She moved to Leukemia
She left me all her books, she went to live
In Chemotherapy, in Chemotherapy
It’s a new country

With shocking lyrics fit to blow the listener away from the word go, “La fièvre des fleurs” (“Flower Fever”), the second track of Klô Pelgag’s debut album, sets the tone for an unusual semantic experience created by outlandish word associations and wordplay that have the power to amuse, de-stabilize, and even move the listener.

Klô Pelgag – Chloé Pelletier-Gagnon by her real name – is a 23-year-old artist who recently burst onto the music scene with a ready-made style, a distinct personality, an ethereal voice and disorienting lyrics.

The release, last September, of her first album L’Alchimie des monstres was met with an immediate audience reaction similar to the excitement produced several years ago by Pierre Lapointe’s first recording. But this is as far as the comparison goes, and Pelgag herself refuses to try to describe her own writing style, simply offering: “I’m just trying to be free, someone who writes knee-jerk songs without a helmet. I love taking risks.”

The daughter of two social workers posted in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, in the Gaspé region, Klô Pelgag eventually moved back with her family to Rivière-Ouelle, near La Pocatière, on the South shore of the St. Lawrence River. “Whenever I find myself out in the country again, I don’t know why, but all of a sudden I can breathe easier and write more freely,” she explains. The scent of the Lower St. Lawrence region is all over L’Alchimie des monstres, whose seabreeze permeated tracks were entirely recorded in the Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière College chapel.

“I’m just trying to be free, someone who writes knee-jerk songs without a helmet.”

Klô Pelgag had aspirations to become a school crossing guard until she read Boris Vian’s novel L’Écume des jours (Froth on the Daydream) and realized that reading a book could be a “fun” experience. A changed person, she dove into the plays of Eugène Ionesco and the poetry of Claude Gauvreau when she was in theatre school, delighted in the art of Dali, Botero and Magritte, and listened to the music of Gentle Giant, L’Infonie and Raôul Duguay, Aut’Chose and the like. Even as a teenager, Klô Pelgag’s tastes were uncommon.

Petite and apparently shy, Klô, never at a loss for words, expresses some annoyance at being asked to explain the meaning of her lyrics. “It’s not anything that comes from super deep reflection,” she stresses, adding: “I hate analyzing myself. I wouldn’t be doing it normally. My songs are and should remain moments in time. My writing changes with each successive mood.”

Klô Pelgag’s fascination with the physical body is an integral part of her album, where people may be portrayed as dismembered or sick, where “the Sun is incontinent” and where silence is compared to a “scarecrow.” “Comme des rames” (“Like Paddles”) is a pretty love song up to the point where one of the title’s paddles gets broken on a lover’s back. And Pelgag is particularly proud of having had a choir or elderly people sing the verses “You will find God in your diagnosis, He is the one hurting you by spitting holy water at you” in “Rayon X” (“X-Ray”). “Words acquire new meanings once they start singing,” she declares, visibly pleased with the way this came out.

Her album’s meticulous arrangements are the result of two years of hard work by Klô and her musician brother Mathieu Pelletier-Gagnon. Each of the album’s 13 pieces is a world unto itself, and Klô Pelgag is deeply grateful to her brother for these results: “I’ve been working with Mathieu since I was 17,” she remembers. “I knew nothing about music or arrangements. I would not be able to write my own arrangements. I have a good ear for melody, but I was unable to get that out, and my brother was.”

L’Alchimie des monstres, of course, is only a primer. Pelgag is now planning a promotional tour of Quebec and France with a show that will be directed by enfant terrible dancer Dave St-Pierre, a perfect fit for an artist who loves fun and games and is known to perform magic tricks, make cakes or fly toy drones as part of her stage performance. Future audiences, beware!

With a sophomore album in mind, Klô Pelgag intends to keep going without worrying about matters of personal fame or music industry standards: “Music comes naturally to me,” she insists, “and that’s what I want to do. It makes me happy. I don’t do it to become the best-known girl in the world or cause people to faint in my presence!” If she gets her way, one can reasonably predict that more people are likely to be willing to step into her crazy world.

An icon of Canadian folk music, Newfoundland’s Ron Hynes is best known for his classic song “Sonny’s Dream,” the story of a young man caring for his ageing mother, whose sailor husband never comes home. The song has become a true folk standard since being released in 1981 on the album Living in a Fog by Hynes’ Wonderful Grand Band. Hynes, who recently returned to performing after recovering from throat cancer, explains how this consummate East Coast song was actually written out West – and why the Irish believe it belongs to them.

Who is the Sonny in “Sonny’s Dream”?
He was my mother’s youngest brother, Thomas O’Neil. In a true Irish fashion, instead saying “buddy” or “junior” we say “sonny,” so that’s what we called him. They lived out in Long Beach, out by Cape Breton, about 300 miles in from the Atlantic graveyard where the Titanic went down.  He was a big influence on me when I was about eight. He was huge fan of Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Ray Price, and people like that, and he really instilled a love of song in me. He taught me guitar. I still have his first guitar that he bought, in 1952, from O’Brien’s Music Store in St. John’s.

