Quick: name the biggest-selling reggae single of all time? Surprise: it’s “Informer,” the 1992 crossover hit from Irish-Canadian singer-songwriter Snow. Born Darrin O’Brien in the North Toronto housing project Allenbury Gardens, Snow discovered Jamaican music through his neighbours, and was discovered in turn by New York rapper MC Shan, who produced his debut album 12 Inches of Snow. The slick pop beats and rapid-fire patois vocals about a snitch hit No. 1 on the Billboard Charts, where it stayed for seven weeks, eventually selling more than 8 million copies. “Informer” wasn’t Snow’s only hit (1997’s “all-star mix” of “Anything For You” was No. 1, in Jamaica and 2000’s “Everybody Wants to Be Like You” won the MuchMusic Video Award for Best Canadian Video), but it remains his defining song.

What kind of music were you into as a kid?
Rock. My first concert was KISS at Varsity Stadium with my brother. He was nine and I was six. We used to put on KISS concerts in a neighbour’s basement. Make-up, fake blood, everything. Meanwhile, upstairs, they were playing Jamaican music. Where I grew up, it was mostly Irish. And then when was 14, Jamaicans started to move in. They introduced me to their music.

What appealed to so much you about reggae?
I don’t know. Growing up, my mother was always into music. R&B, though. No rock. No country, Nothing else. When I started getting those dancehall tapes from my neighbours? I was just hypnotized by the voices! I would just rewind the tapes constantly, playing the songs over and over. “What did he say?”  The singers just captured me.

When did you start writing your own songs?
Before “Informer,” I wasn’t anything like that.  I wasn’t a songwriter, or a performer, or nothing. I got charged with two attempted murders, went to jail. And while was in jail, and I just came up with these verses: [Sings] “Informer. You know say Daddy Snow me, I’m gonna blame. A licky boom-boom down.” Like a jingle. But I had never been in the studio. I’m just a fan of music. Then when I got out, I went to New York, I ran into MC Shan, right? And he was like “I heard you can sing? Come to my house!” He taught me everything. About music. About harmonies.  I didn’t know anything about writing, but melodies just came to me. You’d put on a beat and I’d just hum melody after melody. And that’s how it started. Now, I think I’m a professional, but I wasn’t then.

How long did it take to write the song?
Maybe a day. When I first met MC Shan, I was always singing, “skippity boom down.” He kept singing it all day, too, he loved it.  But we changed it to “a licky boom-boom down.” I was just having fun. And I think that’s what made it. Because I actually wasn’t expecting it to be big.

Is it true you were in jail when the song went to No. 1?
Yes. We did the record in New York. We did a video. But I had to go back to Toronto, to go to jail. So I signed the contract. Then went to jail, for another year. I figured that’s what I was doing with my life. Nobody around me had made it big. And first time I saw my video was in jail. I got a weekend pass to go on MuchMusic.

How do you describe your vocal style in that song?
It’s kind of sing-jay. You can hear a little bit of Michael Rose. Junior Reid. Sting. All these influences on me. I just spit out words. I’m not a lyricist. I’m not Eminem. I just grab the moment and do what I feel.

Jim Carrey made fun of the song on In Living Colour – with a spoof called “Imposter.” What did you think of that?
It was perfect! Because it’s not wrong! [laughs] He’s Canadian, so that’s why I let him get away with it. Weird Al asked us too, but we said no.

What’s the best thing that happened to you because of “Informer”?
I don’t have to boost no more. No more crime. That was the best thing. But the worst thing was it gave me more money, so I was drinking too much. But I’ve quit. I got rid of that.

GeoffroyLesson of the day: don’t trust your eyes. To wit: Geoffroy, ex-contestant on La Voix [the Québec franchise of The Voice TV singing competition]. Three months ago, he released an English electronic pop album titled Coastline: Silky smooth, melancholy, romantic sounds, simple yet expertly crafted verses, collaborations with electro-pop peers such as Fjord and Men I Trust. Everything required to harvest plays on Spotify and YouTube, right where it needs to be. Yet behind the polished and charming image is a young man who knows the business inside and out, and talks about it with the same driving passion that fires his musical career.

Let’s talk business for a moment in this online magazine otherwise dedicated to songwriters, composers, music publishers and their work. Having been selected for the first SOCAN showcase at Printemps de Bourges in April 2017, when interviewed Geoffroy, he was also getting ready not only to sing for the French market, but also to do business as the only Québec singer-songwriter invited to participate in the Accelerator segment of the 51st annual MIDEM in Cannes, June 6-9, 2017.

And he’s no stranger to MIDEM. “I went a few times when I worked in the biz,” he tells us the day before his departure for the French Riviera. “After I graduated, I was hired by the Analekta label, and they’re always at MIDEM. Classical music is booming in Asia, and there are always a lot of delegates from China at the event.” He also went back while he was getting his Master’s degree in industrial management of arts and music in Spain.

“As an artist, it’s useful to know how to talk to your manager, your publisher, your label people, it’s useful to know all the aspects of this trade.”

