“There’s nothing but good vibes here,” says Ariane Moffatt, sitting in the middle of a classroom that’s been re-purposed into a recording studio. This is where the demos for her album Petites mains précieuses were created, and also where we meet with the singer-songwriter, who’s armed with a newfound self-assurance, built on fragility.

It was the hasty arrival of her third son Georges that set Moffatt on the creative path of her latest work. “He was born prematurely, there were complications, and that weakened my own health, she explains. “I realized once more that songwriting can be beneficial during hard times. Going outside and feeling like you’re seeing the sun for the first time puts things in perspective.” When the baby was about two months old, the singer felt an urge to write and, in a mere few weeks, she had enough material for a full album. “I should’ve been sitting on my couch breast-feeding, but instead, I set up a playpen in the room and did everything at once. The result is a fragile, yet strong album.”

Her current vulnerability recalls that of her early days, when she took her first steps on the music scene. Most notably, on her debut, Aquanaute, full of songs that didn’t let much light in. “I did obviously think about it, especially when we shot the album cover on my lake. It really was similar to Aquanaute,” she says with a smile. “Francis Collard, who I only worked with on my first album, was back in the picture. He gave me a ton of material, and set up a good-sounding piano so I could work on my demos. Does that mean it’s my last album? I don’t think so, but now I know I’m able to re-visit all the places I’ve been before. It’s a wheel in motion.”

And although she still, as always, finds her essence in various stylistic influences, Moffatt remains confident that her sound is hers alone. “On 22h22, I was in a world of dream pop, while on Le coeur dans la tête, there were more guitars, and more aggression. On this one, it’s disco soul from the ’70s to the ’90s that comes out, but I’ve always wanted to write songs, above all else. It’s organic, close to the heart.”

Whereas some artists are chained to themes, Moffatt is anchored in the honesty of feelings. For nearly 20 years, she’s addressed the mysteries of the human soul through stories that are her own, or someone else’s. “I dig up what we don’t see in people,” she says humbly.

This new album fires on all cylinders. The ’70s are all over “Du souffle pour deux,” which channels the soulful and captivating vibes of Bill Withers and Al Green. “The image I was working with was a disco ball, but hung over my fireplace at the cabin,” Ariane explains. “It’s disco, but it’s comforting.”

“Statue” takes us back to about a year ago, when women gathered to denounce alleged sexual predator Gilbert Rozon. “The statue in the song is that Greek god we throw against a wall, and it shatters,” she says. “It’s about liberation, refusing to accept it, and no longer keep it to oneself. That song is a tribute to woman and her worth, just as ‘Pour toi,’ as a matter of fact.”

All the songs were written on the piano. “I barely play guitar anymore,” says Moffatt. “I have a longtime relationship with the piano, and I strive to avoid repeating myself. On certain songs like ‘Cyborg,’ I recorded the piano and voice tracks, and then I muted the piano so I could forget my bearings and try something new. That’s how I don’t get too comfortable.

“There are zones inside of me that are rooted in moments that had a deep impact on me in my early twenties. They’re imprinted. Even though my life is much more balanced nowadays, I know what angst is,” says Moffatt, asked about the sadder songs on the album, such as “N’attends pas mon sourire.” “That one started with a light spleen, that I amplified into a story.”

The “Petites mains précieuses” (“Precious Little Hands”) are those of her son Henri, a budding poet who would constantly exclaim “Ha, les petites mains précieuses !” every time he saw his little brother Georges. “The album’s namesake hand is not Georges’ hand, which I held through the incubator window, and which I’ll never be able to let go. They’re the hands of others in our self-centred world, where those others are too often virtual. The hands we hold to be linked together.”

“In this era of beats, noises, and images, do we actually listen to the music we hear?” wonders Moffatt. “I hope people will take a step towards this album, and hold the hand I’m extending to them.”

On Sept. 24, 2018, Corus radio station Q107, in Toronto, introduced a familiar name as its new voice. Said Program Director Tammy Cole: “Alan has been telling the story of rock music’s evolution for decades now, and he’s the perfect voice for Q107. We really wanted to bring rock back to ‘The Mighty Q,’ and who better to do it than Canada’s rock music expert?” It’s only slightly ironic that a man who’s become one of Canada’s most recognizable radio voices for introducing new music, will now be the voice of a station dedicated to a classic rock/greatest hits format

Alan Cross has been in the music business for the better part of four decades now, and to say he’s still keeping very busy would be an embarrassing understatement. Starting on radio in his native Manitoba, then arriving at Toronto’s CFNY in 1986, he’s pretty much stayed on the air for the next 32 years. He’s been a DJ, and an award-winning program director. He’s produced (to date) 833 hour-long episodes of The Ongoing History of New Music. He volunteers for several mentoring programs, writes books, artist bios, daily blogs, and weekly reports for his own website (A Journal of Musical Things) and for several Corus radio stations. He regularly posts on Facebook and Instagram, does voice work and audio books, and also gives speaking engagements, and consultations. On occasion, he even gets to watch some TV with his wife.

