recently featured alongside R&B star SZA in a recent Mastercard ad campaign, a spot that ran during the 2018 Grammy broadcast and the Super Bowl. It was a huge profile boost for the Winnipeg artist, who was already pleased with a glowing endorsement from Bruce Cockburn, after Prince performed the legend’s “Stolen Land” at the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame gala at Massey Hall last September. (Former fellow Winnipegger Neil Young also had some kind words.)

Hanging out with SZA and Bruce Cockburn might seem odd on the surface. But Prince now keeps company with similarly strange bedfellows on his brand new record label, Glassnote Records, which is also home to Mumford and Sons, Childish Gambino, and Phoenix. There, William Prince is just another square peg on a roster full of them – including Canadians Half Moon Run, The Strumbellas, and Justin Nozuka.

How did the humble, 32-year-old country singer, who took 10 years to make his debut album, end up here?

William Prince was born in Selkirk, Manitoba, and, as a boy, moved with his family two hours north to Peguis First Nation. There, he watched his father preach and sing in the local church; Prince soon joined him on electric guitar. Rock and grunge bands with high school buddies came and went, before Prince was drawn to the simplicity and mobility of the acoustic guitar.

“I tried to sing,” admits the baritone. “I felt pressure to sing in higher registers, and I was just terrible. I went through a screamo phase; I wasn’t cool enough to pull it off. But it was fun, just figuring out everything you love about music – learning Metallica chops and then applying that to acoustic guitar. My guitar was my life for a couple of years; I was a better musician at 17 than I am now.”

Early attempts at recording a debut album fizzled for a variety of reasons. In hindsight, Prince is just fine with that. “I’m not just stumbling upon my first good songs,” he says, now that his 2015 debut Earthly Days is being readied for a re-issue on a much grander scale than its modest beginnings. “Who cares what 20-year-old me had to say? I didn’t want to have to go through three or four albums before getting to the place where I show people my best. You only get one chance to make a first impression.”

That it does. Earthly Days is a stark, sparse record, rich in narrative detail. The focus is primarily on Prince’s narratives, which include character portraits like “The Carny,” “Bodyguard & the Beer Girl,” and a song written about his father, “Eddy Boy.” It’s a confident, self-assured recording. Prince credits producer Scott Nolan for enabling the songwriter to keep tempos slow and the voice low.

“I’ve worked so hard to just be a songwriter. If I were to come out of the gate swinging those issues hard, that might trap me in a zone that’s hard to get out of.”

“We’re creating a feeling, capturing a mood,” says Prince. “He gave me the confidence to use my voice to fill the bottom end when I don’t have a bass player and kick drum. To let my words draw people in and keep them there. I had all these things I didn’t see, because I was trying to fit in with everyone else – who doesn’t want to fit in, when you’re insecure? So we did these songs the way I felt most comfortable, and the way Scott encouraged, and it worked.”

Surely now that he’ll have to continue promoting what is currently a three-year-old album –  with a re-recording of the song “Breathless,” cut in Nashville with Dave Cobb – he must be sick of these songs by now? “No, that was the intention: to write songs I won’t get sick of,” he counters. “I want to be in my Leonard Cohen years and still be playing stuff from that record. And now people know those songs, they recognize the opening chords and start cheering – that’s the kind of thing songwriters dream of.”

Meanwhile, writing is a constant activity for Prince; he feels more than prepared to start making his second record, which he’s doing in April of 2018.  He’s also allowing for some last-minute future classics: after all, “The Carny” and “Earthly Days” came to him just before entering the studio in 2015. And because his Glassnote deal includes publishing, he’s itching to place his songs with other singers.

“There were a lot of years there where all I was doing was writing country songs and hoping to get them to somebody,” says the former morning host on a Winnipeg country station. “I don’t mind writing about beautiful skies, and how much you love somebody. There’s no condemning those things in the bro-country world. Some of it isn’t for me, but every so often I hear a song I can get on board with.”

In September 2017, Prince and Inuk singer Elisapie Isaac performed Bruce Cockburn’s “Stolen Land” in front of the man himself at the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame presentation at Massey Hall. It’s not a song that fits in with Prince’s oeuvre: there’s nary a political sentiment to be heard on Earthly Days. That might change, says the descendant of Ojibwe WWII hero Tommy Prince, but not anytime soon – despite the fact he says he is as shaken as everyone else by recent verdicts in the Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine cases.

“There are people looking to me, saying, ‘You should write a song about residential schools,’ or, ‘You should write a song about injustice, because you’re one of us,’” says Prince,  whose album lost the 2017 Juno for Indigenous Album of the Year, but won the in the Contemporary Roots category. “I understand that. Those people are going through a real loss right now. But it’s not the time for me to do that. That’s a song I’ll write 10 years from now, when we need help remembering. Right now, it’s every pulse and every ache for some people.

“I’ve been trying to get to a point where people just listen to me,” says Prince. “When I formulate that audience, then I can say, ‘Look guys, there are also these other things we need to talk about.’ That will be the point to bring it to them, in a place that will do a lot of good because it will come from a place of love, not of scorning or anger or disappointment – even though there are days when I feel that. There’s no elephant in the room I’m avoiding. I’m just waiting.  I’ve worked so hard to just be a songwriter. If I were to come out of the gate swinging those issues hard, that might trap me in a zone that’s hard to get out of.”

