“Canada’s Duran Duran.” That’s what they called Glass Tiger, the young men from Newmarket, Ont., after they became radio and video sensations with “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone),” the first single off their debut album The Thin Red Line. Co-written by longtime SOCAN board member Jim Vallance, and featuring guest vocals from Bryan Adams – for whom Vallance was a mentor and frequent songwriting partner –  it was the launching pad for a great run of pop hits. Glass Tiger singer Alan Frew spoke to SOCAN about his first Canadian Classic.

Is it true you wrote “Don’t Forget Me” on the first day in the studio with Jim?
We wrote “Don’t Forget Me” and “Someday” on the first day!

What was in the water?
Jim picks us up at the airport and asks what we’re listening to these days, then we stopped at the record store to pick up those albums. He made tea. And then we played these CDs. And when Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” came on, Jim went, “Aha! A shuffle beat.” And so we started with a shuffle beat. And I started singing the line, “don’t forget me when I’m gone,” as if it was a verse. Jim said, “That’s a great little statement. Let’s hold that for when we get the chorus.”

How did you get Bryan Adams on there?
We met over the phone. Bryan used to call the studio occasionally, just checking in on Jim. Bryan was in Toronto for the JUNOs and popped into the studio to see us. It turned into a nice little session where we were sitting around talking about music, having a few beers. But Jim’s brain was working. He said, “Why don’t you two go in and sing some stuff?” So Bryan and I, three or four Heinekens in, we said “Sure!” It wasn’t contrived.

Did you know it was a golden song?
I can tell you exactly what clicked for me: when I came up with the idea of putting on the harmony myself. I’ll never forget, it sounded like the Everly Brothers. I remember being on the plane back to Toronto, and I had the finished Thin Red Line in my pocket, on a cassette, and I remember sitting there, thinking, “Please don’t let this plane go down before people get to hear this!”

What was more important to you: hitting No. 1 in Canada, or No. 2 in the U.S.?
There’s absolutely no doubt that “Don’t Forget Me” would have been a No. 1 song in America if they had released it simultaneously with Canada. But someone had this wacky idea that they wanted to release “Thin Red Line” there first. We had a disjointed campaign.

You were nominated for a Grammy for Best New Group in 1987. Did you go?
Yes. That was incredible. Sitting beside Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel. You go for a pee and you’re sharing space with Roger Daltrey. Whitney Houston coming over and saying “hi.” The sad thing was, we had been told by the Americans already, “ You ain’t winning it.” They said they would not give it to the Canadians. That’s O.K. We jumped on a plane to Germany the next morning to start playing with Tina Turner. And nobody remembers who won anyway. (Ed. Note: It was Bruce Hornsby and The Range.)

When you listen back to that original recording, what do you think?
I hear a young guy. I think of a time when we were really green and the world was our oyster. You land in Germany and there are screaming girls waiting for you, and you’re thinking, “How do these people even know us?” But of course they do, because your song is climbing up their charts.  I try to encourage young artists to take it all in. Because if I made one mistake it’s that I didn’t  stop quite long enough to pat myself on the back.

Jean-Michel Pigeon, Monogrenade’s young lead singer, describes how his creative station was put in orbit. His first trials took place in the touring truck of his first band, Winter Gloves, in which he mostly followed orders as a guitarist. In 2008, after completing three Canadian and U.S. tours, he launched Monogrenade, his new rocket, by recording the eight songs of their debut EP, La saveur des fruits (The flavour of fruit), in a cottage with friends. His brand of imaginative pop with a taste for weightlessness really took off.

Following a much-noticed appearance in the 2010 Les Francouvertes showcase competition, where Monogrenade reached the finals and won SODRAC’s Prix chapeau aux compositeurs (Hats Off to Composers Prize) for “M’en aller” (“Going Away”), the band was signed by Bonsound, and released their first album, Tantale, a year later. This first major opus helped Monogrenade burst onto the bubbling local indie scene and get their show on the road in the rest of Canada and in France, where Tantale elicited high praise in the influential Les Inrockuptibles magazine.

“I’m not very fond of talking about myself and baring my soul through my songs.” – Jean-Michel Pigeon of Monogrenade

That brings us right up to the painstaking creation (with fellow band members François Lessard, Marianne Houle, Mathieu Collette, Ingrid Wissink and Julie Boivin) of their current album, Composite, a recording that was nearly a year in the making and actually placed Monogrenade in orbit. That drawn-out creative experience was perfectly in sync with Jean-Michel Pigeon’s personal style. “It is true that it’s nice to try and take things to the next level,” he says, “but there’s always a chance that a song’s basic essence will get lost along the way. Taking your time is a healthy way to go about your creative work. Personally, I like to create layered compositions. It’s a slower process, but I like to compose naturally without any pressure.”

The results of that more “natural” recording pace are plain to see on Composite, a concept album (retro-futuristic movie style) that is much more cohesive than the more tentative Tantale.

Strangely, in spite of the fact that the Composite lyrics deal with the diversity and complexity of human relationships, Pigeon is the last person you could bring to share his innermost feelings in a song. Is it out of a sense of modesty? “Yes, that could be a reason,” he admits. “I must say that I’m not very fond of talking about myself and baring my soul through my songs. What I like doing best is making up stories, pretending I’m someone else… Not all composers have exciting lives to use as song material, you know. What I like about writing in a more generic style is that listeners can interpret your lyrics any way they like. Your music can touch people even if you stand back.

