“We’re a rock band with an identity crisis.”

That’s how Jimmy Vallance describes Bob Moses, his music project with fellow Vancouverite Tom Howie.  (There is no actual Bob in the group.) It’s true, the duo straddles the line between being electronic producers and a rock band, making icy electronic pop wrapped in warm vocals and shimmering guitars, that plays equally well in the café and the club, but is especially great on big stages. But if there’s any crisis within, from the outside it seems to be paying off pretty well:  Their debut record, Days Gone By, hit the Top 10 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums chart, they’ve appeared on Ellen, and are gearing up for Coachella.

The two first met at St. George’s, an all-boys prep school in Vancouver. Jimmy, son of famed producer-songwriter Jim Vallance, was listening to Radiohead and Rancid, drumming in a metal band, and had recently fallen in love with electronic music. “I liked that fact that one guy could do it all,” he says. “When I heard Moby’s Play and found out he didn’t have a whole band, that was exciting.”

“We recorded it all ourselves, but one thing we were quite adamant about was, let’s get someone really awesome to mix it.” – Jimmy Vallance of Bob Moses

Meanwhile, his classmate Tom was transforming from punk rocker into a more serious singer-songwriter.  “I saw his punk band play,” says Jimmy Vallance. “They were awful. But one day there was some school assembly, with him on an acoustic guitar playing these Jack Johnson-style songs he’d written himself. And it was incredible.”

Yet it would be a few more years before the two would become Bob Moses. They’d both de-camped to New York to pursue music, and after a chance encounter in a parking lot, decided to try writing songs together. After several releases on Brooklyn’s Scissors & Thread label, the duo signed to Domino, the prestigious indie label that’s also home to Canadians Caribou and Junior Boys. The Domino connection helped Bob Moses secure two ace mixers to work on their debut – Mike Stet (Madonna, Depeche Mode, Massive Attack’s downtempo masterpiece Mezzanine) and David Wrench (fka Twigs, Jamie XX).

“We recorded it all ourselves, but one thing we were quite adamant about was, let’s get someone really awesome to mix it,” says Vallance. “We didn’t need the hottest person working right now, but someone whose music we really like. When it comes to electronic music, the mix can be such a big part of the end product.  It also really helped us fall in love with our own music again after working on it for a year straight.”

The result is a sound perfectly timed for the come-down from EDM. Is Bob Moses’ relatively swift success sign that the generation raised on club bangers is ready to chill-out?

“Kids are starting to realize there’s only so much hectic noise you can listen to,” says Vallance. “Don’t get me wrong, I think EDM has been an amazing thing for electronic music, but at a certain point people are going to be looking for something a bit deeper. I kind of joke that we’re the ‘90s grunge to ‘80s hair metal. They’re both rock, but one’s just more grassroots, the other is a big machine. And then they switch places. That’s where we are right now.”

Here’s the latest in our series of stories about the creative meetings between songwriters/composers. This one is about a longtime collaboration which has turned – with the release of a mere two albums – into one of the most prominent young duos on the Québec pop scene: Elise Larouche and Marc Papillon-Ferland, better known as Eli et Papillon.

Strangely enough, the duo’s success can be attributed, at least in part, to the fact that their first songs were pirated. But don’t think that we’re talking about fans illegally downloading their work; this is a completely different type of piracy, says Larouche.

“We launched a first demo,” unassumingly, like a message in a bottle, she says. “But it caught on like wildfire over social networks, in Québec, first, and then in the rest of Canada. Some of our songs even played on Brazilian radio!

Eli & Papillon

Photo: Eric Parazelli

“But then some guy in France stole one of our songs,” she continues. “I heard about it because Anglophone bloggers had tracked him down.” The usurper was more grotesque than criminal: using a fake name, he posted other people’s songs on his MySpace page pretending he was their creator. “That guy was totally oblivious: he used as-is audio files by all kinds of artists and posted them to his page, changing the title and making up names of collaborators,” says Papillon-Ferland, still in disbelief. Nonetheless, the scoundrel had an audience of two million followers, and shortly after his misdeeds were exposed by fans of Eli et Papillon, his MySpace page was shuttered.

In the end, the whole affair gave the duo unprecedented exposure. “Thanks to that episode, we got a lot of exposure on music blogs around the world and our demo sold like hot cakes,” says Papillon-Ferland. Thus, ten years after meeting for the first time, it became clear to El et Papillon that their particular brand of pop was going to become successful. They launched an eponymous first album in 2012, and that was followed by Colorythmie in 2015, both on the Maisonnette imprint.

Their latest opus saw their songs take an even more pop-oriented direction; they were a lot less introspective, with a lot less melancholy, than on the previous album. Says Papillon-Ferland: “I listened to a lot of stuff like Coldplay and Stromae; stuff with a lot of electronics in the production.”

“What truly set the tone for Colorythmie,” he says, “was meeting Soké (Zahir) and Yannick [Rastogi],” citing two composer/arranger/producers closely linked to Québec’s hip-hop, R&B and pop scenes. “Those songs were created on a beach, with a guitar, in a very happy mindset,” he says. As opposed to the first album’s tracks that covered topics such as Larouche’s health issues, or the problems they lived through as a couple (who are now much happier as best friends).

