When Ian Janes was trying to come up with a title for his latest album, he didn’t have to look far. The Dartmouth, Nova Scotia-based singer-songwriter landed quickly on Yes Man, the name of a catchy song with a groovy beat that he’d co-written for the album with Joel Plaskett. “Let me be your yes man/if anyone can do it I can,” Janes sings in the chorus. “Let me be your yes man/I’m never gonna say no.”

For Janes, it was a sentiment that he felt evoked something of his own attitude going into the making of the soulful album, his fourth in nearly 20 years. “‘Yes Man’ is a song on the record, but it’s also who I’m trying to be,” says Janes. “Not in a spineless way, but in having positive energy, and an open-to-whatever attitude.”

Janes released his first album, Occasional Crush, to critical acclaim in 1998, when he was 20. It even landed him a spot on Maclean’s magazine’s annual list of 100 Canadians to Watch. Looking back, Janes gently criticizes his younger self for being afraid to take risks, and for missing out on opportunities as a result.

“I used to get too caught up in trying to control outcomes, or too rigidly plan and direct things,” he recalls.  “The younger me might have said ‘I’m not sure’ to opportunities. Now I’ve just started saying yes.”

“Songwriting is a muscle. The more you use it, the better you get at it.”

But it’s not just his attitude that has changed. While Janes, who grew up in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, has been making music for most of his life, he hasn’t always been driven to make it the focus.

It was just after releasing his second album, 2002’s As It Seems – nominated for two East Coast Music Awards and named Record of the Year by Music Nova Scotia – that Janes met the woman who would become his wife, and shifted his attention from music to growing his family.

“Music is a huge part of who I am, but it’s not the only thing I am,” says Janes, now a father of three. “It was important to me not to miss out on those parts of my life in blind pursuit of music, or of reaching some sort of level of achievement. I always wanted to balance the two.”

It wasn’t until the release of his third self-produced album, Piece of Mine, in 2010, that Janes, who was making part of his living doing carpentry work and renovation projects, started feeling the pull to return to making music, full-time.

“I realized I needed to try and focus 100 percent of my vocational energy on music,” he says. “Your ‘B’ plan can all of a sudden take all of your energy, at the expense of your ‘A’ plan. So my wife and I decided to make it so that I could spend all of my energy on the music.”

For Janes, who cites Joni Mitchell, Carole King and James Taylor among his many musical influences, it meant both pro-actively seeking out new opportunities to get heard, and opening himself up to more co-writing.

Indeed, it was after participating in Music Nova Scotia showcase that he connected with Los Angeles-based songwriter Andy Stochansky (Goo Goo Dolls, Ani DiFranco) and soon found himself in California for a writing session. He later collaborated with Lee Ann and Daryl Burgess (Irma Thomas, Colin James) in Nashville, a city he’s since visited six times in the last two years for co-writing sessions. In both cities, Janes was thrilled to have the chance to stay at the SOCAN Houses. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without that,” he says gratefully.

In the end, two-thirds of the songs on Yes Man are co-writes, recorded in hotel rooms, studios and homes from Nashville to St. John’s, NL. Most were produced in Janes’ home studio in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, while final overdubs and mixing were done at Joel Plaskett’s New Scotland Yard studio.

Janes has also had some success writing for others, most recently when his country ballad “Can’t Remember Never Loving You,” co-written with Byron Hill, was featured prominently in the TV drama Nashville – where it was performed by lead characters as part of the show’s mid-season finale. At least two Canadian artists will also be releasing songs written by Janes in the coming year.

“It’s a muscle,” Janes says simply of the writing process. “The more you use it, the better you get at it.”

Ultimately, he’s thrilled to see that his commitment to making music full-time is starting to pay off. “Certainly, I’m still pedaling the bicycle up a hill, but I’m further up the hill now,” he laughs. “I guess it’s all about trying to keep the positivity and the pursuit going, while still trying to enjoy the process as much as you can.”

Kid Koala

Photo: Corinne Merrell

“Utilitarian” is not exactly the type of description artists long to see as a description of their music. But according to Montréal turntablist and composer Eric San, a.k.a. Kid Koala, that’s the exact word that best describes his most recent album, Music to Draw to: Satellite. The project’s intended goal could not be clearer, as expressed in its title: it’s designed as music to draw – or perform any other calm and solitary activity – to. With its slow tempos and layered synths, the album feels light years away from the eclectic, syncopated collages to which we’d grown accustomed from this ace turntable artist. Yet, to Kid Koala, this is one of his most personal projects, and a natural extension of his  creative output. “The turntable is still there, but it’s not being used as an instrument for solos, more like a production tool that can add texture to the compositions,” says San. “For the live show, I’ve created an orchestra of turntables that are manipulated by the audience, and the result is astonishing!”

