This is the first in a series of stories about the creative meeting of a writer and a composer. This month’s “Better Together” features Marie-Pierre Arthur and Gaële.

Name any of them, whether it’s the heady “Pourquoi,” which launched Marie-Pierre Arthur on the radio in 2010, or “Droit devant,” also taken from her first eponymous album; “Fil de soie,” the Beatlesque “All Right” and the ecstatic “Emmène-moi,” from her album Aux Alentours (2012); all the way to more recent radio singles such as “Rien à faire” and “Papillons de nuit” from her latest Si l”aurore; all these songs were co-written by Marie-Pierre Arthur and Gaële – along with collaboration from other musicians such as keyboardist François Lafontaine, because credit needs to be given where credit is due…

“I was at the end of my rope. I had music, melodies, but nothing was working, it made me cry, I just couldn’t do it. I told my friend about it…” – Marie-Pierre Arthur

It’s undeniable that Gaële and Marie-Pierre Arthur are one of the most fruitful songwriting duos of recent years. Nothing, however, foreshadowed this professional relationship, one that began with what can only be described as friendship at first sight.

Gaële and Arthur met on a bus taking them from Montréal to Gaspésie. They’d met before, but they didn’t “click.” “I saw her sitting in the bus and in my mind, I was like ‘Oh! I know her, now I’ll have to talk to her,’” remembers Arthur.

Right from the get-go, she said: “‘I’m not going to talk to you for the whole trip.’ I was quite rude,” says Arthur, while looking at Gaële, who jumps in, smiling: “That’s one way of putting it!” And yet, that’s what they did: They talked non-stop for the whole 14 hours of their trip. And during the whole week after that, at the Festival en chanson de Petite-Vallée, where Arthur is from.

“We laughed a lot,” recalls Gaële. Born in the French Alps, Gaële had just completed her studies in jazz and pop singing at UQAM and hadn’t visited Québec much during her school years, which she deeply regretted just as she was about to go back to France. That little trip to Gaspésie completely changed her plans. “It was a fateful meeting,” she says.

MariePierreArthur_Gaele_ByLePigeon_InBody_1So a great friendship bloomed over many years before the professional relationship developed. Gaële went back to Petite-Vallée to defend her own songs as a singer-songwriter, while Arthur was not at all attracted to the trade. “Not at all,” she says. “In my mind, I was a bass player. I sometimes sang, I loved it, but I didn’t have any kind of solo project in mind.”

But that didn’t prevent her from collecting rough drafts of songs that she couldn’t seem to bring to completion. “I was at the end of my rope,” she admits. “I had music, melodies, but nothing was working. It made me cry, I just couldn’t do it. I told my friend about it…”

Adds Gaële. “I could tell that there was something going on, artistically. I thought something could be done with that voice. She ‘spoke’ Gaspésien, and her music – the rhythms and phrasings – was more Anglophone, if there is such a thing. She wanted to sing in a more ‘international’ French. She needed to find the appropriate language.”

“And anecdotal lyrics were out of the question!” chimes in Arthur. And on those grounds, their collaboration was built. Marie-Pierre’s music and Gaële’s words – “not too many words,” says Gaële, “not too many consonants, so it flows naturally, like her voice.

Rumour has it that a synth for sale on Kijiji is the genesis of Le Couleur. Singer Laurence Giroux-Do confirms: “We were at the guy’s place who was selling it, and all three of us flipped out on the sounds coming from the instrument. We decided to draw at random to find out who would get to keep it. Steeven (Chouinard, drums) and I are a couple, so we figured we had the best chances, but as it turned out, we lost. We exchanged phone numbers with Patrick (Gosselin, guitars and keyboards) and ended up going for drinks… And that’s how Le Couleur came to be.”  

“It’s more natural for us to play in Berlin than in Chicoutimi.” – Laurence Giroux-Do of Le Couleur

It was during a brief stint as the keyboard player for the band Plaza Musique that Giroux-Do – classically trained on the piano at renowned music school Vincent-d’Indy – had her first taste of pop music. “In the beginning, I was thinking ‘If this is what making pop music is all about, it’s definitely not for me,’” she says. “But the more we rehearsed, the more I played and got acquainted with the genre, I started liking it, to the point where I wanted to start my own project. For different reasons, I ended up leaving Plaza, and that’s when I saw the ad for that synth on the internet.”

Last February, Le Couleur launched their first, slightly kitschy yet suavely titled EP, Dolce Désir. One of its songs, “Club Italien,” was inspired by the cafés in Little Italy where men spend their days talking, sipping espressos and watching soccer on TV. “I’d love to know what these guys are talking about,” says Giroux-Do. Out of the five songs on the EP, only “Club Italien” and “Autovariation #64” are new material. The other tracks were either re-visited, inspired by their re-mixes, or by their live show’s evolution. The contrast between the slick and ethereal album versions and the very Disco-tinged live versions is indeed quite marked.

“We’re completely smitten by the live approach of Norwegian producer Todd Terje,” says Giroux-Do. “His live sets are completely insane! Steeven studied drums and pop music at UQAM. On stage, he plays really loud and it propels our songs. The tempo gradually accelerates and although we navigate through various atmospheres, one thing remains constant: driving bass. It’s a recipe that works well for us and it’s that type of show we’re going to deliver during the FrancoFolies on June 18.”

