He often books his own performances, he teaches slam poetry to school children, and is a member of four bands, on two continents. This isn’t someone who wastes time doing needlepoint, but if he was into that, he’d find time to create art with multi-coloured yarn, too. So here’s an idea of what you’d need to do in order to accomplish as much as 28-year-old Noé Talbot, a guy with six careers and a few side-gigs.

Noé Talbot Self-taught, he first went on tour at the age of 17. Ever heard of Fortune Cookie Club? Col Rouge? Super Punk? He was there.

Although all of those projects were part of punk’s murky waters, it would be a mistake to pigeonhole Talbot. Launched last June, his second full-length album, Laisser le poste ouvert, is completely devoid of any of standard punk’s codification.

“When I write a song, I know right away which project it’s for,” says Talbot. “I have three punk bands. One that’s more poetic, with emo melancholy tunes. Super Punk is four chords and jokes. In Fortune Cookie Club, I try to give others a lot more space. Then there’s my solo acoustic project, that’s hyper-personal, and that writing process is really different.”

Because he knows the identity of each project so well, Talbot doesn’t feel like he’s scattered. “I write so much music, I could release three or four albums a year,” he says. Obviously, the creative framework varies from one band to the next. “Paul Valéry said that constraints increase creativity,” says the songwriter. “I really agree with that.

Taking An Unexplored Path

“I’m putting the finishing touches on a rap album,” he says, with the same tone as if he announced he’d just finished doing his laundry. While he was playing guitar for a D-Track show in Gatineau, he indulged in a slam alongside the rapper. Horg, of Seba & Horg, was there, and suggested putting it over a rap track.

“I studied the rap ‘code’ for seven or eight hours every day, I wanted to understand, and I find it fascinating,” Talbot explains. “I like conscious rap like Orelsan, Stromae, Romeo Elvis. I’ve always loved Manu Militari and Koriass. I like rap a lot when it’s more melodic, with a sung chorus.”

He’s captivated by everything rap has brought him, and everything he had yet to explore. “I’ve been writing music for 15 years, and I can see the chords in my mind,” he says. “When I play a C, an A minor, a D… I see them. With rap, I see nothing at all. It’s amazing.” Talbot’s first rap singles will come out on Slam Disques’s new sub-label, Hell for Breakfast, this Spring.

Since just after the holidays, Talbot isn’t scattered, and says with utmost confidence that he can now “live from his music.” “It’s all I can think of. I know where I’m going,” he adds. To him, projects are always creatively stimulating. “Tomorrow it might be a punk rock opportunity, a festival, or solo showcases in Europe. Whatever the case may be, I’ll be there,” he says.

Apart from the first beats of his rap project, Talbot is preparing an EP with Col Rouge, a collaboration with a French band, the release of Super Punk’s new album, and the release of a Fortune Cookie Club compilation album. He’ll also produce an album for Québec City’s Distance Critique, and an EP of acoustic covers alongside Caravane’s Dominic Pelletier. Oh, and he’s also writing a children’s book, and already has enough material for another solo album, and shows planned for next summer.

“I’m pretty clear about where I’m going, and have been for about a year,” says Talbot. “I’ve always known that music would be part of my life, but I didn’t think it would be the central element around which everything gravitates,” he says, adding that all the new opportunities will take him to the next level. “As I age, I hope I never feel like I’ve seen it all.”

Dominique Fils-Aimé

Photo: Jeff Malo

Like the proverbial water off a duck’s back, Dominique Fils-Aimé lets people’s differences slowly fade into oblivion. More than anything else, for her music is at the heart of what brings us together, what bonds us. On Stay Tuned!, the second in a trilogy of politically conscious albums, she has a clear plan: detaching ourselves from the need to only be “here.” “No matter who you are, I want to hear what you have to sing,” says Fils-Aimé.

As soon as she was signed to her label, she got carte blanche. “Write down your dream project,” they told her. “I’ve always loved school,” says Fils-Aimé, who didn’t choose the easy way. “I decided I would re-visit Black history. I wanted to know, from a historic perspective, what the things were that we repeat, and could avoid.” It was during this study that Dominique Fils-Aimé realized that even though she didn’t know the history, she had felt it through music. “Music has a historical imprint that you can read,” she explains. “The blues, blue, misery. It was an era when we made music with what we could get our hands on: rocks, your body, your voice.” And thus was born the first part of her trilogy, Nameless (2018), a dense, intentionally heavy album. “Silence was one of the main instruments, and it was almost a metaphor for the silence to which a whole people were reduced.”

Stay Tuned!, which came out in late February, takes us “out of that torpor” and moves us forward into the history Dominique decided to portray. “It’s red, it’s jazz, it’s blood, it’s woman,” she says. “Jazz was born of a desire to break free of the rules of classical, and create new boundaries. Music can change minds. It’s the softest and most empathetic way of doing so.”

