At 30, Adam Baldwin could be considered rather a late bloomer as a solo artist. Right now, however, everything’s coming up roses for the Dartmouth-based singer-songwriter. Released in June, his debut full-length album, No Telling When (Precisely Nineteen Eighty-Five), has been earning unanimously positive notices for its combination of free-spirited, guitar-fueled rock ‘n’ roll and perceptive lyrics that often tackle social and political themes.

Produced by Liam O’Neil (The Stills, Metric), the album features Josh Trager (of Sam Roberts Band), Brian Murphy (of Alvvays) and Leah Fay (of July Talk).

Baldwin is bringing the material to vivid life onstage, touring the album as a support act for the likes of The Temperance Movement, Sam Roberts Band and Blue Rodeo, and national dates with July Talk begin in November 2016.

Fine company to keep, and Baldwin is suitably appreciative. Interviewed after a show in Montréal, he says, “I’m lucky to have friends in the right places. These guys don’t have to have me on their bills, as they sold the shows already. I’m sure I’m the envy of a lot of Canadian acts right now.”

The response to No Telling When is similarly gratifying. “It surprises me anytime there’s any praise,” says Baldwin. “I tend to be self-deprecating and maybe I lacked the confidence I should have had over the years, if you’re in a business where you’re judged for your art.”

“I’m not a guy who writes 100 songs and gets three from that. I’d rather just write a song and chip away at it until I feel it’s where I need it to be.”

Baldwin has gained real peer respect over the years, primarily as a guitarist in Matt Mays’ band. But, he says, “I’ve been writing songs a long time. They just weren’t good, and I was focused on playing in other people’s bands. When I was 25 I had a child, and that rather made me realize this is the thing I’m best at, so I really did want to try my hand at [my own] music as a career.

“The only way to do that is to stay busy. It’s great playing with a guy like Matt, who’s frequently busy, but when he’s not busy I’d just be at home, maybe playing in cover bands. I decided it was the right time to put some songs out and test the waters, and it has worked out.”

Adam BaldwinBaldwin’s first solo foray was a self-titled 2013 EP, one that earned him the Male Artist Recording of the Year Award at Nova Scotia Music Week in 2014 (he was also named Musician of the Year). While pleased with the accolade, Baldwin says, “I can’t depend on radio play or awards to validate what I’m doing. I tend to look at the crowd response, and what people who buy my music are saying about it.”

The bulk of the material on No Telling When was written after the EP was released. “I wrote it when I moved into a house that had a piano,” says Baldwin. “I played as a kid and I wrote just about everything on piano, oddly enough.

“I’m not a guy who writes 100 songs and gets three from that. I’d rather just write a song and chip away at it until I feel it’s where I need it to be, and says what I wanted.”

Baldwin cites fellow Nova Scotians Joel Plaskett and Matt Mays as real inspirations, career-wise. “’I’m so lucky to have grown up listening to those guys from high school as I was learning to play guitar,” he says. “They were guys from where I was who were making a go of it.

“They are certainly heroes of mine, and I’m lucky to count them as friends. I can ask them for advice about anything, though I tend not to ask them much about songwriting, as I have my own process. They’re important people to have around in my life.”

Baldwin is candid about his most crucial musical influence. “It’ll be no surprise to anyone that Bruce Springsteen is my high water mark,” he says. “I studied him the way a chemistry student would study at university. I feel I have a degree in Springsteen!’

That’s apparent not just in the rousing and anthemic feel of some Baldwin songs, but in his willingness to address social issues.

“I was always the kid who read the newspaper, from age eight,” he recalls. “I try to make myself aware of things, and the only things I know how to write about are those I know. It so happens that some of the things I know and understand I don’t agree with. I think there’s a place for that in music.”

A striking example on No Telling When is “Rehtaeh,” based on the tragic real-life story of rape victim Rehtaeh Parsons, who committed suicide. “I got in touch with her parents, to tell them my intentions for the song,” Baldwin explains. “They were receptive, as they want her story to be heard, to further things along

“Every cent from that song goes to the Rehtaeh Parsons Society, so they can go out and speak to schools and try to change the antiquated legislation around sexual harassment and rape laws that are currently on the books.”

Looking ahead, Baldwin plans to balance his solo career with continued work in Matt Mays’ band. “I love the guy and I love playing the songs,” he says. “As long as he’ll have me, I’ll be there!”

Based in Québec City, SOCAN members Louis-Étienne Santais and Thomas Casault are Fjord, a duo that’s just released its first official offering, Textures, the music of which is rooted in the late-‘90s chill-out movement, as well as 2016’s electronic music vein.

We spoke with the guys who are likely to dominate playlists in the coming months.

P&M: Tell us a bit about your creative process?
Fjord: We totally work in a collaborative way. We usually start by settling on a viable key progression, and then we build on that quite rapidly; we add percussion, bass, other sounds, according to our inspiration. At that point, even though it’s still a draft, we have a better idea of where we’re headed, and that helps us remain inspired. Then, we spend a lot of time looking for the right melody, and we’ll often improvise and record dozens of melodies on our iPhones for a single song before we settle on the one that’s just right. The words or sentences that come to us spontaneously often remain in the final version of the song, because it’s hard for Thomas to find something to sing that comes more naturally. Then we complete the lyrics, always together. That’s probably the hardest part for us. We spend a lot of time in the studio working on demos and we throw many away. We often need to take a step back. Take “Blue,” for example. We couldn’t find anything that thrilled us, so we put it on the back burner for a while. Months later, we were going over our demos and it gelled; we had enough material to turn it into a great song.

