Up until a few months ago, we knew Le Matos – a duo comprised of SOCAN members Jean-Philippe Bernier and Jean-Nicolas Leupi — as one of Montréal’s best-kept secrets, whose string of releases and popular remixes ­ (most notably the electro facelift they gave to Coeur de Pirate’s “Comme des enfants”) made them darlings of the indie scene.

That was until they participated in the original score of a feature film that seems on its way to become a cult movie, Turbo Kid. The film’s ‘80s-inspired sci-fi sensibilities were tailor-made for Le Matos’ retro-futurist experimentation. With many a vintage synth, the duo pays homage to Vangelis and the movies of John Carpenter. Killing two birds with one stone, the film also burst onto the international scene thanks to the its performance on the festival circuit (Sundance, SXSW, Fantasia, to name but a few). Their work has also been recognized with a nomination at the Jutra awards in the Best Original Music category.

Their album, Chronicles of the Wasteland, to which the movie’s soundtrack was tagged, was launched in December 2015, and allowed the duo to flex its creative muscles for everyone to see, most notably with an energized vocal collaboration with London-based chanteuse Pawws.

“Currently, we’re recording the original score for a Web series titled ‘Exode’ that will air on TV5. It’s a retro-feel sci-fi that takes place behind closed doors. Once again, we are exploring our love for everything 80s, but with a less cheesy and more ambient approach,” the guys tell us what they are working on in 2016. They are also working on a live performance for Chronicles of a Wasteland as well as a handful of releases and soundtracks.

It’s mid-January 2016, and Ben Caplan is at a Mercedes dealership in Germany getting the brakes serviced on the rental vehicle that he and his band, The Casual Smokers, have been using for their tour. It’s no surprise that it’s due for a tune-up: since landing in Europe in mid-December, they’ve played a gig nearly every night, save a short break over the holidays – and there’s no end in sight.

After the European leg of the tour wraps, Caplan, whose girlfriend, Taryn Kawaja, is also a member of his band, heads directly to the United States for a month of shows. He’ll then go home to Halifax for a five-day break before carrying on to Quebec – all this after already playing 60 shows throughout North America in the two months immediately following release of his second album, Birds with Broken Wings, in September 2015.

“It’s about performing. The only way I know how to do it as my job is to play a show every day.”

But if he’s exhausted, Caplan, isn’t letting it show. “It’s what I do – it’s about performing,” he says simply. “The only way I know how to do it as my job is to play a show every day.”

Beloved for his enthusiasm and larger-than-life stage presence (a review in The Guardian recently described him as playing “the role of oversized ringmaster to the hilt”), not to mention his exuberant beard, Caplan is clearly at home before an audience.

Trained in theatre, he mindfully pushes the boundaries when he performs, working to straddle the line between the absurd and the authentic. “People want to connect and there is something about absurdity that lets people’s guard down,” he explains, “but then you have to do something real when it’s down.”

For Caplan, that’s where songwriting comes in. “That’s what I want people to connect with,” he says, explaining that while not every song is personal, even those he describes as “intellectual experiments” are about communicating ideas, no matter how theatrical the set-up.

While immensely confident onstage, Caplan admits it took him some time to embrace his voice as a songwriter. Acquiring his first guitar as a 13-year-old (“I played it incessantly!”), he later teamed up with childhood friend Joe Girard (who also contributed to the song “Deliver Me” on Birds with Broken Wings) in his hometown of Hamilton, ON, to form a folk duo. Girard wrote the words and Caplan stuck with melodies.

In time, however, he began working out his own lyrics. “I realized it was much more exciting to sing lyrics that I had written,” Caplan recalls. By the time he moved to Halifax to attend university, he had embraced songwriting wholeheartedly. Within two years he had written the bulk of the songs that make up his first album, In the Time of Great Remembering, which was released in 2011.

Caplan has since won a whole host of award nominations (and wins for Entertainer of the Year at the Nova Scotia Music Awards in 2012 and Rising Star Recording of the Year at the East Coast Music Awards in 2013); performed three times with Symphony Nova Scotia (he proposed to his now wife onstage at one of those shows); and played at the U.K’s Glastonbury Festival, an experience he describes as a career highlight. In September 2015, his song “40 days and 40 Nights,” from his current album, spent several weeks in the Top 10 of the CBC Radio 2 Top 20 chart.