“I’ve always had one foot in the business side of things and the other in the creative side,” says Geoffroy. “I’ve always made music for my own enjoyment, but I never had the guts to put my creative stuff forward. I’d never planned to become an artist as a ‘Plan A,’ so I built a solid ‘Plan B’ to work in the business, something that I was not only truly interested in, but also very useful to me now. As an artist, it’s useful to know how to talk to your manager, your publisher, your label people. It’s useful to know all the aspects of this trade.”

Geoffroy has always played music “without ever taking it too seriously,” he says: piano lessons starting at about eight years old, then guitar and drums, followed by singing lessons “to come out of my shell and prove myself that I could sing.”

In the spring of 2014, he participated in the popular La Voix, and released his first EP, Soaked in Gold, the following year. “That first EP allowed me to gauge public interest,” he says. “Bonsound got involved in the project, and that’s when I thought, ‘OK, maybe there’s some potential here…’ I forged ahead and took two years to write and record Coastline, and now here we are.”

Just a few hours from boarding a plane for France, where he’ll perform onstage and go through three booked-solid days of meetings with industry types from all over Europe – where his music is already getting quite enviable attention. Geoffroy has already signed with a booking agency, and may hire a radio tracker to ensure that his songs, available as downloads, are nonetheless played.

“The music industry is fascinating because it’s constantly evolving,” says Geoffroy. “There’s no formula for success, apart from having a good song, of course. After that, it’s a lot of strategizing, of different ways to market the music, various segmentation strategies. It’s super-interesting…”

Obviously, singing in English is one of those strategies to maximize a song’s impact, but in his case, it wasn’t a calculated choice: “I grew up in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce [a predominantly Anglo neighbourhood in the Western part of Montréal] in a family that was not only Francophone, but Francophile. Yet I also grew up with Anglo and bilingual friends, and I went to school in English.”

GeoffroyAdd to this mix the influence of American pop music and “it just comes out better in English,” says Geoffroy. “I tried writing in French, but I was never satisfied with the result. But never say never, as they say. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Haitian music, a lot of kompa. I know it’s very foreign to French pop, but I feel like exploring that.”

But just out or curiosity, where does that tinge of a British accent come from, then? “Funny you should mention that,” says Geoffroy. “Others have remarked on that, too. You can hear it on songs like “Trouble Child.” When I was recording the album, I was listening to a lot of Peter Gabriel and David Bowie. I think I was kind of playing a character, and recorded it in that mindset.”

Another misconception about Geoffroy is that he sounds like he’s from Québec City, which, lately, is teeming with English-singing electro pop artists. “That’s because of La Voix, where I met Gabrielle Shonk,” he says, referencing the singer-songwriter at the forefront of that Québec City musical tribe. “It’s through her that I met that whole gang of musicians and producers. They’re all super-nice and cool to work with, people like Men I Trust and Fjord. It just felt natural and fun to collaborate with them; I wasn’t thinking strategically. And you know, people in Québec City have much smaller egos than Montréal people, so they’re much nicer to work with.”

Ariane Moffatt

Ariane Moffatt

When Les FrancoFolies de Montréal top dog Laurent Saulnier contacted Ariane Moffatt last winter to create Louve, neither of them had an inkling of the symbolism this 100% female band’s concert – now the finale of the 2017 edition of the music festival – was going to take on.

Reacting to an editorial written by Laurence Nerbonne, “Me and my bros only,” published on the Urbania website, in the wake of a Radio-Canada Revelations show where she was the only woman, the FrancoFolies’ vice-president and music curator decided to put together a show with no men involved, but didn’t want to present it as a “girls’ show.”

“I jumped right in,” says Moffatt. “I ended up being given carte blanche. I was tasked with putting together an all-girl house band. It was a trip, to me it was a statement. It wasn’t long before the girls we talked to said yes.”

Marie-Pierre Arthur, Salomé Leclerc, Amylie, Laurence Lafond-Beaulne and Ariane Moffatt thus found themselves at the core of Louve (in English, She-wolf), a name that says a lot about the pack mentality that underpins the band. “We didn’t want to call it Les Louves [the plural of a she-wolf] because we felt it put too much emphasis on the girl-band concept,” says Amylie, who came up with the name.

Once the core was in place, the rumour started spreading. Many guests cottoned on to Louve: Safia Nolin, Klô Pelgag, Frannie Holder, Mara Tremblay, Jenny Salgado, Laurence Nerbonne, Les Hay Babies, as well as other surprises that won’t be revealed until the actual June 18, 2017, concert, to be held at 7:00 pm at the Place des festivals in Montréal.

“If a slightly douchey guy feels bad after making a sexist innuendo like, ‘You play well for a girl,’ then the F.E.M. will have accomplished part of its goal.” — Marie-Pierre Arthur.

2017: A Year of Awakening

The fact of the matter is that the project even took on a whole different meaning, on June 1, 2017, when the Femmes en Musique (F.E.M.; in English, Women in Music) collective published an open letter on Facebook. The 135 signatories, all women in the music business, put forth the same conclusion that Laurence Nerbonne had reached the previous fall: women are under-represented in the music landscape.

