Callum Afcouliotis got his music education from an iPod at a young age. The singer, who performs under the name COTIS, can still remember the time when his older brother loaded a bunch of songs for him and he “went completely in, and just listened to as much stuff as possible.” Included in there were songs by Kanye West and Kid Cudi.

Little did his brother know, though, that those tunes would inspire COTIS to start writing “little raps and songs” himself. At first, it wasn’t much (“I’d write like, one verse every six months”), but it was clear that being creative would become an important outlet for him.

Now 19 years old, COTIS is slowly but surely carving out a space, somewhere nestled between pop, R&B, and hip-hop, that’s garnering him lots of attention. Last year, he put out “Phone Light Up,” his biggest song to date, which has accumulated more than 3.6 million streams on Spotify. The song finds COTIS’ melodic flow – one that closely evokes Post Malone at times – riding a bombastic beat that was tailor-made for the club. It’s what he might describe as a banger.

But even with that hit, which was included on his latest EP Wait! alongside poppier dance tracks like “All Night” and “Ride,” COTIS admits that he still doesn’t feel like he’s “accomplished anything yet.” In the digital era, it can be easy to hang one’s hat on isolated achievements like this, but the young man knows that he’s still got a long way to go.

“I’m still trying to come into my own and find myself as an artist, and that’s what mostly matters to me,” he explains. “Streams are sick, but I’m really trying to make bangers. I’m mainly focused on staying consistent right now.”

Mathieu Lafontaine doesn’t roll his “R”s in real life. Onstage, as Claude Cobra, he becomes the joker that makes people laugh, but without becoming a joke himself. “Hey! Is it cold? Are you comfortable in your cotton fleece jacket?” is a question that many people have asked friends, but it is above all an earworm. Bleu Jeans Bleu’s « Coton ouaté » (“Cotton Fleece”) hit song is a catchy and brilliant piece of work in its own right; but timing also had something to do with its runaway success.

The release of their Perfecto album in late January of 2019 consolidated the star status of a four-member band that was already going strong. “It was as if the third album was confirming that this is no joke,” says singer-songwriter Mathieu Lafontaine.

The video announcing the release of the “Coton ouaté” single, which came out at the end of April, had a snowball effect. The chorus –  a perfect fit for a spring that kept refusing to happen – soon captured the imagination of Quebecers who were eager to be walking around in shorts. “It would be pretentious of us to say that we’d written a verse that held such potential,” says Lafontaine. “If we hadn’t had the video with the choreography, and if the spring weather had been warmer, it probably wouldn’t have worked.”

According to the singer, there’s now a “Coton ouaté challenge” on social media relating to the song’s choreography; schools have picked the song for their year-end talent shows; and the words “Coton ouaté” are increasingly being associated with the song. “We’re really hoping that this becomes a recurring joke, where you ask someone ‘Is it cold?’ and everyone answers, ‘Are you all right with just a cotton fleece jacket?’ We really would like this to become a catch-phrase, like the ‘Ma vie c’est de la marde’ (“My life is shit’) line from the Lisa LeBlanc song.”

“Making funny music that’s going to be considered to be real music takes a lot of hard work.” – Mathieu Lafontaine of Bleu Jeans Bleu

The Bleu Jeans Bleu guys are not a bunch of comedians turning to music. “There’s comedy on a soundtrack, and there’s music that happens to make people laugh,” says Lafontaine. “We really try to make sure we always fit in the music category.” While the musicians are quite flattered to be compared to Les Trois Accords, they insist that they never sought to imitate them. “Our two projects show similarities, but we don’t really limit ourselves to a music style in our band. Les Trois Accords have been a pop-rock band from the start. As for us, we can go anywhere from funk, to jazz, to rap.”