“I think people could look at us as musical impressionists of some sort,” Pigeon suggests, explaining how the band’s Composite album was influenced by the esthetics of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. “The music often comes first. It generates images in our minds that dictate the topics that we’ll develop. The human relationships theme of that album probably came out of our experience of the previous two years, being together as a group all the time with the forced intimacy and the intense brief encounters involved. The life of the touring musician can prove a bit strange for someone like me, who loves spending time alone and burning the midnight oil when in a music-writing mode.”

Obviously, Monogrenade has not found it easy to reconcile their pursuit of compositional sophistication with the day-to-day realities of concert performance. Admitting that he considers himself to be a studio artist more than a stage performer, Pigeon explains that he compensates by concentrating on the band’s sound rather than on their collective personality: “I’m actually of two minds about performing onstage,” he says. “It’s quite rewarding to go play in real time with people who love your music, but it’s not my main driver. Some people are born stage magicians. Give them a guitar and a mic, and they’re on. It’s unbelievable! With Monogrenade, though, what matters most onstage for us is our ability to reproduce our vision as a musical unit. I’m in music, not show business.”

Though Pigeon maintains that Monogrenade actually has a pop music sound, their recordings don’t get played on commercial radio – only on community and university radio stations. On that topic, the musician says that he must watch his words as this situation has the potential to make him more vocal than he would like to be. “They told us we didn’t have the right format, that the voice was not up front enough,” he says. “I personally think that it would be a good thing for us to broaden our radio-listening horizons here in Quebec. I feel we’re always hearing the same artists in spite of the fact that, over the past five years, a lot of great pop music has been created here. I’m thinking of Marie-Pierre Arthur, Peter Peter, Jimmy Hunt… I don’t understand why the public is not more interested in this new wave.”

“When Blou came into being in the 1990s, people couldn’t figure our music genre out. They were able to make out elements of bluegrass, traditional, rock and folk music, but nobody could put their finger on it. So we coined a word describing our Acadian, Cajun and Zydeco musical roots. The name was ‘Acadico,’ and it stuck.”

That was 20 years ago, but singer-songwriter Patrice Boulianne remembers it as if it were yesterday. The new name was given to Blou’s debut album, Acadico (1998), as well as to the opening cut of the band’s most recent collection, 20 Temps, a witty title referring to Blou’s 20th anniversary. The rapid acceptance of Blou’s coined genre was an indication of the significance of a unique music style that has allowed the musicians to perform in dozens of countries and collect numerous industry honours at home, including as part of the Gala de la chanson de la Nouvelle-Écosse and the East Coast Music Awards.

“Being able to perform your Francophone songs in 36 countries around the world is something that makes you appreciate your native language enormously.”

By now, Blou has become the personal project of frontman and self-appointed Acadian culture ambassador Boulianne, a St. Mary’s Bay (NS) resident. “Being able to perform your Francophone songs in 36 countries around the world is something that makes you appreciate your native language enormously – it’s something you want to keep close to your heart. Sharing your mother tongue with people who can’t speak it can fire you up. And when I look at Radio Radio and Lisa LeBlanc right now, I can see that other artists are now picking up the torch,” says Boulianne, an artist who has steadfastly refused to move to Québec.”

Why? “Because the landscapes and the people of Acadie [a French-speaking area of Eastern Canada comprising roughly the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunscick and PEI] are my main source of inspiration,” he says. “Even if it’s hard, sometimes, with the Harper Government’s cuts in artist travel grants. I don’t think the Conservatives understand the importance of those grants for Francophone artists living outside Quebec. You’d think this was their way of getting you to sing in English, a language that makes exports and distribution easier. And not just for music either. The theatre, creative writing and the visual arts, too, are negatively affected. We are watering down our cultural heritage, that’s what we’re doing.”

By way of paying tribute to his Francophone roots, Boulianne recorded duos with Daniel Lavoie, Lina Boudreau and Mary Jane Lamond on the 20 Temps album. “I picked Daniel Lavoie as a way of celebrating my Manitoba origins,” he says. “Before moving to the Maritimes, I spent my early years on the Great Plains in the small town of St. Claude, where my father went out of his way to buy Francophone recordings by Beau Dommage, Paul Piché, Francis Cabrel and many more. I also brought Lina Boudreau into the project because she represents Acadie with one of the region’s finest singing voices. As for Mary Jane Lamond, she embodies Nova Scotia’s Celtic music influences.”

A true blending of influences, the 20 Temps compositions fall into two categories. Some of the songs – namely “Sors tes souliers de danse” [“Get Out Your Dancing Shoes»], “Oh! Madeleine” and “Anna et Louise », a tribute to Louisiana – reflect the upbeat spirit of the Acadico style. But Blou’s sixth album also reflects a more intimate folk style on “Là où on s’aime” (“Where Love Is”), a song on Bouliane’s mother’s struggle with Alzheimers, and on “Lettre pour Annette,” written in memory of friend who died suddenly in her early forties.

“It took me a long time to find the courage to include more personal songs in the Blou repertoire for fear that they may not fit into the band’s more energetic style,” says Bouliane. “A balance had to be sought, and I also had to find the right words and the proper phrasing to convey the feel of these personal songs.” Written as an attempt to bring out his personal pain and anxiety – admittedly, a kind of therapy – “Là où on s’aime” is now the theme song of  Nova Scotia’s Alzheimers Society.

Released just a few months ago, 20 Temps brings out another side of Patrice Boulianne’s personality that Blou fans in other countries will soon be able to discover for themselves. “Thanks to RIDEAU’s networking program as well as to the ECMAs and FrancoFête en Acadie, my booking agency (À l’infini) has been able to develop an impressive network of contacts that help me keep an eye on our European connection,” says the tireless Acadian culture ambassador. “I’m going to be back there soon.”