It’s April 14, 2013, and Jérôme Couture is a finalist on La Voix, the Québec edition of The Voice, itself and  immensely popular TV singing contest followed by millions of viewers. The artist, who Marc Dupré took under his wing, didn’t win, but he still won the hearts of millions in the province thanks to the show. But above all, he’s since gained a tremendous amount of experience, that he still uses to this day as he places hit after hit in the Québec pop charts. But few people know that Couture didn’t get to where he is because of luck alone. The dynamic, Saguenay-born singer-songwriter worked relentlessly for a decade before reaching the height at which he now stands, determined to make a place for himself in the hearts of his audience.

As a matter of fact, Gagner sa place (Making One’s Place) is the title of his second album, launched this fall. The album’s first single, “My Sweetest Thing,” was No. 1 on the pop radio charts when we met. The song, a highly addictive earworm, makes you want to move, and puts a smile on everyone’s face. “We treated ourselves on this album, we explored different styles – like soul, retro sounds and even electro-pop accents that border on disco!” says Couture, visibly pleased with the end result.

To better understand the formative stages of the young star, one has to go back about 15 years, and take heed of the incredible amount of work Couture has put in, both in the studio and onstage. While studying jazz singing at Université Laval, a demanding program in and of itself, the young man took on any and all opportunities that were offered to him. He played in Québec Issime’s productions, then on to Elvis Story, Les Misérables, and the Oh Boy musical review, where he garnered the attention of Matt Laurent, Martin Léon and France Castel, all of whom gave him precious advice. “I don’t believe in chance,” says Couture. “Everything that happens to me happens because I’ve worked for it. I give everything I’ve got, in all my projects.”

Being a contestant on La Voix gave Couture a level of exposure of which others can only dream, but he got there as well-prepared as can be. Unpretentiously, he explains that all those years singing onstage, perfecting his art, and believing in himself made that challenge accessible when the occasion materialized. “I can’t deny that it’s quite dizzying when the production assistant asks you if you’re ready to sing for three million viewers,” he says, “but I’d decided to go into this having fun, to focus on myself and to give it my all, so that I could walk away from that experience with pride, no matter what the outcome was.” And in doing so, he won the hearts of tens of thousands of fans charmed by his authenticity and positive attitude.

Ever since he started writing songs that are true to who he is, success has been his constant companion. “I’m a positive guy who likes to be on the move,” says Couture, “and you can feel it in my music. I think of being onstage a lot when I Jérôme Couturewrite: I need to feel like dancing!” His new album definitely communicates this enthusiasm and drive.

The hard-working young man is also rigorously self-disciplined. Every morning, with his first coffee, he grabs his guitar and writes, then records his work. “If a song passes the next-day test, I’ll keep it and improve it.”

The musician fully recognizes the influence of many people he’s met, but he has only praise for the man he now considers his mentor, Marc Dupré. “I found the person who took me to the next level,” says Couture. “He’s an amazing writer and composer. His advice is precious. He doesn’t hesitate to point out stuff that I need to improve. A verse to re-write, an arrangement that should be changed, a line to sing differently… He’s very detail-oriented, just like me, and isn’t satisfied with a song that doesn’t live up to its full potential. Working with him is like a dream come true.”

Couture is proud to have written and composed, sometimes with the help of collaborators, 11 out of the 12 songs on his second album, a tribute to the amount of road he’s covered. This time around, he worked with John Nathaniel (Alexe Gaudreault, Final State), a newcomer to his already solid team of songwriter Nelson Minville, musical director Marc Dupré, and Gautier Marinof helming the production. Couture is also very involved in his arrangements, an art for which he developed a deep interest during his musical studies.

Now, the young singer-songwriter hopes to shine on Europe’s biggest stages, and maybe even pursue a career in English. And why not? “I don’t set limits for myself,” he says. “Others have done it; I don’t see why I couldn’t!” You can bet he’s already working on it.

If you’ve ever taken a ride on Montréal’s metro, you know it has its own kind of music. Whether it’s the wind when the train pulls into the station; those indecipherable announcements on the P.A. system of each station; or those famous notes the train hums when it leaves each platform… Those are the sounds that surround the thousands of Montréalers daily, who remain seemingly oblivious to them.

