Loud makes no bones about his ambition and totally owns his thirst for grandeur on Une année record (A Record Year), his first solo album – produced by his Loudlongtime partners in crime, Ajust and Ruffsound. Armed with a variety of tones and flows that he uses with uncanny versatility, the rapper – who made a name for himself in Loud Lary Ajust – rhymes about his accomplishments, hopes and angst. A few weeks before his first foray into France – where his album will be released by a Universal subsidiary – the 29-year-old Montréaler re-visits the writing process for his 10 new songs.

“So Far So Good”
“We wanted to start with a bit of a shocker, a warning that sets the tone for things to come. There are a lot of melodic songs on the album, but I thought it was important to open with something a little rougher and more self-assured, so that right from the get-go, it’s clear we aren’t messing around. The tone is commanding, it’s straight to the point. Personal considerations begone.”

“Nouveaux riches” (“Newly Rich”)
“Here, we go in a completely different direction, with something a lot catchier. That song is the symbolic sequel to “56K [the standout track on his New Phone EP], because the writing is very similar. The point, here, is to take advantage of the slow beat in the background to drop ‘quotables’: nicely crafted sentences that stick in your mind, and that you can easily quote. Through it all, there are touches of humour, which I consider quite tricky to pull off. I don’t really like joke rap, so I had to be careful to avoid falling into a character. I had to find my balance.”

“Il était moins une” (“In the Nick of Time”)
“That’s me looking back at my teens and appraising my musical journey. The challenge was to write a very long verse that started with my youthful ambitions and ended with a consecration of sorts. The conclusion is a little more abstract, but in a nutshell, it means we worked hard and managed, barely, to sneak our way to success. The words ‘il était moins une’ [‘in the nick of time’] mean that it might not have worked out… It was obvious to me that I needed to tell that story over a classic rap beat at 90 beats per minute, not over a trap or R&B beat. I can imagine Nas or Prodigy rapping over this.”

“It’s a song about patience that is very much who I am; I’m not a hurried person. When I first heard the album after the mixing and mastering, this is the one that stood out for me. It’s based on a very classic songwriting principle that amalgamates the form and the content. The cheesiest example I can think of would be a singer that says ‘My heart stops’ just as the music stops. I didn’t even notice it at first, but my flow was quite dense during the verses, and the sentence ‘These things take time’ slowed down my cadence and allowed me to let go of my angst. That format allowed me to gather a bunch of disparate ideas, and to put out there that even though we sometimes lose our focus in our fucked-up lives, we need to let time do its thing.”

“Devenir immortel (et puis mourir)” (“Becoming Immortal (and Dying)”)
“The inspiration for this is Jean-Luc Godard’s movie Breathless, written by François Truffaut. I went to see that movie at Théâtre Outremont a couple of months ago, and one of the lines shook me, which I immediately jotted down in my phone: ‘Devenir immortel, et puis, mourir… ’ I was with Will [who directs his videos], and the first thing we talked about when we walked out of the theatre was Loudthat line. It asserted itself as the song title before I even wrote a single line. It’s a somewhat pretentious way to express the fact that I’d like to give everything I have and leave an impression behind with my work. Ultimately, I believe this desire for immortality motivates all creative types, but rap allows one to express it more honestly than other musical genres.”

“Toutes les femmes savent danser” (“All Women Know How to Dance”)
“That’s my very first radio-formatted pop song. All I’m missing to make the 3:20 mark is the bridge and a third verse. [Laughs] Seriously, though, I’m a fan of pop music, most notably Taylor Swift, whom I consider an influence. Several of her songs on 1989, like ‘Blank Space’ or ‘Wildest Dreams,’ are pop masterpieces, in my opinion. We asked for the help of guitarist Pierre-Luc Rioux, who’s worked with David Guetta, to co-write the song. He came up with several loops that Ruffsound and Ajust arranged. As for me, the title came first, once again. The basic idea is to say that no one is irreplaceable, and that even though it peters out with one person, or you get excited with a love that’s going nowhere, it’s all good, there will be others. I’m not putting down women by saying they’re all the same; I’m saying that a relationship is not an end in itself.”

“SWG” (featuring Lary Kidd)

“This one’s a reflection on what men are willing to do to impress or conquer women. They’re observations that avoid being moralistic. I didn’t show Lary what I’d written because I wanted him to do his thing, no censorship. All I told him was the song’s title, ‘Sleeping With Girls,’ and he went in a completely different direction. Not long ago, he would’ve been much more vulgar, but in this case, he decided to come at it from a social angle.”