Crossing Boundaries

Le Couleur’s electro-disco-pop fare is easily exportable anywhere in the world, and it’s the Lisbon Lux imprint that had the wherewithal to bet on its success. Giroux-Do’s airy voice recalls those of Charlotte Gainsbourg and Mylène Farmer, while the trio’s sound adds the French Touch to Scandinavian Nu Disco or the sexy pop of Montréal’s Chromeo. The band just returned from a few dates in France. The label is working several key markets – such as Francophone areas of Europe, in addition to Germany and Austria, major American urban areas and even parts of Asia – and it’s starting to pay off. “We’re doing great in Europe, and most of our influences are from there,” says Giroux-Do. “It’s more natural for us to play in Berlin than in Chicoutimi. The way things happened for Peter Peter is an inspiration for us; we’d love to follow in his footsteps and go to France for three or four months in order to build a solid base from which to move forward.”

This type of outside-the-box thinking is also noticeable in the way Le Couleur release their music. They prefer releasing EPs, a logical move in a market where album sales are declining new music is constantly pouring forth. The band also does re-mixes for others, and doesn’t shy away from vinyl. This D.I.Y. and polymorphic approach is perfectly adapted to the current multi-format environment, and certainly not a hindrance for the band. “It allows us to go with the flow and follow our whims,” says Groux-Do. “Our label doesn’t try to make us fit in any kind of industry-related mold. We do music, and that’s it.”

Fille ou garçon, on se pose la question / Une robe ou un pantalon” (“Girl or boy, we wonder / Dress or pants”), sings Laurence in “Télé-Jeans.” This playful transgression also refers to gender issues. “In French, words have genders,” says Giroux-Do. “I felt like playing around with it, to see how one could play with that rule and sidestep it – hence the name of our band. Plus, on a lighter note, I think it’s really sexy when Anglos say ‘Le couleur’!”

Le Couleur and Les Marinellis
Showcasing during the Rendez-vous Pros des Francos
A SOCAN presentation
June 18, 5 p.m., Pub Rickard’s, Montréal

Every project that film and television composers Amin Bhatia and Ari Posner take on presents an opportunity for them to learn from each other, and face new challenges that add to the set of tools the pair bring to their work, both collectively and individually.

“I love that, even after 15 years, we’re constantly trying to better ourselves and trying to surprise each other,” says Bhatia. “It’s very healthy to have a longtime partner you trust come up with things that challenge you. In fact, the best compliment we give to the other when we hear a piece of music,” he continues, as Posner laughs in the background, clearly knowing what’s coming: “The best compliment is, ‘I hate you.’ When one of us is working on something we’ll send it to the other and say, ‘Do you hate me?’ And they’ll respond by saying, ‘Congratulations. I hate you.’”

“I love that, even after 15 years, we’re constantly trying to better ourselves and trying to surprise each other.” – Amin Bhatia

Their latest project, the CBC Television series X Company, is no exception. The series follows a fictional group of operatives trained in a true-to-life, Ontario-based facility, Camp X, who undertake missions in Europe to undermine the Nazis during World War Two. While both Posner and Bhatia are familiar with broader details of the war, neither knew much about the existence of the Canadian training camp previously. “That aspect of it was really cool,” Bhatia says, “and when [the series creators] asked us to keep our schedules clear, we were like, ‘Yes, we’ll see what we can do.’ But we were jumping up and down with joy.”

X Company was created by Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern, the same team that produced the internationally successful TV series Flashpoint , which Bhatia and Posner also scored, and for which they’re best known and celebrated. The duo received three SOCAN Film & TV Awards during its five-year run, as well as a Canadian Screen Award for Best Music in a Series. But they started collaborating frequently long before that, since meeting in 1999, on a variety of projects – including Disney’s animated series Get Ed, for which they share an Emmy nomination.

Over time, they’ve also worked on a wide array of projects individually. Posner’s credits include films like All the Wrong Reasons and My Awkward Sexual Adventure and television series such as 24 Hour Rental. And Bhatia’s credits range from albums like his 1987 debut, The Interstellar Suite and its follow up, Virtuality (2008), to features like John Woo’s Once a Thief and Iron Eagle II, and series including Kung Fu and Queer as Folk, among many others.

While the pair have no formal business arrangement, Bhatia says, “Now and then something comes along we both feel would be great to team up on, and we’re always thrilled to have an opportunity to work together.”

Given their existing relationship with Ellis and Morgenstern, X Company was a perfect opportunity to do so. “Mark and Stephanie said, ‘We couldn’t imagine doing this without you guys,” Posner says, but adds that it was essential to prove to everyone involved that X Company’s score would differ substantially from their work on Flashpoint. There’s always a possibility of being associated with your previous work so closely that potential clients can’t see past it. “But we have to be chameleons as composers, and it was great to have Mark and Stephanie rooting for us.”

Filmed in Hungary and produced by Temple Street Productions for CBC-TV, X Company debuted in February 2015 and will begin filming its second season in July 2015. But even before the series began shooting, Posner and Bhatia started creating music for the project. “That’s a new trend,” Bhatia explains. “It’s a way of helping a show find its signature sound. That’s generally more common in feature films than television.”

Ultimately, the result was a library of ideas and melodies that helped nail down a musical approach and overall sound for the show. “Stephanie and Mark were very articulate in helping us find a direction that worked for everybody,” Bhatia continues. “And with the help of our editors Lisa Grootenboer and Teresa Deluca, and the entire sound edit and mix team at Technicolor Toronto, we came up with musical and sonic ideas that changed how the show was edited and put together.”

Although X Company is a period piece, the score is quite modern, and intentionally so, Posner says. “Right from the get-go, they said, ‘It’s set in World War Two, but it has to feel like now’ – in order to make younger viewers see themselves in the characters. There are times when the score needs to be a bit more traditional to put you in that era, and sometimes we erred on going a little too modern, but that’s really how it found its legs.”

“And, in the end, we created a sound everybody’s happy with,” Bhatia adds.