Yet, Robert Normandeau dove head on into this sonic universe. The electro-acoustic composer is used to gathering all kinds of sounds to create his works, but he never expected the Société de Transport de Montréal (STM), in collaboration with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (MSO), to tap him to celebrate the metro’s 50th anniversary. “To be honest, when I heard the message on my voicemail service, my initial reaction was… not to call back. It seemed so unlikely that I thought it was a bad joke,” says Normandeau..

One can see where he was coming from, because it’s indeed a bold move on the part of the MSO, which also commissioned an orchestral piece from José Evangelista for the celebration of the metro’s birthday – which will take place during three concerts at the end of October 2016. Bold, because it’s probably the first time an orchestra has commissioned a composer for a piece that it won’t even be able to play, since Tunnel Azur is a multi-phonic, electro-acoustic piece played by a dozen loudspeakers. The orchestra won’t even be onstage when it’s created.

Almost all the sounds the audience will hear were recorded in the metro by Normandeau


“It’s surprising, but it’s a tribute, on the one hand, to the fact that Montréal is one of the world’s capitals of the electro-acoustic scene,” says Normandeau. “And on the other, which must be saluted, of the incredible open-mindedness of the orchestra and its conductor, Kent Nagano.”  As a matter of fact, the composer decided to tip his hat to the orchestra and its conductor by citing excerpts from Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, his favourite, which he heard Nagano conduct back in his Berkeley days. He also used a mind-blowing instrument recently bequeathed to the orchestra by a patron of the arts: the octobass, a huge acoustic bass that’s more than four metres tall.

For the rest, all the sounds the audience will hear were recorded in the metro by Normandeau. “I went during the day, with all the door and crowd noises, but also at night, when maintenance crews go to work,” he says. “At first, they thought I was a little weird, but they rapidly grew interested in my work and started proposing that I record all kinds of sounds their equipment makes.”

Some of them will attend the concert to hear their universe re-imagined by an avant-garde artist. We’d love to hear their comments afterwards! “I hope they enjoy it!” says Normandeau. “I admit I was a little weary when I presented the piece for the first time.” The MSO people, even though they might not be electro-acoustic aficionados, are familiar with this approach simply from working in the music industry. But what about the STM people? “I proposed two versions of the piece,” says Normandeau. “One with images and the other without, and I was surprised when they told me to drop the images because the music carried the story in and of itself.”

Normandeau has become a specialist of what are called “ear movies,” meaning that there’s truly a narrative in his work. “It’s electro-acoustic music that tells a story,” he says. “For the listener, it’s a highly referential piece: basically everyone who’s ever visited Montréal will recognize those sounds. Besides, it’s a path, a journey…”

Speaking of references, we’ll obviously hear those famous notes that each train makes when it leaves a station. The fascinating thing is, those notes are merely an accidental by-product of the subway train’s electrical propulsion system. A mechanism called a current chopper feeds the system in increments instead of sending hundreds of volts all at once. That’s what creates the characteristic, “doo-doo-doooo.” One can hardly imagine a better example of musique concrète.

But contrary to your average ride at rush hour, travel in Tunnel Azur will only be First Class, since it’ll be the first electro-acoustic concert played at the Maison Symphonique. As a matter of fact, Normandeau will be the first one to use the venue’s speakers, some of which were still packed in their boxes until recently. The piece will be played on Oct. 20, 22 and 23, 2016, alongside pieces by Schumann, Strauss and José Évangelista’s creation. It will also be presented during the Akousma festival, held at the same time.

More details on the Kent Nagano Celebrates the Montréal Metro event.

Lisa LeblancShe could easily have stepped onstage once more and kept on doing what made her famous. And that was no small feat. In an era of austerity and tanking record sales, Lisa Leblanc sold 140,000 physical units of her first eponymous album, thanks to the success of her emblematic song, “Ma vie c’est d’la marde” (“My Life is Crap”), the kind of song that stays with you for your entire career, just as “Hélène” did for Roch Voisine.