Similarly, Cockburn is someone who grew into his political role before spending the rest of his career writing lyrics that oscillated between being broad and being very specific. “Oh, for sure, and I love that about him,” says Prince. “I think about how many albums he’s done – which is what, 27 or something? Here we are talking about me: ‘Oh, this is your second album? How cute.’ I’m hoping I have a 20-album catalogue by the time I start slowing down.”

Montréal band Suuns’ fourth album represents a turning point in the band’s approach of writing and recording an album, and assembling its sonic elements, which were created in a “closed committee,” without the help of a producer. It was also developed with a much greater level of spontaneity. The result is a vivid and lively album “not unlike a mixtape,” says drummer Liam O’Neil, speaking with us about about bells, team spirit, and the late Jaki Liebezeit, before embarking on the European leg of the band’s tour.

SuunsFelt doesn’t open with a bang, but rather, with a ding-dong. A concert of church bells, as it were, introduces the highly visceral “Look No Further.” One could hardly get any more “Montréal” than that. Yet those bells were recorded in Graz, Austria. “The funny thing is, I’m the one who recorded those with my iPhone,” says O’Neil. “We’d just finished our sound-check, and when we stepped out of the venue, all those bells were ringing, as if giving a concert. It lasted for almost an hour.”

This reference to the “city of a hundred steeples”, a moniker some attribute to Mark Twain during a visit to Montréal in 1888, is totally fortuitous, the drummer assures us. “But I’m glad you made the connection,” he says. “This album was made in the spirit of sound collages, by splicing together various recorded tracks and studio experiments, as well as stuff found on YouTube, and other miscellaneous stuff we had on our phones. If you listen carefully, there’s a whole lot of those, all over the record.”

Therein lies Felt’s “mixtape” spirit, according to O’Neil. “Well, not a mixtape as known in the hip-hop world,” he says. “I don’t think anyone who listens to Felt feels like they’re listening to an actual mixtape. It’s more like an experimental rock record. What I associate with a mixtape, in this case, is the somewhat incongruous nature of the hand-made collage of found material. That said, we do listen to a lot of rap, even the biggest current hits. What I’ve noticed is that they go through a wide array of emotions, sounds and grooves.” Not unlike the colourful Felt, which seems to represent a turning point for this band, one that’s often deemed austere and cold, hence the “goth” label some have given it.

For the recording process of the first three albums, the quartet rehearsed the songs in the studio until they were exactly as the band wanted them, before committing them to tape, “which usually took about five or six days,” says O’Neil. “This time around, we recorded over five or six sessions that each lasted several days, in what I call our ‘home studio’, Breakglass Studio.” Singer and guitarist Ben Shemie is the main songwriter, inasmuch as he’s the one who sows the seeds of a song in his bandmates’ minds. “A theme, a melody,” says O’Neil. “We build upon that, we expand the scope of that idea. The lyrics generally come after the music is complete.”

Without any specific game plan to start with, the four musicians let themselves be guided by the moment, “to record demos for the next album and see where that would take us,” says O’Neil. “We intended to hire a producer to guide us, but everything was flowing so smoothly that by the third or fourth session, the album just materialized. That was it. It fit with our notion, with the ethos, of a mixtape that reveals itself; just the four of us in the studio working with whatever we have.” The previous album’s producer, John Congleton – who’s worked with such luminaries as Angel Olsen, St. Vincent, Erykah Badu, and The War on Drugs, among many more – was tapped at the tail end of the sessions, not as a producer, but as a mixing engineer. ‘He came to Montréal and wrapped everything in four days,” says O’Neil.

Felt gives off a certain nervous energy, thanks to its eclectic sound collages, abrupt rhythmic changes, and very tense main thread, alternating between calm, minimalist grooves and rhythmic explosions. “We spent a large part of our career being perceived as a ‘serious’ band,” says O’Neil. “Yet seeing us live is a very entertaining experience, and in some ways, this album is closer to what we give people in concert: it’s more varied and fun.”

As a matter of fact, Suuns has set a rule for itself that the band tries to respect on each album: don’t overload the composition, and ensure each track, each detail, will be playable by the four musicians on stage. “That’s what attracted me when I started working with this band [around 2009],” says O’Neil. “This feeling I’d be able to explore different musical avenues, to experiment. Our musical range is extremely wide.”

This is very much in line with one of the band’s heroes and influences, the late, great drummer Jaki Liebezeit, a founding member of German combo Can, who passed away last year. “I discovered his work at a time where being in a rock group was starting to sound corny and uncool,” says O’Neil. “The John Bonham [Led Zeppelin] style of drumming just wasn’t me… I discovered Jaki at the same time as I did Mick Fleetwood who, in my opinion, has a similar sound. There’s something haunting about the way they play. And thanks to Jaki, all of a sudden I understood that it’s possible to mix rock drumming and electronic sounds. I could now imagine playing with a rock group without it sounding like ‘big rock,’ by playing in a modern way.”

