Montréal band Barry Paquin Roberge combines kitsch and musical precision on his sophomore album Exordium to Extasy, which comes at the same time as spring, to break the prevailing gloom of the (hopefully!) last gasps of the second wave.

It’s already been a year since the pandemic started undermining our lives, but the group manages to make us forget about this saddest of milestones – thanks to their 4/4 beats and guitar work of which Prince wouldn’t have been ashamed. Never before have we needed their disco-tinged glam rock as much as we do now.

At least, that’s what Étienne Barry has heard in the vast majority of the feedback he’s received since the release of the  band’s turbo-charged new offering, that has nearly therapeutic properties. “Let’s just say it’s really like a ray of sunshine that breaks through the clouds at the end of February. when people are sick and tired of having nothing to do because of this somewhat ridiculous curfew,” says Barry. “We can’t get together, can’t go out at night, but now, at least you can dance in your living room and go crazy. I really think this is the perfect music for that.”

Initially made up of three guys, the band doubled its lineup, as well as its impact, for this collection of 10 fresh recordings. The opener, “BPR Strut (Join Us and You’ll Be Fine),” sets the tone: welcoming and unifying, it’s your invitation to a party overshadowed by an apocalyptic menace; a funky anthem that makes you feel the urgency of shaking your money-maker. After all, if the world is about to end, might as well take advantage of it while we still can.

“We’re fans of the disco era, but we also really dig anything on the absurd spectrum of things” says Barry. “We enjoy making fun of ourselves. In the end, Barry Paquin Roberge are 40-year-old guys who wear their aunts’ clothes!”

Guys? Sure, but not just guys. Anna Frances Meyer, one half of Les Deuxluxes, is one of the new recruits. She plays flute on a few songs, most notably “Eyes on You,” and her utterly distinctive voice stands out – even when she’s singing in unison with the rest of the band. No matter what project she’s involved in, she’s always recognizable.

The newly minted sextet also includes Sébastien Paquin, boss of the band’s record label, Costume Records. As one of the original three, he not only plays guitar and bass for BPR; he also plays the networking game to get the project moving forward. “It’s still a small operation,” says Barry. “They’ve only recently grown into a four-person team. They’re true artisans of the cultural scene. But in the end, it’s a winning strategy because we have a lot more freedom.”

Marketing a nu-disco album, produced by established rockers, with members of Les Deuxluxes and Les Breastfeeders to boot, can be quite a challenge. So, Mr. Barry, what’s your marketing strategy? “It’s clear that rock is not as hot right now,” he says. “Barry Paquin Roberge is just dance music. It’s just pop music, something catchy that people can enjoy unpretentiously. It reaches a broader audience, I think. I think everyone loves Donna Summer. When you hear her on the radio, it’s impossible not to tap your feet. That’s what we’re counting on.”

Filled with irony and prone to bouts of delirium, Barry Paquin Roberge’s work as a whole is to be taken on a second level. “Some people don’t seem to get that second degree, and they’re offended when they see musicians having fun,” says Barry. “We see it in some of the criticisms thrown at us. But for us, ultimately, all we’re doing is making fun of pop’s conventions. We’re poking fun at disco and glam, but we do it in the spirit of fun. We try to stay true to that era; it’s a truly deep vintage trip.”

You try to hold me down so I became a soldier/ Built up all these walls and now I’m climbing over… Oh Lord! but I ain’t going back.

These intense lyrics from Québec singer-songwriter Jonathan Roy, in “Keeping Me Alive” — whose live acoustic video has earned more than 49 million views since it was released in September of 2019 — “fired me up,” he says of giving music another go.

“I think that’s what it’s doing for people,” says Roy. “There’s a lot of people writing me, people that are being abused, or have mental illness,  and it’s like an anthem. And that’s what it did to me when I wrote it. It picked me up off my ass and said,  ‘You know what, Joe, you’re going to do this for the rest of your life, so stop whining. You’re going to have hard days, just get through them and keep doing what you love.’”

The song – co-written with Brian Howes (Hedley, Hinder, Mother Mother) and Jason Van Poederooyen (Boys Like Girls, Hinder, Hedley) – shows an honesty, self-reflection, and vulnerability that some people wouldn’t be comfortable exposing. The kicker is in the resilient motivational words, Your fueling of the flames gonna show you what I’m made of.

The son of Patrick Roy, the legendary goalie of the Montréal Canadiens, Jonathan hasn’t had an easy climb in the recording industry. He started as a professional musician after he decided not to continue a career path on the ice with the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts, where he played in 2008-09. But his first love was always music. In his teens, he started putting his poetry to song, and released three albums independently — 2009’s What I’ve Become, 2010’s Found My Way, and the Francophone La Route in 2011 — before his dad introduced him to Corey Hart in 2012.

