When Toronto’s Dragonette first began making waves with its shimmering brand of electropop back in 2007, they did something unusual: they left the country.

The husband-and-wife team of Dan Kurtz and Martina Sorbara, who – along with drummer Joel Stouffer – comprise Dragonette, high-tailed it across the Atlantic and settled in London as soon as the ink was dry on their contract with Mercury Records U.K., the label that signed them at the time.
The relocation was about more than business.

“We lived in London for seven years, and our relationship with our label ended two years into that move,” recalls singer Sorbara. “One of the reasons we stayed there is because we needed to prove to ourselves that we weren’t there because of the label, but because we wanted to be there.”
Dragonette had their work cut out for them when it came to promoting and exploiting their music. Radio formats in Europe and Asia are very fragmented, and Dragonette were reportedly blacklisted by the BBC, so things weren’t easy.

“Writing songs is the most daunting thing that we face,” says Kurtz. “It’s an endless chasm of fear and self-loathing.” – Dan Kurtz

“What made our career work was that we axed Canada out of the deal that we had with Mercury in the U.K., so that made us be able to release the record [ourselves in Canada] and actually continue working as an indie band,” Sorbara explains, adding that it was imperative for them to be perceived by the rest of the world as standing on their own two feet. “I think Canada really supports its artists in a way that is amazing, but at the same time… I think it feels like when you go out of the country, you’re taken at face value.”

Dan Kurtz, whose credentials include producing Feist’s solo debut album Monarch (Lay Your Jeweled Head Down) and being the co-founding bassist of The New Deal, said a number of factors were key in helping the band survive their formative era.

“We started with a cushion of money that was our advance from our U.K. record deal, which we let trickle out so that it supported all of us for three or four years,” Kurtz explains. “That got us to the point where we were able to capitalize more on the songs that had gotten licensed into some big TV commercial campaigns and a couple of movies [included ads for Jacob’s coffee, Dell computers and Vicks medicinal products, all using “Get Lucky.”]

“There’s always been the one dream gig that’s come along at the right time… A license or a show that’s kept the band in the black and trucking along.” – Dan Kurtz

“There’s always been the one dream gig that’s come along at the right time, whether it’s a license or a show that’s kept the band in the black and trucking along. We did take advantage of the internet, and when our record Galore came out in Canada, “I Get Around” got radio play. The grassroots thing has basically been the backbone of what we are, with the exception of some great radio play in Canada in the anomaly that is ‘Hello.’”

Ah yes, “Hello.” The high-profile collaboration with French electro music DJ Martin Solveig has paid handsome dividends, landing the band its first Juno Award in 2012 for Dance Recording of the Year. On the heels of “Hello,” Dragonette’s constant touring, appearances at two crucial 2012 festivals – Lollapalooza and Coachella – and a spot on ABC’s Good Morning America have all generated a buzz for their third album Bodyparts. It debuted at No. 17 on Billboard’s retail-driven Dance/Electronic Albums chart.

Which was a great relief to Sorbara, who writes the melodies and lyrics, and Kurtz, who originates the bed tracks, since both confess they’re very slow writers.

“It’s the most daunting thing that we face,” Kurtz admits, calling it a process of “pulling teeth” and “an endless chasm of fear and self-loathing.” The duo started writing Bodyparts in Rio de Janiero, but after two months they’d only finished two songs. “We wrote two beautiful songs – ‘Run Run Run’ and ‘Lay Low’ – but we felt like we weren’t getting anything done,” says Sorbara. “I’m really precious with my own stuff and I agonize over it. I know I’m trying to represent something real and true inside of me, so I’ll go to whatever extent I can to make sure it feels true.”

As the couple relocates to Toronto, Kurtz is hoping to build on the duo’s creative momentum. “I don’t want us to take another 18 months to write another album.”

Late last summer, Dany Placard released Démon vert (Simone Records), an album that does not reinvent the Dany Placard sound but definitely takes us closer to the artist and his loved ones. I met with Dany early in the morning at Café Placard on Mont-Royal street. He assured me that he was fine, one of the rare musicians that are able to get out of bed before 10 a.m. for an interview… “I was up at 6:27 this morning because of my youngest one,” he explains.

