Jason BajadaAs any music journalist will tell you, there are next to no sentences from an artist as tired as “this album literally saved my life.” Throughout the years, artists in all genres have told me those words nonchalantly, but coming from Jason Bajada, they ring true.

The singer-songwriter makes no bones about it: the events that inspired his ambitious double-album Loveshit II (Blondie & the Backstabberz) are the most difficult he’s ever lived through. A series of catastrophic relationships and personal hardships followed by bouts of depression took him to the edge of the abyss. And were it not for music, it’s totally plausible that he wouldn’t have made it. “It is totally true that music was a formidable outlet and a lifebuoy, but it was only part of the healing process,” says Bajada. “If I’m better now, I also owe it to other factors, especially an extraordinary therapist who crossed my path.”

Now serene and philosophical, Bajada also speaks of the inner peace he finds in meditation, the joy he finds in listening to his favourite stand-up comedians, notably Bill Hicks and George Carlin (“truly more philosophers than comedians”, he says), or the wonderment he felt while watching the Cosmos TV series. Yet, he’s a musician through and through, and he fed from the trough of personal experience to create art, pouring all of his blood, sweat and tears in this project.

“I remember the last song I wrote for this album, “In What World Do You Savages Live Where You Thought I’d Be Cool,” he says. “I was at a New Year’s Eve party and a few seconds after midnight, I was floored by a panic attack. I left, alone in the middle of the night, locked myself up in the studio, grabbed my old Gibson and that song came out. That’s how I calmed down.”

Early on, Bajada understood that he’d need two records to tell his story; the first, folksier and more lean, that would talk about the dark aftermath of his separation; the second, a more orchestrated affair that would tell the whole love story, from the fireworks of the early days to its unavoidable demise. Once he settled on the idea of a double album, he went as far as playing almost all of the album’s instruments and imagining the arrangements before he even set foot in the studio.

“It was the first time I got to the studio with almost finished songs, and from that point on, working on them with Philippe Brault was amazing,” says Bajada. “First, because he’s truly an extraordinary human being, but also because he didn’t set out to completely transform what I’d done. The sign of a good producer is not to put his paws all over the place, but rather getting the most out of an artist, which more often than not means resisting the temptation to over-do things. In that sense, Phil is a masterful producer.”

Following two French-language albums in a self-described “atmospheric pop” style, Jason has reverted back to the language of the first Loveshit, released in 2009, and allowed his influences to shine through: the theatrical melancholy of Morrissey, Elliott Smith’s hyper-emotiveness, “and Springsteen, Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt, Devendra Banhart, and so many more…”

Despite the fact that the pain behind the songs is palpable – most of the lyrics are unequivocal – the music is luminous, even when it’s skeletal. “The paradox is that my darkest period was when I was recording Volcano, a highly atmospheric and pop love album,” he says. “Loveshit II is the exact opposite: it was created in an atmosphere of joy and simplicity.”

At the end of this adventure, Bajada thought he’d gotten everything out of himself and could never get back to work after that. But his songwriting instinct rapidly took over. To wit, when we spoke, he was in L.A. with Matt Holubowski and Aliocha Schneider, at a song camp.

“SOCAN invited me to participate in a song camp last year [the Camp Kenekt Québec, where he created the song “Comme les Autres” with Laurence Nerbonne] and I thought it was very stimulating,” he says. “It’s nice out, I’m meeting people from different backgrounds and I’m discovering new aspects of songwriting.” Is happiness on the cusp of killing his inspiration? “Ha! I doubt it, because I think I still have enough material for a whole life of songs!”

Loveshit II (Blondie & the Backstabberz) will be launched on September 1 during the Festival de musique émergente and at Montréal’s Théâtre Fairmount on Sept. 7.

At a time when some Québec recording industry players are aggrieved by an industry that’s undergoing a paradigm shift, with whole sectors being quickly struck down, other resourceful producers have turned instead to multiple options introduced by the new era. Among them, Montréal’s Jean-Phi Goncalves – along with a few major supporters – stands out with his XS Music sound design company. Although this “post-hierarchical” way of working leaves many wondering, the “small music box with the big sound” is a towering presence in Québec’s current musical landscape.

Jean-Phi GoncalvesThe new project was created in 2011, at a time when Goncalves was taking a break from his stellar Beast venture, and was releasing a final album with the Montréal-based electro-jazz band Plaster. It came about when Goncalves was recruited to score Filière 13, a feature film directed by comedian/actor Patrick Huard, whom the composer had met on the set of the Tout Le Monde En Parle television talk show. The rest, as they say, is history.

“Everything fell into place pretty naturally from there,” says Goncalves. “I’m not someone who needs to follow a more or less specific plan. In the sort of vibe that was happening at that time, there were opportunities, and I seized them. That’s roughly how things went.”

There is no doubt in Goncalves’ mind that all of his different projects are inter-related: “Plaster and Beast made people a bit more aware of what I was doing,” he explains. “It opened the doors to this new world – and I’d say that even today, these remain reference points in the minds of many people.”

Now for the killer question: Did the music creator morph into a businessman? “I’m not a businessman,” he says. “I’m a full-time music-maker and a part-time manager. Let’s say I devote 25 per cent of my time to administration, and 75 per cent to making music.”

