It’s already been five years, and everyone’s still wondering where the name Lisbon Lux came from. Finally, the label’s co-founder and director, Julien Manaud, tells us: “It’s the name of a character in Sofia Coppola’s movie The Virgin Suicides. I’m a big fan of her work, and a big fan of Air, the French duo who scored the movie. When I started this label, five years ago with Le Couleur’s Steeven [Chouinard], we were looking for a name that would be a reference to Air, and if we’d named the label Moon Safari, we would’ve quickly be pigeonholed… Lisbon Lux is more subtle!”

As a record producer, artist manager, and publisher, Manaud wasted no time in shaping Lisbon Lux’s profile: Francophone, groovy, electronic, something perfectly embodied by the first band the label signed, Le Couleur.

“Le Couleur asked me to produce their EP after stumbling across my MySpace page, a very personal affair with a few songs on it that were, as a matter of fact, very much in line with Air’s style,” Manaud recalls. Born in France, he arrived in Québec in 2006 and, for five years, was the band Chinatown’s guitarist, alongside, notably, lead singer and guitarist Félix Dyotte.

The guys in Chinatown “were more or less put on the map as artists thanks to the band, and I’d already met a lot of industry people,” Manaud explains. “After that, I dabbled in music for advertising, and that’s how I began learning the ropes of this business; prior to that, I was never really in contact with the industry side of music,” even though he did take an active role in the contracts Chinatown had signed with its label, Tacca Musique.

“I like the idea of building long-term relationships with people.” — Julien Manaud, Lisbon Lux Records

Back then, Le Couleur didn’t have any kind of structure, and no label, only a desire to record an EP produced by Manaud. “It quickly became clear that they had no idea what to do next,” he says. “I offered to help by pitching the EP for them.” And so, by moving behind the scenes, and meeting other industry players, he got hooked.

Manaud’s quick impressions on…

Le Couleur“Their musical references are different, and outside of the usual Francophone register. They like Metronomy, LCD Soundsystem, and Stereolab, yet Laurence Giroux-Do [the band’s singer] only speaks French, and told me she wouldn’t feel right singing in English. » Luckily, the language thing doesn’t slow the band down, as Manaud confirms: “Canada only comes in third position on Spotify when it comes to where they’re the most streamed. The biggest two are the U.K. and Mexico, then Canada and France. As for Paupières, a lot of their plays are in Québec and France, but we’re trying to make it in the States; they played in New York last week.”

Das Mortal“The label’s biggest project. As a matter of fact, Das Mortal [Cristóbal Cortes] just finished working on the soundtrack for an American horror movie that will come out soon. It’s a small production – he wasn’t paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, but hey, he was approached by an agency in Los Angeles, so it’s pretty cool that they’d heard about his work.”

Fonkynson“Oddly enough, Fonkynson [Valentin Huchon] isn’t very well known in Québec, but he’s the artist we have synched the most. His sound is hot right now, very fashionable. We did a lot of fashion ads online, and even one for a bank. His track “Aquarelle” has been synched at least 25 times.”

“One day, I told Steven, ‘Look, we haven’t signed the EP yet, but I have a feeling we could set up our label and release it ourselves.’ That was all there was to it, in the beginning: releasing that EP,” says Manuad. They found a distributor, built relationships with potential business partners and Lisbon Lux—the label now employs two people and a handful of interns—was up and running.

It happened really fast, in part out of necessity. “Back in 2013,” says Manaud, “synth-pop made in Québec was very rare. It’s part of the reason why the labels were hesitant to work with us. They would say stuff like, ‘Your project is cool, but we don’t know how to sell electronic music with French lyrics.’ But I had a vision. We hired press agents to further our projects – not just in Québec, but in London and Paris, too. That put the label on the map. With nothing but an EP and a few cheap videos, we managed to attract some attention.”

Attention found elsewhere in the world – mainly in Europe – but locally too, thanks to the label’s oblique approach. Albums are released digitally and on vinyl only. There’s an emphasis on danceable Francophone music and instrumental electronic music, at first with the on-boarding of Beat Market. “They came to us looking for management,” says Manaud. “Then Das Mortal came, I found that guy on Bandcamp,” followed by the Francophone electro-pop bands Paupière and Bronswick. “That’s when we started being pigeonholed by the people in the biz as Francophone pop with an electronic and experimental bent.”

Manaud’s work as a publisher plays an important role in the dissemination of Lisbon Lux’s roster. “We work with our artists on an à la carte basis,” he says. “Some are entirely represented by us –  management, publishing, album production – while others have their own management. I have to say, it’s very rare we’ll sign an album if you don’t publish it. We even have strictly publishing artists; they wish to remain self-produced but need some help.

“When I worked in advertising, I worked with a catalogue of library music, and that introduced me to the world of music supervision. I met quite a few music supervisors back then and maintained that network of people who do music placement.”

Using the revenues generated by radio plays and streaming, synching Lisbon Lux’s catalogue has become structural a priority, Manaud explains: “Revenues fluctuate from one year to the next, but this year it blew up, we have more and more synchs.” Aside from hiring a new employee to develop the publishing market, the label director launched a monthly newsletter dedicated exclusively to music supervisors. “We introduce them to an artist, an upcoming album, sometimes two or three months ahead of time so that they can have some head start on that record,” he says.

