Alain Chartrand

Photo by/par Benoit Rousseau

The Coup de cœur francophone turns 30 this year. For 2016, about 100 performances are programmed in 13 Montréal venues during the 11-day festival, which wraps up on Nov. 13. Thirty years of creation and discovery, that have made this fall event a staple on Québec’s music scene.

In September of 2016, during the Gala de la SOCAN in Montréal, festival director and co-founder, Alain Chartrand received the Special Achievement Award, given by his peers for his contribution to the promotion of our culture through Coup de cœur francophone. “I am, obviously, honoured – especially when you look at the prestigious list of previous recipients, such as Guy Latraverse or Donald Tarlton,” says Chartrand. “So I was a little intimidated at first, because the award recognizes the work of an artisan, and it comes from an institution that oversees the copyrights of songwriters. I’m proud of this award because SOCAN recognizes the work of live show bookers and presenters, as we are one link in the long chain of the value of music.

“In the mid-‘80s, we quickly realized that there was clearly an interest for the new wave of chanson française represented by artists like Arthur H. [whose first appearance at Coup de coeur was an opening slot for Luc de Larochelière], Dominique A., Arno, and the like. There were many artists waiting to be discovered, and that is the first mission of a festival.”

What concerts have impressed him the most over those thirty years? “That’s a cruel question!” he says. “Alain Bashung in 1995 was a magnificent show, the timing was perfect. Richard Desjardins Symphonique – who, incidentally, played Coup de coeur for the first time in 1988, opening for Isabelle Mayereau, the first time he played in front of 600 people.” In fact, Desjardins played Coup de coeur seven times over thirty years.

“There’s also Danse Lhasa Danse, which we created for the 25th edition in 2011, which definitely became a milestone for Coup de coeur,” says Chartrand. “Pierre-Paul Savoie was in charge of the choreography, with 13 dancers, six singers and five musicians. The first time everyone rehearsed together was on the day of the show!”

Diane Dufresne is also among the Artistic Director’s most fond memories. “I remember that one also,” he says, “because the late Allain Leprest opened for her, and at the end of his performance, he thanked the Fracofolies!”

Danse Lhasa Danse

Danse Lhasa Danse. Photo by/par Jean-François Leblanc

Yet, at some point, Coup de coeur had to leave its comfort zone and explore more abrasive artists such as Massilia Sound System, No One Is Innocent, Vulgaires Machins and WD-40: “Obviously,” says Chartrand, “we had to move away from our go-to intro, ‘Amis de la chanson, bonsoir?!’” (Loosely translated: “Good evening, song lovers.”)

What’s his impression of today’s music ecosystem? “People ask me all the time if I think we’re in a crisis,” says Chartrand. “In the three decades of Coup de cœur francophone, there has never been a creative crisis. The way we consume music has changed, and the tough part today for artists is how to reach the audience. When Coup de coeur started, the recurring issue was getting on the radio, because that was the only way to reach the audience.”

So, Chartrand is an optimist? “There are always are cycles, new faces that emerge,” he says. “Nowadays, we could do two or three separate programs. But will the newcomers have the ability to constantly renew their audience? Take Sylvie Paquette [who’s presenting her homage concert to poet Anne Hébert on Nov. 8]. She’s the first artist to ever play at Coup de coeur. She’s perseverant, even though her record sales were never through the roof. She developed her audience.”

It’s a secret to no one that Chartrand has a privileged relationship with songwriters. “It’s actually more a relationship with the songs,” he says. “I’m interested in songs because they’re interested in me. It’s a mutual interest. There’s also a trust-based relationship with musicians when it comes to paying their royalties. We’ve always made sure we’re up-to-date on the rules regulating copyrights. I’m no specialist, but the way things are nowadays, I believe the problem needs to be solved legally; we need governments to use their power against service providers. We also need to better position Francophone music so it’s better remunerated. But the problem is global.”

It’s easy to forget that Coup de coeur is a partnership project. Forty-five Canadian cities are affiliated to present more than two hundred performances. “Our playground extends over six time zones,” says Chartrand. “Instead of developing vertically, we developed horizontally!”

Among the can’t-miss concerts of the 2016 edition, Chartrand is excited to see Philippe Brach (who’ll premiere the songs off of his new album Enfant-Ville), Klô Pelgag’s new show, Corps, amour et anarchie and the return to the stage of Les Goules.

