Here’s the latest edition in our series about songwriting collaborators. In this edition, we present one of the most efficient songwriting duos in the Québec pop music scene of at least the past five years, the partnership between songwriter Karim Ouellet and his sidekick, musician and producer Claude Bégin.

Karim OuelletAlways on time, like a Swiss train, Karim Ouellet already awaits us at the café where we’ve agreed to meet for our interview. But where’s Claude? On the road somewhere between his base of Québec City and Montréal. “Claude’s Claude…,” says Ouellet with a knowing grin. “I have doubles for the keys to his studio, so that when we’re supposed to work in the studio and he’s late, I can at least get in and start working on my own.”

OK, so the notion of being on time is widely divergent between those two creative minds, but when it’s time to get busy, Bégin and Ouellet operate as one. All three of the Ouellet’s albums – Plume (2011), Fox (2012) and the brand new Trente – were carefully crafted with the help of Bégin, who also recently launched his own solo career with a debut album, Les Magiciens.

In just five years, thanks to Karim Ouellet’s commercial and critical success, the creative duo has adderted itself as a dominant and rejuvenating force on Québec’s pop scene. Ouellet’s albums, just as Bégin’s album, have a distinctive, fresh and undeniably modern sound; bouncy pop music, with lush electronic colours that hint at their hip-hop upbringing. Karim was a fan of Accrophone, a hip-hop duo of which Bégin was half in the mid-aughts. Their first collaborations hearken back to Movèzerbe’s album Dendrophile (2009), a hip-hop/funk/world collective that also included Boogat and Alaclair Ensemble’s KenLo, also brilliant representatives of Québec City’s music scene.

“Movèzerbe was the first time we worked together on a common project that we really cared about,” explains Ouellet. “I’d worked on some of his songs before, and he’d helped with my first EP. I met Claude in 2005 or 2006 through common friends. Our friendship grew organically.”

“Our sound relies entirely on our method of building hip-hop rhythms and slapping songs written with a guitar on top of them.” — Karim Ouellet

The duo’s methodology is apparent in between the notes of Ouellet’s albums. “Claude has a unique style,” says Ouellet. “He can do many things, but they always have a tinge of hip-hop. It’s all in his technique for building rap beats, using loops, and very distinctive sounds, with layers of sonic elements. He’s been a beatmaker for a long time, and I’ve done my fair share, too. And that – doing rap music – is how we learned the tricks of the trade. His sound, our sound, relies entirely on our method of building hip-hop rhythms and slapping songs written with a guitar on top of them.”

Calude BéginTheir four-handed creative process was more apparent on Ouellet’s first two albums, while for the latest, Trente, “I worked in solo,” he says. “Claude is much more the arranger and producer than a co-creator.”

Dishevelled, with his long-haired mane in disarray, Bégin finally arrives at the café after trying to find parking in the construction cone-littered downtown area for awhile. He’s got a long day ahead of him; after our interview, he’s off to the Quartier des Spectacles to rehearse for the opening concert of the FrancoFolies, which will feature, among others, Alaclair Ensemble, a group of which he’s part.

“Karim is the guy I’m most used to making music with,” says Bégin. “The Alaclair guys have a group mentality, everyone pitches in, everyone comes up with ideas, a beat, a verse; we meet up in my studio and sometimes, I don’t even need to touch anything. With Karim, it’s a give-and-take situation: he comes with his song, his idea, and we know what we need to do, how to get to the final result. His type of tunes, of ideas, with my type of production and arrangements, it just works.

“What defines my style? First, I’d say my vocal harmonies, and then my arrangements. I add layer upon layer of sound elements to my productions, sometimes too many. It’s something I’ve been faulted with. It’s my style, but I’ve been trying to tone it down… Then it’s rap, rhythm programming, I’ve become quite proficient at that. I had a drum set-up in my studio, but I took it down because I barely ever used it anymore. We do pop, but with a big beat, and the tension of rap. Radio seems to dig it, anyways, it seems to be a trend in pop music.’

Karim Ouellet will play Montréal Métropolis on June 17, during the FrancoFolies, and following his concert he’ll spin a DJ set at the Métropolis’ Shag. Claude Bégin will open for him that night. Here’s a tip: check out the outdoor Rednext Level concert, the day before at 11 p.m.: there’s a very good chance you’ll catch Ouellet and Bégin onstage then, too!

It’s done! On June 15, 2016, Alexandre Désilets launched his fourth album during the FrancoFolies de Montréal at the Gesù. The ambitious orchestral project, Windigo, marks the end of a cycle for the singer-songwriter. The 12-track album includes two new songs and 10 re-visited ones. “When I listened to the original demos, I got the feeling that for some songs, I didn’t go to the end of that trip,” says Désilets. “I felt like they were unfinished. It’s not because you burned a song onto a CD that it’s finished. It’s just like a painter who, many years later, decided to add an element to one of his paintings.”

The result, recorded last March at Radio-Canada’s Studio 12 with 17 musicians, including Olivier Langevin, Robbie Kuster and François Richard (piano, organ, arrangements, co-producer), is simply magnificent. Much care was given to the treatment of his voice, which is never drowned out by the orchestra. “The modus operandi was that the voice and lyrics would take centre stage,” says Désilets. “I’d never given so much care to that aspect before; these recordings are, hands down, the best takes of my life. I trained, visited my vocal coach, and didn’t compromise. During the recording, I felt enveloped by the orchestra. At no point do the instruments take over the voice. We used my voice as an instrument, as a matter of fact, creating a wall of sound that makes it all the way to you.”