“Hell, What a View”
“It all starts from the chorus, which had been bouncing around in my mind for a long time: ‘Cancelle tous mes rendez-vous/ J’prends plus d’entrevue, vous parlerez entre vous/I finally found a place where I see none of you / And I’ve been thinkin’ to myself… Hell, what a view’ (the first two lines: ‘Cancel all my appointments / I’m not doing any more interviews, talk amongst yourselves’) From that point on, all the verses justify this desire for exile, and bolster my need to say ‘fuck all y’all.’ The creative principle is the same as on ‘Nouveaux riches,’ because slow beats are conducive to impactful lines. It’s the type of song that takes me a long time to write.”

“On My Life” (featuring Lary Kidd and 20some)
“I’ve been wanting to collaborate with 20some, one of Québec’s most meticulous rappers, for a long time. He is super-precise and efficient, but somewhat underestimated compared to the other guys in Dead Obies. I gave him carte blanche and, in the end, he recorded a two-minute verse! I really wanted him to do something like that, a bit like Rick Ross’s very long verse at the end of Kanye West’s ‘Devil in a New Dress.’ It’s a classic brag-rap song that doesn’t have a specific subject. That kind of freedom allows everyone to say whatever they feel like.”

“Une année record” (“A Record Year”)
“That one’s an old NeoMaestro song, to which we added live arrangements of guitar, saxophone, piano… Because it’s the album’s last song, I used it to wrap things up and re-visit all of the album’s themes. The result is a soul number like I like ‘em, like some Jay-Z classics on The Blueprint or The Black Album.”

Une année record is out now in stores and on most streaming platforms.

Philippe Brach never worries about running out of ideas, or how to bring them to fruition; no, his problem is gathering them into something cohesive. And then, along comes Le Silence des troupeaux, a short, dense third album inspired by his travels, Facebook’s Thumbs Up, Nelson Riddle’s arrangements for Nat King Cole, Bill Withers’ fluid folk-funk, and the sound of an autoharp drunk-purchased on eBay. And lo and behold, it’s somehow a cohesive whole.

Philippe Brach“I work in a very chaotic way,” says Brach a few days after the extraordinary launch of his third album. Coming from a guy who thought it would be a good idea to record an 8 bit / videogame / chiptune version of his second album Portraits de famine called Bienvenue à enfant-ville, that confession will surprise no one.

“I don’t have a working method,” he continues. “Sometimes the words come first, other times it’s the music. Sometimes both simultaneously. Sometimes I sing the melody and then re-play it on the guitar. Or I envision a piano, and sit down to hammer out a few chords until something comes out of it.”

“Sometimes I’ll buy an instrument I know I absolutely can’t play and see where that takes me,” he says. His latest toy? An autoharp. “No one knows how to play that damn thing,” he says. Coming home from a bar one night, he saw a video of somebody playing the instrument, often associated with the ’60s folk revival, and back in favour with the recent neo-folk revival. Basia Bulat, for one, knows how to play it, and quite beautifully. Click; he bid on one. A classic case of “drunk eBayin’,” he readily admits. One can hear it at the tail end of the song “Tu voulais des enfants” (“You Wanted Children”).

“I love trying out new stuff,” says Brach, “even though we’re constantly trying to write the same song, as Stéphane Lafleur would say. It’s still nice to feel like you’re not trying to write the same song over and over.” Therein lies the intrinsic high quality of this third album: one recognizes Brach’s stamp, his nerve, his folk roots, but the music takes unexpected twists and turns in terms of structure, and ornate orchestration. Brach treated himself to a personal trip: over the course of 10 songs that barely surpass the 30-minute mark, Le Silence des troupeaux comes across as a concept album, albeit one with a vague thread. A concept album without a concept. And that was his intent.

“It feels like a concept album because it has a beginning and an end and certain instrumental passages, but to me, it’s a record that is as disparate as all the other ones,” says the singer-songwriter. “I do admit that the songs are slightly more related to each other than on my two previous albums. If there’s a general concept behind it, it’s openness, to others, and to other ideas. Besides, I don’t like having to hand out guides to understand my albums. Sure, it’s fun to be guided in a given direction, understanding where it comes from, because the songs do carry a message, and it’s fun to know what the creator was thinking. But I still like to leave things a little vague, out of focus, so that the listener can understand what they want.”