The idea behind this unique project was born from DJ sessions where the Kid invited a small audience in sometimes unusual venues (a Vietnamese restaurant, for example) to listen to calm records while doodling in their sketch pads (“music for introverts”, says San, laughing). Those events were so popular that the DJ decided to create his own “music to draw to.” “I think it’s absolute genius to associate certain functions to specific types of music. The Ramones are great for a quick clean-up of the house, EDM is great for the gym, and so on!”

San, who’s been busy with his graphic-novel and animated-movie projects, also has his go-to albums when he sits at his drawing board, and his top two are quite surprising: “Spaklehorse’s It’s a Wonderful World, a somewhat twisted album that has me discovering new details in it even after hundreds of listens, and Lucky Cat by Sian, a rather ambient electronic album that Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood gave me, and which helps me lose all sense of time.”

The latter is definitely the one that comes closest to Satellite. Apart from its ambient nature and slow tempos, the most outstanding aspect of Satellite is the presence of a female voice – that of Icelandic chanteuse Emiliana Torrini, by whose work San has always been awestruck. Following their first long-distance collaboration in 2014, on a song created for the soundtrack of Jason Reitman’s Men, Women and Children, San invited Torrini to spend a few days in Montréal so they could work on his “petite winter music.” Torrini being the type to take her time when writing, she immersed herself in the DJ’s “cerebral labyrinth” while San whipped up lyrics that talked about two lovers slowly drifting apart in space. “Eric is really annoying: everything he does is successful,” says Torrini. “Creativity flows through his veins, it’s his very nature, whereas I have to struggle really hard to get to that level.”

The project is in fact the first of a series of three “winter records” Kid Koala will produce for the Arts and Crafts imprint. The few constraints he’s imposed on himself are simple: he’ll only work on them during the winter, and they must involve vocalists. Did he feel it was important to involve a Nordic singer for this first chapter? “I do believe it facilitated my understanding of certain things,” San explains. “At some point, Emiliana asked me why the rhythm of one of the songs, ‘Adrift,’ was so slow. I told her it has the tempo of someone who’s been shovelling snow for three hours, and she totally got it! To be honest, I’m still wondering how someone who lives in California will be able to appreciate this record!”

Whether you choose to do yoga, paint-by-numbers, or simply go for a walk while you listen to Satellite, it’s the kind of record that will find a place in your life, if you feel the need to withdraw from the daily hubbub of life. “I meet all kinds of people when I do my Music to Draw to DJ sets,” San explains. “The other day, I met a biologist who builds protein chains on his computer, and a woman who’s studying 3D models of the human brain. Maybe I should’ve titled my album Music to build proteins to or Music to do Neuroscience to. But it’s not as sexy!”

From standard bearer of the protest folk movement to charting pop-rock singer, Paul Piché is among the Québec music scene’s most legendary icons. To mark his 40th anniversary in music, the La Minerve-born singer-songwriter tells us the stories behind of 10 of his classic songs, alongside his closest collaborators from yesterday and today.

“Heureux d’un printemps” (Paul Piché, Éditions de La Minerve) – from the album À qui appartient l’beau temps ? (1977) – a SOCAN Classic

Paul Piché: “I remember perfectly the moment when I got the inspiration for this song. I was riding my car on Saint-Joseph Boulevard [in Montréal] and, when I turned onto Christophe-Colomb, the first two sentences popped up in my mind. I immediately stopped my old beater to jot them down. I was emblematic of how I felt about spring, back then: an appreciation for that season, mixed with the feeling of missing winter. I think everyone in Québec identifies with that song. It’s like you have to have truly experienced winter to understand the special nature of spring in Québec, and its liberating effect.”

Robert Léger, co-producer of the album: “That’s the song that seduced me when Paul opened for Beau Dommage in Sainte-Thérèse in 1974 or 1975. I knew it would be a hit because it had a huge potential to reach a lot of people on the right as well as on the left.”

Michel Rivard, guest musician on the album: “It’s a very unifying song that stands out among his early compositions. With this song, Paul proved that he was relevant, a talented poet and a good crafter of melodies.”

“Mon Joe” (Traditional, Arrangement by Paul Piché, Pierre Bertrand, Éditions de La Minerve) , from the album À qui appartient l’beau temps ? (1977)

Piché: “This is a Québec folk song that I discovered through a bunch of kids who were living in a commune. Someone in their entourage had just died and they were signing it very slowly and solemnly, almost as a blues song. It was quite an unusual way of doing it, because that song is normally very upbeat.”

