Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Comment Debord. Founded in 2016, the band took its own sweet time. The time they needed to choose the right notes and lyrics that represented them; the time they needed to learn to appreciate and choose one another. The seven band members have now integrated the Audiogram team as well, and – following the learning experience of the 2018 Les Francouvertes competition – chosen the Fall of 2020 for the release of their first, self-titled, album. All seven of them tackling the same project at the same time.

Comment DebordListening to this album over and over in transit, or quietly at home, one immediately gets the feeling of having been invited to their party. Rémi Gauvin, the band’s frontman and main songwriter, shares moments of life with us while playing his favourite instrument: the metaphor. Simple or layered, his allegories are both poetic and humorous, without ever being disrespectful. He allows us to enter a familiar and welcoming universe, where everything we’re being told is phrased in such a way that it seems we’re hearing it for the first time.

“I’m not afraid to be colourful,” says Gauvin, “but ours isn’t a comedy band. I enjoy being engaged by what I hear, so I do my best to engage other people, too. That’s the main thing, actually. And the range of means you can use to engage people is pretty wide. Laughter is one of them.”

Electric guitar player Karolane Carbonneau (also a member of NOBRO) is part of the grooving base that the band members are developing together. “Rémi brings in the basic compositions,” says Carbonneau. “Sometimes we break into smaller units, but the drummer and bass player [Olivier Cousineau and Étienne Dextraze-Monast] always help us come up with an overall groove.” “Those two are very fastidious,”  Gauvin laughs. “We never quite understand what they’re talking about, we often feel they’re splitting hairs, but we never doubt that they’re giving110 percent.” The other band members are Willis Pride (keyboards), Alex Guimond (voice), and Lisandre Bourdages (percussion).

While other musicians might shiver at the prospect of keeping the peace in a seven-member band, this bunch has never even come close to a disagreement. “It comes from the fact that we weren’t friends to start with,” says Gauvin. “We all are somewhat different despite, being Montréalers, aged between 25 and 32, and living between Pie-IX Boulevard and Saint-Laurent! We picked up people here and there. The affinities came later. In rehearsal, some of us trade love stories, and others share stories about rock climbing.”

“I’m tired of hearing about climbing,” Carbonneau interjects. “I can’t climb because I have eczema, and with a guitar, that’s a no-no,” she laughs. “But, more seriously, all of the songwriting comes from Rémi, and, later on, we give the same importance to all band members, as well as equal opportunities to shine in each song. It’s totally egalitarian.”

Often described as a new-wave Beau Dommage, Comment Debord is deeply rooted in an old-school ‘70s vibe, and loves to construct stories that Québecers can identify with. “Our songs can resonate with 20-year-olds and old Parti Québécois members,” Gauvin laughs. “This is the only band I belong to that my aunt likes,” says Carbonneau.

The album was produced by Warren Spicer (Plants and Animals) – “our eighth member,” she says. He is the musical artist who mixed “Je me trouve laide,” which came out on their 2018 EP, and, this time the band was keen on using his “magical indie touch” again. “He likes organic wine too, so we all loved him right away,” Gauvin jokes. “We really wanted to feel the band spirit, even on the recording. We wanted people to feel that they’re with us in the room when they are listening to it,” says Carbonneau.

“Chasseurs de tournades” (“Storm Chasers”) has been her favorite song ever, since she heard it played for the first time at Le Divan Orange. “I had started swirling to create ‘tournades’ in the concert hall, and started a movement,” she laughs.

“It isn’t as if that song had brought us any luck in competitions,” Gauvin argues. “People didn’t necessarily understand that the mis-spelling of the word ‘tornadoes’ into ‘tournadoes’ had been voluntary, and was meant to reflect the fact that this was how we pronounced that word when we were kids. My former roommate is studying for a doctorate degree in meteorology. He’s not chasing storms, but he’s still chasing weather phenomena. That’s how I got the idea, and I wanted to treat myself and write my favorite kind of song: a ballad. It says that it’s OK to have an argument in a relationship, and that there are ups and downs, but that you have to try harder. Sometimes you’re the worst, and step into a ‘tournado’ with both feet. Chasing storms in Arkansas is exciting, but it’s also not the brightest idea!”

After evolving over time, as musicians and human beings, the band felt ready to sing with a single voice. Their first album is like a mild late summer breeze on a September golden sunset. And how would they want this gift to be enjoyed? “In a car during a long road trip, or wasted on legal weed,” they say.

Either way, but not at the same time.

It’s not too often that Canadian music and the American political world intersect, but when they do the Canadians are certainly beneficiaries. In the olden days (the ‘60s/’70s), caustic commentary was the form it usually took. Gordon Lightfoot’s “Black Day in July,” Neil Young’s “Southern Man” and “Ohio” (with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), even The Guess Who’s “American Woman” were all hits – especially if you count Lightfoot’s song being banned in 30 states as a badge of honour. For the Trump Administration, the enduring popularity of the Obamas’ annual Spotify playlists have been a thorn in its side, a playful reminder of the previous president’s popularity and strong connection to younger demographics. Several Canadian artists have found themselves among Barack and Michelle’s favourites over the last five years.

Both Joni Mitchell (“Help Me”) and Leonard Cohen (“Suzanne”) appeared on Barack’s very first playlists (the Summer 2015 Night list) but more contemporary artists have been on his and his wife’s lists in recent years. Drake, of course, has made several appearances, but some lesser-known lights have made the grade as well. This year both Barack and Michelle chose Canadian artists who – including Drake, Shay Lia, Liza (with Carnyval), and Andy Shauf – were both surprised and thrilled to find themselves among the chosen.

