Some say that you have to be patient and wait for the right moment on the sidelines until it’s your turn. If that’s the case, Émile Bilodeau’s turn came early and suddenly. Barely 21, the singer-songwriter still lives with his parents in the Montréal suburbs, and doesn’t have a driver’s licence. But when he sings, he’s got only one tempo: full speed ahead.

Émile Bilodeau

Photo: Léolo

“When I write, I tell myself, ‘if it rhymes, it works,’” says Bilodeau. “I’ve always loved the musicality of words. I only check if the meaning is right afterwards. I like it when form takes over meaning. Then, when you examine my lyrics, you notice the cadence work. It looks uncontrolled, just a bunch of easy-to-memorize words, but I always go over my texts after the initial, automatic writing.”

Self-taught, Bilodeau went all-in to the music world when he ended up in the finals of the 2015 Francouvertes competition. His artistic toolbox might seem empty, considering that he has no music studies to speak of, but he’s adamant that his label, Dare to Care, has found “all the friends he needed,” he says with a laugh. Notably, his first album was produced by Philippe B, and he hopes to work with him again on his sophomore full-length.

Not completely in the margins, but not fully encamped in commercial music, Bilodeau is quite proud of being able to straddle both worlds. Although he’s managed to place a few songs on commercial radio stations, he also boasts other, less-formatted ones that were championed by independent stations. “It’s a privilege to reach all kinds of audiences,” he says. “I’ve wanted to earn a living doing music ever since my childhood. I started school in a sports program… I don’t want to generalize and say jocks only listen to CKOI, but I’m always flattered when my friends from Cégep tell me they’ve heard me on the radio.”

“My career started with a bang! It’s a lot to chew on, but I’ve got great jaws!”

Whatever the case may be, Bilodeau couldn’t be prouder to proffer an alternative, in a less accessible style. He’s particularly fond of the rock/jazz fusion of his song “America,” which finds more airplay on college radio. “I like it when people who discovered me through CKOI come to see my live show and realize, ‘Hey! he’s no Marc Dupré,’” says Bilodeau. “The format changes from one song to the next. In Québec, there are three people who decide what the entire province listens to. I hope I can usher in some new people to start doing their own research, to discover new stuff that wasn’t decided for them.”

The young artist’s first album, Rites de passages, released in 2016, reveals that he’s certainly not a man of few words. As a matter of fact, it’s his straightforwardness, energy and political edge that attract attention, in his sometimes amusing, sometimes militant songs. He’s already been compared to idealistic champions like Dédé Fortin, and he doesn’t mind being identified as a guardian of French-language preservation, or a defender of his generation’s interests.  “I think it can be comforting for people to see a young person who cares about the French language,” he says. “I make it my duty to say that French is important, and that we need to say it to people my age and younger. We must avoid demonizing Francophone music, only exposing the younger generation to Céline Dion, and pretending that’s all our music is about. If they like metal, we must expose them to Francophone, Québécois metal.”

Although a second album isn’t on the agenda just yet, the musician’s impressive, prolific creativity never sleeps. “I’m really proud of the fact that my whole live show is nothing but original songs,” says Bilodeau. “I wrote new songs as soon as my album was in the can, so that my show was nothing but me,” he says, while adding that he wants to do a collaborative song soon. “I’m trying to go outside of my comfort zone. I’ve written one-and-a-half songs on the piano, so far. To me, that’s really original, because I really don’t know how to play that instrument,” he says, laughing.

Touring, the road and the stage: that’s the music school Bilodeau chose. “If I put my capo in the wrong place, or start a song a half-tone below what I’m supposed to, my musicians just adapt and tell me I’m an idiot,” he says. “They’re the ones who allow me to be good.” He feels happy and privileged to be allowed to “learn as I go, in front of 5,000 people instead of five,” and he’s adamant that his originality stems directly from his inexperience. “My career started with a bang!” he says. “It’s a lot to chew on, but I’ve got great jaws!”

Jason BajadaAs any music journalist will tell you, there are next to no sentences from an artist as tired as “this album literally saved my life.” Throughout the years, artists in all genres have told me those words nonchalantly, but coming from Jason Bajada, they ring true.

The singer-songwriter makes no bones about it: the events that inspired his ambitious double-album Loveshit II (Blondie & the Backstabberz) are the most difficult he’s ever lived through. A series of catastrophic relationships and personal hardships followed by bouts of depression took him to the edge of the abyss. And were it not for music, it’s totally plausible that he wouldn’t have made it. “It is totally true that music was a formidable outlet and a lifebuoy, but it was only part of the healing process,” says Bajada. “If I’m better now, I also owe it to other factors, especially an extraordinary therapist who crossed my path.”

