Noe TalbotIt was a “cocktail of difficult events” over the past three years that led Noé Talbot to his current album, Remercier les accidents. All the obstacles, from anxiety to the pitfalls of an over-crowded schedule, were layered on top of each other, and then accidents, choices, forced rest, and unexpected new beginnings, gave birth to the post-storm music. Music for which we’re thankful.

“I had never had anxiety in my life, and all of a sudden I couldn’t leave my house for several days, as if I were paralyzed. I had burned the candle at both ends,” says Talbot, now resigned to choosing his battles. “I was working on my teaching degree, I had a girlfriend in France, and lots of musical projects,” he says. “I’ve always been the ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way’ type, but my body just couldn’t keep up.”

With a nodule on one of his vocal cords, teaching by day and singing by night, Talbot realized that choices had to be made. “Between teaching and music, I chose music,” he says. “I healed from that nodule and took time for myself. That made me a lot more human, and sensitive to psychological distress.”

When it was time to record his album, an administrative glitch between his musicians and his label forced him to change his plans. “I was forced to hire session musicians,” he explains. “I used three different producers. I was outside of my comfort zone, and had to pay more attention to myself since I was now the only common thread between all the elements of the project.”

For him, the toughest thing about changes and breaks is accepting them. Hence the album’s title. “I’m thankful for all the bumps in the road,” he now readily admits. “We’re always pushing back against the frantic pace of life, the storm, the tornado, and we end up forgetting to accept it, which is the key. Hitting rock bottom is not that important. As long as you accept that you hit rock bottom,” he adds with a laugh.

Accidents are no strangers to Talbot’s creative process. “I firmly believe in the adage that constraints feed creativity,” he says. “I try to write pretty much every day, and I like to dabble in different styles and genres.” Globally, it’s something the listener notices almost immediately, because all of his songs are extremely different from one another.

“Some artists are more at ease with uniformity. I would feel uncomfortable. I want songs to have a soul,” he says. Hence his insistence on experimenting with various writing styles. Songs will therefore begin as an a capella, on the piano, on the guitar, in the studio, or in the shower, from a fragment of melody, or a sentence he decided to dwell on a little longer. “Creativity is a muscle,” he believes. “I do crossword puzzles, I use various techniques to diversify my vocabulary.”

Beyond that intense effort to never get stuck in an overly-familiar method, there’s pressure. “The best ally of creativity is getting rid of pressure,” Talbot says adamantly. “I’m lucky enough that my projects are successful. Not incredibly so, but I have fans that like everything I do, whether I’m punkier or softer. My next album will be very soft, and I gave myself that freedom – going back to soft things, if that’s what I feel like doing.”

Achieving a goal with a song isn’t magic, but Talbot knows at least part of the recipe: “Creating a hit is 70 percent marketing and 30 percent touching people’s souls at the same time you touch your own. You have to put part of yourself into it,” he says. At that stage of the creative process, the only way to succeed, to him, is to create a lot. If it takes 100 songs to write just one that stands out, then so be it.

Talbot inhabits his own creative process as much as he wishes to understand and de-mystify that of others. That’s the reason why he produced the podcast Main d’oeuvre alongside Philippe Vaillancourt. “With each artist we welcome, we tell each other stories from the studio, we go into detail about the lyrics of the songs, and we understand the authenticity of each person who makes a song,” he says. Talbot hopes to learn and share the experiences of others: “A successful artist is almost always an artist who knows that authenticity led them to their best work.”

It’s been three years since Poesy, (aka Sarah Botehlo) caught Canada’s attention with her performances on the CTV series The Launch, but she’s been very busy since then.

Glass Box Confessional
, a four-song EP, on the Scooter Braun/Scott Borchetta label Big Machine Records, was released in 2019, and its first single, “Soldier of Love,” debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes All Genres chart, and broke into the Billboard Top 40. (Unfortunately, her deal with them was soon scuppered in the wake of COVID-19.) Next was a single, “Diamonds,” which garnered more than 340,000 views on YouTube, and caught the attention of acclaimed U.K. producer Stephen Lipson (Annie Lennox, Grace Jones, Billie Eilish) and New York-based management company Artist for Artist.

For the last several months, Lipson’s been virtually producing her debut album (release date TBD) via Skype and Zoom meetings due to the pandemic. “It’s definitely weird to make a record like this,” says Poesy. “I would have preferred to get to go to England, and not have to wake up at 5:00 a.m. to take his calls, but I’m really grateful for the opportunity.”

On the phone from her home in Toronto, where the Hamilton native moved four years ago, after graduating from London, Ontario’s Western University, Poesy sounds upbeat and enthusiastic about where she finds herself now in her career. Big things are about to happen. The day after our interview, she was set to shoot a video for “Steel Hearts,” a song commissioned as the opening anthem for the Canada Games XXVIII (that have been re-scheduled for August 2022), and she was really looking forward to it.

The opportunity to write the song came about in a way that has Poesy in stitches as she tries to recount it. On a visit to her parents’ home, she learned that Mom had bragged about her singing to the neighbours’ kids, and had promised them a performance on Sarah’s next visit. “I was like, ‘Mom, why did you invite these people over? I just want to chill,’” she says. Turns out the kids brought their parents, and the dad happened to be on a committee planning the Games. Within days, she was invited to write and perform the opening song.