Amylie, Salomé Leclerc

Amylie, Salomé Leclerc

“All of us singers, musicians, singer-songwriters, technicians and other female players of the industry, agree that there really is sexism in the music biz and that we have all had to deal with it at one point or another, whether it simply is through a bias against us, or technical or gear knowledge, by questioning our talent, our experience or our relevance,” says the letter.

It had to happen, at some point. Label president, manager, producer, stagehand and studio tech, session musician and even music journalist are all trades that are overwhelmingly male-dominated, and hard for any woman to break into.

“I don’t think people in the industry are ill-intentioned,” says Salomé Leclerc. “I know a lot of guys who love to work with women onstage and in the studio. I don’t think festival programmers act in bad faith, yet there are a few reflexes they should develop, in 2017, before they send their poster to the printer’s. I do believe the issues raised by F.E.M. contribute to changing the mentality.”

Make no mistake about it: if Salomé Leclerc mentions festival programmers, it’s because their work can easily be quantified. According to the Journal de Montréal, 27% of headliners at the Montréal Jazz Fest are women. This number drops to 22% for the Festival d’été de Québec, 20% for the Festival de la poutine de Drummondville and a mere 8% for Jonquière en Musique. Other festivals such as Laval’s Diapason, Grandes Fêtes Telus in Rimouski and Festirame in Alma were also singled out on F.E.M.’s Facebook page.

“Our collective gelled when the programs for the 2017 summer festivals came out,” says Ariane Moffatt. “In the beginning, there were about 20 of us messaging privately over Facebook. We were frustrated by the lack of women. And at a certain point, we decided it was enough and that we needed to go public.”

“Programmers no longer have any excuse,” says Laurence Lafond-Beaulne. “According to a census of singer-songwriters done by the Société professionnelle des auteurs et des compositeurs du Québec, there are virtually as many woman as men in their ranks. A brand new cohort of women has arrived in the business in the last ten years. The talent is there, and sales numbers are there to prove it. So why aren’t they making it to the top of the bill? We want to help the system to evolve.”

A Question of Education

This new wave of female artists is also no stranger to the feminist wave that’s shaking things up in the worlds of theatre – the Femmes pour l’équité en théâtre collective was created last January – and cinema. Over the past few months, the SODEC, National Film Board, and Téléfilm Canada all adopted measures to foster gender equality among movie-makers.

“I think there’s a fad regarding the representation of women,” says Ariane Moffatt. “I’ll get flak from my peers for saying this, but if you’d asked me if I was a feminist at the onset of my career, I would not have dared to answer your question. Except now, there’s a whole wave of female singers who are 25, 30, or 35 years old that want to raise people’s awareness about different social issues. It’s happening in the cultural industries, but also elsewhere in society.”

Laurence Lafond-Beaulne, Marie-Pierre Arthur

Laurence Lafond-Beaulne, Marie-Pierre Arthur

“If a slightly douchey guy feels bad after making a sexist innuendo like, ‘You play well for a girl,’ then the F.E.M. will have accomplished part of its goal,” says Marie-Pierre Arthur. “The other day, I asked my son if he believed men were better musicians than women. He looked at me with a huge question mark in his eyes. To him the very question made no sense because he’s just as used to seeing his dad (keyboardist François Lafontaine) as his mom onstage. What matters is that we keep on paving the way for the next generation of girls who want to get into music. You want to play drums, or bass, or be a record producer? It’s possible!”

According to Amylie, a lack of strong female role models did hinder her career when she started 10 years ago. “I had to jump through a lot of hoops before I could take my place among the guys I worked with,” she says. “It took me quite a while before I could muster the confidence to produce my own album (Les Éclats, released last year). Just making my own choices, and telling a drummer what the rhythm I wanted, required me to wear pants that I didn’t even think I owned. I don’t know where this meek and timid syndrome comes from, but it’s a problem that plagues women, whether or not they’re in the music biz. And when we want to assert our place, we’re told to shut up. If we raise our voice, people call us hysterical. Being afraid of being judged can make you want to dig your own hole. The more women make a place for themselves in music, the more mentality will evolve.”

Awakening awareness, changing habits, paving the way for future generations… The F.E.M. clearly has an educational role, first and foremost. So what are its next steps? “What we need is an open dialogue,” Ariane Moffatt says right away, alluding to the collective’s first major meeting on June 21, 2017, at Montréal’s Lion d’Or. “We’ll see what comes out of it, but there needs to be concrete action.”

Until then, the Louve concert, three days earlier, will surely come across as a manifesto. “Based on our rehearsals, it seems we feel like rocking hard,” says Marie-Pierre Arthur. “We all seem motivated by the raw rock, almost grunge-punk vibe. I don’t think it’ll be a ‘little girls should be seen and not heard’ kinda deal.”

Any chance to catch Louve onstage outside of the FrancoFolies? “Nothing planned for now,” says Moffatt. “But let’s just say it would be a shame to stop there.”

Based on the determination of the five main protagonists, Louve isn’t about to stop howling.