“Being too obvious with your lyrics when you do pop is like adding sugar to sugary cereals.”

“Tout est perdu,” the last song on Fancy Ghetto, his last album, is now the second one on the new album – and it sends shivers down the spine, truly a gem of a bittersweet song. The impressionist lyrics are a mirror of the narrator’s inner torment; there’s nothing frivolous about Alexandre Désilets.

“At first glance, one could think it’s a love song, but when you dig deeper, you find it’s something else,” he says. “Being too obvious with your lyrics when you do pop is like adding sugar to sugary cereals. When I write with Mathieu Leclerc, I’ve already been living with the music for a few months. We create a universe; the songs are like chapters in a story. Then, I find myself with themes that are in tune with the raw emotion emanating from the music. Writing, for me, is often somewhat of a shock.”

Alexandre Désilets So where does the title Windigo come from? “It’s an archetype that was able to tie together all those songs from different albums together,” says Désilets. “According to the Native legend, the Windigo is a hungry, slightly cannibalistic beast that haunts the forest and eats flesh. In this case, it’s like the forest has been removed but the beast remains. All my characters have one thing in common: they wander aimlessly in the city. They are hungry and thirsty for something, an insatiable desire. It’s a metaphor for our fast-paced, ever-unsatisfied society. It is never sated, and it doesn’t create its own love or its own warmth. It takes and takes and doesn’t really give anything back.”

On “On sème,” one of the two new songs on this album, Désilets deftly plays with the word’s phonetics. One hears “on s’aime” (we love each other), but it’s really “on sème” (we sow), meaning sowing hate. “We forge ahead with such lack of concern for what Mother Nature has offered us,” says Désilets. “We split the atom to go to war, with not a single thought about the consequences, as if we were the only ones on Earth. We sow hate, and hate is what we reap.”

On the day of our interview, he’s wearing a t-shirt with a starry night motif. Now 41, he’s about to become a father, and has just launched an album that brings beauty to our often ugly world. He sings:

Je crois en la beauté, mais elle n’est plus la même
Elle ne s’est pas montrée, et ça, depuis des années
Longtemps j’ai laissé tourner la vie
Comme un vieux disque
Mais j’ai faussé sur l’hymne à la joie

(Loosely translated:)
I believe in beauty, but it’s not what it used to be
No one has seen her for many, many years
For a long time I let my life go round
Like an old record
But I sang out of tune on the Hymn to Joy

Is the creator of “Hymne à la joie” pessimistic? “When I write, it’s the melancholy side of me that expresses itself,” he says, “but I do believe in our capacity to get ourselves out of our predicament. I’m into alternative forms of energy. Thanks to new means of communication, scientists can now instantly share key data. There are solar panels, water-powered engines… I have a lot of hope for the next generations.”

Riding a wave of incredibly positive buzz, singer-songwriter Amélie Beyries ­– BEYRIES to the public – will release her first album in early 2017.

So why talk about it now? Because the self-taught musician will begin a tour in the coming days during which she’ll be able to fine-tune the fine tunes that will appear on that first album. Thus, BEYRIES is heading out West for a string of 10 to 15 small- and mid-sized concerts.

But other than that, why tour now? “Playing and sharing music, meeting new people and getting in touch with oneself through a healthy dose of nature and travelling,” says the young artist. “I’ve wanted to cross Canada for a long time. When we signed with Bonsound, earlier this year, we set up a schedule of what was coming until the album launch, and I realized I really needed stage experience. So crossing Canada seemed like a good way to get it. I also realized I had a lot of accumulated fatigue, and that now was the ideal time to embark on a long trip and take care of myself. It became an ideal project.”

In light of the vast amount of attention she got from the Québec media following the release of her first video, “Soldier,” in early June of 2016, it’s not surprising to see well-established names from the industry reaching out to help her burgeoning career as a songwriter. Such was the case of multi-instrumentalist, arranger, songwriter and jack-of-all-trades Alex McMahon – who offered to produce her album.

“I can honestly say that it’s because of him that there’s an album project underway,” says Beyries. “I wasn’t in top shape when we recorded my EP last summer. I was exhausted and lacked self-confidence, but he supported me and spurred me on. I’m so grateful. He’s got an uncanny talent for making songs shine. We really enjoy working together. I was also privileged to be able to work with my childhood friend Guillaume Chartrain (bass, mix) because he had just started working on other projects with Alex. I was really happy to see him in the studio; it meant a lot to me. Guillaume and I grew up together, he was my first friend. Alex offered to also work with Joseph Marchand (guitars). One could hardly have a better team,” says the singer, adding that she also got the chance to collaborate with Louis-Jean Cormier on the only French song on the album.

“When we finished the EP, we sent it to a few industry people and my songs made to Louis-Jean Cormier’s ears,” she says. “He liked the music and we offered him a new song to record, one I’d written with Maxime Le Flaguais, who wrote the lyrics. Louis-Jean agreed to produce and sing with me. I’m really touched that he accepted doing so; I really admire his talent. That song was my first team collaboration, and the only one in French. It moves me every time I hear it.”

For BEYRIES, this is one of many concrete examples that music can sometimes surprise the unsuspecting. She concludes, visibly happy to have been wrong about the following: “Making music my trade was never an option for me. It has always been something personal that I didn’t share much with the people around me. I chose a more conventional career. That’s what seemed the best decision for me in my early twenties.”