Les Deuxluxes are known for their unabashed sound, with influences deeply rooted in the era when Sun Studios was a music Mecca, and aesthetics largely indebted to the New York Dolls and early Rod Stewart, while still admiring a few of their contemporaries, especially King Gizzard.

“We really dig the universe they put out there,” says guitarist and singer Anna-Frances Meyer. “They’re the kind of band who’ll release five albums in a year and do stuff that’s simply unthinkable in the current [music-industry] model. You get the feeling you’re tapping right into their brains when you listen to their stuff.”

Les Deuxluxes exist in stark contrast to the current musical landscape – thankfully.

We join them while the pair – Meyer and Étienne Barry, a couple both onstage and at home – is holed up deep in the Québec countryside, with shoddy cellular reception at best. They’re there to work on songs that will likely comprise the sequel to last September’s Springtime Devil: “Let’s just say people might get a little surprise sooner than they think,” says Meyer matter-of-factly.

Les Deuxluxes

Still image from the video for “My Babe & Me.” (Photo: Ariel Poupart)

So what place do their aesthetics occupy in their creative process? “I think it’s somewhat independent of our music,” Meyers says. “That aesthetic has a life of its own. Take the video for “My Babe & Me: we wanted an all-white video with a motorbike. And that song fit perfectly with the concept… We just want to create our own galaxy. We are inspired by artists that go above and beyond. And then there’s all the artists from the ’60s and ’70s who had such flair and showmanship.”

For Étienne Barry, this adds tremendously to their presentation. “Kiss are quite impressive,” he says. “And their performance lives up to their visuals. The music has to be in synch.” In an ideal world, with an ideal budget, the duo could fall from the sky on a motorbike, “and pyrotechnics like those of AC/DC would be sick… Fireworks are always cool in concert.”

Mainstream audiences were introduced to them during Infoman’s year-end review, for which they were asked to create the musical theme. (Aaired on Québec’s SRC Télé, think of Infoman as Québec’s version of The Rick Mercer Show.) “It went super well,” says Barry. “Daniel Beaumont [Infoman’s lyricist for the last few editions] wrote the lyrics. A lot of stuff from the first draft made it to the final version. The music followed almost without having to think about it.”

The show’s producer, Richard Gohier, agrees: “I’d heard them on the radio during the Plus on est de fous, plus on lit [a literary show on SRC Première] show as well as on Belle et Bum [a music variety show on Télé Québec], on TV, and I really liked their energy. Generally speaking, we try to have a youthful tone, not too establishment, not too conventional, and quite contemporary. Plus, they have a very distinctive look. When we met them, we were awestruck, host Jean-René Dufort and myself, because they’re super-followers of the news and they were totally on top of things when we talked with them. In the end, what they proposed to us was exactly what we were looking for.”

As for the fallout from a prime-time TV appearance on New Year’s Eve,  Meyer says, “We can’t deny a lot of people saw us and it’s changed things a bit, but nothing too intense. But we can’t deny Québec is a little tougher. We’ve never had any problems singing in English, we tour a lot and play pretty much anywhere. And we do consider ourselves Québécois artists. Getting stuck on language is shallow, to say the least. It just happens to be in English. We’re lucky to be able to do it and we feel like we belong here, we know everyone on the scene. Canailles, Québec Redneck Bluegrass Project, Ariane Moffatt… I just did a few shows with Safia Nolin! There’s room for everyone and that’s the wonderful thing about Québec, we’re all there to help each other out.”

Obviously, one question begs to be asked: how is it to work as a couple? Says Barry: “Is it more challenging? Not necessarily. The biggest challenge is setting time aside for it. I mean, like, ‘Fuck doing the dishes, let’s make rock ‘n’ roll!’” Meyer adds: “But this symbiosis is also a blessing. It brings a lot to us as a couple. I feel very lucky to be able to make it work so well.”

Here’s to their continued success, for our own pleasure!

One of the catchiest songs on No Culture, the sixth album from Vancouver-based five-piece Mother Mother, is the declarative singalong “Back in School.”

At face value, the pop-rock stomper channels the same schoolyard disobedience of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in The Wall Pt. 2” and Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.” But if you dig a little deeper, there’s some soul searching going on, that’s closer to something like Smashing Pumpkins’ “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” than it is a snide shot at the education system.

Ryan Guldemond, Mother Mother’s vocalist/guitarist – and a founding member, along with his sister Molly Guldemond – says the song was about going to a different kind of school.

“That song is about going about back to the school of self, which is what I was going through when I wrote it,” says Ryan, accompanied by Molly at a West-end Toronto coffee shop, two weeks before No Culture’s Feb. 10, 2017, release. “And this idea of being in the classroom of your own soul, not getting it, not getting the lesson. Looking up at the chalkboard and all the letters are scrambled because your brains don’t work anymore. It takes that confused schoolyard angst and attaches it to an adult identity crisis.”

This self-questioning idea of identity crisis is a central theme that runs throughout No Culture. It’s been three years since Mother Mother released their last album, Very Good Bad Thing, and the time between records was a period of deep reflection for Ryan.