The group’s humourous songs are also hits with children, “who don’t mind listening to the same song 20 times in a row,” Lafontaine explains. “This causes earworms to jump from children to parents, who may decide to get the album just so that they won’t have to listen only to ‘J’ai mangé trop de patates frites’ (‘I Ate Too Many French Fries’) over and over again. “


The enjoyment is contagious onstage, but the true stars are the musical arrangements. “It’s theatre, but the way things are phrased isn’t hilarious if you’re not paying attention. or if you don’t speak French,” says Lafontaine. “‘Petit Pudding’ (released on Franchement wow in 2016) is a somewhat sad song, if you don’t realize that we’re talking about a pudding. The emphasis is always on the music, even if that is coming way out from left field.”

The fact that something’s humourous doesn’t mean it was written on a napkin. There’s hard work behind each listener’s smile. “Making funny music that’s going to be considered to be real music takes a lot of hard work,” says Lafontaine, the only band member without any formal musical training. As he’s wont to brag, “I’m the band’s least educated member. This allows me to do anything I like, because I have the freedom of innocence. I don’t deprive myself from doing things just because they’re not theoretically ‘correct.’” But the singer remains realistic, and recognizes that the naiveté that he uses so well would be almost impossible if his band weren’t as musically competent as it is.

The joy of listening to the Bleus has (happily) infected everybody in Québec, without any need for the commercial radio airplay, which is a cause for some pride amongst the bandmembers. “Word of mouth seems to have done the job,” the band’s leader claims. “A woman I know told me that an elderly lady living upstairs from her nearly missed a postal delivery one day because of us. She said she heard her say, ‘I was listening to the Bleu Jeans Bleu, and I didn’t hear you’ to the delivery man.

“You have to find satisfaction, while remaining hungry all the time,” says the singer, who wants to appreciate this momentum to the fullest extent possible. “Nothing can be taken for granted, and we’re going to do all it takes to keep the fun going and to renew our entertainment offering.”

That offering will hit the road this summer. The tour schedule is already “juicy,” and more shows keep getting added. Get out there! And get your cotton fleece jackets out… you never know.

LoudAfter breaking many records with his first album, Loud strikes while the iron is hot and releases a new album, Tout ça pour ça, Once again, he relies on the talent of Ajust and Ruffsound, two of the country’s most sought-after producers. The Montréal-based rapper has given us the honour of re-visiting the creative process behind each of his 10 new songs.

“Sans faire d’histoire” (“Without a Fuss”)
“It essentially plays the same role that “So Far So Good” had on my first album – which is to summarize the last few months and set the tone for what’s to come. I don’t know why I open my albums that way, but I feel I need to do so. I think it’s interesting to say where I’m at. Some might’ve been expecting something pop as an opener, but I chose to go the conventional route. I wanted it to be clear this is a rap album. As for my recap, it’s obviously quite positive, since it’s mostly about what happened over the last 18 months. I think it’s the beat that led me to something so positive. It sounds like a summer anthem.”

“Médailles” (“Medals”)
“At first glance, this one is a song about accomplishments and success. But if you pay close attention, and when you watch the video, you’ll see I also talk about the other side, of everything that comes with success. Music is a personal choice, and I don’t feel stuck in a deal I’m not happy with. But it’s still a fact that once your project is launched, opportunities abound, and it becomes hard to say “no” and take a break. You get stuck in an endless loop, and you can’t really enjoy your success unless you stop. This song is about the only one where the lyrics came before the music. I had the chorus and pre-chorus in mind, and the guys built the beat around that.”

“Jamais de la vie” (“Not in My Lifetime”)
“For this one, Ruffsound and myself paid a visit to Banx & Ranx to look for a melody. We ended up with a rough draft of this song, and the guys fine-tuned it. The process was quite long, because we knew this was radio material, especially the chorus, and we wanted to make sure we would take it to the next level. It was important to me that the chorus has something universal about it, and I do believe everyone can relate to the idea of being in control of their lives, of not wanting to fit in the mould. In a pop context, it’s basically the job of the chorus to summarize the general theme of the song, even if the verses are slightly more personal.”