P&M: As a matter of fact, you took off because of “Blue,” which was extremely popular on Spotify, with more than two million streams to this day. How do you approach this success in the light of the heavy criticism directed towards Spotify lately?
Fjord: Spotify has been and remains a very important springboard when it comes to visibility, and the money it’s earned us, thanks to our songs being in rotation. We’ve actually managed to self-finance Fjord. Our band was born right in this paradigm shift from record sales to streams, it’s been a part of our lives and careers from the get-go. We’ve realized that the majority of people who listen to us, do so on Spotify and Apple Music. Our songs end up on their playlists. Those playlists are curated by people who follow the music biz very closely. That has a very positive influence on the reach of our music.”

P&M: Textures was done with the help of various producers. How do you achieve that without compromising the Fjord sound?
Fjord: We always produce much of our own stuff – like, 90 percent. Other producers are incredibly helpful, because they help us decide what’s good to keep and what can go, and we give them plenty of leeway to try stuff, and bring in their own ideas. We always have the last word on artistic decisions, and luckily all of our collaborations have gone smoothly so far, we didn’t have to reject a lot of their ideas. It’s always helpful to have a third pair of ears, and the people we’ve worked with are super-talented. It was easy to trust them and build together, whether it was Claude Bégin (Karim Ouellet, Alaclair Ensemble), Gabriel Gagnon (Milk & Bone, Daniela Andrade), or Dragos Chiriac (Men I Trust, Ghostly Kisses).

P&M: What’s coming up for Fjord?
Fjord: A few great opportunities have come up since we released Textures, but we can’t say much about any of them yet. One thing’s for sure: we’ll be playing shows in 2017. Certain collaborations are underway, some are even finished. Whatever the case may be, we’re entirely focused on creating music, right now. We’re working on new tracks that will be accompanied by new visuals.

If you’ve ever taken a ride on Montréal’s metro, you know it has its own kind of music. Whether it’s the wind when the train pulls into the station; those indecipherable announcements on the P.A. system of each station; or those famous notes the train hums when it leaves each platform… Those are the sounds that surround the thousands of Montréalers daily, who remain seemingly oblivious to them.

Yet, Robert Normandeau dove head on into this sonic universe. The electro-acoustic composer is used to gathering all kinds of sounds to create his works, but he never expected the Société de Transport de Montréal (STM), in collaboration with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (MSO), to tap him to celebrate the metro’s 50th anniversary. “To be honest, when I heard the message on my voicemail service, my initial reaction was… not to call back. It seemed so unlikely that I thought it was a bad joke,” says Normandeau..

One can see where he was coming from, because it’s indeed a bold move on the part of the MSO, which also commissioned an orchestral piece from José Evangelista for the celebration of the metro’s birthday – which will take place during three concerts at the end of October 2016. Bold, because it’s probably the first time an orchestra has commissioned a composer for a piece that it won’t even be able to play, since Tunnel Azur is a multi-phonic, electro-acoustic piece played by a dozen loudspeakers. The orchestra won’t even be onstage when it’s created.

Almost all the sounds the audience will hear were recorded in the metro by Normandeau


“It’s surprising, but it’s a tribute, on the one hand, to the fact that Montréal is one of the world’s capitals of the electro-acoustic scene,” says Normandeau. “And on the other, which must be saluted, of the incredible open-mindedness of the orchestra and its conductor, Kent Nagano.”  As a matter of fact, the composer decided to tip his hat to the orchestra and its conductor by citing excerpts from Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, his favourite, which he heard Nagano conduct back in his Berkeley days. He also used a mind-blowing instrument recently bequeathed to the orchestra by a patron of the arts: the octobass, a huge acoustic bass that’s more than four metres tall.

For the rest, all the sounds the audience will hear were recorded in the metro by Normandeau. “I went during the day, with all the door and crowd noises, but also at night, when maintenance crews go to work,” he says. “At first, they thought I was a little weird, but they rapidly grew interested in my work and started proposing that I record all kinds of sounds their equipment makes.”

Some of them will attend the concert to hear their universe re-imagined by an avant-garde artist. We’d love to hear their comments afterwards! “I hope they enjoy it!” says Normandeau. “I admit I was a little weary when I presented the piece for the first time.” The MSO people, even though they might not be electro-acoustic aficionados, are familiar with this approach simply from working in the music industry. But what about the STM people? “I proposed two versions of the piece,” says Normandeau. “One with images and the other without, and I was surprised when they told me to drop the images because the music carried the story in and of itself.”

Normandeau has become a specialist of what are called “ear movies,” meaning that there’s truly a narrative in his work. “It’s electro-acoustic music that tells a story,” he says. “For the listener, it’s a highly referential piece: basically everyone who’s ever visited Montréal will recognize those sounds. Besides, it’s a path, a journey…”

Speaking of references, we’ll obviously hear those famous notes that each train makes when it leaves a station. The fascinating thing is, those notes are merely an accidental by-product of the subway train’s electrical propulsion system. A mechanism called a current chopper feeds the system in increments instead of sending hundreds of volts all at once. That’s what creates the characteristic, “doo-doo-doooo.” One can hardly imagine a better example of musique concrète.

But contrary to your average ride at rush hour, travel in Tunnel Azur will only be First Class, since it’ll be the first electro-acoustic concert played at the Maison Symphonique. As a matter of fact, Normandeau will be the first one to use the venue’s speakers, some of which were still packed in their boxes until recently. The piece will be played on Oct. 20, 22 and 23, 2016, alongside pieces by Schumann, Strauss and José Évangelista’s creation. It will also be presented during the Akousma festival, held at the same time.

More details on the Kent Nagano Celebrates the Montréal Metro event.