This is not a trifling detail, for his loved ones – his paramour and their sons – are the muses to which we owe this fourth album. Songs are dedicated to them and even the creation process was totally dependent on the domestic realm: “I would wake up in the middle of the night with a melody and words in mind. I’d jot down the first verse and chorus and when I dried up, I’d go back to bed. I would go to the kitchen and record my voice, no guitar or anything, with my iPhone, making sure I didn’t wake anyone up. And I would pick up from there when morning came,” confides the spokesperson of the 2013 edition of Francouvertes.

Except it’s not easy to write about one’s intimate life without sounding mushy. Mara Tremblay, Julie Doiron and Michel Rivard all pulled it off. How did Dany deal with it? “I couldn’t have pulled it off 7 or 8 years ago. I’m 36 now, and life’s been good over the last 2 years, everyone tells me that I look happier and more serene than before, and they are right about that. So, since I felt ready to write about it, the process wasn’t hard at all. ‘Sarah’, ‘Robin’, ‘Lucky Luke’…: I wrote those songs with the utmost respect for the people I love. The thing is, they’re not always easy to sing. I was doing a showcase during a ROSEQ tour not long ago, and I almost started crying when I started to sing ‘Lucky Luke’… I guess I’ll get over it sooner or later!”

So, musically, it’s a return to a more organic and sensitive folk, which by no means signifies that it is stripped down. He tapped his usual accomplices and also surrounded himself with the dulcet tones of Les Sœurs Boulay, and the result is music that is firmly steeped in the wake of his masters’ work, Dylan and Neil Young, who Dany says he’s listened to a lot during those last 2 years. A few tips of the hat to his old band – Plywood ¾ – can also be heard, mostly in the use of a brass section. The harmonica is used to its full melancholy effect and the pedal steel wraps listeners in its languor. Here and there, a few rockier passages remind us of the artist’s Saguenay roots. Straightforward guitars that exorcise the album’s title’s “green demon”, a personal demon that he bumped into in a hallway in the wee hours of the morning.

One would be remiss to not mention “Parc’qui m’fallait”, a major song on this album and – let’s not mince words – in all of his repertoire. The song is about his relationship with creation and an artistic lifestyle and the ideals and frustrations that entails. It is at once a self-affirmation and a protest song: Placard bears all. “It’s the first song that came to me. I had to get it out of my system. I wrote the previous album expressly so that its song could play on the radio. It was a lengthy and complex creation process that I didn’t really enjoy. Plus, back then, radios all but completely stopped playing Francophone rock, so I kinda missed the boat on that one… As a reaction to all that, I gave myself full creative freedom for this new album. Raw Dany Placard, that’s what I like to do.”

A former cabinetmaker turned director (domlebo, Chantal Archambault, Francis Faubert, Louis-Philippe Gingras, Tire le coyote), Dany Placard sings about our relationship to money on “Parc’qui m’fallait”. “I was having this discussion with somebody rich, and they told me: ‘You live the good life, all you do is get drunk with your friends on weekends.” But when I told them what I earned in a year, he told me to give it up, that I made no sense… And I won’t quit, because it’s what I like doing the most in life. In that song, I open myself up with regards to what I do in life and the lifestyle I have. It is quite a somber song, even negative at times, but it ends well: with love. It was a first for me, exposing myself to such an extent. Even more personal songs came to me after that one, as if ‘Parc’qui m’fallait’ had opened a portal to a new dimension,” reveals the young ma who says he’s inspired by the careers of Louis-Jean Cormier, Julien Mineau and Olivier Langevin.

This honest and uncompromising voice will no doubt still be present on albums that are currently incubating. The “Printemps érable” gave rise to something that years to bloom, to be said, to be sung. We have not yet heard the last from Mister Placard. Thankfully.

The voice is as clear as at 20. The words are true, as always. The passion remains as one day one. “It feels like it all started 30 minutes ago,” confides Pierre Létourneau, now 74, stunned by the speed at which the years went by. “I was so privileged to earn a living doing what fulfills me.”