If you were to scout out the most improbable path to writing a No. 1 hit single, the one car you’d see barrelling down that winding road now would be driven by Toronto singer-songwriter/DJ/producer Shaun Frank.

The Chainsmokers’ zeitgeist-surfing EDM love song “Closer,” featuring Halsey, was co-written by Frank, along with the band’s Andrew Taggart (ASCAP). In mid-October of 2016, “Closer” had been No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks, on the Canadian Soundscan chart for six weeks, and on the Canadian Top 40 chart for two weeks. The official lyric video had racked up more than 430 million YouTube views.

The song itself is anomalous, a pop-ified electro track that recalls punk band Blink 182 and features a two-ships-passing-in-the-night romance that’s far more “emo” than it is “dance.”

“Both me and ‘Drew from The Chainsmokers, we grew up listening to Blink 182, Taking Back Sunday and a lot of post-hardcore stuff,” Frank tells Words & Music from Los Angeles, in between two-a-day songwriting sessions. “My first band played on the Warped Tour with Blink 182, so it’s a very, very cool throwback. And when we were writing the song, we talked about all the bands that we came up with. Canadian bands Alexisonfire, Billy Talent, that style of lyrics, but just that kind of lyrical writing where it comes from an honest place, and that’s kind of how we landed on the idea.”

That a song like this was co-written by Frank, who once spent years crossing Canada in a Sum 41-inspired rock-ska band (Crowned King), and whose last band (The Envy) was signed by Gene Simmons, simultaneously makes no sense at all… and complete sense.

Frank says he constantly made beats on his laptop while The Envy was touring, but had “no intention of ever making a career out of it.” That changed when the band got off the road and he found himself desperately needing money to live.

“As my last band sort of went down, I was literally singing on these dance records to pay the bills,” says Frank. “I’d get $500 to sing on a record that my name wasn’t even on, to pay the bills. That’s how I got started [in dance music]. I didn’t know this was going to happen.”

What did happen was that one of the records on which he sang – “Unbreakable,” by Spanish DJ Marien Baker – became a hit in her home country. Frank toured there with her and quickly immersed himself in EDM culture. He’s since worked with the likes of BORGEOUS, Oliver Heldens, DVBBS, KSHMR, and Steve Aoki.

Frank possesses two distinct tactical advantages as his acclaim continues to rise in dance music circles.

First, those hard years of being in a touring rock band means the life of a globe-trotting DJ is relatively luxurious in comparison. “The treatment is just amazing, so I always joke that this is my retirement,” says Frank with a laugh. “I put in my work in a band, and now I’m retired, and this is my retirement gift.” It was touring as the opening act for The Chainsmokers where Frank wrote “Closer” with Taggart.

Secondly, his commitment to thoughtful writing and subject matter represents a rare exploit in a genre that’s often more focused on the beat, and the energy songs generate, rather than their lyrics.

“Yeah, honest lyrics,” says Frank, distilling his songwriting ethos to its essence. “Everyone’s always looking for honesty, and I’m always looking for something new that I haven’t heard before, a new angle on that. There’s only so many human emotions that people can relate to, but there’s a million different ways to talk about them.”

Another aspect that’s been working well with those lyrics is the fact that, of late, it’s often not Frank singing them. Whether it’s the talents of Halsey featured on The Chainsmokers’ track, Ashe for the single “Let You Get Away” or Frank and KSHMR’s team-up with frequent collaborator Delaney Jane on a song like “Heaven,” the female voice has featured prominently on many of the EDM songs he’s been involved with thus far.

“I sit down and write from the heart. I think I’m only one of a handful of electronic producers that like the lyrics.”

“I really like the way that the lyrics that I write sound when they’re sung by a female,” says Frank. “It’s funny that it happened that way, because the plan was always for me to sing my own music. And I’m going to, but so far everything has worked better using the female voice. That’s the cool thing about making dance music as a producer and an artist. There really are no rules. You just do whatever’s best for the song. If it sounds great sung by this person, then this person sings it.”

There’s one last secret element to Frank’s songwriting that positions him uniquely amongst his EDM peers – melancholy. The songs he’s been part of are, frankly, a touch sadder than standard dancefloor fare.

“I don’t know. Maybe I’m depressed,” says Frank, pondering the hint of gloom that’s in many of his songs. “No, I’m not depressed. I sit down and write from the heart. I think I’m only one of a handful of electronic producers that like the lyrics. A lot of people get vocals submitted to them, or just care about the beats. I’m involved in the whole process, from writing the lyrics to the mixing and mastering, until it’s all done. And so the songs are very honest and they’re all about things in my life. That’s where I come from, the singer-songwriter approach.”