The news almost killed Liza. Driving with some friends for a weekend getaway, the singer received a text sharing the scoop. “I was worried about crashing the car because I almost had a panic attack. I’ve loved Michelle Obama since I was about 12,” she says. Her song, “Consistency” with Carnyval, made it onto the former first lady’s Summer 2020 list, as did Shay Lia’s “Good Together.” Andy Shauf’s “Neon Skyline” made it onto Barack’s Summer 2020 list, and previous lists had several written or co-written by SOCAN members, including Drake, Daniel Caesar, Partynextdoor, and T-Minus.

The how and why of being chosen for the lists can only be answered by the Obamas themselves, but Shay Lia thinks the synergy between two popular podcasters helped her make the grade. “It was a combination of many factors,” she theorizes. “My music has been supported many times by The Joe Budden Podcast since last year, and Ms. Obama also happens to have a Spotify podcast, so there was an alignment there. I also think that ‘Good Together’ speaks to some of the values she’s trying to convey in her show – like in the conversation she had with Conan O’Brian, about marriage.”

Through a representative, Andy Shauf shared that he had no idea how President Obama came across his song, but being on the list “Is one of the coolest things to ever happen to me.” While Shauf’s publicist says there was no appreciable bump in sales, both Lia and Liza have noted an uptick, at least in streaming.

As Liza says, “With streaming, there’s always a monetary increase. It’s directly related, so there was that, of course, but it [the honour of being selected] was less about my career and more about myself. Being recognized by someone I looked up to so greatly was very validating.”

“Being recognized by someone I looked up to so greatly was very validating” – Liza

Shay Lia feels much the same way. “As a new artist and as an independent artist,” she says, “I’m totally aware of how hard it is to get attention in the music industry! Having such an incredible opportunity is making me proud. I feel like I’m doing something right, and that I’m going in the right direction… It’s even more flattering when it’s coming from Ms. Obama.  I love her, her values and what she represents as a Black woman of excellence!  I feel incredibly honoured and thankful!”

Lia also points out that a major collateral benefit of being on the playlist is that the increase in publicity, and the resultant higher profile has a significant impact. “I think it helped strengthen my position as an International act,” she says. “The media response has been amazing. It really helped us prepare the roll out for my new EP, Solaris.” Liza concurs: “There was a lot of people covering the actual Michelle Obama playlist, so I got mentioned in a lot of publications I look up to as well. So that was really cool.”

In the end, all politics and international borders aside, being selected by the Obamas is a win-win situation for all involved. As Liza enthuses, “It was definitely the highlight of this year – and potentially, my life!”

Got a gypsy soul, I’m a rebel and rogue
And I’m always on the run
With a fire inside I ain’t ever gonna die
I’m a locked and loaded gun

– “Outlaws & Outsiders”

After a country-rock song you wrote surpasses 25 million cumulative streams worldwide, a move to Music City, where the heart of the industry lives, might feel like the logical next step.

Not for Cory Marks. Despite “Outlaws & Outsiders” reaching Top 10 on rock radio South of the border – and peaking at No. 3 in Germany – the songwriter is content to stay close to home. He lives in Sturgeon Falls (population 6,798), 39 km West, along the Trans-Canada Highway, from his hometown of North Bay. This fact is no surprise. As “Outlaws & Outsiders” suggests, Marks writes songs filled with truths learned from his rural upbringing. At heart, he, too, is an outsider.

“A lot of my songwriting is based on real and honest things that have happened to me, or close to me,” he says. “I would much rather write a true story – and [have] my own story really resonate – than create one with five or six other writers in a room with the hopes of a big hit. I always try to keep it real that way.”

Catching up with the songwriter on an autumn afternoon finds Marks enjoying time at home, writing more songs (he figures he probably has close to 50 set aside for his next record), hitting the gym, and finishing the requirements to obtain his private pilot’s license.

“Outlaws & Outsiders” started as simply a cool title for the cross-Canada tour Marks did with Aaron Pritchett five years ago. Canadian country radio is where the songwriter would love to land, but like the song’s title, he’s an outlier. His sound isn’t poppy enough to fit the mainstream mold. “I feel like I’m a country artist, first and foremost,” he says. “I want to give country radio something different for the fans and for the genre.”

“Country music needs change, and I want to be that change”

Before the song’s global success, the journey to 25 million streams started in Las Vegas in the fall of 2015. Marks joined Kevin Churko at the eight-time JUNO nominee’s studio, The Hideout. The pair wrote the bones for “Outlaws and Outsiders” in less than a day. Churko then used his influence to land some heavy-hitter guests: veteran country music icon Travis Tritt, Ivan Moody of Five Finger Death Punch, and Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe.

With or without the support of Canadian country radio, Marks will stay true to the outlaws and outsiders who inspired him: from Hank Williams to Buck Owens, Willie to Waylon, and Steve Earle to Sturgill Simpson. Growing up in North Bay, the artist was an aspiring hockey player, and picked up the drums as his first instrument. His dad turned him on to these country legends, and he simultaneously discovered hard rock, becoming a fan of bands like Rush, Black Sabbath, Grand Funk Railroad, and Deep Purple.

“It’s unfortunate for artists like myself, with more of a rock edge, that we don’t often get the respect from the country establishment,” he says. “Country music needs change, and I want to be that change.”

Sno Babies Synch
As if the streaming success of “Outlaws & Outsiders” wasn’t enough, Marks also landed a synch with the song in Sno Babies (2020) – an independent film that looks at the dark realities of addiction. Better Noise Music, Marks’ label, produced the film, and the soundtrack, and felt his song fit well with the theme. “To watch the movie unfold, and have your song come on, that was such a cool moment,” he says. “As an artist, you dream of having a hit on the radio, but getting one of your creations featured in a film is also an incredible honor.” Come 2021, Marks’ song “Blame It on the Double” is set to appear in another Better Noise Films feature, The Retaliators.