Laurence Lafond-Beaulne

Laurence Lafond-Beaulne (Photo: Julien Laperrière)

Inspired by the recent “green” shift of several festivals and events in Québec, Laurence Lafond-Beaulne, half of duo Milk and Bone, is ready to take things to the next level. With the help of the organization Scène écoresponsable, she’s created a guide for artists who want to reduce their environmental footprint while on tour.

Between all the discarded water bottles backstage, the coffee cups bought on the road, the greenhouse gas emissions from their long and winding road trips, life on the road involves a considerable mobilization of resources that have a harmful environmental impact.

Aware of this, Laurence Lafond-Beaulne looked to get involved and change things. She started by writing to a few of her peers in the music industry.: “It became quickly apparent that I wasn’t the only one who noticed there was a problem with how we do things,” she says.

Motivated, she searched for further documentation on the subject. “I’m telling you, I couldn’t find anything interesting!” says Lafond-Beaulne. “In Québec, we have initiatives implemented by festivals and individual artists, but there’s no artist-based collective awareness movement. You have bands like the Cowboys Fringants, who take concerted action for the environment through their foundation, but there’s nothing at large.”

During her research, the Montréal musician eventually found the work of Scène écoresponsable, an organization whose goal is to integrate the notion of sustainable development to performing arts practices. Intrigued, the organization’s general manager, Caroline Voyer, introduced Lafond-Beaulne to Aurore Courtieux-Boinot, who was studying for a Master’s degree in environmental sciences, and was interested in the same issues.

Thus was born the Artistes citoyens en tournée (ACT) movement. “All three of us got to work with the idea in mind to produce a guide for artists who want to commit to reducing their environmental footprint,” says Lafond-Beaulne. “At the time, I was on tour with Alex Nevsky, and I suggested doing that tour without water bottles. Initially, everyone was stoked to bring their reusable bottles, but after a little while, I heard comments from a few people who said they felt like they were drinking less water in a day because of this. That’s when I understood there needs to be an adaptation period. Changing their habits sometimes scares people.”

“The goal is to implement what you can. Everybody has their own pace.”

ACT LogoIt’s precisely to facilitate this transition period that the project’s three creators developed their three-step guide, each step being a higher level of eco-responsibility. The goal of the first step is to integrate regular but simple actions, such as bringing one’s re-usable drinking vessel and utensils, bringing one’s personal soap and shampoo to hotels, and turning off all unused electrical equipment between the sound-check and the performance. Through their riders, artists also have the ability to effect changes in the habits of venues, by requesting, for example, to have a water fountain in the dressing room, and to request actual towels instead of paper towels.

The second step concerns the production of more eco-friendly merchandise. Artists are invited to opt for locally designed apparel made from organic and fair-trade cotton and natural inks. “They’re suggestions, not rules,” says Lafond-Beaulne. “We know it’s not easy for some artists to do all this with their limited financial means. The goal is to implement what you can. Everybody has their own pace.”

Finally, the third step is a full commitment, and mainly concerns reducing pollution from road transportation. Artists are invited to use a GHG calculator to evaluate their environmental footprint according to the model of their vehicle, and the number of kilometres they travel. “Not everyone can afford to rent an electric vehicle, so this tool allows you to calculate how much money you need to give to environmental organizations in order to compensate for the amount of emissions you produce,” says Lafond-Beaulne.

Up to now, Lafond-Beaulne has received the support of many of her peers, notably Groenland, Koriass, Les soeurs Boulay, Philippe Brach and, obviously, Alex Nevsky. “As a matter of fact, no one is against the idea,” she says, “but these artists were particularly enthusiastic about it. Now that our initiative is in place and the research complete, all that’s left to do is implement it. I’d also like it if artists would talk about it, and proudly show their support as ACT members.”

We’re just a few days away from the official launch of the movement, and Lafond-Beaulne is already looking to the future, and actively seeking financial partners. So far, the organization has managed to survive with grants totalling $3,000, but it won’t be able to sustain itself in the long run, especially with its growing ambitions. “Once the project is securely implemented here, we’d love to export it to the rest of Canada, and even internationally,” says Lafond-Beaulne. “Might as well have maximum impact for all the work we put into this.”

Philippe BSinger-songwriter Philippe B found inspiration both from being in a couple, and from the movies, for his sublime fifth solo album, La grande nuit vidéo. Make a batch of popcorn and whip out the Kleenex before you sit down to take in this impressionist, sentimental drama – where real emotions arise through fictional situations, resulting in one of the most beautiful albums in Québec so far this year.

True or false? Did you really meet your girlfriend “à taverne Chez Baptiste” on Mont-Royal Avenue, as you sing in the country ballad “Interurbain” at the heart of the album? Yes, says Philippe B. “There’s truth in there, and there’s stuff that’s totally made up,” he says, specifying that he wagered that his (partial) concept album would move people by keeping things simple. “I know I’m not the only one who’s in a stable relationship and watches movies and TV series as part of our daily lives…”

La grande nuit vidéo is a “concept” album that’s not bogged down by its concept: It’s  a love story – including the stormy passages that sometimes implies – where the two main characters imagine their love for each other both in their daily lives, and in the fantasy world of the movies.