“The album centres around the theme of identity, specifically authenticity versus facade,” says Ryan, “and we use the term ‘culture’ in a pejorative sense – suggesting that it’s an adopted thing that detracts from your true essence. So the description is to strip yourself of your culture, your influences, that have led you astray from who you actually are. That came to me in the grip of an identity crisis of my own.”

You wouldn’t think Mother Mother would be the sort of act to suffer from a crisis of faith. This is, after all, a band that has an armful of JUNO and MuchMusic Video Award nominations, and an impressive mastery of modern rock radio. They’ve hit the Canadian alternative radio charts with more than 12 separate singles, including “The Stand” in 2011 and “Let’s Fall in Love,” which hit No. 3 in 2012. On top of that, the particularly striking band – which also includes keyboardist/vocalist Jasmin Parker, drummer Ali Siadat and bassist Mike Young –  have attracted more than 1.3 million views of their music videos on YouTube.

But not all of the crises Mother Mother faced were so existential. Take No Culture’s first single, “The Drugs.”

“I think it’s pretty straightforward,” says Molly, stepping in to explain the song. “I think it’s about how love of oneself or another human being – that ‘high’ – is way better than any high you get from a vice. Any sort of vice. And it’s more sustainable, more real.

“You might spend a lot of time in your younger years trying to find that exhilarating feeling from other things, other forms of reality. You dabble in whatever. Then you come out the other side realizing that while you felt those things, there’s no foundation, there’s nothing underneath, they’re just hollow moments. And what you really want to look for is this feeling that’s way more full.”

Many of the other songs on No Culture continue in this personal, inward-searching vein. The bounding opener “Free” serves as a mission statement, with its message to let the love go free. The second single, “Love Stuck,” doubles down on that pursuit. Elsewhere, “Baby Boy” and “Mouth of The Devil,” with their allusions to losing oneself in the gutter and slipping into bad habits, respectively, explore the flipside to the feeling of love that Mother Mother are generally chasing here.

“I think every song [on No Culture] expresses this concept in different ways,” says Ryan.

There’s a sonic familiarity to many of No Culture’s songs. While the band’s music rests firmly in the world of present-day alternative radio pop, there are liberal musical splashes that recall the deeper recesses of an ‘80s record collection. “Baby Boy” displays a prog-rock keyboard swirl that could’ve made a Rush album of the era; “Mouth of The Devil” hints of a Chris Isaak guitar line; “Free,” in a way, could share space with Def Leppard’s later-period fist-pumpers; “Love Stuck,” sounds like a descendent of Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping.”

“We want to provide those two experiences: Something that’s animal and primal, and something that’s heady.” – Ryan Guldemond of Mother Mother

It wasn’t a conscious plan to hide these sonic Easter eggs on the album, though Ryan does admit to pursuing one specific sound. “I do recall wanting to lift the bass sound from LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Someone Great’ for the song ‘Mouth of The Devil,’” he admits. “That was a conscious effort. That staccato synth-bass with three-second decay. I wanted that, so I sought it out.”

The LCD Soundsystem nod makes particular sense, considering Mother Mother’s evolution since the band formed in 2005. The early phases included the Guldemonds and former member Debra-Jean Creelman trading gymnastic vocal sequences and folk-rock-ish harmonies. In a sonic evolutionary arc similar to that of Tegan and Sara, as the band gravitated towards more straightforward pop and rock, so the level of their success has grown. In the process, though, Mother Mother have lost some of their initial vocal “audacity” (Ryan’s word) in favour of more streamlined modern rock.

Mother Mother“We started humbly, with limited instrumentation, and song-focused energy,” he explains. “I think there’s always been a fervent curiosity surrounding how to expand the sound, and how to infiltrate the songs. That equates to more elaborate guitar effects as the years go by, and synthesizers, drum programming and a wider range of tools in the studio. All of which seems to expand as every record happens. This record is the sort of zenith of all this experimentation.”

Part of Mother Mother’s music growth can probably be attributed to Ryan’s growing list of side gigs. In recent years, he’s helped produce music by Hannah Georgas (with whom he earned a SOCAN No. 1 Song Award for co-writing her hit song “Don’t Go”), hip-hop artist Kyprios, siren chanteuse Jocelyn Alice, and Swiss-Canadian singer Rykka. Additionally, he’s found some work in the ultra-competitive world of television advertising jingle-writing, for companies like Kraft, Sunrype and Wireless Wave.

Ryan’s entry into that world was mostly the result of good timing. “Production was my avenue,” he says. “I was working with Hannah [Georgas] on her album This Is Good and her manager, who had a relationship with an ad-man in New York, phoned. He asked, ‘Would you guys halt production and take 12 hours to submit for a back-to-school Walmart jingle?’ So we did, and we got it, and it was really eye-opening. That ad-man from New York and I became good friends. Whenever something would come up for him, he’d call me up and I’d try my hand at it.”

It’s also helped the band develop a sharper focus. “Learning the value of brevity via a jingle is something you can take to a song, and hearken back to bolstering the bright idea without diluting it,” says Ryan.