“I was overwhelmed by the phenomenon,” says Leblanc, in hindsight. “I’m from the Maritimes. I love chit-chatting with people. My inspiration comes from the encounters I have, and the conversations I have, with people. But at that point, I had to put up a self-preservation mechanism, because there were simply too many people at once. It’s a beautiful problem to have, and I’ll always be grateful for my audience, but I simply can’t chit-chat with everyone for 30 minutes. On the one hand, you don’t want to hurt anyone, but on the other… I was exhausted, on the cusp of a real burnout.”

Then, in the Fall of 2014, her Highways, Heartaches and Time Well Wasted EP introduced us to another side of her. Not only was she now singing in English, but she did it in a supercharged, folk-punk-rock style. If her actual, intentional goal was to alienate commercial radio – which had always supported her anthemic Francophone choruses to that point – she couldn’t have done it any better. But the question remained: would she dare do that for her second full-length album, too?

“Life on tour is non-stop adrenaline. And then Pow! You have six months off to write new songs alone in your apartment. Hello, angst!”

The answer is loud and clear. Released on September 30, 2016, Why You Wanna Leave, Runaway Queen? is mostly in English, but its 12 songs form a motley collection of folk music styles: explosive on “Ti-Gars” (one of the rare Francophone songs on the album); traditional bluegrass on “Dead Man’s Flat”; nostalgic and minimalist on “I Ain’t Perfect, Babe”; introspective on “Why Does It Feel So Lonely (When You Are Around)”; and nearly Hawaiian on “Dump the Guy ASAP.” All of the guitar distortion is in place, and the banjo sounds as if it’s being played by the devil himself – especially on her brilliant cover of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades.” Fans of her first album, beware: Leblanc is back where we don’t expect her. But her character and colourful personality are the same as ever.

“During the tour supporting the first album, we were playing it in an increasingly rock style,” she says. “The EP and new album are simply a reflection of that trend, and it’s even more obvious now. But this musical direction has nothing to do with singing in English. A French album would’ve sounded exactly the same. I think, ultimately, that it’s simply that I like movement. Standing still and trying to re-create the buzz of my first album held absolutely no appeal for me.”

This notion of movement will manifest itself throughout the interview. “Why You Wanna Leave, Runaway Queen?” is aptly titled. “It’s pretty much the sentence that summarizes the last five years of my life,” Leblanc explains. “It’s like I’m incapable of standing still. Ever since I left home, I stayed in Granby for a year to attend the École nationale de la chanson. Then, from 19 to 26, I was on tour non-stop. I’ve spent my whole adult life on the road. When that’s all that you know in life, how can you be expected to come home and just be ‘zen?’ That’s why there are so many musicians who come home and feel totally lost. Life on tour is non-stop adrenaline. And then, Pow! You have six months off to write new songs alone in your apartment. Hello, angst!”

Six months is exactly the amount of time Leblanc had before recording began for her new album, for which not a single song was written yet. So, instead of freaking out, she succumbed to the call of the open road: she embarked on a two-month road-trip across the U.S., her second one in as many years. “The first was a dream come true,” she says. “During the second one, I really took time to fully enjoy every moment. I met a ton of people. I took banjo lessons. I improved my playing, I played jam sessions here and there. I came back with a few song ideas. The block was finally over.”

Back in the city, she headed to the studio, where producer Joseph Donovan (Sam Roberts, The Dears) was waiting for her. After working with Louis-Jean Cormier for her first album, and Emmanuel Éthier for her EP, Leblanc was once again in motion. “I’ve been a Sam Roberts fan since my teens,” she says. “And it was Joseph Donovan who produced his third album, Chemical City, one of my favourites. I like starting from scratch and working with new producers and new musicians. It’s the same thing with this album; it’s an opportunity to start all over again and play small clubs in the U.S. That motivates me.”

Leblanc has nothing but praise for Donovan, who convinced Sam Roberts to sing on her song, “I Love You, I Don’t Love You, I Don’t Know.” “Joseph really helped me get over my writer’s block,” she says. “He coached me. We met every other week for writing lessons. I’m not a fan of routine, but being forced to work on this album was beneficial for me. It helped me convince myself that I’m a normal gal. I’m more ‘zen.’ I’m slowly getting to understand that travelling is fun, but it can also be fun to decorate your apartment and unpack your boxes.”