Cousins are Aaron Mangle and Leigh Dotey, a guitar/drums duo from Halifax who might be Canada’s hardest-working band. They’ve been relentlessly touring for the past four years, bringing their unique brand of raw, joyful garage-pop across the country, playing countless shows on their own terms.

“We made the plan,” says singer-songwriter and guitarist Mangle. “In our story of the music industry, we mostly have done everything on our own. It hasn’t necessarily been a choice so much as the only option…  We’re in charge of where we play, how people see us and how we develop our reputation as performers, businesspeople, and friends to folks we work with… We know what it has taken to get here, and we’re responsible for it.”

Their current album, The Halls Of Wickwire, was produced by Graham Walsh (of Holy Fuck) and was longlisted for the 2014 Polaris Music Prize. This fall they head on tour again, this time to Europe and the U.K. with Chad Vangaalen and back to Canada for the Halifax Pop Explosion before they settle down to work on another record.

Following the release of his first, self-titled EP in 2012, Philippe Brach went on to win a slew of industry awards including the Ma Première Place des Arts competition in 2013, three Petite-Vallée festival awards (as well as the SOCAN Best Song Award for “T’aurais pas pu nous prendre à deux”) and the top honours of the 2014 Francouvertes competition.

Commenting on his achievements over such a short time-period, the young musician explains, “Music competitions are still relevant today, even though I’m through with them personally. They not only provide artists with a certain amount of visibility, they also prompt you to write more songs. I’m a determined artist, I know where I’m going, but competitions helped me meet people. And the exchanges that take place after the awards ceremonies are over are the most valuable prize you can get. Competitions are master classes being taught by artists who have reached various stages in their careers, and you learn a lot from them. They helped me hone my performing and creative skills, and I feel I am a better, more transparent artist for it.”

“I feel more at home exploring dark, grimy, negative corners of the human soul.”

“However,” Brach cautions, “music competitions are not for everybody. I’ve seen artists running out of awards ceremonies in tears and blaming themselves. The main thing with contests is to know who you are and where you’re going. Competing provides you with the ammunition you need to succeed and gain respect,” the voluble musician sums up.

Awash in music industry awards, the 25-year-old musician released his first full-length album, La foire et l’ordre (Chaos and Order) in April 2014. This wilfully untidy folk-rock opus with appealing country touches and simple, effective arrangements has brought some listeners to draw creative parallels between Brach and Bernard Adamus for lyrical irreverence, Pépé for pervasive humour, and Vincent Vallières for sonic quality.

“I had no particular outline in mind,” says the Saguenay-born, Montreal-based musician. “I wasn’t planning on a concept album, but only trying to put the songs first and build the album around them. I must say, I’m rather pleased with the result. It’s crooked in places, but that was on purpose. There are four or five years of writing in there. Some songs are not what you’d call great songs, let’s face it! But it’s OK with me. Some tunes may not be all that accomplished, but I was eager to perform them onstage, and they all contain a message. This recording paints a true picture of where I was at that particular stage in my career. I need references like that to be able to move on and try something different.”

With the help of producer Pierre-Philippe Côté (a.k.a. Pilou), who has been with him since his first recording, Brach deals with sensitive topics (such as a harsh criticism of today’s Church on “Race-pape”) on his first full-length album, and does so with just the right amount of zeal, and without insistence or complacency.

“My songs are inspired by what I see around me – love, death, drugs, religion, travelling,” he says. “But I sometimes also talk about things I know nothing about, and that’s really interesting. All human beings have their own hurts, and I like to adapt mine to song. It’s an excellent creative engine while being an exercise in trying to understand what makes human beings tick. I’ll be the first to admit that I feel more at home exploring dark, grimy, negative corners of the human soul.”

Influenced by the music of Harmonium, Fred Fortin, The Doors and Frank Zappa, Brach is also a lover of hip-hop. “I love the Wu-Tang Clan, and although there are no traces of hip-hop on my album, that attitude is there,” he says. “I’m not a textured sound guy – I’m a feelings guy. The main thing is to remain true to yourself. I’ve been called a ‘bloody sellout,’ but that doesn’t bother me. You know, I have strong opinions on a lot of things, but I always listen to other people, and I am open to the possibility of changing my mind at some point. I’m open,” he says with an amused smile.

While he’s scheduled to perform in a handful of venues before the end of 2014, Brach is basically looking forward to concentrating on writing songs for his second album. He’s planning to go into the studio in June 2015 for an October 2015 release.

