Story by Guillaume Moffet | Thursday August 25th, 2016
It’s early August and there’s a heatwave in Montréal. The whole music industry is a bit hung over. Why? Because Osheaga. But a who’s who of the scene is at O Patro Vys for a special showcase. The star of this showcase: singer-songwriter Gabrielle Shonk.
The artist invited friends, peers and acquaintances to make sure the room was packed, because otherwise it would’ve seemed a little empty. And on everybody’s lips are the same words: Miss Shonk has got the world at her feet right now.
She only had to sing one song, but what a song!
Some might recall the gorgeous Québec City-based young woman from her brief passage on La Voix [the Québec version of The Voice] – and especially her fragile and honest interpretation of Jean Leloup’s “Sang d’encre” – but to revellers in Québec nightlife, she’s a singer-songwriter who’s been singing on the club circuit for at least a decade. Electro lovers will also remember her voice as the voice on Men I Trust’s first album, whose band members share the gig with Miss Shonk.
“Habit,” Shonk’s first original song, was launched on various digital platforms in late May of 2016. The grandiose, soulful ballad is fuelled with anger, directed at some dude with really nasty habits. It turned out to be a calling card for Shonk.
Just a few weeks later, Buzzfeed included it in its “Songs You Need In Your Life” list. Noisey, the music publication under Vice magazine’s umbrella, said of her voice that it’s “too big for small towns.” It’s easy to understand why offers began pouring forth from every corner after that. First, there were e-mails from Roc Nation, the production and management company run by Jay-Z, which greatly surprised the artist.
So it’s no surprise that the album on which “Habit” was to be released officially in September – a bilingual, self-produced affair Shonk had been working on with friends for the past two years – was put on hold so that Shonk and her management team can take time to carefully consider the numerous offers received over the past few weeks.
But no matter what’s decided, you can bet that Gabrielle Shonk’s star will keep on shining brighter and brighter.
Photo by Connor Olthuis
BadBadNotGood: They play well with others
Story by Kevin Young | Tuesday August 30th, 2016
While the general consensus is that BadBadNotGood are a jazz/rap band, they’re really much harder to pigeonhole; BBNG are that rare group that truly defies easy categorization.
It’s even difficult for the Toronto-based band to define their own music, says BBNG bassist Chester Hansen. “I think at one time, it [jazz/rap] was an accurate description, but now our influences are so different,” he explains. “We still have the influences we had then, but also a huge mix of things we’re discovering.”
That’s readily apparent on BBNG’s 2016 release, IV, their first album featuring longtime collaborator, saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Leland Whitty as an official member. Although Whitty had recorded and gigged with the band regularly prior to IV, until early 2016 BBNG were a three-piece comprised of Hansen, keyboardist Matthew Tavares and drummer Alexander Sowinski.
“We’ve been playing with Leland for years and anytime we had a show that was accessible – Montreal, Ottawa, whatever – we’d bring him,” says Hansen. “For the last year-and-a-half he’s been doing everything, every session.”
The band, Whitty included, originally met while studying jazz at Toronto’s Humber College and formed in 2010. Their first performance was a mash-up of rap tunes played in a jazz style for Sowinski’s jury performance, which prompted the adjudicating panel assembled by the college to bluntly rule that that the performance had no musical value.
Given the band’s very warm critical and popular reception since then, that’s a statement that seems at best, shortsighted, and at worst, just plain wrong.
“Anytime you add a new person it brings another dimension, another set of opinions and more musical ideas.” – Chester Hansen of BadBadNotGood
BBNG have since become highly successful, both as a touring outfit and as recording artists, and have collaborated with a variety of other musicians, including Ghostface Killah on their 2015 album Sour Soul. On IV, released in July of 2016, collaborators include Future Islands’ frontman Sam Herring, sax player Colin Stetson, hip-hop artist Mick Jenkins, Polaris Prize short-listed producer Kaytranada and singer-songwriter Charlotte Day Wilson.
Collaboration, both within the band and with outside artists, has a definite impact on BBNG’s writing and recording process. “Every day we collaborate,” says Hansen. “We’re a band of four, but the ideas two or three of us might come up with might be different than the ideas the others have. Anytime you add a new person it brings another dimension, another set of opinions and more musical ideas; especially bringing in collaborators who are artists in their own right, and have a wealth of material they’ve been doing.”
Initially lauded for their jazz-based covers of hip-hop originals, BBNG have since transitioned to writing and recording original material.
“Early on we didn’t spend much time writing songs,” says Hansen. “Covers were a quick, fun, way to start playing together, and, when we came to the point where we were writing our own songs, it was valuable to have done that. Really, it’s a natural progression of being musicians and playing together. It was the next step after playing shows, recording more together and working on music every day. And every day we’re learning more about how we write.”
Their writing and recording process was, and is, very open, “Nine times out of ten it’s all of us in the room on some random combination of instruments,” says Hansen. “Coming up with ideas, but it’s never the same twice. We don’t have a formula,”
With Whitty in the mix full-time, BBNG have expanded their instrumental palette substantially. “There are a lot of instruments – woodwinds and strings – that the other guys don’t play, and that allowed for a lot more arrangement on the record,” says Whitty, speaking from Toronto’s Pearson Airport only minutes before the band heads to Japan for a gig at the Summer Sonic Festival in Osaka.
Along with the new instruments, and a taste for collaboration, the band’s own musical evolution also blurs the lines between genres, and displays a growing appetite for incorporating a variety of other styles into their music. The result is a blend of soul, jazz and hip-hop-based tunes and electronic elements that, while wide-ranging, displays a singular voice unique to the band.