The next instalment of the project, due in Spring 2020, will take us toward the sun. “The trilogy will end with the revolution,” says Fils-Aimé. “It’s the part of the history where even though the situations have left marks, we allowed ourselves to be light-hearted. That’s when funk, reggae, and disco came to be.” In a context where artists often feel bogged down by a system that doesn’t move quickly enough to accommodate their creativity, she’s conscious of how lucky she is to have the freedom to create this triple-punch over a three-year period.

Music has proven an unavoidable outlet of African-American culture. For Fils-Aimé, music is therapeutic. “This is true whether you listen to music or play it,” she says. “When you spend night after night, especially as a teen, listening to albums you’re obsessed with, that’s one thing. But it’s important to understand that the concept of mental illness and therapy doesn’t exist in many languages. Mental illness doesn’t exist in Creole. You aren’t depressed, you’re tired.” That’s how, according to her, music becomes unifying; because it fundamentally says that you’re not alone. “There’s part of that in me,” she says. “It comes from the music, this desire to find your therapy, to create it. You finally feel as if you are contributing to the process.”

“People think you need to be a singer with a guitar to have any kind of success. The more artists leave the country to play that music, the less people here have access to it.”

“Let’s destroy the concept of world music,” hisses Fils-Aimé when we touch on that totally unjustified category, that’s crept into our everyday vocabulary. “I don’t even know where it came, from or why it exists. To me, it exemplifies a desire to integrate people by creating a niche, an isolated space where we can point our fingers at them and say the’re different. Underscoring the cultural background of people is putting them in a box. And that box is a huge one containing the world,” she says.

The soulful Fils-Aimé doesn’t need any excuse to get onstage, but she does believe her genre of music tends to want to export itself and leave. “This music doesn’t know if it has a place here,” she says. “There’s a system in place where people think you need to be a singer with a guitar to have any kind of success. The more artists leave the country to play that music, the less people here have access to it, and the cycle begins again.”

Raised Fist

Revolt, revolution, and changing minds are ever-present in Dominique Fils-Aimé’s mind and voice. “I dream of true change, she says. “That we literally retire the concept of violence. I want us to re-think the women’s jails system, I want us to find all the First Nations women who’ve disappeared, that we integrate First Nations in our daily lives, as well as black women in feminist movements.” All of those desires aim to ensure the safety and well-being of the ones who come after us. “It’s important for the next generation to know that we care,” she says. “It’s our duty to bring back revolutionary discourse to the present time.”

Musically, Stay Tuned! is emblematic of the artist’s value, diversity being nothing short of a duty: “I invited Elli Miller Maboungou on percussion, and Hichem Khalfa on trumpet,” she says. “But above all, after spending all of my time complaining on Nameless, I wanted to take control again,” she remembers, laughing. “I integrate women more. Salin Cheewapansri, on drums, is the heartbeat that I wanted. I wanted my album to beat to the rhythm of a woman’s heart.”

Fils-Aimé believes the solution is within u,s and that our will to integrate as much variety as possible in our music will necessarily translate into more diversity in our society. “Music is a metaphor for life,” she believes. “By focusing on what unites us, our passion for music, we’ll discover that we see things the same way. We all have a change to contribute.”

As the pride of Grande Prairie, Alberta, begins her major label run as the next Canadian country female superstar success story, the career stats will begin to mount. But there’ll always be one number that will stick out in Tenille Townes’ mind: 140. That’s the number of local townsfolk that chartered a 737 to fly nearly 4,000 km to witness Townes make her Grand Ole Opry debut in Nashville in 2018.

“My family, friends, and community have been such a big part of this adventure from the beginning,” says Townes. “They’ve been so supportive and excited, from back when I was singing the anthem at hockey games in Grande Prairie. They joked and said someday they were going to come to Nashville and see me play the Grand Ole Opry.

“But they weren’t joking. They showed up, and 140 of them came down the escalator at the Nashville Airport. It was the most beautiful and overwhelming hometown hug I could have ever imagined – and getting to step into that circle for the very first time was so very sacred to me. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Such a gesture says as much about Townes, 25, as it does about her local community. She’s now climbing the charts with “Somebody’s Daughter,” her debut Columbia Nashville single, which boasts more than 500,000 YouTube views at press time. It’s an extraordinary song, inspired by a homeless girl that Townes and her mother saw holding a cardboard sign near an Interstate exit. But the journey to get to this point has been anything but overnight.

Known simply as  “Tenille” while she carved out a Canadian career,  Townes has been working it for awhile, her ambitious initiative resulting in a self-directed, 32-week, cross-Canada, motor-home tour called Play It Forward (to inspire kids to make a difference), that hit hundreds of high schools across most of Canada (sorry, Newfoundland!) and trekked as far North as Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

At the age of 15, Townes released “Home Now,” produced by Duane Steele, followed by two Fred Mollin-produced albums on Royalty Records – 2011’s Real (earning her a Canadian Country Music Award nomination for Female Artist of the Year) and 2013’s Light. In Grande Prairie – and this is where community again plays a crucial role – Townes established her annual Big Hearts for Big Kids benefit for a hometown homeless youth shelter, Sunrise House. Now entering its 10th year, Big Hearts has generated more than $1.5 million for the cause.