Cross wears many hats, so an average day is generally jam-packed with hourly, daily, and weekly obligations. Ask him what one looks like, then sit back and marvel:

“I’m in a constant search for something that makes me say, ‘Holy cow, what’s that?’”

“The day begins at 7:30, so I’m in my office or my studio by 7:30,” he says. “I work out of the house almost exclusively. For the first hour-and-a-half, two hours, I go through all my newsletters, and everything that gives me music news and information for the day. Out of those, I create between seven and 10 blog posts, so that’ll take me to about 9:00, 9:30 a.m. Then I write a one-hour daily radio show that I do for The Edge (102.1 in Toronto), that runs from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m., Monday to Friday. Then I [record and edit] the voice track, and send that up the line to be produced. After that, I have some blog posts that I have to do for either Corus Radio or Global News. And then, once I have all that out of the way, I can start on the day’s work.

Cross Purposes: Top Three Tips for Submissions

  • Don’t send me an mp3 or a CD. I’d prefer that you send me a link to a file that I can access, whether it be YouTube, Soundcloud, Spotify, Apple Music, or something else. Don’t send me physical copies. I understand that you’re proud of your physical product, but 75% of the world’s music revenues are coming from streaming now. Let’s do it that way.”
  • “One thing that drives me nuts are the publicists that send these long, flowery bios that say nothing. I haven’t got enough time to read two pages, I haven’t got enough time to translate your evocative views of the world and music. Just tell me who you are, what your influences are, what’s the name of the album, what’s the name of the song, and so on. Get to the point.”
  • “Please pay attention to metadata. I get so much stuff, even from major labels, that when I plug it in to iTunes or whatever, it will come up: Album Unknown. It’s one of my biggest complaints about the way things are right now. With labels that distribute music to radio stations without the metadata, it’s like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

“So, it’s about 10:30a.m., and now I’ve got all my daily stuff sorted away, and I can get started on the week’s work. I’ll research and write Ongoing History material. I’ll do any voice work that comes into my home studio. I’ll take any phone calls regarding any projects that I’m dealing with. And, on occasion, I’ll have to leave the house to have meetings, or be someplace. For example, today I was out of the house for about six hours helping Lowest of the Low prepare an ‘unboxing’ video for their upcoming box set. (They have a box set coming out in November, so what we did was create a promotional video where we open the box and show everybody what’s inside.) Then I’ll have whatever calls I have to make. Then, occasionally, I have a couple of mentor groups that I have to leave the house for. I have cut-ins that I do with other radio stations across the country.

“Sometimes I have to go places, whether it’s a music festival, or a speaking engagement, or something along those lines. So that takes me out of the house, in which case I bring all my broadcasting stuff with me, and I do the radio show in whatever hotel I happen to be in.

“But if I’m doing stuff around home I always go out for lunch because I’ve got to get out of the house. Then I’ll come back and finish whatever work is required for that day and start setting up for the following day. I try to finish between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m..

“After that my wife comes home and we have dinner, then I take the dog out. What I may do while we’re watching TV is pull out the laptop and see if there’s anything that I can use for the following day. That’s pretty much it.

“It’s extremely full. I have this weird sort of Calvinist attitude that if I’m not completely mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the day, well then, I must have been slacking off. There is a certain dopamine rush you get from driving yourself to the breaking point.”

Cross still gets to introduce listeners to new music, both online and on the air. “I get between 50 and 500 unsolicited pitches from publicists and record labels every week,” says Cross. He listens to as much as he can, but also relies on the advice of several volunteers, to whom he sends 50 to 60 of the pitches each week, hoping to get five or six recommendations from each. “I’m in a constant search for something that makes me say, ‘Holy cow, what’s that?’ Every once in a while, something comes along that makes me think this is something I have to investigate, but those moments of discovery and joy are few and far between. And it’s not because I’m not trying, it’s not because I’m a snob. It’s because after 37 years in the business, and another 13, 14 years as a music fan before that, it takes a lot to surprise someone who’s been around for a long time.”