Mystery. A girl with an ethereal, colourful and festive image she can’t dodge, even though her first two solo albums delved fearlessly into some darkness, an inevitability that comes with age. Apprentie guerrière (2012) was about grieving for relationships once believed to be eternal, and Pan (2014) was about the difficulty of leaving behind a past of wounds that take way too long to heal.

Liqueur could very well be Fanny Bloom’s first album to bring the peace. It’s tempting to conclude as much when – in a song like “On s’aimera,” about stormy weather lingering a little too long – the singer is begging herself to believe that true love will weather even the nastiest storm.

“I guess age does kick in, at some point,” says Bloom, a little bemused by her role as a young veteran, a title she’s earned with this fourth, post-Patère rose album. Fate being what it is, Bloom is celebrating her 32nd  birthday on the day we speak.

“I would’ve loved to experience this peaceful state of mind earlier, but I guess I had no choice but to go through all that to get here,” she says. “This state of mind owes a lot to the solo album and tour that I did [Fanny Bloom, released in 2016, a compilation of re-recordings some of her best songs]. I was on my own, and it gave me a big confidence boost. It was kind of a re-set.”

Back in her cabin, alongside Patère rose collaborators Thomas Hébert and Julien Harbec (nowadays known as the duo TŌKINOISE), Bloom took advantage of the life-saving blank page to leave her old, tenacious angst in the margins.

“I was inhabited by a completely different energy than usual,” she says. “We weren’t only nonchalant, but we wanted to be nonchalant. We weren’t there to re-invent pop music. Our attitude was more along the lines of, let’s have a beer, write lyrics, I’ll sing, and we’ll have fun. It might sound weird to say this, but what I learned while creating Liqueur is that music isn’t such a big deal. I had a life before people knew about me, and I’ll have one after. I used to be motivated by being famous, making sure each album grew my audience, but that’s exhausting after a while, and I just let go of it.”

Joyful paradox: Fanny Bloom has never been invited to appear on TV and radio shows more than since she released “Petit bois” a few months ago, her ode to the creative fertility of the countryside, and a teaser single for Liqueur.

Bloom has written many an apparently immodest song –  to wit, the songs on Pan – where she longed for her lover to slip under the sheets. Yet, she’s never written such an intimate song as “Lily,” a letter to her boyfriend about his departed mother, the very sober arrangements of which are in stark contrast with to the rest of the album, laden with electronic rhythms and synthetic sounds.

Fanny Bloom“Singing about me yearning for my boyfriend, wearing nothing but knickers [as in that song on Pan], is no big deal for me, it’s part of life,” says Bloom. “At the most, it makes a few older women giggle when I’m onstage. Singing about Thomas’s mom, it’s very engrossing, because it’s so precious. It was such an intimate song that I actually hesitated to release it. I wasn’t sure Thomas would allow me to release it. His mom’s death was such a taboo topic between us, for a very long time. But now, it feels like I was meeting that woman, who I never met, for the first time. And the result is, I can now mention his mother in a conversation without creating any awkwardness. His memories of his mom are no longer just painful.”

“Cache-nous le pire/ Dis ce qu’il faut dire/ Tu es trop sensible/ Parce que tu es une fille” (Hide the worst / Say what you’re supposed to / You’re too sensitive / Because you’re a girl), she sings, ironically on “Au réveil,” – as if to subvert the discourse that pigeonholed her as a child-voiced singer, and therefore impossible to take seriously.

Did she hear that kind of nonsense a lot? She answers unequivocally: “My God! So much!” she says. “People say girls are too sensitive. Friends tell us that, we even tell ourselves that, sometimes. It really irritates me when I feel something and people belittle that. It really pisses me off! It’s like throwing oil on the fire! Shut the fuck up!”

As straightforward as ever, but a lot less taciturn than she used to be, Bloom has never seemed so much… in bloom! As per these lines from “Château fort”: “Les étoiles éternelles/ Se donnent beaucoup trop de mal/ Pour qu’entre nous et elles/ Leur lumière émane/ C’est à croire qu’elles sont fidèles/ Et que c’est plutôt normal/ Leur goût irrationnel de briller/ Et je me sens un peu comme elles/ Éparpillée et loyale/ Et j’ai l’envie réelle/ De vivre mon âge.” (Eternal stars / Are trying way too hard / So that between them and us / Their light will emanate / It’s almost as if they’re faithful / In their irrational taste for shining brightly / And I feel a bit like them / Scattered and loyal / To live my own age)

What does living her age mean? “Well, it means many things at once,” says Bloom. “It means continuing to seize the day as much as you can, live truly, and not grow old too fast in your head. Sometimes I’ll look at friends on Facebook and be like ‘What’s that?’ I feel like telling them: ‘Seize the day, for God’s sake!’ Of course, everyone’s entitled to find their happiness where they see fit, but seeing friends you grew up with embrace such intense clichés as getting married and having babies and buying a new house in a treeless new development – and in that order! –  makes me want to stay young a little longer.”

Choosing happiness without conformity; now there’s a wise bet to make.