With Light and a 45-hour drive in her rear-view mirror, Townes re-located to Nashville in 2014.   On her arrival, one of the first neighbours she met was fellow Canadian David Kalmusky, who co-owns Addiction Sound Studios with Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain. After Townes spent her initial days becoming acclimatized to Nashville, Kalmusky took her under his wing.

“Tenille kept bringing me songs that were making the hair on my arms stand up.” – David Kalmusky

“David became like a big brother to me and invited me to hang at the studio,” says Townes. “I was just writing and exploring, having the time and space to just really dig into what I wanted this music to represent, who I was as a person, and what my voice is really going to feel like. David was very instrumental in the early part of developing that sound.”

As Townes’ artistry evolved over the next four years, Kalmusky was impressed by her patience and tenacity. “I remember people asking her if she felt frustrated because things weren’t happening fast enough for her,” he says. “Because they felt she was ready, and Tenille’s response was, ‘You gotta do the work.’”

David Kamulsky

David Kalmusky

And work she did, constantly setting up writer and publisher meetings, guitar pulls, and performing whenever and wherever she could.

“I’ve never met a harder, more passionate worker,” says Kalmusky, who’s worked with everyone from Journey and Vince Gill to Justin Bieber and The Road Hammers. “I’ve been working for 32 years, and there isn’t another artist [to whom] I dedicated four years of my life, and demoed 32 songs and 14 masters, or championed.  Tenille kept bringing me songs that were making the hair on my arms stand up.”

After five years of dues-paying, satisfaction struck quickly, thanks to the duo’s game plan. “The last five masters we cut together, we sent them out to publishers to really target the Nashville executives,” Kalmusky remembers.

Townes had also found an ally with ASCAP’s Creative Director at the time, Robert Filhart. “I had been meeting with Robert every few months, playing him new songs, and picking his brain about more people I could write with or meet,” says Townes. Filhart reached out to Carla Wallace, co-owner of Big Yellow Dog Music, publishing home to Meghan Trainor, Maren Morris, and Daniel Tashian, among others.

Carla Wallace

Carla Wallace

“He sent me a text saying, ‘I have a girl I want you to hear,” says Wallace. “I remember when the music was sent, it only took two lines of one song and I knew she was special.  Her phrasing, her delivery, her unique sense of lyric all captured me immediately.” Although Big Yellow Dog was one of the three publishing offers Townes entertained that week, the songwriter liked Wallace’s atmosphere the best. “I felt like they just really got it,” says Townes. “They heard me. She asked me to come back and we started working together right away.”

Simultaneously, David Kalmusky also reached out to Jim Catino, Sony Music Nashville’s Executive Vice-President. “When it came to Sony, I wanted to get him out of the office and avoid the traditional drop-by,” says Kalmusky. “I wanted to bring him into our world, to meet and hear Tenille in a space where she was comfortable, and where we created music. And by the time Jim was sitting on our couch, she already had a major publishing deal with Big Yellow Dog.”

Catino was instantly smitten. The day I met her was the day I knew I wanted to sign her,” says Catino. “Her songwriting comes from such a unique place, and the songs are identifiable – they match up with her personality. And her identity as a singer as well. Her voice is so unique and different. She’s very prolific, and the depth of her lyrics is incredible. That’s a huge part of our format in the country world – that storytelling, singer-songwriter gist.”

Jim Catino

Jim Catino

On Friday they met; on Monday she played for the company, and Columbia Records Nashville proffered a deal. “Jim literally called me that weekend and said there was a deal on the table,” says Kalmusky.

Townes says her family has a tradition; whenever there’s good news to share, she buys ice cream in Nashville and her parents buy it in Grande Prairie, and they celebrate long-distance over the phone. “We had a lot of ice cream that week,” she laughs.

With Townes working on her Jay Joyce-produced, as-yet-untitled 12-song album, she snagged an opening acoustic slot on the 2018 Miranda Lambert/Little Big Town tour. Columbia moved quickly, issuing the four-song  Living Room Worktapes. We wanted to have something to share with fans in the marketplace,” says Catino. “We used the Miranda tour as the radio set-up for ‘Somebody’s Daughter.’”

Catino thinks the sky’s the limit for Tenille Townes. “She’s going to be a big superstar,” he says. “I think she can be as big as any female we’ve ever had in the format. She’s got the personality. She’s got the work ethic. She’s got the identity.  The songs, the powerful voice, the powerful delivery – she’s got all the tools to be an incredible star.”

While Townes awaits the album’s release, she’s occupying her time opening for Dierks Bentley in North America, and at least one show for her idol Patty Griffin, as well a few dates in Australia… and pinching herself in the process.

“It’s been so much fun,” she says. “I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a little kid, and it’s so surreal to see all these things come to life: ‘Someday it ‘ll be so cool to live in Nashville,’ and ‘Someday it’ll be  so cool to write songs,’ and ‘Someday it’ll be so cool to get played on the radio.’ It’s been a wild season of these things becoming real life – and I’m so very grateful.”