KriefWe discovered him as a member of The Dears, during the golden era of early-2000s indie rock, when bands like Arcade Fire and Stars took off. Times and trends have changed, and the proverbial “Montréal sound” is now more about Frenglish rap, but Krief is still at it. He’s remained focused on what he does best: sad, yet biting songs.

Krief is among those who reigned like kings over what was, back then, a much less gentrified Mile-End, the Mecca of young, skinny jeans-clad musicians. The Dears’s breakthrough came with their 2003 album No Cities Left, and they were the talk of the town around the turn of the millennium. Not just on the local scene, but in the U.S. and Europe as well.

“There was a big scene in Montréal, but it was like nothing was happening here,” he says. “All these bands from Montréal were doing great outside of the city, but when we’d get home, it was totally quiet, there were few shows, but we did hang out together quite a bit. From 2004 to 2010, I was never home, out in bars and clubs with the other bands like The Stills, Sam Roberts, Stars. I have no idea what the scene is like now. I rarely get out of my home! Even before the pandemic I was a total homebody.”

Voluntarily under house arrest, Patrick (his first name) now composes on his own, and he’s looking to write something timeless. Something classic. Echoes of Abbey Road and the The White Album can be heard, subtly but undeniably, all over his album Chemical Trance, released in mid-August. The Beatles had a clear influence on the musician he’s become.

“My role model for drums is in part Mitch Mitchell, who played for Jimi Hendrix, but mostly Ringo,” says Krief. “I love the way he plays on “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” for example. “Even the way I tune my drums and mic them is very old-school. I like modern music, I listen to pop and all that, but I never look for what’s trending or hot. I’m not that interested. If I did that, I’d run a bigger risk of being un-trendy.”

Known as a guitarist first, his main instrument is an extension of his body and a catalyst for his emotions. His guitar solos, always improvised in the studio, speak much louder than words, in his case. It’s like he’s given himself the licence to howl, but without opening his mouth. “I could play a gazillion notes an hour, but that’s not me, and I want the guitar to sing a song, tell a story or express an emotion,” he says. “It’s very easy for me to express anger through my guitar, much easier than with my voice. Take “Man About Lies,” there’s so much rage in there that it makes no sense musically, it’s really weird. It’s like police sirens, a fight, or something like that.”

Turns out Krief is quite the one-man band. As an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, he played virtually every sound heard on the album, which is rife with outbursts, sadness, genuinely psychedelic atmospheres, and dramatic changes of direction that are, as he readily admits, inspired by the immense legacy of Beethoven. This collection of complex and progressive songs are as many-faceted as the man. “I really enjoy playing all the instruments, because it allows me to be different people,” says Krief. “I become a character. I’m a different guy when I play drums. I need to do this to allow my various personalities to come out.”

Cinematic and intense, Chemical Trance is a trip. Videos for each of its songs are being planned. It should give us something to chew on until live concerts can happen again.

The jazz rap sextet Original Gros Bonnet’s second album wasn’t called Tous les jours printemps (Spring Every Day) out of wishful thinking, but because those words express the conviction of the 2019 Francouvertes-winning band (under the O.G.B. acronym) that its future will be marked by constant change, and a belief that the best is yet to come.

“In this particular case, Spring is something inevitable,” says frontman François Marceau (a.k.a. Franky Fade). “It represents a birth, a re-birth. It’s both an annual and a daily cycle. One must accept that fact to be able to enjoy and celebrate it – instead of just going through it,”

“It’s also a portrait of our ambition,” says the album’s producer and chief arranger, Samuel Brais-Germain. “It’s a positive spin on our concept of hustling, of the work we have to do to achieve our goals.”

At the centre of the album concept is the theme of blooming. On “Watch a Flower Bloom,” the blooming image closely reflects the feeling the young rapper was experiencing while the album was being written. “A flower blooms slowly,” he says. “It’s not perceptible, but it opens up for real. You must accept the fact that evolution takes time.”