On Birds with Broken Wings – produced by hip-hop klezmer singer-songwriter and producer Socalled (Josh Dolgin) – Caplan pays homage to his roots by referencing many of the melodies he heard growing up in Hamilton’s Jewish community. It’s music that he’s found resonates particularly well with enthusiastic European audiences, where his shows are selling out on a regular basis.

“There’s something about that old European folk sound that connects with people,” he says. “I think it is foreign and exotic to both European and Canadian audiences,” he explains, “but what’s exotic to the Europeans is also a little nostalgic.”

While he’s planning for a third, yet-to-be-written album (“it’s coming – it’s gotta be somewhere!” he says), Caplan is happy to be on the road, doing what he loves, learning as he goes and seeing where it takes him next. “For now, it’ll be more of this, really.”

Birds with Broken Wings (2015), Festivus Vol. 1 (EP, 2013), In The Time of Great Remembering (2011),
Publisher: N/A
SOCAN member since 2007
Visit www.bencaplan.ca

Ever since she launched 10,000 in October of 2015, singer-songwriter and harpist Émilie Kahn has barely had a moment to herself. She hit the road alongside Ogden – the model name of Lyon & Healy brand Celtic harp she uses – opening for Montréal’s Half Moon Run. It was a long trip that took her all over Europe and the U.S.

Ever so shy, the young woman born in Saint-Lazare (about halfway between Montréal and the Québec-Ontario border) speaks softly and calmly, in the manner of her touching, gracious songs. Kahn’s musical universe is contemplative, dreamy, a folksy kind of indie pop that veers between melancholy and romanticism. These songs were created over a period of three years. Back in 2013, despite a critically acclaimed EP, the artist was still filled with self-doubt about her potential, and the significance of her work.

“I had moments of very deep doubt while creating 10,000,” says Kahn. “When I signed with Secret City (Patrick Watson, Jesse Mac Cormack), I was still unsure of my songs’ musical quality. But I slowly grew more and more confident. I chose that title for the album while I was writing the song of the same name, where I wondered if I’d ever make it with my music. In that song, I sing the words ‘Ten thousand talents that you’ll never see, ten thousand talents that I’ll never be…’ There are so many people making music! So, even though I know I can make it, I was still afraid no one would notice. Ultimately, this album is the antithesis of those fears.”

Emilie & OgdenAs for her previous EP, Kahn tapped Jesse Mac Cormack to produce her album. “I was in another musical project before and I had recorded with him before. I also heard other stuff that he produced and I really liked his work,” she says of the prolific producer and musician. “As soon as I got Emilie & Ogden, I contacted him. He’s very young, but he’s so creative! We did large swaths of the album at Studio B-12, a strange house of a million rooms in the middle of the countryside. We stayed there for a week. Most of the vocals were recorded in another studio, near Morin Heights, with Éloi Painchaud. That process was quite lengthy, a long and winding road,” Kahn admits about the incubation of 10,000. “Then the album sat in a drawer for awhile, because we had no idea if we’d find a label willing to put it out, or if we would put it out ourselves. But, in the end, Secret City approached us.

Shortly after wrapping up the recording for 10,000, Kahn covered Taylor Swift’s “Style” and made a video for it. So far, the clip has been seen more than 325,000 times on YouTube.

“I don’t know what to think anymore,” says Kahn. “I still love playing that song, but on the other hand, I don’t want to become just a YouTube sensation. It was quite intense when it started getting traction, just before I released the album. I wondered if it was a good idea, but with time, I do think it was. I thought it was interesting to take a pop song and turn it into something completely different. By taking a different approach, we can sometimes create different emotions than the ones evoked by the original. My cover created a small buzz and helped attract audience and media’s attention to my music.”

“In the end, it’s Taylor Swift herself that got the ball rolling by tweeting a link to my cover version. I wonder if she actually watched it!” laughs Kahn, admitting her love for sugary pop songs. “As a teen, I listened to a lot of indie stuff: St. Vincent, Feist, Metric… I was already in a band when I was in high school, and when I listen to the stuff we played back then, I realize it’s not that far from what I’m doing today. But I still listen to full-on pop, like Beyoncé, Drake and, of course, Taylor Swift!

“Somebody told me once, after a concert, that I actually make pop songs, but orchestrated and interpreted in a completely different way. So, in the end, my music is very much a melting pot of all my influences.”