Léger: “Paul had the idea to adapt this song and record it solo on guitar, with the help of Pierre Bertrand. Then we helped him give it a more rock feel, which wasn’t that easy, because Paul always had a foot on the brake pedal. He was quite the purist, and was wary of American music and anything commercial. Part of my role, therefore, was to get him to try new stuff. I think we went through eight cases of beer before we managed to convince him we weren’t necessarily going to hinder the workers’ cause by adding some bass to his songs!”

“Y’a pas grand-chose dans l’ciel à soir” (Paul Piché, éditions de La Minerve), from the album À qui appartient l’beau temps ? (1977)

Piché: “That’s my oldest popular song. I got my inspiration from Gérald Godin’s poem that spoke of révolutavernes and molsonnutionnaires. [poetic licence word plays that could roughly be translated as revolutaverns – taverns where the revolution is brewing – and molsolutionaries – as in revolutionaries full of Molson beer]. It reminded me of myself and all those tavern revolutionaries who think they can change the world while having a beer. I told myself that such an auto-critique would give me the licence to critique society. I remember singing that song for the first time in the student café of my Cégep. It was super-well-received from the get-go.”

Koriass, a musical guest on the 40 Printemps show: “I discovered that song when I was a teen, through a cover by the band Kermess. I was a big Québec rock fan, back then, and that song became a staple song that we sang at the Saint-Jean [Baptiste Day celebrations]. It truly is a bona fide classic of the Québec repertoire.”

“L’escalier” [Paul Piché, Éditions de La Minerve], from the album L’escalier [1980]

Piché: “That’s a very important song to me. I actually titled the album L’escalier so that people would pay attention to this song. The inspiration for this one came to me as I was walking down a staircase at the corner of Amherst and René-Lévesque [named Dorchester Street, back then]. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s about this empty feeling I had inside from being lonely and having a hard time loving myself. As it evolved, its scope widened and it ended up being a song that basically says we can change the world if we all put our minds to it. It took a long time to get there, though; the writing stretched out over at least a year.”

Léger, co-producer of this album as well: “Paul has always been very meticulous with his songwriting. He sometimes wrote a hundred versions of a single song before he considered it final. Out of the lot, “L’escalier” was the one that gave him the most trouble. He loved a lot of bits from it, but he lost the song’s sense of direction. Then, one night, while having a beer, he said he fixed it. The song would start at the top of the staircase and end at its very bottom.”

Michel Hinton, pianist on the song and the album’s co-producer: “‘L’escalier’ was a true saga. The text was so dense that initially, the song could easily have been 20 minutes long! We didn’t quite know what to do with it in the studio. We operated in a very collegiate way, so we tried everyone’s ideas. We tried adding drums and bass, but it didn’t really work out. Not knowing what else to try, I suggested that Paul record it with only a piano and his voice. And that ended up being the version we kept.”

“Ses yeux” [Paul Piché, Pierre Huet, Michel Hinton, Éditions de La Minerve], from the album Nouvelles d’Europe [1984] – a SOCAN Classic

Paul PichéPiché: ‘This song marks the period where I allowed myself to step out of my folksinger character to explore more modern sounds. A lot of people were upset by that new direction… Even the fact that I cut my beard was almost scandalous!’

Michel Hinton, keyboardist and co-writer on the song: “We were working with sound engineer Paul Northfield, who had brought this incredible synth, and that greatly influenced the sound of this song, and of the whole album.”

Pierre Huet, co-writer of the song: “Before we went to the Morin-Heights studio for a few weeks of writing and recording, I visited Paul in La Minerve [Paul’s hometown, located 180 km northwest of Montréal]. He’d come up with a gorgeous chord progression on the guitar, and we started working with that. Back then, Paul and I were bad boys, hitting all the shadiest bars to drink and cruise the ladies. That’s quite simply where we got our inspiration for this song. It’s the story of our young, single lives.”

“Cochez oui, cochez non”  [Paul Piché, Pierre Huet, Michel Hinton, Éditions de La Minerve], from the album Nouvelles d’Europe [1984]

Rick Haworth, guitarist on the song: “I remember we did this one in Morin-Heights, in Paul Northfield’s small house adjacent to the studio. We spent two or three days there and, at some point, I came up with this small, super-cheesy, tacky guitar riff. To my surprise, though, both Pauls loved it, despite the fact that I felt I was only playing something stupid, as a joke! But when I realized they were dead serious, I was upset, and when we played it onstage and everyone knew that guitar lick in an instant, I understood that it worked, and was quite efficient.”

Piché: “People got the impression this song was about the [Québec independence] referendum, but it wasn’t, really. Pierre and I wanted to shed light on the soullessness of bureaucracy through a social commentary, not a nationalist one. But I’ve always let people read what they want into it. I didn’t argue with them when they talked to me about it.”