Their creative process is very complementary, “but it’s not limited to myself writing lyrics and Marc writing the music,” she says. Words do come more easily to her, maybe because of the influence of her aunt, who’s a poet. As for Papillon-Ferland, he was born into a family of pianists. “Curiously, only my dad doesn’t have a musical ear,” he says. “My mom and sisters are all pianists.” He learned to play violin, then piano, and pursued college and university degrees in the field. “I would love to do film music, some day,” he says.

Eli & Papillon

Photo: Eric Parazelli

“When you to Marc’s place, you’ll see all the violins he learned with, from the smallest to the biggest,” says Larouche. “He’s been doing it for such a long time, music has become a science to him, especially since he can read music and has perfect pitch. I approach it much more naively, to say the least.”

Says Papillon-Ferland: “We write very spontaneously. I invite Eli over and we just get into music without thinking about it. We start with a melody that I’ll play in different keys until it feels right. All the songs on the new album were born that way; either guitar and voice or piano and voice.”

Adds Larouche: “Oftentimes, I’ll come up with simple little ideas on guitar and voice. Then Marc takes it and does his thing, making it more complex and rich.” And when Papillon-Ferland goes at it, he goes all out: synth tracks, string arrangements, percussion.. Then Larouche’s quieter mind and clearer vision will start removing the clutter, allowing the song to breathe . That makes room for her voice – thin, unassuming and warm, but highly emotional, now a tracemark of the Eli et Papillon sound. “Words come after the melody and the groove,” she says. “And they come fast, because I already have an idea and some rhymes in my head.”

Papillon-Ferland has started writing, too. He jots his ideas down in a small notebook that he carries everywhere he goes. He’s started thinking about a solo album, and hasn’t given up on his desire to compose for the movies. That is, whenever he finds some free time in between the duo’s concerts and his gigs as a stage musician for the likes of Isabelle Boulay, Marie-Denise Pelletier and other mainstays of the Québec music scene. As for Larouche, she also writes for others, notably Carole-Anne, the Québec City singer who made her mark recently in La Voix, the Québec version of The Voice.

“I like working with Marc because of his pace,” admits Larouche. “It’s fast, efficient, and we have a deep mutual understanding of where we’re going with a given song. Say we’re working on an idea, I’ll say, ‘Hey, this would work with (hums a few notes)’, and ‘Boom!’ Marc always knows what I meant. Not everyone is this precise. I don’t know anyone else who can work that way.”

While many musicians and songwriters make their way from the garage to the stage without getting a sense of the work that people do behind the scenes – building that stage, putting up the infrastructure for festivals, even cooking for the bands and crew – there’s something to be said for having that experience.

That’s exactly what the Ontario College of Trade’s (OCT’s) “Tune In, Trade Up” campaign provides, by giving participants “a hammer, a wrench, and a backstage pass,” as well as an opportunity to earn while they learn one of a variety of skilled trades – including heavy equipment operator, general carpenter, electrician, truck/coach technician, cook, or hairstylist. These working people are “the stars behind the stars,” says Director of Communications and Marketing at OCT, Sherri Haigh, and without whom, as the Road Hammers’ Jason McCoy says in a video on the organization’s site, “we literally do not have a stage to stand on.”

The idea for the program came about during a conversation between Haigh and Music Canada President Graham Henderson. “I ran into Graham in 2014,” Haigh explains. “I approached him and said we’re trying to get kids interested in the trades, and we also see the important role that music plays in supporting the trades through hiring them to do all the things behind the scenes.” That led to OCT getting involved in the 2015 Boots and Hearts and Way Home festivals, and to shooting a video aimed at attracting potential participants.

First launched in the Fall of 2015, the program is expected to expand for the 2016 festival season. This year, OCT is also sponsoring Canadian Music Week. “We’ll have a booth there and we’ll talk about the trades behind the scenes,” says Haigh, adding that more segments of the music industry, labels among them, are expressing interest in the program.

Bluntly, for musicians to get a sense of how important the trades are to making anything from an indoor concert, to festivals, to club shows happen is a valuable experience, regardless of what segment of the industry they’d like to work in. The more a performer knows about the challenges the tradespeople behind a show face, the more they’re likely to recognize that you’re in it together – making for a unified effort to ensure that the audience has the best experience they possibly can.

There are benefits to anyone who might see a future for themselves in such trades – musicians or not – but also to the industry overall, Haigh says. She cites a prediction by The Conference Board of Canada that the country will experience a shortage of more than 360,000 skilled tradespeople by 2025, and in excess of half a million by 2030. Given that the Ontario music industry is a substantial economic engine – generating hundreds of millions of dollars on an annual basis – the program clearly provides benefits beyond those cited earlier by Jason McCoy. Frankly, without the tradespeople who do this work, festivals and large-scale concerts simply couldn’t happen.

“It’s not just about the music industry,” Haigh continues, “and not just for young people, but also for those looking at, perhaps, taking on a second career in life.” And Haigh also sees a direct correlation between what SOCAN and OCT do. “SOCAN is protecting the integrity and success of artists and their craft,” she says, “and for us, it’s protecting the integrity of people who go through apprenticeships and training and making sure the people working [in the industry] are legitimately certified, respected and protected. So we have common goals.”