Maude AudetLast year, she re-visited Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in a Francophone adaptation that transported us to the edge of this scent of decline, that feeling of withering away a little more every day. This fall, without the song even appearing on her third album, Maude Audet’s reprise sits at the epicentre of her entire oeuvre like a pillar. Comme une odeur de déclin, which was released on Sept. 29, 2017, is slowly seeping into the zeitgeist. “It’s about the decline of life, which remains a fact we all have to contend with on a daily basis,” says Audet. “We’re all going in that same direction,” says the Groose Boîte label’s new protégé, absolutely un-pessimistically.

A seasoned sailor of the many intimate musical seas, what sets Audet apart from the rest is that her melancholy writing imbued with a raw strength. Whereas some calculate every last detail, she feels more instinctive. “I forget to plan ahead, but on this project, I felt I needed to re-invent myself,” she says. “I could’ve done hip-hop. I love hip-hop, but I wanted to retain my essence,” she says laughing.

Contrary to 2015’s Nous sommes le feu (We Are the Fire), this new offering manages to create strong links to its themes because most of the songs are presented in the second-person singular. “They’re conversations, whether it’s with a friend, a lover, or even a stranger,” says Audet.” Each song is a dialogue.” Musically, we find ourselves navigating the calm waters of folk, yet with several additional musical layers added to her silky-smooth sound. “I wanted this to come across as vintage folk-rock, generally,” she says. “But I need my distorted electric-guitar songs, just as I need my guitar-voice-and-cello songs.”

The lyrics and mood of Comme une odeur de déclin might inspire concern for Audet. It certainly did so for writer Erika Soucy, who helped with the lyrics after being seized by Audet’s artistic outlook, very similar to her own. “We know each other well, but on a professional basis,” says Audet. “She has a very raw and sensitive kind of writing. It’s feminine and strong.” Audet wasn’t looking for complements, or add-ons, she was looking for validation, and a catalyst for good ideas.

“Just as with Ariane Moffatt’s production, I let people’s suggestions run free,” says Audet. “You can’t collaborate with someone and put road-blocks on their path at the same time. It’s like painting an artwork with four hands. You need to accept that the other person will paint their part,” she says, adding that through it all, she managed to remain true to her core. “It’s funny, because when I told people I was going to work with Ariane, everybody thought I was going to do an electro album,” she says. Instead, producer managed to rein it in without stripping it of its essence.

Moffatt was a natural choice for Audet’s when she decided she was going to work with a woman on this album. “The choice is indeed rooted in solidarity and awareness,” says Audet. “When I was thinking about a producer, only guys came to mind. And then I thought, wait, why not a woman? I’m always acting instinctively and, yes, at some point, there are some wake-up calls that need to happen.”

The critical acclaim is almost unanimous, and Audet isn’t worried about the absence of commercial radio support. “I do what I please, and commercial radio is very narrow,” she says. “I’ll never conform to that mould, and even if I wanted to, I just don’t get what the formula is,” she says with a laugh.

Audet’s art resides in keeping a balance – between musical genres, with other people, in her own life. “I have a family, so my life is not about writing songs until three in the morning on weeknights,” she says. “It mostly happens during the day, when I’m alone at home. I’m guided by concerns, troubles, hopes or sadness.”

Still, sometimes, inspiration strikes like lightning: “Léo is for Leonard Cohen,” she says. “I wrote it the day after he passed. Trump had just been elected, I was at home, and I didn’t know what to do. That song came out on its own. It allowed me to take a pause.”

People who didn’t watch the talent contest La Voix [the Québec-base franchise of U.S. nationally televised singing contest The Voice] in 2016 have probably never heard of Ryan Kennedy. They haven’t heard his stripped-down versions of Bruce Springsteen’s I’m on Fire, Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Cars” or Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone.” But most of all, what they haven’t heard is his soft, reassuring voice, one that weaves its way down to the bottom of our hearts.

Ryan Kennedy“I learned to sing louder than the crowd in bars so that they would hear me, it’s part of my journey”, says Kennedy. At 30, he’s just launched his second album, Love is Gold. His first album, the Neil Young-esque Home Fires was released in 2015. Both were self-produced.

Love is Gold was recorded by guitarist Dimitri Lebel-Alexandre with invaluable help from keyboard wizard François Lafontaine (Karkwa, Galaxie, Marie-Pierre Arthur, etc.), who handled arrangements and orchestrations. “I was very fortunate to work with him, he definitely left his mark on the album,” says Kennedy. Marc Hébert, Patrice Michaud’s bass player, also collaborated on the album.

“I played Father John Misty, The Nationals, Bon Iver and Beck to Dimitri so he’d get an idea of where I wanted to go,” says Kennedy. “And the record reflects that; guitars are neglected a little for the benefit of atmosphere, and keyboards that we can hear better. The overall musical colour that was our guiding light, our inspiration.”

When one Googles Ryan Kennedy, another one comes up first – a Christian rock artist. Ironically, religion has also played a major role in this Ryan Kennedy’s life, having been a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses until he was 21, when he left the group. “They’re a sect that made me live full speed ahead, but I left and I can now enjoy life much, much more,” he says. “I want to turn the negativity into positivity. I don’t like to talk about it, but let’s just say there was only one line of conduct. When I decided to go into music, I was told I couldn’t, so I left. And when you leave, you lose your family and your friends.”

“I’m one of those artists who write songs in parallel to therapy; my songs are entirely autobiographical.”

He no longer had any contact with his loved ones; that was the price he had to pay for a better life in pursuit of his dreams and aspirations. Music was his redemption. One almost hears the REM song “Losing My Religion.” “I’m one of those artists who write songs in parallel to therapy,” says Kennedy. “My songs are entirely autobiographical.