For something as fragile as a flower, evolution isn’t always obvious, or even guaranteed. Hence the rapper’s anxiety on tracks like “Sous stress” and “Jusqu’au noyau.” “I have a fear-ridden relationship with the idea of success,” says Marceau. “I’m sometimes afraid that success might end up destroying me. We’ve seen so many people reach the top, and eventually crash. That’s why I’m forever asking myself what it is that I really want. I don’t tend to make my best decisions under pressure. I must deal with my habit of questioning everything on a daily basis.”

While doubts have fed Marceau’s verses, they didn’t interfere with the producer’s writing sessions with five other band members: John Henry Angrignon on guitar, Vincent Favreau on piano, Vincent Bolduc-Boulianne on bass, Louis René on drums, and Arnaud Castonguay on sax. All former students of the Saint-Laurent Cégep music program, and friends for many years, these musicians are proving on Tous les jours printemps that they can play their respective instruments masterfully, and – by combining their strengths – also create songs that are as impressive as they are daring and concise.

Two creative residencies have had an especially beneficial impact on these seven jazz lovers, who all had an epiphany a few years back when they heard Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, an album that sparked their love for rap music. One of these residencies took place in October 2019 in a cottage near Castor Lake in Saint-Paulin, Québec. “We stayed out there for five days, and it was gorgeous,” says Marceau. “We had purchased a large portable console, and we set it up to record everything we were playing. As soon as we came up with a good idea, we listened to the takes again. We then had meetings to decide who would play what part. But we also set aside free periods for chilling out, canoeing and having fun. We mixed business with pleasure.”

Recorded right before the pandemic at Montreal’s Madame Wood et Dandurand studios, Tous les jours printemps also included sessions with a string quartet and a wind instrument section, besides the participation of the rapper Jam (on “Ballade”), and the expertise of sound engineer and mixer Manuel Marie.

OGB, Original Gros BonnetIn short, as Marceau mentions on “Jusqu’au noyau,” the band “went all out” with this work, the proud successor to their Volume Un (2018) album, and their  Original Gros Bonnet (2017), and Fruit Jazz (2018) EPs. “We refused to cut anything out. As soon as we came up with an idea, we took it to the limit,” says saxophonist Arnaud Castonguay. “But hey, we were obviously able to do this thanks to the grants we received and the awards we won, including as part of Les Francouvertes.”

“Well, it won’t be the same with our next release. The cover will have to be designed on Paint,” producer Samuel Brais-Germain adds with a laugh.

With a seven-member band, going all out means a well balanced blending of everyone’s tastes and influences. This time, the band opted for a tribute to the atmospheres of film scores by such distinguished composers as Quincy Jones and Henri Mancini, rather than Kendrick’s. Their shared love for Tyler, The Creator, Playboi Carti, and PNL also coloured their creative work, which brought about an esthetic shift that’s particularly noticeable in the more harmonic and atmospheric use of Marceau’s voice on some tracks.

“It wasn’t done consciously, but yes, my voice is sounding a little bit more like an instrument [than normally],” says Marceau. “Before that, I was more interested in performing lyrics, but now, I’m feeling them more deeply. I think that the result is more genuine, and that the voice blends with the music better.” He adds that, this time, he made a conscious choice to do way with the Frenglish: “I wanted to get closer to O.G.B.’s origins and esthetic makeup. And we all grew up speaking French.”

So, for Original Gros Bonnet, consensus trumps compromise. “If you want everybody to be pleased with the album, you can’t aim for a vibe that is overly electro, or too commercial,” says Brais-Germain. “You can’t be moving to a [niche] sound like that. We have to go for music that reflects us.”

Jenie Thai isn’t panicking… yet.

Like practically every performing Canadian musician who’s found their livelihood decimated by COVID-19’s shutdown of the live music industry, the acclaimed blues pianist is in survival mode,  weathering a hand-to-mouth existence.

Jennie Thai

Jennie Thai

One of the tools she’s employing to help make ends meet derives from a concept that’s been around since the earliest days of classical music: Patronage. Its modern-day social media application, Patreon, is allowing fans who are interested in supporting Thai to pay a monthly stipend ranging from $1 to $300, with the musician offering exclusive creative content in exchange.  That varies from unreleased music made while recording her Night Fire album to – for the highest donation – a private Zoom concert.

