Alfa RococoOne thing stands out, looking back on the four albums released by Alfa Rococo over the duo’s 14-year career. The covers always show the singer-songwriter couple – Justine Laberge and David Buissières – but on L’Amour et le chaos, launched in early May 2018, for the first time we don’t see their faces. They’re sitting on a dirt road with their backs turned to the camera. Says Buissières, “The cover perfectly summarizes one of the album’s main themes: we’re sitting quietly and watching the end of the world, some kind of apocalyptic scene, like that bomb that went off in the desert.” Laberge finishes his sentence: “Yet, we’re there, grounded. It’s dramatic, but the sky is pink…”

Love and Chaos, as it were. There’s hope, even a bit of light hidden in the rhymes, yet, “there still is a fatalistic assessment through it all,” says Laberge. Buissières adds, “It’s a realization that we’re living in a troubled time, the realization of our environmental dead-end.” Hope, and the same sort of pessimism that appeared on 2010’s Chasser le malheur, both show up in songs such as “Soldat de plomb,” “Rêve américain,” and the title track, whose “super happy music” was the backdrop to a story about “not having enough time, and feeling stuck in the endless cycle of the daily grind.”

What might have just been a figure of speech eight years ago has indeed become their daily lives. In the time that separated Nos coeurs ensemble (2014), a “more luminous album celebrating union,” in the words of Buissières, and this fourth one, the lives of the musician couple was transformed by the birth of two babies. Nowadays, every minute counts, Laberge says with a cough, a symptom of the bronchitis she caught from their youngest. “Obviously, I’m always the one who catches everything,” she says. David never gets sick! My vocal cords are in bad shape.”

“I always say we haven’t written songs about having children,” says Buissières. “But we did write about the effects of having them. The two main ones being one’s relationship with time,” as can be heard on two of the most beautiful songs on the album, “Le temps qu’il faut,” parts I and II. The first is propelled by a house music rhythm, the second floating in an atmospheric electro-pop glow. According to both artists, this album is very much influenced by the beacons of French electro pop, such as Fakear and Petit Biscuit. “Our relationship with time is completely changed,” says Buissières. “Now we realize how precious it is, and how we didn’t quite exploit it properly before. There’s also the question of seizing the day.”

The other effect, as they explain in tandem, is the need to stay away from pessimism. “We try to see the light through the cracks,” says Buissières, paraphrasing Leonard Cohen, “in the hopes that when the dust settles, something more beautiful will emerge. That’s what the album is about.” As for Laberge, she says she has never felt so much angst as she does now that her family has grown larger. “All that we see that’s going awry is no longer just our problem, but the problem of the ones that will come after us,” she says. “Our youngest daughter was born six months ago. She’ll never know a world without Trump.”

Regroupement des artisans de la musique (RAM)
One surmises that Alfa Rococo’s worries about their trade led David Buissières to create the Regroupement des artisans de la musique (RAM) in early 2017. RAM, which is governed by a steering committee composed of musicians such as Gaële, Stéphane Bergeron (Karkwa) and domlebo, wants to give a voice and a political compass to musicians to provoke “a review of the revenue-sharing model of commercializing music, in order to ensure the continuity of music in Québec,” as stated on the organization’s website. It’s about musicians speaking as one to answer the arguments of producers, distributors and internet service providers. “Let’s pretend that we, all the players of the music industry, are in a painter’s workshop,” says Buissières. “In the centre of the room sits a thing that we all have to make a painting of, and we’re all surrounding it: producers, distributors, promoters, streaming platforms, and, over here, the musicians. Everyone will paint the same object – an album, a tour, a career – but no two have the same perspective on it. Plus, the musicians have not shown up that much at the workshop… Our idea is to make sure artists start showing up at the workshop, and take a good look at the thing in the middle. What’s even more exceptional are people who are willing to come over to the other side to better understand the other perspective. What we want to do is explain the musician’s perspective to the other parties. It’s quite stunning to realize how little people in this industry talk to each other.”