“I find it way easier to talk about my emotions now”

An incredible honour, no doubt; but also, for a woman who describes herself as “not athletic in any way shape, or form,” a great challenge: “How do I represent the feelings that these people are going to be going through, when I skipped gym class?”

Poesy wrote “Steel Hearts” (the title of which she acknowledges is a tip of the hat to her birthplace) with Dajaun Martineau, who’s worked with Kathleen Edwards, Lydia Ainsworth, and Moist, among others. He’s a longtime friend, who’s co-written and is recording the new album with her as well.

Poesy had never considered music as a possible career, although she says, “I think, in a way, I was always a songwriter, because I grew up watching way too much Disney, and thought you were supposed to sing about everything you did.  I used to just sing about making a sandwich. I was probably the most annoying kid ever!”

Things changed once she went to Western. The young Poesy started making friends with a number of musicians, and ended up winning a talent contest with a prize of some studio time. That hooked her, and she began writing for herself. Then another contest came along – The Launch – and that sent her off on another tangent.

“After The Launch, it was a way different experience,” she explains. “Before that, I had always written alone in my bedroom, and it was very intimidating when I started my first session going into the studio… I think being a songwriter has helped me a lot as a person, because I used to be very, very closed off, and I find it way easier to talk about my emotions now. I think that the last four years, doing co-write after co-write after co-write has made me a way more outgoing person.”

What’s in a name?
So, where did the pseudonym “Poesy” come from? And how to pronounce it? Two syllables (like the flower), or three (as any Google search will tell you)? “I stayed up one night when I was at Western, because I wanted to have a stage name, and I wouldn’t let myself go to bed until I came up with one,” she says. “I was reading The Defense of Poesy [also known as An Apology for Poetry, written by the Elizabethan poet Philip Sidney and published, after his death, in 1595] for school, and the whole point of it was [that] we should teach people through art, because then they can learn something, but they can also enjoy themselves. I just really liked that, and it kinda stuck.” And the pronunciation? “It’s ‘POE-zee,’ cause it’s cuter.” There you have it.

The booklet Ian Janes created to accompany his latest album, Episode 5, isn’t just a nostalgic nod to the times when album cover art and liner notes were essential accessories for the listening experience. It’s also a way to circumvent the pandemic’s impact by engaging isolated and distanced fans more deeply with his music.

The lush 36-page “companion book” contains photos of Janes and the other musicians, lyrics, and insights on the songs’ genesis. “I think it captures something I love about old records, but in a different way,” he says. “Without artwork, chances are it’s a soundtrack to checking Instagram, which doesn’t build connection to the music. People get more deeply involved with songs when they know about how they were made – they get inside them. It’s all about finding ways to do my best in this era of floating attention spans.”

“Genre is the production and the artist, not the song. Great songs are great songs.”

In a way, the idea for including the songs’ back stories in a booklet came from the Nova Scotia singer-songwriter’s experiences working in a Nashville songwriting style. “Eddie Schwartz, the songwriter and SOCAN Nashville rep, told me that everyone in that town does what they call ‘Writing from a title,’ and most of my writing there has been done that way,” says Janes. “You go into a session and everybody‘s got a list of titles, and ways to spin a story around the title. And the beauty of it is that often another person will have a completely different idea that can be inspirational and change everything. That’s happened to me.”

Janes has had notable country music successes, including the co-write “Can’t Remember Never Loving You” being featured in the show Nashville, and another with singer Kylie Frey, “I Do Thing,” topping Texas radio charts. While you couldn’t call Episode 5 country – it’s more like soulful pop-rock – the opening song, “Amnesia,” grew from its title, in true Nashville style.

“I stumbled across that word, and I write groove-based music, so something rhythmic that feels good to sing is what I gravitate to,” he explains. “I realized that ‘Amnesia’ was a great title, and because of those great Nashville writers who got me writing with a title, I started to think about what the song could be.

“The record starts and ends with songs that refer to emotional states as if they’re characters. I’m speaking to amnesia as if it’s an old friend I need to help me forget this heartache. And in the last song, ‘Sleepless,’ [co-writer] Stone Aielli and I speak about someone – me – who’s having trouble sleeping ‘cause he misses home, and he wakes up in a hotel room and says, ‘Hello, 3 a.m., looks like it’s you and me again. Don’t take this personally, but you ain’t who I want to see.’ Being able to talk about the story you’re going to tell has been a welcome asset to my ability to notice those things, and develop them into songs.”

The sounds on Episode 5, which Janes produced at his Dartmouth home, are rich and varied, reflecting his upbringing listening to genre-benders like Ray Charles, Joni Mitchell, and Quincy Jones. Some songs have guitars, keyboards, horns, and background vocals, recorded separately in each musician’s studio; some are sparse; and there are echoes of everyone from Chet Baker to Justin Timberlake.

“Genre is the production and the artist, not the song,” he says. “Great songs are great songs. If you put horns and Hammond organ on them, they’re soul, but if you use fiddle and steel guitar, they’re country. It’s like in the jazz era, when Broadway songs were interpreted by jazz musicians. John Coltrane doing ‘My Favorite Things’ was different from Julie Andrews’ version – and Ariana Grande’s. They all had career songs with it, because it’s a great song.”

Janes is hoping to play his songs live when venues open up, and keep writing for himself, and others. “Sometimes I sing them and sometimes other people do,” he says. “I’ll continue to balance my career as a writer and an artist. It’s one and the same to me.”