“I was so privileged to earn a living doing what fulfills me.”

Fifty-four years after his first stage appearance, the slightly romantic singer-songwriter of old is back with a new album of original material, his 16th, titled Foutue société (loosely: Damned Society). It’s a coherent patchwork of songs whose themes range from the vacuity of our time to a sensual declaration of love while musically ranging from ethereal bossa to energetic pop-rock. “People constantly try to pigeonhole us. Me, I’m all over the map, I write what I feel. I hope people will say: ‘He was a good one, we liked him.’ Those words are very noble. In the end, they simply mean that we connected with people.”

Popularity is something Pierre Létourneau was acquainted with more often than not. The first time around was during the glorious days of the “boîtes à chansons”. (NdT: nightclubs where the tradition of French “chanson” was perpetuated in Québec in the 50s and 60s mainly) “It was an extraordinary artistic phenomenon. We had just disavowed the clergy. Yet, those venues were as quiet as churches. Artists were telling things like they were, naming things, streets, cities, feelings. The songs were ours and they were also the people’s.” In 1963, “La chanson des pissenlits” and “Les colombes” catapulted the “singing author that sometimes also composes” to the top of the sales charts.

After his first trip to Paris in 1970, a trip during which “instead of plugging myself into the French culture, I spent the whole year just entertaining visitors such as Charlebois, Renée Claude and Stéphane Venne!”, Létourneau came back home to Québec. Which meant coming back to stardom. “I missed Québec so much when I was in France that I wrote an homage to Maurice Richard. I recorded it over there with a choir and 35 musicians!” Obviously, the audience here fell in love with this now mythical song. “When I came back, I felt like I needed a new direction, a more straightforward language. I also wanted to work with composers.” What resulted of this new orientation were songs such as “Tous les jours de la semaine”, sang to a Germain Gauthier melody, as well as several songs for Nicole Martin, most notably “Laisse-moi partir”, co-written with Angelo Finaldi.

From record to stages to tours to television – Pulsion, on Radio-Canada — to visiting primary schools to teach the art of the lyricist, Pierre Létourneau reunited, in 2009, with his old brothers in arms – Pierre Calvé, Claude Gauthier and the late Jean-Guy Moreau in a musical review directed by Robert Charlebois entitled Il était une fois… la boîte à chansons. New success, new beginnings, renewed need to sing and tell.

Today, the topics on Foutue société are wide-ranging – from life as a musician (“Souvenirs de tournée”), to the decline of a generation (“Les Bébé-Boomers”), to passionate love (“Tout de toi”), to a world without bearings (Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait pour en arriver là?”) – and the words are as impressionist as ever, yet straightforward and rooted in daily life. Long-time companions and newfound collaborators alike worked on this album “created for the most part in the studio but with tremendous freedom”: Robert Léger and Michel Pagliaro wrote the music, as did also Michel Robidoux and Gérald Da Sylva, in addition to arranging and producing them, Claire Pelletier and Priscilla sang the back vocals, not to mention the team behind Edgar Bori’s new imprint, Vu de la lune. “Making music still gives me great, great joy. But I want to feel useful, first and foremost. Useful to others, so they don’t feel alone so much. Useful to society, in the hope I can contribute to making it less ‘damned’. Imagine a world without music. There would surely be more violence, more aggression.”


Inducted to the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2011, he also had the privilege of seeing two of his songs become SOCAN Classics. He casts a lucid gaze upon our mutating industry. “Making music nowadays is dangerous. Success can pounce on you at any moment and be gone the next. One must protect oneself. As far as copyrights go, the laws need to change. We, as artists, must make our voices heard. Luckily, we have organizations such as SOCAN, SODRAC and SPACQ who understand us and fight for us.”

Since his travels are not over yet, Pierre Létourneau has lent his writing skills to Luc Cousineau for an upcoming album and he his himself working on a tour of small, intimate venues that should happen sometime in 2013. “It’s going to be just me and Michel Robidoux on guitar, and I’m going to tell a long, true story and talk about events I’d like to see happen.” Naturally. Like fifty-four springs ago. When it all began.