Huet, co-writer of the song: “Paul came to visit me when I lived on Casgrain Street. We sat in his car so he could play the demo tape with the bass riff he just recorded. We went around the block a few times and then went up to my place to write the song. It’s one of the last writing memories I have of Paul, because after that we had a little falling out. We rapidly became friends again, but we never worked together again. As I’ve said during an homage to Paul at the Francofolies, it’s a good thing we had that fight, because after Nouvelles d’Europe, he recorded Sur le chemin des incendies, which sold four times more!”

“Car je t’aime” [Paul Piché, Éditions de La Minerve], from the album Sur le chemin des incendies [1988] – a SOCAN Classic

Piché: “This song is about experiencing love, but it’s not about a specific experience of mine. What’s special, though, is that I actually experience exactly what the lyrics talk about shortly afterward. One could say it was a prophetic song.”

Haworth, guitarist on the song: “Glen Robinson was in charge of sound recording for this one. He compressed the guitar and drums to get a very warm, wide sound that I really liked. Listening to the song again recently, I realized it had a lot of elements that are now an integral part of the way I play guitar. I was quite young back then, and Paul afforded me a lot of freedom.”

“J’appelle” [Paul Piché, Robert Léger, Michel Hinton, Éditions de La Minerve, Éditions Mouche à feu], from the album Sur le chemin des incendies [1988] – a SOCAN Classic

Piché: “This one was an introspective observation, where I let the words guide me. At the time, I was hurt inside, almost constantly sad. I went up to my shack in La Minerve to hide. As I looked out, I imagined a wolf, as lonely as I was. And I had the idea of putting myself in his skin. The more I wrote, the more that wolf became a symbol for Nature, and how we spoil it.”

Co-writer Léger: “When Paul came to me, he had about eight lines written down. The wolf was already part of the song, but the challenge was to make him talk, to find out how he feels. For 10 or 12 nights straight, from 9:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m., we wrote, finely going over each sentence. During an especially productive night, we came up with maybe three good sentences, which was quite satisfying for a songwriter like Paul.”

“Voilà c’que nous voulons” [Paul Piché, Audrey Benoît, Rick Haworth, Éditions de La Minerve, Éditions Nigowarh], from the album L’instant [1993]

Co-writer Rick Haworth: “I came up with a draft version of this song at home, playing banjo, and Paul thought it was really cool. It was a tad too folksy, so we worked on it quite a bit in the studio until we found the right tone. Ultimately, it ended up being one of the most ‘rock’ songs we’ve ever done together.”

Piché: “This was a much purer and raw song. We dropped the synths, the icing, the deep reverb… I wrote the lyrics with my girlfriend at the time, Audrey Benoît [a famous model in the ’80s, as well as a novelist, and creator of Québec’s first crowdfunding platform]. What we wanted to say was that Québec’s desire for sovereignty was not motivated by a desire to isolate ourselves from others, and that there was nothing racist or religion-based in there. On the contrary, we wanted to express that sovereignty was the best way to bring our differences to the international scene and make citizens of the world out of all of us.”

Co-writer Audrey Benoît: “‘Voilà c’que nous voulons’ is a heartfelt cry that speaks the truth, the raw and the essential. My participation in this call out, my deepest conviction, was to confirm the contemporary nature of that question. The fact that ‘no, it’s not just an old dream, it also sowed the seeds.’ ‘It’ was this project for a country, and this ‘project for a country’ didn’t appear out of thin air, and deserved our attention, just as we pay attention to our forefathers, or to Gilles Vigneault. Initially, Paul and I had a few debates about this song, which I felt was a little too simple, or maybe too direct. I was stunned when I saw the people’s reactions during live shows.”

“Ne fais pas ça”  [Paul Piché, Éditions de La Minerve], from the album Le voyage [1999]

Piché: “This song has more or less definable Latino, flamenco and calypso influences. What’s clear, however, is that I was really into Latin rhythms at the time. I wrote the lyrics in a way that came across as a little clumsy, as if I was a Latino man trying to speak French.”

Marc Hervieux, a musical guest on the 40 Printemps show: “‘Ne fais pas ça’ really gets to me in the way it talks about heartbreak, without using the cliché of a person curled up in a ball in a corner, listening to hard, depressing songs. It really speaks to me as a person.”


The 40 Printemps de Paul Piché tour will stop in Montréal on March 17, 2017, at the Bell Centre, with special guests Éric Lapointe, Koriass, Marc Hervieux, 2Frères, Safia Nolin; and at Québec City’s Vidéotron Centre on May 20, 2017, with special guests Safia Nolin and Vincent Vallières.