Although that’s one possible interpretation of B’s fifth album, he says, “My manager did not believe it was a concept album at all. I’m on the fence, myself: it’s my most thematic album, or rather, the one whose theme is the most coherent, because all the songs pretty much tell the same story.” Some of the album’s songs still feel a little more far-fetched, like the aforementioned “Interurbain,” and the instrumental suite “Le Monstre du lac Témiscamingue,” which marks the middle of the album. “If only because of its musical style, ‘Interurbain’ allows us to let go for a few moments,” says Philippe B. “Yet lyric-wise, it still fits within the album’s script.”

There really is a story being told on La grande nuit vidéo, “in the sense that it is the same couple throughout, two characters,” says the singer-songwriter. “The woman is voluntarily represented, contrary to Ornithologie, la nuit (2014), where the female presence was disembodied. Here, she’s the leading role, with lots of lines.” And that role is played by Milk & Bone’s Laurence Lafond-Beaulne. “I wanted a single singer that could sing as comfortably in French [on the sumptuous “Anywhere”] as in English, in order to be convincing.”

QUOTE: “I love the idea of an album you love immediately, yet discover new things about it every time you listen to it”

La Corde

The rest of the album is a magnificent pageant of stripped-down songs – acoustic guitar or piano, and voice – embellished by ornate orchestral flourishes. It’s all in the dosing. Take for example, “Explosion,” the album’s opener: no chorus, just one long, lilting melodic phrase sung over an acoustic guitar motif, repeated twice. During the instrumental break on the second repetition, a string ensemble briefly makes the rich melody soar and sets the tone for the upcoming songs. It shows a rare grace and refinement, in a pop music world  where strings are often relegated to the role of sonic wallpaper.

Orchestration-wise, La grande nuit vidéo can be considered as the sum of the experiments heard on Variations fantômes (2011), where classics of the classical and romantic periods were sampled, as well as on Ornithologie, la nuit’s brass and woodwind arrangements. On this album, it’s all about enhancing specific sections of the compositions with orchestrations written by Philippe B, with the valuable advice of his friends and collaborators Guido del Fabro, Frédéric Lambert and Philippe Brault, the latter also playing electric bass on a trio of more uptempo tracks.

“I write songs, the artist insists. I bear that in mind when I’m working on the arrangements. It sounds simple when you say it like that, but it forces me to choose how I’m going to orchestrate and mix the album: if I add more sonic ingredients, it is at the service of the melody and lyrics, not because I’m trying to fill all the available space. Everything is there for the song, and for lyrics-based songs, I would dare say.”

The 39 Steps

Initially, the idea was to have instrumentals between each song, to give the whole concept an even more cinematic feel. Those instrumental sections were then incorporated to the songs, “because if I’m going to tell this couple’s story from a movie perspective, it needs to be felt musically, too,” says Philippe B. “The album concept justifies those instrumental orchestrated bridges, because it really is like watching a movie… I did listen to a lot of film music while I was creating this album,” yet without any clear, specific musical reference.

The references to the movies are in words, images, and names. “Je t’aime, je t’aime” is a reference to Alain Resnais’ film of the same name. “Debra Winger,” whose name becomes a song title, is Philippe B’s heartthrob. The scene, in the song, where she finds herself in the desert is a reference to The Sheltering Sky (1990), “a highly erotic classic,” says B. “It’s the story of a jaded couple who embark on a trip to re-kindle the flame. Sure, it’s commercial American fare, and she’s a popular icon. But she’s my crush, and, it’s funny, I remembered people almost chastising me for it… I told that to a friend, who asked who my favourite actress was, and he chastised me. Who’s your favourite? Debra Winger? Get outta here! What?! I’m allowed, no?”

The album’s booklet also thanks the poet Charles Baudelaire – “a read from my youth, one of his poems is titled “Anywhere” [even in the original French], and my song mimics that poem” – as well  as Québec filmmaker Jean-Guy Noël (on “Sortie/Exit,” where Philippe B name drops the name of the movie Ti-cul Tougas), and classic mystery/thriller filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, a kind of catalyst for the album.

“I wrote the music for a dance performance – my girlfriend is a contemporary dancer and choreographer… She was putting together a show based on Hitchcock’s use of staircases, their symbolic nature, the trouble they represent, man-woman relationships,” says B. “She danced on a staircase and I was playing the music at the bottom of those stairs.” “Les Enchaînés,”, the French translation of Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946), was initially written for that dance performance, as was also “Rouge-gorge.” “That was the starting point,” says Philippe B. “I said to myself: ‘The movies are not bad at all!’ I think I consume more movies than I do music. I have a lot to say on that topic!

“I love the idea of an album you love immediately, yet discover new things about it every time you listen to it. That way you can love it even longer. It is a real joy for me as a lyricist to create links between the songs, to strew references here and there, it ties the album together in a different way. Just like a good movie, like a movie you like immediately because of the story, but when you watch it again, as with a good Kubrick film, you notice the references, like this or that sequence is a nod to Hitchcock… Ideally, you want both, a clear story and a commentary of the history of cinema, nods, great photography, etc.

