Working with Three Days Grace changed Gavin Brown’s life. Until the release of the Norwood, Ont., band’s self-titled debut in 2003, the Toronto-based Brown was regarded as a talented triple threat here in Canada: ace session musician, producer and songwriter.

A former member of Phleg Camp, he had worked on projects by Skydiggers, Danko Jones, Spookey Ruben, Mia Sheard, Big Sugar, Alexandra Slate, Great Big Sea and Canadian contemporary Christian rockers A Thousand Foot Krutch before solidifying his production work on the self-titled Billy Talent album the same year.

But if Billy Talent placed Brown on the international radar with its European success, it was his co-writing and production for Three Days Grace that established him in the desirable U.S. market. Brown co-wrote “I Hate Everything About You,” “Home” and “Just Like You,” which dominated active rock, modern rock and mainstream rock radio formats, further buoyed by the band’s One-X follow-up in 2006 that supplied “Animal I Have Become,” “Pain,” “Riot” and “Never Too Late,” helping sell more than four million albums in the U.S. alone.

“The Three Days Grace stuff that I did still has legs in America,” said Brown, shortly before departing on a two-week trip to North Carolina and Boca Raton to write with My Darkest Days and Christian rockers Decipher Down. “They were the most played band on rock radio in America in 2007, the most played band on active and mainstream, and No. 2 on modern. The six big singles we had did very, very well, so that’s the stuff that people know me for in America. I still do a lot of that kind of stuff.”

Case in point: Brown’s collaboration with Memphis contemporary Christian band Skillet resulted in another 2009 gold monster U.S. hit named, aptly enough, “Monster.” In fact, Brown has made significant inroads into the U.S. $500-million contemporary Christian and alt-Christian music scenes (2008 figures, according to the Christian Music Trade Association). He recently worked with Denver’s Everfound and says there’s a considerable market south of the border that’s barely registered with Canadians. “It’s unbelievably huge,” says Brown of the U.S. Christian rock market. “It’s not only big, it’s also consistent. There’s a whole area in the South—the non-coastal United States—that’s very Christian and very powerful. People buy records and they support artists. It’s a good thing.”

However, it’s his Three Days Grace association that has brought Brown the greatest dividends. He recently co-wrote a song for My Darkest Days (co-founded by Matt Walst, brother of Three Days Grace’s Brad Walst) called “Can’t Forget You” with Chad Kroeger, among others. He’s co-written with Simmons Records rockers The Envy (which Brown also produced). And he’s teamed up with Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba to work with new Motown singer-songwriter Cara Salimando, whom he describes as “an acoustic pop” artist, “not as generic as a Colbie Caillat or a Sara Bareilles—a little more Arcade Fire and Sigur Ros.

“It’s amazing, when you have a hit song, what that does for you,” says the 37-year-old Brown, who estimates he’s sold 10 to 12 million records as a songwriter/producer. “Then if you have two hit songs, three hit songs or four, there’s a history of success. So people seek you out—because everyone’s looking for a hit song—and if you deliver for people, they keep coming back.”

He’s talking with Hoobastank, working here at home with Dan Hill, Down With Webster, Stereos and Windsor-based Christian rockers The Brilliancy, and has just signed with U.S. management firm The Collective, embarking on a collaborative partnership with former Evanescence member and co-writer David Hodges (Kelly Clarkson, Céline Dion, Daughtry) to write for specific artists who he expects will take him frequently to Los Angeles in the future. “Writing is definitely starting to be more of my life, as opposed to writing with just the bands I produce,” says Brown. “The idea is that David and I would walk into a project that’s already got momentum and legs, and we’d just write some songs for it.”