“I have a feeling it’s going to be more acoustic, more sedate, maybe a bit less crazy,” he says. “I need to be in control and know exactly where I’m at. Many artists allow themselves to get distracted by things outside of music, but not in my case. I want to put my own house in order, finish the songs I haven’t yet completed, and then see what songs I still need and plan the overall creative feel of the album. Although Pilou is a close colleague, I also want to work with different people each time. It teaches me new ways of doings things, it’s creatively stimulating. What attracts me in this profession is the possibility to keep learning. Who would I like to work with? Éric Goulet, Philippe Brault, Philippe B or Louis-Jean Cormier. I admire their work.” Any takers?

Last winter, Chantal Archambault released an intricately crafted five-song EP called L’amour ou la soif (Love or Thirst), a spontaneous self-produced effort that worked surprisingly well. “I had left for the cottage without asking myself too many questions, with next to nothing to work from, and came back with a few demos that sounded much better than what my musicians and I had expected,” the red-headed artist from Val-d’Or, Québec, recalls. The result is available through Bandcamp or at concert venues, but not in stores.

For her sophomore album, Les élans (2013), Archambault called on her colleague Dany Placard to help as a producer. On this new collection, she plays all the instruments while acting also as producer and sound engineer. A trained psychoeducator, she has remained a self-taught musician: “I’m a Jill of all trades,” she explains. “I’ve always been playing music or singing, but I quit studying musical theory because I disagreed with my teachers’ approaches. So I am self-taught, and not specialized in anything. What I am offering musically is quite simple – so I need to surround myself with the right people.”

“There’s something that speaks to me in country music – it’s in me, it’s me.”

Asked if she could elaborate on the meaning of the intriguing title she chose for her EP (Love or Thirst), Archambault explains that it’s “less about physical thirst than about a spiritual yearning. I’m 33 now, but I didn’t start my musical career in my early 20s like most musicians. My first album, La romance des couteaux (The Knives Romance), came out in 2010. They’d told me that I would develop as an artist over time, so I didn’t really have specific expectations. However, after the release of my second album three years later, I experienced a low point, and I felt that my career was not taking off the way it should. I was a bit of a disappointment because I had invested a lot of time and energy in that album. I was waiting for something to happen. It felt like an inner thirst that was not being quenched, and I realized that a lot of people around me were experiencing similar feelings. I had moved away from the attitude of gratefulness and appreciation with which I had approached my musical career until then, and I wanted to go back to that state of mind, start doing things for the right reasons, become more loving and grounded. As a society, we tend to want more and more of everything. There’s a lack of love at some level, and nothing is never enough. That’s what the “thirst” of the title means.”

Archambault has found a way of balancing her professions as a psychoeducator and a singer-songwriter to her own satisfaction. “As an artist, I’m not necessarily comfortable with being the centre of attention. I find this a bit strange, and at odds with the respect due, for instance, to people working in life-saving professions. I found myself a job in a daycare centre where I’m working with children with special needs. I get to choose my own hours, which is great for an artist. It provides me with a few hours when I stop thinking about myself. I meet lots of new people. I even host small-scale music workshops. I need this balance, and I can truly say that I’ve found my career’s G-spot,” she says, bursting into a radiant smile.

The folk-country scene has been visited over the past few years by a number of exciting newcomers – female newcomers, more exactly. I’m thinking of Lisa LeBlanc, Les Hay Babies and Les sœurs Boulay, to name only three. Where does Archambault place herself on the creative blood line going from Renée Martel (who included a cover of Archambault’s “La barque” on her Une femme libre album) to Mara Tremblay? “I’ve always listened to lots of women musicians. I was a Tori Amos groupie in high school. I loved Sinead O’Connor and Alanis Morissette. As for the folk-country influence, my mother listened to Johnny Cash albums while she was pregnant with me. He was her favourite singer, and apparently I reacted to his music before I was able to walk or talk! There’s something that speaks to me in country music – it’s in me, it’s me. These days I listen to Eleni Mandell or Lucinda Williams.”

Chantal Archambault indulged in a small fantasy on L’amour ou la soif, where she inserted a musical interlude recorded live in a Costa Rica church where dozens of women had gathered to sing, with the building’s front doors wide open. “In my travels,” she explains, “I was able to see how music is being integrated into people’s daily lives in many countries. It’s become a rich collective experience.” That too, is a way of dealing with that inner thirst.