They’re still so young, yet their track record is already quite impressive: ground-breaking productions and collaborations, a highly successful tour that will see them play the Bell Centre for a second time, the 2008 Félix award for Rock Album of the Year, for Dangereuse Attraction, countless projects in the pipeline, and it’s not even spring yet.

Marie-Mai and Fred St-Gelais are doing quite well, thank you. And not just professionally. When they look into each other’s eyes in a bistro where we meet on Saint-Denis Street, in Montréal, the air is full of love, affinity and light. The young couple is engaging, enthused, bubbly, and exudes the very essence of intensity that fills their albums. They met through Marie-Mai’s record label. “We clicked immediately! It was love at first sight on a professional level, at first, and then emotions got involved,” she says with smiling eyes.

And although love is the subject of the vast majority of their songs, many more themes are on their minds. Like the reasons we lie, in one way or another (“Mentir”), how young people are very judgmental of each other (“Elle avance”), child abuse (“Encore une nuit”), and even the insecurities of a successful artist wondering how long their career will last (“Tu prendras ma place”).

And although he has, as a producer, worked on many side projects with the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, and Randy Bachman, as well as, more recently, David Usher and Annie Villeneuve, not to mention TV networks, Fred St-Gelais’ priority remains his soulmate.

Composing and writing? It’s a four-handed process. No one has a specific task; improvisation and freedom are key, as is using everyone’s influences. “It’s nice to have someone to write with,” she says. “I learn a lot. I’ve become passionate about participating this way. It came about naturally. When we’re done with a song, we have no idea who did what because it’s so much a mix of both.” “It’s very organic, Fred adds. “We don’t really have a method to which we always go back. That’s the best way to avoid repeating ourselves.”

As highly collaborative as the chemistry with Fred is, that doesn’t mean Marie-Mai is closing the door on collaborating with other songwriters. “I want good songs,” she says. “If someone offers me a song and I love it, I won’t turn it down! I want the best possible album, so I’m open to co-writes with other artists.”

What the key ingredient of their success? A lot of work. They write a lot, challenge each other, and have a hard time stopping. For them, writing, composing, arranging, playing live, and recording in the studio is a single continuum. Any preference? Each and every one of the facets of their trade.

“I made a place for myself with a sound that’s mine,” she says. “I wanted people to see me and recognize me for who I truly am. That may explain why it took a while to take off, initially. But I think that in the end, it played in my favour. Of course, the team is important too. And I’m well aware that I’m very lucky to have someone like Fred in my life.”

Why pop music? “It’s not a choice. It’s in me. I don’t even question it,” Marie-Mai says. “We look down on pop too easily,” she says, regretfully. “It can be profound! That’s what we’re trying to accomplish in each and every one of our songs: depth, colour, meaningful lyrics.” “People often ask me how I write tunes for the radio. You don’t set out to write a radio-friendly tune! If you try to write for the radio, you’re already on the wrong track,” says Fred. “The golden rule is authenticity. You can’t fake a musical style; it has to inhabit you. I find it much easier to write a complex song than a three-chord song. Simplicity within originality is the hardest thing to achieve,” he continues. “That’s the challenge that gets me going when I write music: creating something simple that will touch people.”

The couple has started working on a third album to be released next fall. What colour will it be? Marie-Mai and Fred can’t tell just yet. They’re content to be carried away by inspiration that they hope to find in the cities they plan to visit. One thing’s for sure: it will be intense. “I don’t plan on becoming tamer any time soon!” Marie-Mai says with a smirk.

With a schedule that sees him playing an average of 200 shows a year, genre-straddling musician Matt Andersen is no stranger to the road. Though he doesn’t write songs while he’s travelling, the New Brunswick native uses his time between gigs to jot down ideas, stashing them away until he’s ready to unleash them. “They get bottled up,” Andersen says with a laugh, “and then when I let them all out — well that’s how I end up with eight new tunes all at once.”

With his soulful voice, melodies that ease effortlessly from blues to roots and rock, along with a solid stage presence, Andersen, 28, has been getting his fair share of attention since he first started playing his own music in his early 20s. Along with a myriad of awards, including 2009 East Coast Music Awards for Blues Recording of the Year and Male Solo Recording of the Year, Andersen has toured and shared stages with the likes of America, Randy Bachman and the late Bo Diddley, among many others. He’s performed at jazz, blues and folk festivals across the country, most recently at the Montreal Jazz Festival, the Vancouver Folk Festival and the Ottawa Blues Festival.

Born into a musical family (“There was always music in the house”), Andersen played in bar bands until finding his own feet on stage. Now there’s no place he’d rather be than in front of an audience. “I’m more comfortable on stage than off — especially if it’s a solo show. Then I’m the only one up there I have to worry about.” Andersen describes his audiences as the reward for the gruelling travel schedule that keeps him away from his Halifax home so many days of the year. “When you do all that driving, and eating crappy gas-station sandwiches, the audience is really my pay-off.”

Andersen says he finds his songwriting inspiration everywhere. “It’s all stuff that happens to me, to friends — and every once and a while, it’s something made up,” he says with a laugh, “you know…standard blues stuff.” But ultimately, Andersen says every song has a “little bit of me in it. I have to sing them every night, so there always has to be a bit of me I can latch onto.”

Andersen’s most recent album, Piggyback, was recorded with Sarnia, Ont.-based harmonica virtuoso Mike Stevens. “He’s a pretty heavy player,” says Andersen, “so it was quite an opportunity to get to do an album with him.” In typical Andersen style, the album’s 12 original songs were co-written over the course of an inspired week, and recorded in three days live off the floor at The Cottage in Guelph, Ont.

For Andersen, the new album means he’ll be spending a lot more time on the road, including tour dates in the United States and in the U.K., but that’s the way he wants it right now. “The more I play, the more people will hear me, so I’m always up for shows. That’s why I keep the schedule I keep.”

Track Record

  • In 2009, Andersen won the Dutch Mason Award at the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival in Frederiction, N.B.
  • He will be touring with Jill Barber as part of the 2009 Vinyl Café Christmas Tour, with host Stuart McLean.
  • In January, Andersen will be competing in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn., the world’s largest gathering of blues acts.