As that winding road to success rapidly straightens out for Frank with each new co-write, feature and tour date, the one thing that remains strange to him – a person who’s spent more than a decade at his craft – is what getting a number one song is like.

“Everyone said that if I ever had a hit like this it would change my life,” he says. “I just didn’t realize how fast it would change things.”

Alexanfre PoulinThere’s no recipe for success, and Alexandre Poulin is well aware of it. On Les temps sauvages, his fourth album, the popular storyteller steps away from pop clichés and pens lyrics that are halfway between hope and resignation.

Poulin could’ve been fashionable. His clear penchant for Americana would’ve pleased commercial radio programmers who still, to this day, rely heavily on folk.

But the Sherbrooke native loves to go where he’s not expected. “I thought I was really original, back in 2007, when I came out with songs with mandolin and banjo – but I’m over it now,” says the artist, who’s now opted for more ethereal melodies. “Anyway, I’ve never liked being on the highway. I prefer to walk off the beaten path.”

Les temps sauvages, as a matter of fact, is a rebuttal to those all-too-well-worn paths, those accepted routes we sometimes take without thinking about it. He sings about a virtual love-at-first-sight (“Les amours satellites”), a powerless, jobless man facing capitalist forces (“Bleu Big Bill”), and the realization that a love affair is slowly dying (“Nos cœurs qui battent”), while he himself ponders his thirst for freedom and confronts “the obligations of a society that consumes us while we consume it.”

“We live in a rather hallucinating era where everything goes way too fast,” says Poulin. “I’ve always fought against this frenetic pace, but I’ve reached a point where I no longer quite know how to do that.”


Yet that’s precisely what he did last December; slow time down. Exhausted after the tours for his two previous albums, he thought the time had come to take a step back. “I had the chance to take a year off from the stage,” says Poulin. “It’s one thing to be passionate about your work, but it can easily turn into a trap. At a certain point, your body sends signals to you,” he admits.

But as beneficial this break was, it was far from a holiday. His break from work was short, and Poulin rapidly began writing his fourth album. Even though he’s a crafty storyteller, he decided he wanted to shed the myth surrounding him, the one that pigeonholes him as an impassive storyteller who willingly refuses typical pop music song structure.

“I’m known for my chorus-less songs, but if you listen closely, you notice that I’ve written many over the course of my first three albums,” he says. “This time around, however, I wanted to make a conscious effort to strip down my stories. I took away anything that was stuffy or useless.”

Indeed, his many songwriting collaborations with quite openly commercial singers such as Garou, France D’Amour and 2Frères have contributed to him no longer rejecting the pop canon de facto.

The 2014 success of Poulin’s song “Comme des enfants en cavale” also contributed to opening his mind about it all. “This kind of totally unexpected success is very gratifying, especially since I’d given up any hope of radio play by that point,” he says. “As a matter of fact, I consciously applied the same guiding line on Les temps sauvages. Instead of trying to make an album that would sell, I set out to make an album I would buy.”

To steer him through this process, Poulin tapped his longtime partner-in-crime, Mathieu Perreault, and the expert arranger Guido Del Fabbro (Pierre Lapointe, Groenland) to co-produce the album. “Having someone like Guido – who’s much more left-field than I am, musically – on my team was very reassuring,” he says. “When we were recording, I would regularly ask him, ‘Is this too pop?’ whenever I had any doubt. And even though I meant it jokingly, it often gave me a good idea of which way to go.”

It’s partly because of this minutiae and strong work ethic that the singer is slowly but surely gaining popular and critical applause. And while he’s still somewhat of a well-kept secret in Québec, Poulin is starting to reap the benefits of his hard work on the other side of the Atlantic. When he was invited on to the immensely popular talk show in France, On n’est pas couches, in February 2014, he was immediately catapulted to the top of the French iTunes bestsellers chart.

“It’s the kind of TV show that has an incredible impact on your career,” he says. “But I’m not delusional: I’m far from being a star in France. It’s very much like here: the buzz comes from the ground up, and it took a long time before major media outlets started paying attention. As weird as I think it is, I also have to admit it serves me well. A decade after I started my career, there are still people who are discovering me, and see me as a newcomer.”