On Working Class Woman, Montréal producer Marie Davidson lets us peek into her diary, while forging on with her bold musical quest, at the musical crossroads of electro, industrial, ambient, Italian disco, and techno.

“So Right,” the album’s first single, released in August, was clearly misleading, with its dance-pop leanings. Written for Bullshit Threshold – an interdisciplinary show she presented in Montréal in 2016 and Barcelona in 2017 – the song allowed the composer to step out of her comfort zone. “I’d never done something so approachable,” says the artist, who many know as one-half of the duo Essaie pas. “Initially, that song was part of the show, as a commentary on club culture and our era. Taken out of context, it was indeed too pop for me. I questioned myself a lot, but I decided to keep it, in the end. The label really liked it.”

With a strong undercurrent of reflections on “nightlife and show business,” her conceptual show became the foundation for the album, itself fed by the artist’s experiences during her latest tour in support of her Adieux au dancefloor record. “I ended up with 14 tracks, but in my eyes there wasn’t an album in there,” says Davidson. “I ended up filtering the songs to keep only the best ones, and built a pacing from them. The key was their order, the narrative. I came up with a story.”

That’s how Working Class Woman became an open book about the thoughts and angst of a singer-songwriter who’s trying to stay focused and keep her hopes up, despite an intense and exhausting workload. “We’re worlds away from the vague, dream-like songs on my previous albums,” says Davidson. “This one is an egotistical album and quite intimate.”

The opener, “Your Biggest Fan,” offers cynical testimony to the pointless encounters and meaningless conversations she encounters every night on tour. Later, in “The Psychologist,” Davidson paints a scathing portrait of the psychotherapy she began several months ago. She gets even more introspective on album closer “La chambre intérieure,” which the artist considers her most personal work to date. “I was at my dad’s in the countryside when I wrote that,” she says. “I was going through a difficult time, with many changes in my life. I was sitting on the edge of a car, near a fence, and I was thinking of my life, of what love is to me,” she recalls, still somewhat in the throes of melancholy. “I didn’t find concrete answers, but I did understand that to love, one needs courage.”

Artists from the world of electronic music are rarely so careful with lyrics. In its glowing review of her third album, Pitchfork claimed Marie Davidson for the “poetronica” movement. It’s a term coined in 2011 by The Guardian to describe We’re New Here, a re-mix album of songs the late, great urban poet Gil Scott-Heron, produced by Jamie XX. But to Davidson, the dichotomy between intimate lyrics and club-ready music has been self-evident from the start. “It really is a natural fusion, and the words often come before the music,” she says. “When I’m on tour, I’m constantly jotting down things on my phone: short sentences, jokes, ideas… They become the source of inspiration for my songs.”

Davidson was notably inspired by the city of Berlin, where she lived from October of 2016 to December of 2017. The German capital’s thriving electronic scene can be clearly felt and heard on her fourth album. “It really is like a clubber’s Disneyland over there,” she says. “If you want to, you can party non-stop from Thursday to Monday without once going to bed. The first time I went there, in 2012, I partied really hard, but that stage of my life is behind me now. I don’t party, now, I throw the party. I’m 31, and I just can’t anymore. Even on an intellectual level, it doesn’t appeal to me as much as it once did. I meditate and do sports, instead, and I’m interested in psychology. It’s a big change in my life.”

In other words, Working Class Woman is a watershed moment in her career and in her life. Davidson is proud of her artistic evolution so far, and will soon begin a European tour that will take her, among other places, to Poland, the U.K., and the Netherlands.

A sure sign of her popularity on the other side of the Atlantic, we won’t see her perform in Québec before February of 2019. But truthfully, she still has limited appeal at home, despite winning the Electronic Music Award at the 2017 SOCAN Awards Gala. Far from being up in arms about it, she nonetheless wonders how that is.

“If I relied solely on Québec to earn a living, I’d still be eating Kraft Dinner!” she says, with a tinge of bitterness. “I have a lot of respect for Montréal’s underground scene. It’s where I’m from, and there are a lot of inspiring and talented bands. But beyond that, it’s like a desert. There’s no place for the type of electronic music we make. Well, there is Mutek, but that happens once a year! I’ve applied eight times for a grant from the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec (CALQ) and I was turned down every time. I still have hope things will change, but until then, I carry on. I’m lucky enough to earn a living with my music, and that’s all that matters.”