The “Sunglasses at Night” hit-maker took the younger Roy under his wing,  signing him to his Sienna record label, distributed by Warner Music Canada, and writing many of the songs. Among them were 2015’s peppy pop single, “Daniella Denmark,” and  2016’s reggae-lilting “You’re My Ace,” both found on Roy’s 2017 album Mr. Optimist Blues – but none bore the intensity, rawness, and soul that would come.

“Things with Corey and Warner were going not so well,” says Roy. “We weren’t on the same page. I wanted to go on a different route, musically. I’m someone that writes pop melodies and lyrics, but I’ve always felt like my voice and my true essence as an artist has always been more alternative, so that kind of scared a lot of people.

“Almost four years ago now, I bought a van, sold everything, and traveled. I just needed to take in some fresh air, so I was hiking, rock climbing, scuba diving,  just nature stuff, and getting away from the music. I was fuckin’ lost, completely lost. I went out to Arizona, Utah, L.A.  I was camping on the PCH [Pacific Coast Highway] in L.A. and met up with Brian Howes. Warner were the ones to connect us together.  Got in the studio, and ‘Keeping Me Alive’ was the first song we wrote.”

“I wanted to write a song about all these things that were holding me back”

Howes was in Malibu at the time, but is now back on Vancouver Island, where he and Roy continue to collaborate. “He connected with my story. He understood what I was going through,” says Roy. “He was also in bands and knows the business, knows how hard it is, knows how confusing it can get.”

The first line that came? “I think it was, ‘He tried to hold me down.’ That hit home right away,” remembers Roy. “I was writing about all the things that I felt held me back, from my dad telling me that I wasn’t going to succeed in music, that I should’ve focused on education, to me wanting to release more music and Warner not being happy with everything, or controlling what they wanted for me out of my music, or what Corey wanted. I wanted to write a song about all these things that were, in my mind, holding me back.

“The first few lines came out, and then the chorus was the big defining moment, ‘Breaking every chain that you put on me.’ It was getting control of my art and control of who I am. That process has been going on for a while now. And it’s still gonna go on. As I grow older,  I feel I’m more on my ‘X.’ And that’s probably because I’m in full control of what I’m doing.”

They recorded an alternative rock/pop version (it reached No. 1 in Quebec on Le Palmarès Radio Top 100), but Roy had this idea for a live acoustic version. It was made into a video – directed by Samuel Gauthier, starring dancer Jean Yannick Tangara and including the backing vocals of powerhouse Kim Richardson — but Roy never guessed it would connect with tens of millions the way it has.

“I remember we struggled to get to 10,000 [views],” says Roy. “It just started to get on people’s radar. The quality of the video is beautiful. I think people connected with it.  It’s just the combination of everything: good timing, a good song, good lyrics.”

Roy is back in Québec, working on new material, and just released an equally powerful song and video, “Lost.” He’ll be working with Howes again soon, with an EP due to drop in May of 2021.

King Imoh describes his music as Afro-fusion, a mix of the traditional Nigerian music he grew up listening to in Lagos, and the R&B, hip-hop, and Southern rap he later discovered as a teenager.

“My music blends these influences in a way where a Nigerian could listen to it and think, ‘That sounds like afrobeat,’ but a Canadian would think, ‘That’s R&B,’” says Imoh. “They both can claim it, and that’s the ideal blend I want to achieve.”

Imoh moved to Canada in 2008, after high school, and studied business administration at Trent University in Peterborough, ON. He got his start in music as a promoter, organizing shows and events, and then as a producer, working with other artists. Imoh always considered himself a “behind the scenes, connecting the dots” kind of guy, but once he gained experience as a producer and beat- maker, he became more confident as a songwriter.

Late last year he released his debut EP, Now or Never, which he mostly wrote and recorded during the pandemic. The standout single “You Said,” is an ambient, R&B slow-jam, featuring Imoh’s friend Cubah.

“All of her verses were freestyled, and done in one take. I played the beat and she just felt the vibe,” says Imoh. “It was one of the last songs I finished, and it ties together the album.” On another single “One Plus One,” a hypnotizing, syncopated beat offsets the vocals of artists HK, Shafluss, Ighost, and Mista Dre.

This year, Imoh plans to release a documentary that shows how the EP came together, and spotlights the artists he worked with. He also plans to network with other artists in the GTA, having just moved to Toronto from Calgary in January of 2021.

“I don’t know what I’ll do next,” says Imoh. “I might be finding the next artist I can work with, writing, or producing. But I’m loving the process.”