Is it true that you wrote this song in 10 minutes?
Yes. I wasn’t aware that I had been internalizing him in any way. The song just found its way out on a piece of Scribner paper while I was on a bus through Western Canada in 1976. I wrote it really, really fast, then put it away, and for some reason or other I never presented it to an audience for an entire year. I just pulled it out of the hat one night at a show and it went over really well. And the next night when we came in, everyone was just chanting for it. So it took off right out of the gate, and it’s been running ever since.

“I pulled it out of the hat one night at a show and it went over really well. It took off right out of the gate, and it’s been running ever since.”

How did the song become an international standard?
When Hamish Imlach heard it in Newfoundland and took it to Germany, then to Ireland. Christy Moore produced it for him, but they wrote in an additional verse. He wrote that the mother dies but comes back to haunt Sonny, so that’s why he never leaves home. They had killed the mother off! When that happened I got in touch with the A&R guy because the woman in the song – Sonny’s actual mother – she was still very much alive! The label guy said, “We just sold 400,000 units. Do you want to go to court, or to the bank?” I thought about it for a moment and decided I wanted to go the bank.

Do you have a favourite cover version?
My favourite is by Emmylou Harris, which is how it took off in Nashville. There is also a version in Portuguese that made a literal translation of “Sonny” as “sunshine.” But that’s the very definition of the folk process, that you can translate a song into another language and not lose its intent. There have been innumerable copies. I think in Ireland it’s in the Top Five most popular songs in Irish music, alongside “Danny Boy” and the national anthem. Or maybe that’s just legend. But I’m pretty sure most Irish believe the song was written in Ireland.

What lesson did you learn from “Sonny’s Dream” that you could share with other songwriters?
Step outside of yourself. When you’re younger you internalize everything, it’s always “I, I, I” and how you feel and how the world affects you. You have to be able to look around and write about others. That’s the secret, write about something else.

Wanderlust combined with constant curiosity. Tokyo to Toronto, with plenty of whistle stops in between. Forty years on, songwriter-producer Vince Degiorgio still follows the song. Today the music industry veteran is in Japan. The following week he’s set to co-write songs in Asia with artists that he’s never met before. He’s just spent a fortnight in Europe meeting several international writers on the roster of his Chapter 2 Productions publishing company.

“As a pop writer, I’ve always been an explorer,” says Degiorgio. “I didn’t have the patience earlier in my career to try to crack the flood of self-contained acts and singer-songwriters in Canada, so I hit the road.”

Now, after 14 trips around the globe, he’s a musical trailblazer. From the fringes to the mainstream, there’s little he hasn’t seen. The road began in clubs, as an underage DJ making $40 an hour to support his record-buying habit. Later he took a turn as an A&R man for RCA, signing ‘N Sync to their first major-label deal for North America. Degiorgio’s journey is as diverse as the artists with whom he’s co-written songs; he penned his first lyrics as a teen.

“I knew I had a talent,” he recalls, “it just depended on when I could use it. Once I started my own record label, I decided I was going to be a writer, someway, somehow, and make a life from it.”

“I decided I was going to be a writer, someway, somehow, and make a life from it.”

Making a life from the music business is an understatement. Degiorgio has had chart-topping hits in six different countries. His works have been recorded in 11 different languages. Sales of his songs have exceeded 30 million units. Despite international success, he remains humble, knowing some of life’s most overwhelming gifts are only temporary.

“I write as if I’m broke,” Degiorgio says. “Every day is a new challenge. If I didn’t take the risks I have [taken], I wouldn’t have a career. I lead with my heart and I just put it out there.”

When Degiorgio puts pen to paper, success is usually not far behind. The hardest part of writing songs, he says, is finding new ways to express age-old ideas. “I laugh with my writers when I tell them that, in life, there are limitless ways to fall in love, but there are only a few ways to get people to fall in love with your songs, and that’s by telling the story each time with your signature twist,” says Degiorgio.

“My favourite songwriting quote comes from my father – a non-writer – who once said, ‘Don’t write a song, write a standard.’ In my mind, I never have. For me, The Holy Grail as a writer, despite all my success, remains waiting in the distance.”

Track Record

  • “A Night Like This,” Degiorgio’s co-write with Dutch-based international artist Caro Emerald, is the longest-running No. 1 record in The Netherlands.
  • Degiorgio co-wrote all the songs on Emerald’s debut album, which recently achieved platinum status in Europe for sales of more than one million.
  • Chapter 2 Productions has provided music for more than 150 television shows, including America’s Next Top Model, Degrassi and Keeping Up With The Kardashians.FYIPublisher: Chapter 2 ProductionsSelected Discography: Tapps’ My Forbidden Lover (1983); Carol Emerald’s Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor (2010) and The Shocking Miss Emerald (2013).FYI
    Chapter 2 Productions
    Selected Discography: Tapps’ My Forbidden Lover (1983); Carol Emerald’s Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor (2010) and The Shocking Miss Emerald (2013).
    SOCAN member since 1984