How is the creative approach inside a band different from that of a client pitch? “When I’m creating music for a project, whatever it may be, specific constraints and parameters define the creative approach,” says Goncalves. “This is either a challenge or an issue, depending on how you look at it. There are times when this becomes quite beneficial, because I strongly believe that we are our own worst enemies, in terms of putting up barriers…

“If you’re writing music for an ad, they often approach you with very specific elements, when they’re not downright asking for music pieces that inspire them… So, sometimes this makes things easier and helps you hit the bullseye more quickly, while at other times the parameters that have been chosen aren’t necessarily the right ones, and direct you towards something that’s not always optimal. It really is a double-edged sword.”

Goncalves signed on as  music director of part three of Cirque du Soleil’s tribute series, Stone, which was dedicated to the repertoire of Luc Plamondon (following Hommage à Beau Dommage in 2015 and Tout écartillé, dedicated to Robert Charlebois, in 2016). This was after writing the original music of Cirque Éloize’s iD show a few years ago, “Jeannot Painchaud started the ball rolling with me and the circus,” he says. “He liked Beast and wanted something with a modern sound. One thing lead to another, and they approached me for the Beau Dommage show, which delivered beautiful results.”

Realizing that a new album could come out of the Plamondon experience, Goncalves describes it as one of the nicer mandates of his professional career. “Obviously, a context such as that one is something pretty ideal,” he says. “Being basically a music show, the music is placed at the forefront, and this puts additional pressure on me, and really stimulates me.”

Without ruling out an eventual return to a conventional stage music project, Goncalves is increasingly delighted with his new role as a studio rat. “Touring is a fleeting thing,” he says. “In the studio, however, it’s more tangible, it’s listenable. It’s almost like building a house: there’s something more solid, and that’s what’s really got me hooked.”

Some say that you have to be patient and wait for the right moment on the sidelines until it’s your turn. If that’s the case, Émile Bilodeau’s turn came early and suddenly. Barely 21, the singer-songwriter still lives with his parents in the Montréal suburbs, and doesn’t have a driver’s licence. But when he sings, he’s got only one tempo: full speed ahead.

Émile Bilodeau

Photo: Léolo

“When I write, I tell myself, ‘if it rhymes, it works,’” says Bilodeau. “I’ve always loved the musicality of words. I only check if the meaning is right afterwards. I like it when form takes over meaning. Then, when you examine my lyrics, you notice the cadence work. It looks uncontrolled, just a bunch of easy-to-memorize words, but I always go over my texts after the initial, automatic writing.”

Self-taught, Bilodeau went all-in to the music world when he ended up in the finals of the 2015 Francouvertes competition. His artistic toolbox might seem empty, considering that he has no music studies to speak of, but he’s adamant that his label, Dare to Care, has found “all the friends he needed,” he says with a laugh. Notably, his first album was produced by Philippe B, and he hopes to work with him again on his sophomore full-length.

Not completely in the margins, but not fully encamped in commercial music, Bilodeau is quite proud of being able to straddle both worlds. Although he’s managed to place a few songs on commercial radio stations, he also boasts other, less-formatted ones that were championed by independent stations. “It’s a privilege to reach all kinds of audiences,” he says. “I’ve wanted to earn a living doing music ever since my childhood. I started school in a sports program… I don’t want to generalize and say jocks only listen to CKOI, but I’m always flattered when my friends from Cégep tell me they’ve heard me on the radio.”

“My career started with a bang! It’s a lot to chew on, but I’ve got great jaws!”

Whatever the case may be, Bilodeau couldn’t be prouder to proffer an alternative, in a less accessible style. He’s particularly fond of the rock/jazz fusion of his song “America,” which finds more airplay on college radio. “I like it when people who discovered me through CKOI come to see my live show and realize, ‘Hey! he’s no Marc Dupré,’” says Bilodeau. “The format changes from one song to the next. In Québec, there are three people who decide what the entire province listens to. I hope I can usher in some new people to start doing their own research, to discover new stuff that wasn’t decided for them.”

The young artist’s first album, Rites de passages, released in 2016, reveals that he’s certainly not a man of few words. As a matter of fact, it’s his straightforwardness, energy and political edge that attract attention, in his sometimes amusing, sometimes militant songs. He’s already been compared to idealistic champions like Dédé Fortin, and he doesn’t mind being identified as a guardian of French-language preservation, or a defender of his generation’s interests.  “I think it can be comforting for people to see a young person who cares about the French language,” he says. “I make it my duty to say that French is important, and that we need to say it to people my age and younger. We must avoid demonizing Francophone music, only exposing the younger generation to Céline Dion, and pretending that’s all our music is about. If they like metal, we must expose them to Francophone, Québécois metal.”

Although a second album isn’t on the agenda just yet, the musician’s impressive, prolific creativity never sleeps. “I’m really proud of the fact that my whole live show is nothing but original songs,” says Bilodeau. “I wrote new songs as soon as my album was in the can, so that my show was nothing but me,” he says, while adding that he wants to do a collaborative song soon. “I’m trying to go outside of my comfort zone. I’ve written one-and-a-half songs on the piano, so far. To me, that’s really original, because I really don’t know how to play that instrument,” he says, laughing.

Touring, the road and the stage: that’s the music school Bilodeau chose. “If I put my capo in the wrong place, or start a song a half-tone below what I’m supposed to, my musicians just adapt and tell me I’m an idiot,” he says. “They’re the ones who allow me to be good.” He feels happy and privileged to be allowed to “learn as I go, in front of 5,000 people instead of five,” and he’s adamant that his originality stems directly from his inexperience. “My career started with a bang!” he says. “It’s a lot to chew on, but I’ve got great jaws!”