“Dumbing down” is a phrase usually applied to pop music, but the frontman in loud noise-rockers Metz says that’s almost what they set out to do with the songs for their self-titled album, released independently and later picked up by the renowned Sub Pop label.

The Toronto-based trio – guitarist/vocalist Alex Edkins, drummer Hayden Menzies and bassist Chris Slorach – had released a series of singles since forming in 2008, and wanted to concentrate on songwriting for their first full-length album.

“It was a process of dumbing it down, almost, making everything really simplistic.” – Alex Edkins

“For us, what it meant was really stripping our songs back to the essential idea or feel,” explains Edkins. “Prior to this record, some of our songs were more complicated and convoluted. For this album, we wanted to just focus on the essential idea [of each song] and highlight that.

“So it was a process of dumbing it down, almost, making everything really simplistic. Everything that made the record was very direct and hit the listener full-on.” For example, Metz made every effort to boost the vocals, compared to past releases.

While the recording of the album was quick, it was preceded by considerable honing and demo-ing in pre-production to get the songs up to snuff. The bed tracks were then recorded over a week in a converted barn in Stoney Creek, Ont., with Graham Walsh of Holy Fuck, while the overdubs, vocals and mixing were done back in Toronto with Alexandre Bonenfant (Crystal Castles) over several weekends.

“Everything that made the record was very direct and hit the listener full-on.”– Alex Edkins

“I like to think of it as being self-produced,” says Edkins, “but those guys were invaluable as far as the technical side and making sure the ideas were translating properly to tape.”

From “Knife In The Water,” whose tension-building boom-cha-cha intro is a nod to Phil Spector-produced girl groups, to the classic three-chord punk of “Get Off,” Metz’s intention is to make “good solid songs that have aspects of pop and aspects of punk, a nice middle ground where there’s the best of both worlds happening,” Edkins says. Dictated by the vibe of the music, Edkins says the album – which includes such titles as “Sad Pricks,” “Rats,” “Nausea,” Headache” and “Wasted” – is naturally about darker content.

“I’ve tried, but it just doesn’t seem to work to write a happy song or a love song over that music. It doesn’t seem to make sense. So a lot of the stuff on this record was [about] frustration and paranoia and some of the pressures of living in a big metropolitan city, and the pressures of the modern age that most people can relate to in some way.”

Ingrid St-Pierre was only 17 when she left her hometown of Cabano, in the Lower St-Lawrence region, and relocated to Rimouski. Then, after spending a year in Québec City to attend Université Laval, the young woman backpacked for a while and landed in Trois-Rivières to finish her psychology degree. That is where she discovered a small place that was as intriguing as it was welcoming: Café Morgane. Unbeknownst to her at the time, that is exactly where her singer-songwriter career would ultimately take off.

“It was the happiest coincidence of my life, she chimes. If I have a musical career today, it’s because of a friend of mine who kept spurring me on; she insisted that I meet with the owner of the place. So I did and I played a few of my songs for him, even though I didn’t really know how to play. I didn’t have any kind of musical notion; I could barely accompany myself. But despite it all, he hired me and that is where I learned most of what I know, every weekend for five years. I also learned a lot of songs, as well as learning how to present myself on stage and engage the audience. For some, it’s the bar scene that was their school, for me it was this café.”

New Horizons

Armed with her newfound confidence, she moved to Montréal, participated in the Ma première Place des Arts contest and launched a delicate first album titled Ma petite mam’zelle de chemin, in 2011. Ingrid managed to seduce both the press and the public with her softly melancholic and pleasantly naive songs that are both ethereal and joyous. Then, last fall, she launched L’escapade, a second, more personal album with much more elaborated orchestral arrangements. That album, coproduced by Louis Legault (Dumas), surprises with its tangential love stories. One this is clear, the young lady has bloomed into a woman. “The first album was made of songs that I’d written many years ago, some of them almost 10. Needless to say the lyrics on many of them felt a little outdated. On L’escapade, I wrote all of the songs in a one-year period, so the content is much more relevant and introspective. For my first album, I’d written most songs with only a simple piano/voice arrangement. On this one, I could already hear bolder arrangements. I also allowed myself to use instruments I wanted to hear such as Erhu, the Chinese violin, and brass. I explored a lot deeper because I knew deep down that these songs would be able to bear heftier arrangements.  I also felt that my voice had matured, so I also explored that aspect. All in all it was a wonderful adventure,” remembers the 27 year old chanteuse.

With songs titled “Les avalanches” and “Feu de Bengale”, Ingrid has also demonstrated clearly that her writing has matured as well. Always the storyteller, she explains that her writing method is somewhat peculiar. “It’s kind of weird; I write in spurts, in phases. Sometimes I sit down at the piano and I record melodies on the fly on my iPhone of even on voicemail! I do that all the time. Once I’ve accumulated a lot of melodies, it feels harder to figure out which lyrics to pair with which music. What I truly enjoy is having an idea for a story, having an outline of where that song will be going, then sitting down at the piano and finishing that song. It’s always something magical.