“When I was younger, I’d make fun of film buffs that saw links everywhere. But over time, I understood that movie makers did have a lot of depth in their work,” says B.  And he in his, being a writer, composer, arranger, singer, and producer who has created an exceptional album. “Also, I try to not be inaccessible. I am a songwriter, after all…”

On August 10, 2017, Jehan V. Valiquet’s publishing company Groupe Éditorial Musinfo will turn 35. “I still remember that day,” he says. “I was at my lawyer’s, signing the papers that marked the creation of my company. I had already gotten in touch with a few artists. I was elated and excited…”

Jehan Valiquet with Charles Aznavour

Jehan Valiquet with Charles Aznavour

You have to see Valiquet’s eyes, as he discusses the start of his business like someone talks about their wedding day. And it truly was like a wedding, since music is nothing short of his passion. His home, which also houses his office, is filled to the brim with it. There are records everywhere: box sets from artists as varied as Véronique Samson, The Velvet Underground or The Rolling Stones; vinyl galore, proudly on display, including some by Harmonium and M; and of course, a turntable. All of which testifies to the fact that, in this place, music is cherished and vibrantly alive.

Right from the start, Jehan V. Valiquet considered the Francophone world, and especially France and Belgium, as his playground. He specialized in French and Belgian sub-publishing, and catalogue representation, for the Canadian territory. Throughout his journey as a publisher, bonds were established on both sides of the Atlantic. Of all his landmark meetings, the one that stands out, was the first and founding meeting with Nicolas Peyrac’s publisher – which launched him in the business.

But there were others, too. Over a period of ten years, Valiquet often ran into Gérard Davoust, Charles Aznavour’s publisher, and he expressed his interest in representing him in Canada, but was repeatedly turned down. “We’d gotten into the habit of meeting regularly, despite ten years of being told ‘no.’ Davoust was a mentor to me,” says Valiqut. “We were quite formal with each other, even though we’d go out for a meal once or twice a year. Then, one day, he begged me to stop being so formal. I couldn’t. Then, as we were walking out of the restaurant, he said, very matter-of-factly: ‘Oh, by the way.. I’m giving you Aznavour.’ I screamed, ‘YES!’ right there in the middle of the street. I was so elated!”

Word spread fast that Valiquet was good, and the fortuitous meetings would multiply as the years went on. In the 2000s, he obtained several other European catalogues for sub-publishing, including those of Carla Bruni, Mathieu Chedid and Vanessa Paradis.

“You can’t improvise being a publisher. It requires time, negotiation, management, and knowledge.”

Valiquet cherishes and nurtures those meetings as the DNA of Musinfo, and he still travels to Europe several times a year for them. ‘These publishers are now friends,” he says. “We keep each other up to speed on our accounts, but above all, we appreciate spending time together.” The same holds true in Québec, where Valiquet signed deals with bands such as Mountain Daisies, and manages several valuable catalogues, such as those of Michel Rivard and Beau Dommage, both of whom have owned their own rights since 1974.

With record sales dwindling, more and more artists are willing to embark on the self-publishing route, as is the case for M, Grand Corps Malade, Robert Charlebois and Claude Dubois. ‘There always were artists who retained the rights to their songs,” says Valiquet. “But there are way more nowadays. Yann Perreau, who was with me for 10 years, decided to start his own company when our deal ended. It’s possible. There are training classes offered by the Association des professionnels de l’édition musicale (APEM) and the Festival de la chanson de Granby. It’s a good thing. Artists have to wear many hats. But one needs to be careful. You can’t improvise being a publisher. It requires time, negotiation, management, and knowledge. It really is a trade. Hiring an administrator for your repertoire often is a good solution, because publishing adequately can quickly steal time away from creating music.”

Valiquet also really likes to set up meetings between music creators, especially between a composer and a lyricist. He truly believes in the power of such creative duos as Michel Bergé and Luc Plamondon. To Valiquet, initiating such meetings, sometimes even between one songwriter in France and one in Québec, allows a publisher to stay actively involved with the music creators they represent. Thus, via Musinfo, he connected French-from-France lyricist Sandrine Roy with Québec composer Sylvain Michel. “That duo now has more than 30 songs that charted on radio,” says Valiquet. “For them, it all began with Garou’s Que le temps. Now, Sandrine Roy, who still lives in France, is a member of SOCAN.”

On top of his solid experience and his love of music, with a capital L, what characterizes this top-tier publisher V. Valiquet’s honesty in his relationships. Typically, Valiquet is frank when it comes to the future of Groupe Éditorial Musinfo. He’s still quite active and intends to remain so as long as possible.

“I never think about retiring,” he says. “Maybe I should, but I just don’t feel like it.” Regardless, the man isn’t unaware that time goes by, and long-term engagements are increasingly uncertain. “Musinfo is built on my own personal relationships with publishers and artists who trust me,” he says. “And I know I’m not eternal. I don’t sign contracts that last as long as the copyright, 50 years. I don’t do that anymore. It brings no value to the company, and I don’t intend to sell it. It’s all about being honest with the people I work with. Artists also appreciate those limited terms. They know they’re not imprisoned in a deal.”