For all the talk of identity crisis and self-examination that Mother Mother went through in making No Culture, the response they’re hoping to receive from listeners is a simple one.

“It would be nice if they could let the music wash over them, and have a visceral, physical reaction – to dance, to move, to feel something, inexplicably – without feeling the pressure to define it,” says Ryan. “But also having a portal to dissect and in turn flex an intellectual and interpersonal muscle. We want to provide those two experiences: Something that’s animal and primal, and something that’s heady. But that physical response we want to come first. As with any good song, it should get people moving.”

Take a close listen to songs like “Fever” and “Crumbling Down” on Nuela Charles’ latest album, and you can be forgiven for thinking she’s singing about an ex.

“You broke me down, just to watch me fall / The hands that held me now tear me apart,” she sings on “Crumbling Down,” one of seven songs that appear on The Grand Hustle, which came out in November of 2016.

Actually, Charles is singing about her frustration with the music industry.

“It’s all about the ups and downs I’ve experienced as an independent artist,” she says from her Edmonton home, “but I wanted to express that in a way everyone can relate to. I call it a comeback story; there’s the rise and the fall of the heroine, and then she wins in the end. I imagined what that would look like if we wrote songs around it.

“My whole life has been spent working on my music and getting it out there,” she says. “That was my entire focus, so my question was, how do I take that and present it in a way that listeners can understand it?”

By cleverly making analogies to relationships that went South, it turns out. And delivering the songs in a voice that inspired one CBC journalist to call her “the future Queen of Canadian soul.” Among her many achievements, Charles received the inaugural $8,000 Edmonton Music Prize for the city’s best album in 2013; earned a spot as a Top 12 finalist in The Peak Performance Project in Alberta; had her songs picked up by CBC Radio 2, played in regular rotation on L.A.’s tastemaker radio station KCRW, and placed in various TV shows on VH1, The Family Channel, W Network, CityTV, MTV and Showtime.

She isn’t a soul shouter or growler by any means. Rather, she possesses the vocal swagger of an Amy Winehouse, and sings with the same kind of conviction.

“For me, it all starts with a great song and the ability to deliver that story in a unique way. I try to do that, and it’s been working, I guess,” she says modestly. “I feel that if you have a great song and you can’t convey that when you sing it, it’ll fall flat. It’s not about who can sing it better, technically. For me, it’s, ‘Do you believe the person singing it?’

“Take the song ‘I Will Always Love You.’ When Whitney Houston sang it, I believed her. She served that song; she took someone else’s [Dolly Parton’s] song and delivered. That’s what I try to do every day.”

Charles, who co-wrote all the songs on The Grand Hustle, said she learned about “serving the song” – and fell in love with the process of collaborating with other writers – at song camps she’s attended over the last few years. Those included the 2016 Breakout West SOCAN Song House, and others organized by Songwriters Association of Canada (S.A.C.) and Alberta Music.

“I tend to write the first verse, chorus and bridge, and I’ll have no idea what the second verse is.”

“It was about writing the best song we could, and whose voice best suited the song,” she says. “The biggest lesson I learned is to not be afraid of trying things you might not do as an artist. I can’t go in thinking I’m going to write for me. It’s about where that song could live, whether it’s with another artist, or on a TV show. You can’t limit yourself. You have to be open to the experience, as well as to people’s suggestions – because if you don’t, the session gets awkward.”

Charles actually prefers to write with someone else.

“I tend to write the first verse, chorus and bridge, and I’ll have no idea what the second verse is. And then I’ll leave the song and never return to it,” she laughs. “When you’re co-writing, you can bounce ideas off someone, and that helps you to rein in the story and make it cohesive. It’s just a lot more fun than sitting at home and writing.”

Charles described the process of writing for The Grand Hustle as “super easy. My producer and I went to Toronto for two weeks and had different writers come in,” she says. “I had a story that I wanted to tell, so I talked to them beforehand about what I wanted to explore, and told them to feel free to come with something, or not to come with anything.”

For the entire  album, the A&R was facilitated by Cymba Music’s Libby Elming and Vincent Degiorgio, and The Grand Hustle features co-writes with eight-time JUNO Award Nominee Lisa DalBello, Jasmine Denham (“Together We Are One”), Dahmnait Doyle, and Cymba’s Aileen de la Cruz. The Grand Hustle was co-written and produced in its entirety by Cymba’s Ari Rhodes.

Having her producer “create the music” at the same time as she’s writing with someone “really helps with the flow of the song, and where we take it lyrically,” Charles explains. “Sometimes we start writing on an acoustic guitar, or on the piano. ‘Fever,’ for example, came together on the last day. My producer started fooling around with a beat on the computer, the repetition inspired images of running, and I wrote the lyrics to the song.”

If one thing becomes evident in a conversation with Charles, it’s that she’s holds songs in high esteem. So much so that she can’t really work to a formula for a hit song. “That’s not for me,” she says. “I’d love a number one song, don’t get me wrong; but it’ll have to be on my terms.”