“I decided to go for Patreon because when the pandemic started, I realized pretty quickly that there was going to be no income for who knows how long,” Thai said recently. “I have some pretty loyal fans, so I just decided to see what would happen if I essentially moved my career online.”

Thai calls the venture “an interesting journey” and admits there have been learning curves a-plenty involving technology and fan engagement.

Thai’s Patreon site numbers 44 subscribers so far: is she able to make a living? “No,” she laughs. “It equates to about $900 CAD a month, which is pretty amazing. I’m making some money that’s really helped out, and I’m always brainstorming new ideas.”

Thai admits that CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit ) – the temporary, supplementary income program created by the Federal government – has been a lifesaver. She says she’s also fortunate that her fiancé, Andrew Scott, is an in-demand session drummer.

Thai, who was scheduled to tour with Downchild this summer, hopes that high Toronto rents won’t force her, and Scott, to work outside music. “This is the only job we’ve had for the last 10 years,” she says.

Julian Taylor

Julian Taylor

Julian Taylor, who recently released The Ridge, feels Thai’s pain. He also recently launched a Patreon account, although he’s been busy focusing more on live-stream opportunities.

“When the album came out, I applied for Canada Performs sponsored by the NAC [National Arts Centre] and SIRIUS XM, and got that,” Taylor says. “They allowed me to put up a tip jar, whether it was GoFundMe or PayPal, hired me do a live-stream performance on my own Facebook page, and I was able to make tips from that performance.”

Taylor said he received tip jar income that was reduced from his usual fee, “but it is sustainable,” although he admits that the amounts paid by admirers to watch him perform online “have calmed down.

“I think you can only go to the well so often, which is why I’ve slowed down,” says Taylor, who – aside from  performing at the recent 500-car capacity drive-in RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa this summer – has spent his time performing for the Virtual Music Festivals that have supplanted the in-person versions of Mariposa, Hillside, and others. He’s also made inroads with U.S. publications, offering them to host virtual shows and promote his tip jar concept on their sites. But he admits his stint as the afternoon drive host on Toronto radio station ELMNT-FM is “the only thing keeping me alive.”

Toronto’s Mike Evin is also going back to basics with his online approach: the pianist is teaching music lessons but is also thinking of expansion. “I’m starting an online songwriting side-hustle that I think I’ll call, ‘Songwriting with Mike,’” he says. Evin admits that conducting any tutorials on Zoom offers challenges as a musician.

Mike Evin

Mike Evin

“There’s the time lag – and you can’t play music at the same time with someone over Zoom or any kind of platform,” Evin explains. “Whereas, when you’re together in person, you can demonstrate something, play together, and really get a vibe off each other.”

Technical difficulties aside, Evin appreciates the potential reach of online lessons. “I could be working with anyone in the world right now because it’s an unlimited playing field,” he says. “It’s not just limited to your local neighbourhood, or people where you live. That led me to have the confidence to say, well, I don’t have to work for someone else’s teaching business: I can use my contacts and my fan base through my own music as a singer-songwriter.”

As for the multi-media world, which includes films, TV shows, videogames, and commercial spots, Michael Perlmutter – the founder of music supervision firm Instinct Entertainment – says production has slowed dramatically for those songwriters and artists hoping to get songs placed, or “synched,” onscreen.

“For music supervisors, activity has certainly slowed down,” says Perlmutter, also the founder of the Guild of Music Supervisors Canada. “The American productions aren’t coming here.  Canadian productions – only a couple have started up.”

There are a few bright spots in terms of potential income generation. “I think the one thing that hasn’t slowed down as much is the advertising world,” he says. “Videogames are always being made – and labels and publishers are still licensing music for that.  And I think animation is going to be a big deal.”

However, Perlmutter is concerned that “because there’s not as much new programming out there” that the values of future back-end performance royalties may suffer, and that film and TV production music budgets may be negatively impacted by added COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

“Everything is changing, week by week,” he says.