A good example of this, which warrants closer inspection, is the song “La Guerre (expliquée aux adultes)” (“War (Explained to Adults)”), which is surely the most astonishing song on the album. A few bangs of a drum to give the cadence, and Brach – who solemnly sings a melody straight out of another era – invites a children’s choir to sing about war. Except for the children’s voices and the drum beats, one hears not a single instrument… until the song’s last 30, highly cinematic, seconds – in which the sound effects of bombs falling and exploding, and an orchestra, come in.

“When I wrote ‘La Guerre,’ sung by children, it was my way of representing our implication in the era of social media,” says Brach. That makes everything clear. “Often,” he continues, “we ‘share’, we write a status [on Facebook], and we think, ‘Yes! I’ve done a good deed, I’ve done my part, I’ve done something.’ Sure, you’re being true to your values, but [commenting on social networks] is not a goal in itself. One must act in real life. That’s what the lyrics are about – it’s the most cliché text in the world, very much an example of magical thinking, ‘Quand l’amour aura le monde’ and all will be well… We all know that. Who gives a fuck? It’s all fine and dandy to say it, but if we don’t do anything about it, well, the kids, at the end of the song, are marching right into a minefield. That’s the message, you see, but I didn’t feel like spelling it out in black on white. I wanted it to be a little vague.”

The album title, however (Le Silence des troupeaux translates as The Silence of the Flocks) is much more explicit about the musician’s intentions. Far from wanting to be moralizing, Brach insists that he’s not placing himself above everyone else by critiquing our degree of social involvement in this era of Likes and Re-Tweets. “There’s a lot of critiques on there, but also a lot of realizations about myself,” he says. “I often react emotionally and that places me in situations… well… like everyone else. I say stuff without thinking about it too much. More often than not, I don’t look around me and I don’t ask myself why I don’t understand this or that…”

Philippe BrachElsewhere on the album, it’s a trip to Pakistan – “Because a friend of mine who’s a journalist was there and I didn’t feel like going to a tourist-y place” – that inspired a song bearing the country’s name as a title, “but that doesn’t talk about Pakistan in the least.” On “Rebound,” one hears the intimacy of experience resonating in the lyrics: “Non j’vas attendre que tu te tannes/Que ton confort se fane/Que tu trouves mieux pour nous deux/De se laisser un peu.” (“I’ll wait till you get bored/till your confort dissipates/till you find something better for us/till we separate a little.”).

On “Tu voulais des enfants” that Brach indulged his dream of playing piano à la Nat King Cole. “There’s two types of arrangements in life, to me,” he says. “Those that wrap around the song, and those that are an integral part of it – the kind of arrangements that, if you remove them from the song, it’s missing something. We tried to navigate between those two poles on the album,” he says, with the help of his arranger and friend Gabriel Desjardins, a.k.a. La Controverse. “I’m a huge Nat King Cole fan. It’s pure Cole to have two verses followed by an instrumental one. Initially, I wanted a really fucking long instrumental intro like Nat King Cole did. That didn’t fly!”

The other reference is even more obvious. On “Mes Mains blanches,” (“My White Hands”) Philippe Brach borrows legendary soul singer Bill Withers’ melody from “Grandma’s Hands,” and gives it a whole new meaning based on the lyrics – the album’s strongest piece of writing. “I’m also a big fan of Bill!” says Brach. “To be honest, I promised myself I’d never do a cover of one of his songs, I respect him too much. But after I played that song like 150,000 times, I started to do one. The lyrics came out in four minutes. I owned it.

“It’s funny,” says Brach, “each song comes to me in a different moment. Sometimes key moments, sometimes trashy moments… The songs come way before the meaning I want to impart to the album. Then, I try to make sense of what my subconscious is trying to tell me through these songs. Understanding the general meaning of an album comes afterwards, once I have all the songs in front of me. That’s when I get their individual meaning, and I finally understand why I did what I did in this or that spot. The meaning manifests itself.”

La BronzeThe meeting point was a dreary park in Montréal’s Quartier des spectacles. Two buses were parked there. This, however, was nowhere near a field trip to the zoo… Even though the scraps of information we had about this evening led one to believe we were going out to a llama petting zoo, the only animal-like element turned out to be the bear mask worn by the woman who welcomed us on the bus. We’d been invited to a one-of-a-kind experience to get acquainted with La Bronze’s newest album, Les corps infinis.

“I really wanted it to take place somewhere that wouldn’t be your typical venue, says Nadia Essadiqi, aka La Bronze, the day after, still amazed by the reactions to her unusual show. “I love surprises, and I wanted to provoke things in a way that would put mystery at the heart of the whole record launch.”