Generally, each of their albums’ overall theme is clear from the onset. “Often, it’s one song that kind of dictates an album direction,” according to Laberge. “But after four or five, that’s when the album shapes up.” The proximity of home and studio allows for more finely tuned demos, and being constantly in the frame of mind of the album direction. “We have the chance to be able to spend a lot of time in our studio to work on the arrangements,” Buissières agrees. “Then, something clicks, a song emerges, and we say. ‘Ah! that’s it!’”

Buissières is in charge of the recording process and of the bulk of the orchestrations, but it’s under the scrutiny of Laberge, who considers herself more of a melodist. “We play ping-pong with our ideas,” she explains. “As for the lyrics, we start by writing together, and then we each write separately.”

For example, the album’s title song was written as a duo. “But it simmered for a long time,” says Laberge. “It’s the last one we wrote, and it’s the one that gave the tone to this album. It’s the first time that the last song we wrote became the album title.” Buissières continues, “It feels like the longer a song gestates, the easier it gets to write songs. A song like ‘L’Amour et le chaos’ took three months to finish. You might be on a bike ride, and an idea pops up that works for your song.” Most of their songs take that long before they’re ripe. “It’s more often three months than two weeks, sadly!” says Laberge with a smile.

“I write in quite a classical manner, like classic and romantic poetry, that kind of wording, using inversions,” says Buissières. “But sometimes, it gets to be a little too much, and thanks to Justine, we find the right balance.”

Thus, for the couple, working on a new album is divided into two distinct phases: one active and one passive. Says Buissières, “The passive part is everyday life, accumulating ideas, small notepads in hand, that idea that came during a bike ride. Being tuned in and filling up the inspiration book, I guess. The active part is being in the studio, making sounds, finding riffs, or sitting in a café and writing lyrics, getting hands-on. But that passive part should not be frowned upon, even though it’s sometimes long, because there are a ton of little ideas, of words, of grooves, of melodies that simmer for a very long time. So when we get to it, all that has evolved in our minds, we know the time has come to take all of it to fruition.”

Asif Illyas’ eureka moment came while shooting the Alan Doyle episode of his new YouTube online talk show, Live on the Flight Deck. The former Great Big Sea frontman was sitting in Illyas’ 737 aircraft cockpit simulator, discussing their proposed “flight” from Melbourne to Sydney, Australia. Doyle asked if they could detour south to Tasmania. “He just started talking about the fact that Tasmanians got made fun of by the rest of Australia, and that was something he connected with,” says Illyas. “Newfoundland had a similar thing, the outpost island out in the ocean. I never would have learned that, and if we weren’t in the simulator, he wouldn’t have been thinking about [it].” That was when Illyas knew his web series would fly. “This is cool,” he thought. “This could work.”

The “flight deck” is in the upstairs spare bedroom of Illyas’ Halifax home. The Shire, his self-built recording studio, is in the basement, where he does most of his work. These days he mainly scores music for the CBC, National Film Board, The Movie Network, and SuperChannel feature dramas and documentaries. But he’s also produced, played with, or arranged music for a long list of East Coast musical luminaries, from Lennie Gallant and Mary Jane Lamond to Kim Stockwood, Bruce Guthro and Ashley MacIsaac. Illyas had been in the band MIR (itself named for a space station), which was signed to Warner Music in Germany in the late ‘90s, and has garnered more than 30 East Coast Music Awards nominations over the years. He moved on to do more studio work when one of his children contracted Type 1 Diabetes, and he had to curtail his travel – and the frequency he flew – for family reasons.

It was a confluence of events about five years ago that sent the talk show idea to flight.  Illyas’ love for music and his passion for aviation came together around the same time that he was discussing, with a friend, “What does a musician have to do to stick out above the static?” Blogs, podcasts, livestreams and video diaries came to mind, then he saw a couple of episodes of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Illyas had already been toying with the idea of building his own flight deck simulator to help realize his dreams of flying – a love launched when he experienced a cockpit visit as a child en route to visit family in Sri Lanka. “The pilot actually let me sit in the captain’s seat and move the yoke a little bit, and I remember the plane doing a tiny tilt back and forth,” he says. “After that, all I could talk about was flying the plane.” The idea of using air travel as a doorway into personal conversation seemed natural to someone who had spent so much “down time” going from A to B.