Brown says the song has always been of crucial importance in whatever capacity he’s delivered it, but admits that as a writer, his approach is much more spontaneous—as long as there is a purpose to the outcome. “Some people like to have a lot of preparation,” he says. “I’ve gotten together with people and they have lists of titles, or lyric ideas, a stanza, the verse or some music that’s half-done. I show up with nothing and I like it that way. The conversation is this: ‘What are we trying to do? Who are you and what’s your voice? As a singer, why should anyone pay attention to you and what’s the context from which you’re speaking?’

“There’s a branding element that has to be there, a self-awareness, a knowledge of who the artist is. Just writing a song—I don’t do that, I can’t do that. It doesn’t make sense to me.”



April Wine has enjoyed quite a 40th-anniversary year — inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and out on the road touring. Back in 1981, the Montreal-based band was riding a string of hits here at home when the power ballad “Just Between You and Me,” from the album Nature of the Beast, broke in America. It not only charted Top 25 on Billboard, it became the first song by a Canadian act to air on MTV. Frontman Myles Goodwyn spoke to Words + Music about one of the band’s many Canadian classics.

 

What do you remember about the recording of that song?

We’d been in England recording at the Manor Studio, owned by Richard Branson, and the other guys had already gone home. I was still there because I was having some difficulties, one of which was the guitar solo for this song. It wasn’t working, I wasn’t satisfied. So I decided at the last minute to redo the solo. But there was no gear left in the studio. I grabbed a guitar and there was this RAT distortion pedal so I used that. It was a bit unnerving to record on a borrowed guitar plugged directly into the console, but the solo really worked, it sounded cool. Funny that the last song we did was the biggest hit off the record. I think this happens fairly often.

 

How did it compare to your previous hits in terms of impact?

We had broken into the States already but this was our biggest single in America. It kicked things up a notch. All of a sudden we were on the radio.

 

What was the inspiration for the lyrics?

I always write the music first. That comes easily, but the lyrics I agonize over. I think that a nice piece of music with a bad lyric is a real shame. So I find a phrase that starts the ball rolling. I thought “just between you and me” was a nice phrase and was surprised nobody had used it. It was definitely a love song, which I dedicated to my wife at the time.

 

What’s the secret to writing a good ballad?

Like most people who grew up fans of the Beatles, I’m not happy just doing one kind of music. I like to write different things. And if you have a nice ballad to open the door you can get away with a lot. It’s kind of like a pretty girl. So it helps to have a pretty melody. That’s like a canvas, waiting for you. And it’s important to be sincere, and write things people can identify with. Be as honest as possible. It’s tremendous how that can work in your favour.

 

Of all your hits, what do you feel is this song’s legacy?

I hope that, in my lifetime, it will get a songwriter’s award. What used to be very exciting for me was the BMI Awards. You’d go to the ceremony and look around and there would be Paul Simon or Stevie Wonder. And I was there because my songs were being honoured by the same people. I know it’s a little bit selfish as a band member to get so excited about the songwriter awards, but I never really wanted to be a singer, I wanted to be a songwriter. I hope it’s not like the Junos though, or I’ll be 140 before I actually get the award!

 



Translations prior to Fall 2010 are currently unavailable. 

Attablé devant un bol de café au lait, le jeune chanteur aux yeux bleu acier Alex Nevsky, vêtu d’un « hoodie » de la même couleur, se remémore les événements des derniers mois : un premier album réalisé par Yann Perreau lancé en grandes pompes chez Audiogram, la réponse enthousiaste de la presse, le prix coup de cœur Télé-Québec au dernier Festival de musique émergente en Abitibi-Témiscamingue… Ce qu’on appelle un bel envol.