“Where do I picture us five years from now?” Manaud muses. “I don’t have a precise goal, like having this much revenue and 10 employees… I play it by ear. I mostly want to take good care of the artists I work with now; you have to be careful to not sign too many, because you might end up neglecting some. I like the idea of building long-term relationships with people. I see ourselves as an organic, GMO-free farm. Plus, labels increasingly pitch internationally. Some prefer building a super-solid local market, but we’ve always been curious: ‘Let’s see what happens if I send that to my partner in the U.K., or in Chile, and see if gets some traction.’ We’re adventurers, in a way, because nothing guarantees a hit, but at least we explore.”

Music streaming giant Spotify hasn’t always been well-regarded by musicians and songwriters, but fast-rising folk-rockers Wild Rivers credit the service with providing a crucial career boost via the 30-million-plus streams their music has received.

Reached during a recent tour stop in Los Angeles, singer and co-songwriter Devan Glover explains, “We have Spotify to thank for a lot of the word-of-mouth our music has been getting. We were pretty lucky that, in the early days of Spotify playlisting, some of the songs from our first album [2016’s Wild Rivers ] got picked up by those lists.

“We’ve primarily toured in the U.S.,” she continues, “and we started by looking at the back end of Spotify and seeing where the listeners were. Our strategy was to go where the people are, so we started by touring the major U.S. cities that were listening, and it’s grown from there.”

“It’s nice not to limit ourselves to a specific genre, because it takes the pressure off when you’re writing.” – Devan Glover of Wild Rivers

Wild Rivers are currently on the road supporting their recently-released EP Eighty-Eight, mixing Stateside gigs in with nine Canadian shows in November. The EP’s five songs showcase a band with a refreshingly eclectic, roots-based sound (one self-descriptor is “folk ‘n’ roll and country soul”). Describing their musical influences, Glover says, “We all converge on folk and Americana, from classic folk-rock singer-songwriters like Paul Simon and James Taylor, to modern artists like The Lumineers and Of Monsters and Men.

“We mostly listen to Canadian artists, like Donovan Woods, Andy Shauf, and Neil Young. We toured with Donovan earlier this year, a very cool experience.

“Individually, we’re all into very different styles of music, and I think you can hear on the EP how our different influences play into it. When we were writing and recording, we brought in elements we’d never brought in before, with different production notes, too. It’s nice not to limit ourselves to a specific genre, because it takes the pressure off when you’re writing. You have the freedom to be creative without thinking, ‘How is this going to fit into an album?’”

A producer for every flavour
Adding to the musical variety on Eighty-Eight was the use of three different producers – Skylar Wilson, Dan Horth, and Jack Emblem – with sessions taking place in Nashville, California, and Hamilton. “We wanted to try out some different producers based on how the songs sounded,” says Glover. “Because they fell on the cusp of different genres, we thought it’d be cool to find producers who specialize in those areas to complement those styles specifically. For instance, Skylar works out of Nashville, so he was able to give that sound for songs with a live country and rock feel.”

Working alongside Glover in the Toronto-based Wild Rivers are singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Khalid Yassein, bassist Andrew Oliver, and drummer Ben Labenski. The group evolved from what was originally a duo project, Devan and Khalid.

“Khalid and I met we met at Queens University in Kingston,” Glover recalls. “We started playing together in our second year there, as a fun hobby thing, going to open mics and coffee houses, and we had a residency at a bar. We played mostly covers, plus one or two originals, never thinking it’d become a full-time pursuit.

“When we graduated, we both said, ‘Let’s just record an album and see where it goes from there. That’s when the rest of the band came together. Having the drums, bass, and the electric guitar elements just seemed to elevate the songs so much, and that was very exciting.”

Initially, Yassein was the primary songwriter, but that process is now much more democratic, says Glover. “For the first album, Khalid wrote most of the songs and brought them to me. We would take them to the finish line together, arrangements-wise, then bring them to the rest of the band and build them out that way.

“On this new EP, it’s been nice for all four of us to collaborate more. Khalid likes to start on guitar, playing around with chord structures and guitar chords and riffs. He’ll then work on the melody, then fill that in with the lyrics.

“I’m different,” she continues, “in the sense that I’m mostly a vocalist, so I tend to gravitate toward the lyrics first. I’ll write notes on my phone, or poems, and I may bring that to Khalid, who’ll have some input in editing those lyrics and finding chords to match. It happens differently with each song.”

A core feature of the Wild Rivers sound is the imaginative and empathetic vocal harmonies of Glover and Yassein. “That came naturally from the start,” says Glover. “The first time we met, I went to Khalid’s house and he said, ‘What do you want to sing?’  We chose a Coldplay song, ‘Strawberry Swing,’ and  the moment he first came in on harmony just felt very special, natural and very comfortable.”