Onstage and on record, it’s not about being perfect, it’s about capturing the moment, and the distinct mix of personalities. “We like to have fun and create music and we all play multiple instruments,” says Hansen. “We’re creating a feeling, catching a vibe, and sometimes the perfect take is the one that has a really noticeable mistake at one part, that one of us will be bugged by, and another will say, ‘C’mon, this is so good.’”
Capturing that on record was easier than before, given the fact that all of the collaborators taking part on IV came to BBNG’s studio (a space they took over from The Cowboy Junkies) to work. That’s a rarity these days, given it’s far easier to transfer files from other locations, but nothing beats working together, face to face.
“All the people on the record are people we get along with, and they’re friends of ours, so it was really amazing working with them,” says Hansen. “A lot of people on the record we met at shows, at festivals, and got to know them, which is really cool.”
There have been naysayers, who feel that BBNG doesn’t fit into the definition of jazz, or hip-hop, or, whatever convenient stylistic box in which you’d try to place them. But jazz has never been a form that you can put into any kind of definitive box, anyway. For BBNG, where they fit in isn’t really a concern. They just do what they do, regardless of what your definition of jazz is.
They believe their approach is just another way of driving the form forward.
Photo by Falling Tree Photography
A Tribe Called Red: Growth by Collaboration
Story by Kerry Doole | Thursday August 25th, 2016
It is easy to understand why it took A Tribe Called Red two years to put together their upcoming third album We Are The Halluci Nation (to be released Sept. 16). The Ottawa-based trio of producer/DJs has earned international acclaim (and a JUNO Award) for their inventive blend of EDM and elements of First Nations music, and they’ve now taken things up another notch.
The group assembled a large and formidable cast of collaborators for the project, then wrote and recorded the tracks in locales around the globe. Group member Tim Hill (a.k.a. 2oolman) tells us that creative collaboration with outside musicians, vocalists and lyricists was the key to the project.
“We wanted to have a conceptual record. That was always the plan, and it began with us working with [Toronto singer/songwriter] Lido Pimienta,” says Hill. “Our first song was ‘The Light,’ and we did that about two years ago. It helped set the tone for the record, and that’s when we decided to turn it into a collaborative project. We sat and wrote things together with Lido and her band in the studio for two days.”
“We’ll always be an indigenous band and we’re happy with that. But we just wanted to grow and mature.” – Tim Hill (a.k.a. 2oolman) of A Tribe Called Red
Direct personal contact helped fuel many of the jointly-written compositions here, Hill explains. “Much of this project was about working together in the studio,” he says, “whereas a lot of the music on the earlier albums was created through sampling of a cappellas and tracks. Having the artists right there in the studio with us rather than having files sent to us, has been awesome.”
The list of collaborators on We Are The Halluci Nation is an impressive and stylistically diverse one. It includes Pimienta, Shad, Tanya Tagaq, Black Bear, Yasiin Bey (a.k.a. hip-hop icon Mos Def) and Narcy, Saul Williams, John Trudell, award-winning Canadian Indigenous author Joseph Boyden, and OKA.
One track that did involve online file-swapping was “Sila,” featuring fellow indigenous musical explorer Tanya Tagaq. “We had always wanted to work with her and she’d been a fan of our work,” recalls Hill. “We sent her beats and she recorded over them. When we got the files back we tried to work with those beats but it wasn’t quite fitting with the sound of the record. We went back to the drawing board and re-worked it. We made it a little darker, and we wanted the song to sound as if we were going back and forth with her. I think we accomplished that, and it’s one of our favourite songs on the record.”
A creative catalyst for the album was noted Native American poet, activist, and musician John Trudell. “We played a show in Santa Fe and John said some beautiful things about us before we got on stage,” says Hill. “That was crazy to us, we were huge fans of his. He suggested we should do something together. What he didn’t know was that we have a wish list of people we’d most like to work with, and he was on it! Here was a real life super-hero of ours wanting to work with us.”
Trudell went into a San Francisco studio to record a poem for use by the group. “He then e-mailed us and said ‘I threw in another poem for you,’” says Hill. “It was ‘We Are The Halluci Nation.’ When we heard it, we looked at each other and went, ‘This is the one.’ That poem helped make the ideas for this record a lot bigger.”
A Tribe Called Red later visited the ailing Trudell, but he passed away last December as the group toured Australia. “It was amazing that our hero could drop so much knowledge and wisdom on us,” praises Hill. “We’re happy we’re able to share his vision with the rest of the world.”
Hill describes the resulting album title as reflecting the record’s concept. “It’s basically about like-minded people that want change, and they band together as a nation, without any cultural affiliations. We want to take it back to human beings as one.”
Befitting that vision is the fact that the album was created on many different continents. “We did the first parts of ‘R.E.D.’ [the collaboration with Bey and Narcy] in a hotel room in France, we worked on songs in a fishing cottage in northern Norway, and did work in L.A., Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, San Francisco, NYC, and Australia,” recalls Hill.
“When we were in these other places, it wasn’t that we had an obligation to get the record done. It was just that we wanted to do the music because there was so much around us that was inspiring. When these inspirations hit, we pulled out the gear and started working. I’m hoping people will get a sense that this is world-shaped.”
The group’s extensive international travels have had a real impact, he observes. “We’ll always be an indigenous band and we’re happy with that,” says Hill. “But we just wanted to grow and mature. That has honestly come from touring and meeting all of these people from all over the world, and having our eyes opened to other indigenous peoples we’ve had a chance to be with.”