À l’horizon, l’étape de la tournée se profile. Alex, 25 ans, fébrile, se prépare à monter sur les planches : « Tout ce qui me fait peur, je vais l’essayer. Je travaille avec la comédienne Brigitte Poupart (mise en scène des spectacles de Yann Perreau, de Florence K et de Beast) et je sais que je vais évoluer beaucoup avec elle. Je veux me mettre en danger; je suis à un âge où on est prêt à tout essayer. »

Âmes frères
Le fait d’avoir un ami-mentor de la trempe de Yann Perreau place la barre haute. C’est alors qu’Alex Nevsky faisait ses classe à l’École nationale de la chanson de Granby qu’un déclic s’est produit entre eux : « Je pense qu’il se voyait un peu en moi, autant dans ce que j’écris que dans le genre de gars que je suis. Moi j’étais gêné au début parce qu’à la base, je capotais sur son travail. Chaque élève devait aller jouer une toune devant lui. Je voyais le reflet de son visage dans le piano droit et je chiais dans mes pants. On a pris une brosse ensemble ce soir là et il m’a dit : N’importe quand, tu m’appelles pour quoi que ce soit et je vais être là pour toi. » Peu de temps après, Alex Nevsky, remarqué partout où il passe, reçoit une bourse du Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec. « Après avoir tourné en rond pendant une semaine, je l’ai appelé. J’avais besoin d’un réalisateur; Yann n’avait jamais fait ça, mais aussitôt qu’il m’a ouvert la porte, j’ai foncé. »

On connaît la suite : première partie des concerts de Yann Perreau où Nevsky apprivoise la scène à la vitesse grand V, finaliste aux dernières Francouvertes et demi-finaliste au Festival de chanson de Granby 2009, Révélation Radio-Canada, en nomination pour le Gamiq de l’étoile montante… Et à travers tout ça, recruté par Audiogram, où fut lancé le 31 août un premier album remarqué : De lune à l’aube.

 

Clair-obscur
Si de nombreux premiers albums voient le jour au bout d’une peine de cœur, c’est dans un tout autre état d’esprit qu’Alex Nevsky a composé le sien puisqu’il venait de tomber amoureux, d’où le côté pop lumineux, l’effervescence qui se ressent tant dans la musique que dans certains textes. « J’aimerais m’éloigner de la thématique amoureuse mais j’ignore comment, admet-il en rougissant presque. Des fois j’écoute Bashung et je me trouve bien jeune et con et naïf à côté. En même temps, je trouve ça beau d’être là où je suis en ce moment. J’ai encore du temps pour cheminer dans l’écriture. »

En parlant avec Alex Nevsky dans ce café, on se rend compte que le titre de l’album, Entre lune et l’aube, n’est pas anodin. Lui même semble suspendu entre l’ombre et la lumière : « J’essaie d’être quelqu’un d’heureux et de souriant dans la vie, mais je ne suis pas que ça. D’ailleurs au début, mon rapport à la musique c’était d’aller brailler au piano, j’avais un peu le syndrome du poète maudit. Les chansons claires sont arrivées plus tard et je me rends compte que j’aime faire sourire les gens. C’est nécessaire que les chansons passent par la lune, mais aussi par l’aube. »

Musicalement, on sent que Nevsky a eu envie d’embrasser large. On a le sourire étampé au visage en fredonnant « Shalalala », et le voilà prêt à nous balancer un slam senti et déstabilisant : « Tristessa », une claque. Sur cet album on navigue entre électro-pop, chanson rock, slam et balade. « D’ailleurs j’ai remarqué que ça dérangeait certaines personnes de ne pas pouvoir me mettre dans une petite boîte », observe celui qui rêve de travailler un jour avec un autre éclectique de son espèce : Gaëtan Roussel.

Ambitieux sans la prétention, à la fois gourmand et généreux, candide mais avisé, Alex Nevsky suit sa bonne étoile. « Depuis ma première ébauche de chanson, mes parents sont derrière moi. À travers leur amour aveugle de parents, ils ont vu quelque chose là-dedans… Ils ont cru en moi et ça, ça donne une drive encore plus grande. » Alex Nevsky a non pas une, mais deux bonnes étoiles. « Oui c’est vrai. Je n’avais pas de plan B. J’avais confiance, j’y croyais… Mais je sais que j’ai été chanceux. »