“I thought about a lot of the conversations that I’ve had with my friends and bandmates [on the road],” says Illyas. “When people travel, their guard is down.” Most of the nine episodes that have already been shot begin with an introduction to the guest and the end point to which they’re “traveling.” The destination has some significance for the guest, and opens a door for some personal chit-chat, before the guitars come out and the singing begins. Guests whose programs have already been recorded include Doyle, Joel Plaskett, Ria Mae, and Dave Carroll (a natural choice, with his airline revenge hit, “United Breaks Guitars”).

“I thought about a lot of the conversations that I’ve had with my friends and bandmates [on the road]. When people travel, their guard is down.”

The link between recording and flying is not such a great stretch for a self-proclaimed computer nerd. Illyas had aspired to aeronautical engineering since childhood, but his capacity for making music pushed that dream aside. After winning a Grade 12 talent contest by performing a self-penned song with a band of friends, his drummer’s father (a doctor and recording studio hobbyist) encouraged him to continue in music. And he remembered something he’d read. “A long time ago a Popular Science article rated the top ten jobs that required technical knowledge,” he says. “Number one was airline pilot, and number two was recording engineer. It became a thing for me to think about them together.”  Illyas admits that the aviation motif even turns up repeatedly in his own music, including his most recent release, the single “Your Love,” a duet with future Live on the Flight Deck guest Rose Cousins.

Along with the Tassie-Newfie parallel, Illyas has learned a lot of colourful trivia about some of his guests. Ria Mae confesses that she’s fine with flying and landing, but take-offs freak her out. Amelia Curran confirms that, yes, her parents named her after the aviatrix Amelia Earhart. You don’t have to guess what Dave Carroll had to talk about.

Illyas recently returned from a trip to Barbados, where he visited one of the few remaining Concorde aircraft for an upcoming Live on the Flight Deck episode. Once on board he immediately observed a startling sight: “I noticed that there were the same switches as on an old Beatles [era] recording console,” he says. “The connections are there between the electronics on a cockpit and on an old mixing board. The connection always made sense to me.”

Some say love lasts for three years. Beyond that, you either make it or break it, apparently. Should this hypothesis be applied to the Kenekt Québec Song Camps, we can conclude that the third edition predicts a very fruitful, long-term relationship.

From April 29 to May 4, 2018, at Rabaska Lodge – a charming resort located on the banks of the majestic Baskatong Lake, in the Laurentians, four hours north of Montréal – seventeen SOCAN songwriters and producers participated in SOCAN A&R Representative Widney Bonfils’ well-planned event. Designed to stimulate their inspiration, interaction, and creativity, the third annual Kenekt Québec aimed to force the music creators out of their comfort zones, while also giving them the space and freedom to create great songs in teams each day.

Based on a theme revealed daily (pictures, countries, sensations, sounds), the 17 creators – who were divided into five new and different teams each day – had to write and produce a song to present during the nightly listening sessions. “We wanted to make sure they all started each session on equal footing,” said Bonfils, “and also avoid them wasting hours agreeing on a subject. The themes helped them focus their creativity, but they also provoked something essential: the exchange of ideas. They had to begin each session by talking about the feelings and sensations that these themes provoked in them. That led them to quickly bond, and allowed them to be more productive – and as happy as can be.”

The 2018 Kenekt Québec camp allowed for highly stimulating experiments, unexpected collaborations, and moments of pure creative bliss that have left permanent memories in the minds of each and every member of the group, as accounts gathered in the wake of the event confirm.

KARIM OUELLET: “I got to the camp in the middle of the writing process for a new album, and I was a little apprehensive. That dissipated immediately, on day one, as I met people and found we were quite on the same page. Those few days of creating music are forever etched in my memory. Nothing but good times!”

ARIANE BRUNET: “One of the most amazing experiences in my career, if not the most amazing. I had no expectations, and I was blown away by everyone’s talent, rigour, and above all else, their openness and heart. By allowing us to blur the lines between styles and genres, and by taking us out of our comfort zones, we discovered ourselves. I discovered new skills and delights in unexpected ways. That’s part of what makes this experience so rewarding.”