The Shrew and the Shrewd

Even though she was deeply influenced by the music of Françoise Hardy, Richard Desjardins, Georges Moustaki, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, her biggest musical heartthrob came from her discovery of a New Brunswick-based artist. “When I was a teenager, I was watching TV and I heard this song… I was flabbergasted, I could not believe how strong the words were and how unique the voice was that sang them. I listened to the song snippet over and over for a whole week, trying to discover who that was. I finally found out that it was Marie-Jo Thério. I became a die hard fan because she showed me I could create my own musical universe, a world that is mine and is unlike any other. Her music proved that it was OK to do that and follow your will,” she reminisces.

“I’m still a beginner at this. I try to broaden my horizons as much as I can.”

Everything to Learn

Besides her many live dates and a trip to Europe this year, Ingrid is busy with many a project. A fan of film scores, she dreams of composing film music, as she dreams of collaborating with other artists and, eventually even, publish a book of novels. After writing a letter that was published in the Mille mots d’amour collection of short stories, Ingrid admits she’s growing increasingly fond of writing her stories. “I realized I loved writing in a form other than songs. I accumulated a whole bunch of story ideas and I was wondering how I would be able to condense of of it in three and a half minutes. In the end, I tried writing them as novels and I loved the experience. It’s a great source of inspiration. “I’m still a beginner at this. I try to broaden my horizons as much as I can. I don’t take anything for granted. I still have a lot to learn, but I enjoying learning new stuff everyday.”

Launched in late November, Fox, Karim Ouellet’s second album seemed to literally negate autumn like a ray of light and a shot of vitamin Pop. It’s not the most rewarding time of year to release an album, in part because critics are already writing their best of year charts, but that did not prevent the 28 year old to make his mark. To wit: his song “L’amour” stayed at the top of the Francophone BDS chart, beating the likes of Marie-Mai, Sylvain Cossette and Céline Dion for the spot.

The industry is already abuzz with his crossover appeal. From CISM to CKOI, NRJ and Rythme FM, there is cause to, as they say, “mind the gap”, but Karim – who was picked as the 2012-2013 Revelation of the year by Radio-Canada – elegantly lept over this gap. “I have no interest in deciding what is or is not commercial. All that matters to me is ‘what’s good and what’s not?’ The goal of music is to make people happy, so if my song makes some people happy, I don’t care whether they heard it on CKOI or CIBL, it’s still the same song. There will be people who’ll get tired of hearing it or won’t like it, but hey! ‘L’amour’ played on all radios! That song had the opportunity to be heard.”

The young artist admits he’s very inspired by the way Lisa LeBlanc found success: “She wrote something very personal with a 100% free state of mind. Then, one of her songs brought her to everyone’s attention. To some, it takes away a certain aura of exclusivity to the song because it then becomes everyone’s song. But her album is still a very personal work of art that wasn’t planned according to a business model or radio format… That’s what I call ‘democratic music’.”

Karim Ouellet has qualities that make him immediately endearing: ingenuousness, charisma, authenticity, and a classy casualness. This is obviously a free man, and it’s visible in the persona he presents and the way with which he gives in to the temptation of pop music as much as in the way he graciously floats from one style to the next. Not to mention his smooth voice that can reach surprisingly high notes, not unlike M, a warm, caressing, velvety voice – in short, a major asset. “That kind of happened on its own. I always sang over songs I listened to. I’d actually sing harmonies because I thought it was kinda sad that those harmonies weren’t there. Then I started accompanying myself on the guitar and at some point, I figured out that I could really have fun with this. I never took singing lessons, I just followed my instinct. I did eventually learn a few techniques for breathing at the right moment, making sure I sing in the right key and protecting my voice.”

Even though his first album, Plume, came out two years ago, most people will discover him with Fox, a gorgeous patchwork of influences dominated by a neo-soul flavour. In a very short period of time, the multi-instrumentist – who we’ve also seen playing alongside Marième, Movèzerbe and Accrophone – learned quite a lot and was quick to put his learnings to work: “Plume and Fox were studio-recorded with the exact same method and in the exact same amount of time; three and a half months. On Plume, Claude Bégin, Thomas Gagnon-Coupal and myself had not preconceived goal, all we wanted was to record songs. But Fox was definitely thought out by Claude and I as a finished whole. The songs are different from one another, but it was important to us that they all work together.”

This bond bore its fruit and paved the way for the following explorations: “When I went into the studio for Fox, I only had two songs that weren’t even finished! The writing and composing happened as we went along in the studio. The final result is somewhere between a very clear and conscious art direction and allowing ourselves to progress by trail and error.”

“The trick is to not take yourself too seriously while remaining serious enough to do what you need to do and do it well.”

But one thing Karim Ouellet is very conscious of at this point is the fact that his biggest challenge will be taking his music to the stage: “We hired Brigitte Poupart (who did the stage direction of Yann Perreau, Louis-Jean Cormier, Misteur Valaire) and we’ve decided to keep it simple in order to become more efficient. We want to make the show entertaining, turn it into an experience.” As for the rest of his career, Karim will, sly fox that he is, apply some of the things he learned along the way: “The trick is to not take yourself too seriously while remaining serious enough to do what you need to do and do it well. One needs to meets their own expectations before trying to fulfill others’. And have fun.”