“When I was writing the song ‘Sanctuary,’ I was thinking of my little corner of the world, the place I can go, in the mountains, and be at peace with my past, to avoid allowing all that to re-surface,” he says. “Morin-Heights,” adapted in French by Benoit Pinette, aka Tire le Coyote, is one of the two Francophone songs on Love is Gold, alongside “Je cours toujours.” (“I’m Always Running”)

It goes:
L’histoire se termine là où elle commence
Dans les cendres blanches du silence
Et les plus beaux lendemains
N’y changeront rien

[The story ends where it began
In the white ashes of silence
And brighter tomorrows
Will change nothing]

Just as on “Whiskey Bar,” – a song about alcohol, and learning to cope with vice – “Love is Gold” is about being away on a never-ending tour, and the joy of coming home. “That’s pretty much my inspiration,” says Kennedy. “Ultimately, love is the theme that recurs the most, even when it has a bitter taste, like on ‘When You’re Sleeping.’ When a relationship ends, there’s always some apprehension that the other person will meet someone else and re-build their lives. That’s basically what I’m saying: I don’t care to know where you’re sleeping.” That’s a reference to his first wife, Tracy.

“‘Borderline’ says a lot about my condition and what goes on in the mind of the people who suffer from that disorder,” he says. [Borderline personality disorder, or BPD, is a complex psychiatric disorder with extremely varied symptoms.] “I am indeed very intense. The goal is to find a balance. On this record, I really laid my soul bare. It did me good.”

“After each show, there’d be this guy who’d come to me and say, ‘You made me cry with that song for your son.’ I don’t want that anymore,” says Dany Placard matter-of-factly. Spring has not sprung, but for Placard it’s time for a spring cleaning, and that starts with the songs that make up the singer-songwriter’s repertoire. “A lot of them I got rid of,” he goes on, as if to underline the musical and lyrical departure of his splendid and surprising sixth solo album, Full Face.

Dany PlacardWe reach him in Paris, where he’s touring as the bassist for Laura Sauvage during her European stint. He undertook his spring cleaning before getting on the plane… He bought all of his albums on iTunes “because the actual CDs were stored in [his managment team] Costume Records’ offices.” Out of his entire repertoire, he picked 25 songs, many of which he’d never played live, and some even dating back to his first solo album, 2006’s Au rang de l’église.

“I listened to everything. So, see, songs like ‘Santa Maria’ [2014], or ‘Au pays des vieux chars,’ my ‘country-er’ songs, if you will, they just don’t fit in my universe right now,” he says. “Same for the more personal songs I’d written on Démon vert [2012], the songs for my kids… I don’t feel like making people cry anymore. I want to take them with me on a journey. I want to move them, but in a different way. I want to make them think. About the lyrics. All that has a lot to do with depression.”

“That” refers to Full Face, a recording that was necessary to Placard’s mental health. A record that’s a reaction to his previous records, and to an entire year spent in the studio working on other people’s music. “I did eight productions and lost myself in the process,” he explains. “When you produce, all you do is listen to other people talk. Then, you put your ideas on the table, but in a messy way, trying all kinds of stuff. It’s draining.”

To shake off his studio funk, he needed to get back to writing. That finished him. “I said to myself at some point: You need to start writing. And that’s how I ended up not wanting to go out anymore: no happy hours, or record launches, or anything else,” says Placard. “I spent a good three months at home with just my family. They’re the ones who helped me, who made me want to smile again.” From this professional and creative exhaustion came a record “that I’m proud of, now”, says Placard, assuring us that he’s now doing well.

The songs on Full Face are like nothing we’ve ever heard before from Placard. Yesteryear’s folk-rock and country have disappeared. “I’ve been wanting to do something more ‘out there,’ more grandiose,” he says. “I wanted strings and keyboards, I waited to used keys, because they’re back in fashion now.”

But above all else, he forced himself to write differently. “As soon as it started leaning towards folk, I left the song behind,” says Placard. “I tried composing with guitars I didn’t use for that activity before. I bought new ones, I tuned them differently. As soon as I hit a familiar writing pattern, I moved away from it immediately.”

The same was true for guitarist and co-composer Guillaume Bourque, the only member left from his old band. “He bought a four-string, baritone guitar, just to see if he could write differently, to break his old habits,” says Placard. “I would come up with a basic idea, a musical theme I’d come up with on the guitar, and he would try to come up with a different one on top of it. He would say, ‘Let’s try and add a chord or two in there, just to break the mould, so it sounds less square.’”

Guitars are one of the key elements on this gem of an album, one that’s surprisingly groove-oriented, and miles away from Placard’s usual raw folk sound. Two-thirds of the album tackles, head-on, the depressed state he was in for a few months. Despite that, he insisted on creating an album with luminous music, despite the dark lyrics.

“I said to the boys, look, we all know how I’m doing,” says Placard. “You’ve read the lyrics and heard how I sing them, but I don’t want us to go there musically. I don’t want a musically ‘deep’ album. I want something dynamic, rhythmic – there are even some world-music rhythms on there.”

The spring cleaning isn’t over yet, says the singer-songwriter who believes that Full Face – and his burnout – is the beginning of a new creative cycle.

“I already have a new band project I’ve started with some friends,” he says. “I started writing new songs right away, because I don’t want to wait another three years before I release a new album. I think it’s going to move further away from folk, without becoming full-on rock. I’m 41, you know, I no longer have anything to lose. I prefer trying stuff rather than boxing myself into a crowd-pleasing format. That being said, I don’t think I’ve disappointed my audience, because I know they’re loyal.”