JÉRÔME COUTURE: “What Widney, the SOCAN team, and everyone else have given me is immense. You’ve allowed me to re-connect with the naiveté of a young man passionate about music. You’ve allowed me to play music with you. No biases, no limits, no labels. And for that, I thank you. This camp was the most amazing gift in the world, because I was able to create without the pressure to perform and without the infamous record label deadline. I was able to just have a blast ,and participate on several songs. I was finally able to do what I do every day since I turned eight. It was like a dream come true!”

INGRID ST-PIERRE: “From one team to the next, our universes met, and we explored each other’s creative territories and landscapes. We inhabited them and felt comfortable. We all met at the edge of those universes, and built songs shaped like houses. I learned to know myself even more on an artistic level. I also learned that I’m able to go anywhere, and that the only barriers that exist are in me, like my self-confidence, which too often frays. On a human level, I leaned even more.”


Karim Ouellet
Stephanie Boulay
Ariane Brunet
Jerome Couture
Ingrid St-Pierre
Benny Adam

Peter Henry-Phillips
Guillaume Guilbault
Connor Siedel
Neo Maestro

Dare to Care Records
4 de trèfle Productions
Coyote Records
Silence d’or
Éditions labe.. L-A be Inc
31 East inc.
Universal Publishing
Éditions Bloc-Notes
Germaine Management
Costume Records
Sony Music Canada

NEO MAESTRO: “I wish to thank SOCAN for this amazing experience. Being far away from the rest of the world, and surrounded by such talented people, helped me grow as a person and as an artist. We all came from different scenes and cultures, and that led to songs we will remember our whole life. Part of me is still at Rabaska. Thank you for everything.”

GUILLAUME GUILBAULT: “Besides allowing me to meet people I really wanted to meet, the Kenekt Camp also allowed me to collaborate with artists I would likely not have had a chance to meet in my usual circles. We created an unlikely, yet incredibly rewarding family. I will keep essential lessons from Kenekt on a human and professional level. I can honestly say that the Kenekt camp changed my career path for the better.”

RYMZ: “I love getting leaving big-city-stress behind and working on music from morning till night. I also appreciated the fact that everyone at the camp was a seasoned professional.”

KORALY: “The Kenekt camp was a life-changing experience and I will never forget it. Before the camp, I was stressed by the idea of being with people By the end, I was crying, because we were all going our separate ways. Being surrounded by people who are just as passionate about music as I am, and creating songs together, truly is a gift. I grew, I opened my heart, I tried new musical styles, I found a new family and I found myself anew as an artist. Widney was the genius who gathered us and made us shine like stars. Thank you SOCAN for this unique and marvellous experience.”

SAMITO: “Something beyond music happened at Kenekt Québec Song Camp. And, while I still can’t fully understand what that thing is, I know for sure that a paradigm was broken and that’s f***in’ exciting! Thank you SOCAN, thank you Widney! You rock!!!”

CONNOR SEIDEL: “Kenekt was an amazing opportunity to let go of all inhibitions and create things I normally wouldn’t. I found myself jelling with artists and other writers completely out of my musical comfort zone, and really loving what we were writing. There was a deep emotional connection between all of us, and it translated into the music we wrote. Not only creatively rewarding, it was a great chance to create music that’s being released and pushed out to the world. I feel like I levelled up by surrounding myself with such amazing talent at Kenekt.”

As for Stéphanie Boulay – who even rapped in English on one of the songs created during that week – she even wrote a song as soon as she got home, and dedicated it to, and shared with, her camp colleagues and new friends. Once more, this was clearly a formidable creative and human experience.

“We were strangers when we arrived there, but we left as friends,” said Widney Bonfils, for whom it was the first Kenekt Camp experience as its organizer. “It was magnificent to see 17 people from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds work together, find common interests, and realize that our music is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-genre. But above all, to realize that pearls are born out of our differences. Personally, I was touched by the open-mindedness and risk-taking of our participants. They stepped out of their comfort zones, and the result is impressive. Not only have we surpassed the expected number of songs produced – 27 instead of 20 – but we had the privilege of witnessing unexpected, yet very musically convincing collaborations. Everyone retained their own identity, and you can hear that on every one of the songs.”

Stay tuned in the coming months, as some of the songs created at the Kenekt Québec Camp could very well make their way to your ears!

See the Kenekt Québec 2018 photo album here.