On Sept. 24, 2018, Corus radio station Q107, in Toronto, introduced a familiar name as its new voice. Said Program Director Tammy Cole: “Alan has been telling the story of rock music’s evolution for decades now, and he’s the perfect voice for Q107. We really wanted to bring rock back to ‘The Mighty Q,’ and who better to do it than Canada’s rock music expert?” It’s only slightly ironic that a man who’s become one of Canada’s most recognizable radio voices for introducing new music, will now be the voice of a station dedicated to a classic rock/greatest hits format

Alan Cross has been in the music business for the better part of four decades now, and to say he’s still keeping very busy would be an embarrassing understatement. Starting on radio in his native Manitoba, then arriving at Toronto’s CFNY in 1986, he’s pretty much stayed on the air for the next 32 years. He’s been a DJ, and an award-winning program director. He’s produced (to date) 833 hour-long episodes of The Ongoing History of New Music. He volunteers for several mentoring programs, writes books, artist bios, daily blogs, and weekly reports for his own website (A Journal of Musical Things) and for several Corus radio stations. He regularly posts on Facebook and Instagram, does voice work and audio books, and also gives speaking engagements, and consultations. On occasion, he even gets to watch some TV with his wife.

Cross wears many hats, so an average day is generally jam-packed with hourly, daily, and weekly obligations. Ask him what one looks like, then sit back and marvel:

“I’m in a constant search for something that makes me say, ‘Holy cow, what’s that?’”

“The day begins at 7:30, so I’m in my office or my studio by 7:30,” he says. “I work out of the house almost exclusively. For the first hour-and-a-half, two hours, I go through all my newsletters, and everything that gives me music news and information for the day. Out of those, I create between seven and 10 blog posts, so that’ll take me to about 9:00, 9:30 a.m. Then I write a one-hour daily radio show that I do for The Edge (102.1 in Toronto), that runs from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m., Monday to Friday. Then I [record and edit] the voice track, and send that up the line to be produced. After that, I have some blog posts that I have to do for either Corus Radio or Global News. And then, once I have all that out of the way, I can start on the day’s work.

Cross Purposes: Top Three Tips for Submissions

  • Don’t send me an mp3 or a CD. I’d prefer that you send me a link to a file that I can access, whether it be YouTube, Soundcloud, Spotify, Apple Music, or something else. Don’t send me physical copies. I understand that you’re proud of your physical product, but 75% of the world’s music revenues are coming from streaming now. Let’s do it that way.”
  • “One thing that drives me nuts are the publicists that send these long, flowery bios that say nothing. I haven’t got enough time to read two pages, I haven’t got enough time to translate your evocative views of the world and music. Just tell me who you are, what your influences are, what’s the name of the album, what’s the name of the song, and so on. Get to the point.”
  • “Please pay attention to metadata. I get so much stuff, even from major labels, that when I plug it in to iTunes or whatever, it will come up: Album Unknown. It’s one of my biggest complaints about the way things are right now. With labels that distribute music to radio stations without the metadata, it’s like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

“So, it’s about 10:30a.m., and now I’ve got all my daily stuff sorted away, and I can get started on the week’s work. I’ll research and write Ongoing History material. I’ll do any voice work that comes into my home studio. I’ll take any phone calls regarding any projects that I’m dealing with. And, on occasion, I’ll have to leave the house to have meetings, or be someplace. For example, today I was out of the house for about six hours helping Lowest of the Low prepare an ‘unboxing’ video for their upcoming box set. (They have a box set coming out in November, so what we did was create a promotional video where we open the box and show everybody what’s inside.) Then I’ll have whatever calls I have to make. Then, occasionally, I have a couple of mentor groups that I have to leave the house for. I have cut-ins that I do with other radio stations across the country.

“Sometimes I have to go places, whether it’s a music festival, or a speaking engagement, or something along those lines. So that takes me out of the house, in which case I bring all my broadcasting stuff with me, and I do the radio show in whatever hotel I happen to be in.

“But if I’m doing stuff around home I always go out for lunch because I’ve got to get out of the house. Then I’ll come back and finish whatever work is required for that day and start setting up for the following day. I try to finish between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m..

“After that my wife comes home and we have dinner, then I take the dog out. What I may do while we’re watching TV is pull out the laptop and see if there’s anything that I can use for the following day. That’s pretty much it.

“It’s extremely full. I have this weird sort of Calvinist attitude that if I’m not completely mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the day, well then, I must have been slacking off. There is a certain dopamine rush you get from driving yourself to the breaking point.”

Cross still gets to introduce listeners to new music, both online and on the air. “I get between 50 and 500 unsolicited pitches from publicists and record labels every week,” says Cross. He listens to as much as he can, but also relies on the advice of several volunteers, to whom he sends 50 to 60 of the pitches each week, hoping to get five or six recommendations from each. “I’m in a constant search for something that makes me say, ‘Holy cow, what’s that?’ Every once in a while, something comes along that makes me think this is something I have to investigate, but those moments of discovery and joy are few and far between. And it’s not because I’m not trying, it’s not because I’m a snob. It’s because after 37 years in the business, and another 13, 14 years as a music fan before that, it takes a lot to surprise someone who’s been around for a long time.”