“Salles combles (“Packed Venues)
“This is a song designed for my shows, and it has a chorus that’s almost like a call-and-response. The lyrics are about being onstage, and my last tour, but also about the hardships of touring in Québec, and how starting a career here can sometimes be very unrewarded. With LLA [his old trio, Loud Lary Ajust], we played shows where the transportation was so expensive that we basically played for free. And in some smaller markets, you actually end up paying to play. But there’s a level of pride in this story, because ever since I went solo, I’ve had about 100 sold-out shows. I wanted to highlight and celebrate that.”

“Longues vies (“Long Lives)
“This one came from a reflection, and I would even say an angst I sometimes feel: losing my place. It’s an obvious observation, but some things go really, really fast, and don’t always have a very long shelf life. People get tired of stuff that plays everywhere, and too much. So the question that arises in the Québec market is, “How long can we push it before it becomes too much?” It’s going to happen at some point, no matter what… I also mention Prodigy and Nipsey Hussle, two rap legends that recently passed away. That’s why the title, ‘Longues Vies’ [‘Long Lives’] is in the plural tense. It’s not a self-centred reflection, it’s a general reflection on how long one can stay at the top.”

“Sometimes All the Time (with Charlotte Cardin)
“I’m a big fan of what Charlotte Cardin does. We had mentioned our mutual interest in working together, but nothing was concrete until I sent her this song. The very next day, she sent me her verse via voice memo, and we barely re-touched it. The song’s angle was ideal for a classic duo with two verses, where we address each other, and a chorus where we get together. Charlotte related to the song’s subject matter, namely the repercussions of a long-distance relationship, where we’re constantly on the road, or in a hotel room. Communicating becomes complex and often impossible. We end up talking whenever we can, but it’s never optimal.”

“Off the Grid” (with Lary Kidd)
“This is a tip o’ the hat to LLA using another recap-style format. Here, too, the tone is positive, but with a look at the flip side. When all of your time is mapped, and you know exactly what you’re going to be doing at all times, you get this desire to disappear without a warning, to go far away and be free. I’ve always felt that way, as I’ve said before on ‘Hell, What a View.’ I’ve managed to find a balance between what I am and my public persona. I’ve notably managed to set boundaries when it comes to the media and social networks. I manage that the way I want, without seeking too much exposure.”

“Fallait y aller (“Had to Go)
This one came out of the same session as ‘Jamais de la vie’ at Banx & Ranx’s place. These songs make a pair, in my mind. We worked on them there and then I wrote the lyrics on my own. It’s a reflection on my journey, on the fact that I’ve been doing this for such a long time. There were ups and downs, but there were mostly stages that we reached. There was a definite possibility it would all be over after LLA, that nothing that big would ever happen again in my career. But in the end, it was all about timing. When it was time to go, we went all-in.”

“Pas sortables (“Bad Mannered)
“The lyrics are quite arrogant, I’d say. It’s a song you listen to the get pumped up before something… Like a UFC fight. [laughs] We really envisioned this one as a mosh pit song, where the crowd goes crazy, during our show. I just let the energy of the beat take me over. I had to go hard on this one. This is one of the few tracks that were pretty much final before I started writing for it. Ruffsound, Ajust, and Realmind [co-producers of the Loud hit, and 2018 SOCAN Songwriting Prize winner, ‘Touts les femmes savent danser,’ and several songs on this new album] wrote it in a cabin last fall. Even the finale with the guitar and strings was already there.”

“GG stands for “good game” in the online gaming universe. The idea was to come up with a bona fide conclusion where I’d allow myself to get more personal. During the verse, the music becomes so minimalist and subdued that my voice takes up all the space, front and centre. It was an opportunity to be more open about who I am, almost nothing withheld. It’s not something I like to do very often, but in such a context, it felt right. Towards the end, the minimalist build-up culminates with an explosion of live instruments, the type of jam that’s reminiscent of productions by Justice League or Kanye West. We wanted to surprise people with an epic finale.”