After about 20 minutes on the road in the bus – Les corps infinis blaring from the speakers – we stopped by a seemingly abandoned building, that turned out to be the home of The Montréal Foundry. As in, “the place where one strikes while the iron is hot.”

“I wanted a really fucked-up place,” says La Bronze. “I asked a friend, and she took me there. I loved it, because there were a lot of possibilities, a lot of space, and we could use everything: the blacksmiths, the fire, all of it.” That, and the fact the heat from the foundries’ flames was perfect for the album’s opening track, “Canicule” (“Heatwave”).

In that hot place, we were welcomed to a makeshift bar, located between an assortment of metal tools and a wrought-iron staircase. The only thing reassuring La Bronzeabout the makeshift bathroom – literally, four small walls surrounding a toilet – was that there was a first-aid kit inside it. In the main area, three blacksmiths were busy heating up metal, surprising the incredulous crowd each and every time sparks flew.

After the spectacle of fire, La Bronze – wearing a yeti costume – took to the stage, lighting her own face with a blue light. The songs followed one another feverishly. Nothing else mattered for anyone who was there. It was a universal experience. “It was such a great evening,” says La Bronze, still emotional. “People were grateful to live something entirely new.”

The show we witnessed, stage-directed by Yann Perreau, was memorable for several reasons. One of them was the arrival on stage of four French horns – arranged, on the album, by Mathieu Pelletier-Gagnon – who played the last pieces of the evening. But also because Nadia’s mother and her friend, who together with her, sang the solemn Arab chant that opens “Khlakit Fkelbek.” “It’s a traditional Moroccan chant that’s sung at weddings and other important events,” says the singer-somngwriter. “It talks about God, and it’s a really symbolic song.”

La Bronze“Khlakit Fkelbek” is the first song she’s written in Arabic. “Language is just a medium, to me,” she says. “What matters is the essence, the emotion. I could write in Mandarin. I’d love that. Actually, no, I couldn’t, it would really not be any good!” she laughs.

Ever since she sang an Arabic version of Stromae’s “Formidable”, a cover that has so far been watched more than 2.5 million times on YouTube, Europe has opened up. “That experience really re-connected me with my roots,” says la Bronze. “It really wasn’t hard to write in Arabic afterwards. The purity of this project became self-evident. I dove right back into my origins. It was easy.” Partnerships to release the album in Europe are being formalized, and the artist admits to being “flabbergasted” by the opportunities that materialized in the wake of that cover.

Following her eponymous album, released in 2014, and Rois de nous, an EP released in 2016, this new flame has powered La Bronze’s Les corps infinis. “My producer [Clément Leduc] and I stepped into an imaginary bubble and we shared the same vibe from start to finish,” she says. “When I create music, there’s nothing too pre-meditated or rational. I never have a work plan. It’s all instinct.”

From this unbridled and free creativity emanates a powerful vibe of freedom that permeates all of her work. “I have this feeling that I can access it with greater and greater ease,” she says. “It’s my biggest quest, as a human being, and this record makes me feel much more at ease with who I am, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it made me more mature or adult… I still feel like a teenager in my daily life.”

Thanks to Clément Leduc and Francis Brisebois, La Bronze was able to expand on the idea of creative bubbles at the  SOCAN House in L.A. “‘Canicule,’ ‘Beaux’ and ‘Les corps infinis’ were recorded there,” she explains. “The change of scenery was awesome, and we also took in the nightlife, the palm trees, the beach.” The change impacted her artistic approach, and became a way to “explore new inner zones,”  she says. The final product is a collection of 11 songs that range from ethereal electro-pop to rock, “but all of them were composed on the piano”, La Bronze is quick to point out. “That’s how I can dive into my emotions.”

To her, all stages of the production are like different canvasses, where she draws her own sketches. “I’m involved in all of the composition processes, and I have to OK with everything, right down to the press release,” says la Bronze. “It’s super-important to me.”

In a context where women are increasingly vocal about their desire to be more involved in their music, La Bronze is no exception. As a matter of fact, she’ll have the privilege of sharing her bold spirit with young women thanks to the series Code F on Vrak TV. “The message I want to get out with that show is to own who you are, from A to Z,” she says. “No circumstance can rob you of your essence, or diminish the grandeur of your existence. I want women to stand up and impose their puissance.”

As for the future, La Bronze foresees a career path where out-of-the-ordinary environments will become more common, in order to make life onstage ever more exciting. “We’re going to take this album as far as it can go,” says the musician with aplomb. “I’m satisfied with every fraction of a second of every song I have in my hands, right here.”