Now serene and philosophical, Bajada also speaks of the inner peace he finds in meditation, the joy he finds in listening to his favourite stand-up comedians, notably Bill Hicks and George Carlin (“truly more philosophers than comedians”, he says), or the wonderment he felt while watching the Cosmos TV series. Yet, he’s a musician through and through, and he fed from the trough of personal experience to create art, pouring all of his blood, sweat and tears in this project.

“I remember the last song I wrote for this album, “In What World Do You Savages Live Where You Thought I’d Be Cool,” he says. “I was at a New Year’s Eve party and a few seconds after midnight, I was floored by a panic attack. I left, alone in the middle of the night, locked myself up in the studio, grabbed my old Gibson and that song came out. That’s how I calmed down.”

Early on, Bajada understood that he’d need two records to tell his story; the first, folksier and more lean, that would talk about the dark aftermath of his separation; the second, a more orchestrated affair that would tell the whole love story, from the fireworks of the early days to its unavoidable demise. Once he settled on the idea of a double album, he went as far as playing almost all of the album’s instruments and imagining the arrangements before he even set foot in the studio.

“It was the first time I got to the studio with almost finished songs, and from that point on, working on them with Philippe Brault was amazing,” says Bajada. “First, because he’s truly an extraordinary human being, but also because he didn’t set out to completely transform what I’d done. The sign of a good producer is not to put his paws all over the place, but rather getting the most out of an artist, which more often than not means resisting the temptation to over-do things. In that sense, Phil is a masterful producer.”

Following two French-language albums in a self-described “atmospheric pop” style, Jason has reverted back to the language of the first Loveshit, released in 2009, and allowed his influences to shine through: the theatrical melancholy of Morrissey, Elliott Smith’s hyper-emotiveness, “and Springsteen, Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt, Devendra Banhart, and so many more…”

Despite the fact that the pain behind the songs is palpable – most of the lyrics are unequivocal – the music is luminous, even when it’s skeletal. “The paradox is that my darkest period was when I was recording Volcano, a highly atmospheric and pop love album,” he says. “Loveshit II is the exact opposite: it was created in an atmosphere of joy and simplicity.”

At the end of this adventure, Bajada thought he’d gotten everything out of himself and could never get back to work after that. But his songwriting instinct rapidly took over. To wit, when we spoke, he was in L.A. with Matt Holubowski and Aliocha Schneider, at a song camp.

“SOCAN invited me to participate in a song camp last year [the Camp Kenekt Québec, where he created the song “Comme les Autres” with Laurence Nerbonne] and I thought it was very stimulating,” he says. “It’s nice out, I’m meeting people from different backgrounds and I’m discovering new aspects of songwriting.” Is happiness on the cusp of killing his inspiration? “Ha! I doubt it, because I think I still have enough material for a whole life of songs!”

Loveshit II (Blondie & the Backstabberz) will be launched on September 1 during the Festival de musique émergente and at Montréal’s Théâtre Fairmount on Sept. 7.

Fuso, real first name Guillaume, was born in France and arrived in Québec nine years ago, and in 2016, he released his first Anglophone album. One radio single came out of it, “Rain Is Falling,” then…  nothing. That is, until he recorded a French version of his romantic ballad “Love” and released it to Québec radio. The lyrics were tweaked, and he switches from English to French throughout the sunny melody, tailored to please the most demanding Jason Mraz or Jack Johnson fan.

“The original version of ‘Love’ was bilingual, too,” Fuso explains. “It came that way naturally. When we decided to modify it for the radio, I only needed to modify a few passages. Yet, it was a much more complicated process than I expected. I wanted to keep the sound, and especially the message, intact. We tried different lyrics before settling on the right ones. It was a fun challenge.”

Since then, the French version of “Love” has become his first Top 10 hit, with all four Québec radio networks playing it in heavy rotation. The self-taught songwriter and SOCAN member doesn’t hide his elation at the song’s popularity, especially since his song started its ascension as iHeartRadio’s “Coup de cœur.” “I was super-happy and surprised by the success of my ‘coup de cœur’ composition!” says Fuso. “And that’s on top of the reception beyond my wildest dreams of my first single, ‘Rain Is Falling.’ I couldn’t be happier!”

The young songwriter will now spend the fall of 2017 on the road and in the studio, as his latest concerts have allowed him to “road test” a few new songs. “I had a great time opening for artists I admire, like Jérôme Couture,” says Fuso. “I see him as a musical mentor, and above all, as a man with his hand on his heart. I had a tremendous time sharing the stage with him. I have a chance to go back onstage and open for him in October in Granby, and I hope it’ll happen again and again!”