“Singing has always intrigued me,” says Alex Erian in the middle of a conversation about Balance, the fourth album by his band Obey The Brave, released in July on the Hell for Breakfast imprint, a subsidiary of Slam Disques. The statement seems odd, since Alex Erian has been OTB’s singer since it was created, in 2012 and was previously the singer for deathcore band Despised Icon starting in 2004.

So what does he actually mean? He means that he’s been pining to escape the sometimes limiting constraints of the role of screamer, so typical in the metalcore universe. According to the current standards—and all things being relative—Balance is Obey The Brave’s most “pop” album, and undoubtedly the one where the frontman uses his voice for more melodic endeavours. Alongside him are axeman Terrence McAuley, drummer Stevie Morotti, and newcomer Ben Landreville on bass.

“I was weary of the reactions that would provoke. I was expecting more hate on the internet, but people were pretty cool,” says Erian, referring to the sometimes virulent attacks that such a move generates in the world of punk or metal, no matter how subtle it may be – because it’s usually, childishly, likened to a form of compromise or “going soft.”

“In any case,” says Erian, about those for whom the slightest modulation to a band’s intensity is nothing short of high treason, “what matters the most is creating something that comes from the heart, not fitting into a trend. In my twenties, I focused on the technical aspect of things, musical prowess. Now, it’s all about the feeling. I’ve learned that simplicity is an art form, and while it’s far beyond me to look down on screamers, I wanted to develop another talent. It was a big challenge. I had to work on myself a lot. Singing without screaming takes on an additional form of vulnerability. You can no longer hide behind lyrics that are barely audible, and I believe having lyrics that are more audible makes the message more universal. We wanted to establish a better bond with our fans, and for me, that was the way to do it.”

What message? Let’s summarize Obey The Brave’s discourse as flipping the bird at adversity. “I’d rather die standing up than live on my knees,” Erian swears on No Apologies, a tip of the hat—or of the Montréal Expos baseball cap, as it were—to his friends in the LGBTQ+ community who chose to risk rejection by their loved ones rather than denying who they are one more day. “Calme le jeu,” the compulsory French song on the album, decries the masked-identity games that go on in social media, which have become kingdoms of fakes and shams.

Although he’s never shied away from exploring the dark recesses of his mind,  Erian had rarely before spelled out so clearly his quest for serenity and light than on Balance, a project that sees him ferociously battle the harmful instinct of inward-looking attitudes. Does he sometimes feed his own dark side for the sake of creativity? He bursts out laughing over the phone. Of course he does.

“I was telling my mom just yesterday: ‘art is pain,’ but I’m really trying hard to get out of that mindset. It’s difficult, however, because you can’t avoid isolating yourself in order to create, and writer’s block can become overwhelming to deal with (which is, incidentally, the subject of the song “Cold Summer”). When you devote three or fours hours a day to writing, and you have nothing in the end, it can bear on your conscience quite a bit.”

While being careful to not come across as complaining too much, Erian does recognize that equanimity is a rare commodity on the long and winding road of heavy music. He was flying out to California on the day after our interview (on a Tuesday) to meet with the executives of Despised Icon’s record label, before flying back to Québec on Satruday, and heading straight to Rouyn-Noranda’s Festival de musique émergente to play with Despised Icon.

Writing Tips: Metalcore Breakdowns
Metalcore as a genre is quite fond of breakdowns, those syncopated interludes that often act as a bridge in a song. What is the goal of a good breakdown? “The goal of a breakdown,” says  Erian, “is to engage the crowd even more during a show, make people move, and let them express themselves physically.” In other words, a good breakdown gets the bad mojo out of your system.

As for Obey The Brave, they’ll undertake a short tour of Québec, starting in Shawinigan on September 6, before heading out to the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Austria in November for a 15-date tour. Balance, in a sense, is also the testimonial of a man who refuses to give up on his ideals, despite all the hardships he’s had to endure, and all the sacrifices of his quest.

“People think we’re living the dream, and in a way we are,” he says. “A career in music is unbelievable, but it can be quite difficult at times. I’m 38, and I’ve been touring since I was 17, and what I realize, with increasing pain, is that the life of the people you leave behind goes on without you. The people around you are experiencing things, and you are not a part of it. Then there’s what I see behind the scenes, and that’s not pretty either. People think that the “sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll” lifestyle is glamorous, but I can tell you it’s not at all. Drugs more often than not become a crutch, a way to avoid reality.”

His main incentive to carry on: the hope he sees in the eyes of the young people everywhere OTB plays, and the energy they get from the band’s metalcore explosion, an energy that fuels their desire to defend their convictions. “A lot of people of my generation are quite resistant to change,” says Erian. “To the contrary, I’ve always thought it’s important to foster new ideas, new conversations. That’s how our world evolves. If, as we’re hearing from all over the place, we’re undergoing a planetary crisis, maybe it’s time we listened to the younger ones among us.”

Deep in the sky, a star dies, in a brutal, blinding explosion that sends shards of light throughout space. Les soeurs Boulay set out on a quest for this intense brightness, for what’s left after us. Their third album, La mort des étoiles (The Death of Stars), is carried by their adult voices, the voices of strong women who’ve grasped their fragility, and the fragility of the world. Co-produced by Connor Seidel, Mélanie and Stéphanie Boulay’s heady project sees them officially out of their teens, and confirms all of their previous choices.

“S’il vous plaît quelqu’un, faites quelque chose pour virer le courant” (“Somebody, please do something to turn the tide”), they sing on the title track. While we’re connected to everything that exists, we’re also navigating in a paradoxical era, where everything that allows us to communicate with each other also isolates us. “It’s a song about the downfall of humanity, but also the downfall of the reign of the image,” says Stéphanie. “We’re basically saying that we would love, in an ideal world, to not have to sell ourselves on Instagram. Apparently, God is dead and Man took his place, but it’s not mankind that’s at the centre of everything; it’s the omniscient stare of all of our networks, invisible, yet constantly judging us, and making us doubt ourselves.”

The Boulay sisters’ hiatus, following the 4488 de l’Amour tour in 2015, allowed Stéphanie to release a solo album, and Mélanie to take a maternity leave after the birth of her son. “It was clear it was only a hiatus, and it was planned for before my child,” says Mélanie. “People are afraid of a hiatus, because artists often don’t actually come back. But for us, it was the only way to find out who we are without the other one.” That hiatus also allowed Mélanie to get rid of the calluses she’d always had on her fingers. Each on their own, they heard and witnessed things that led them to the remains of those stars.

This third album arrangements shelter such subjects as a warm blanket in the winter, and are the result of collaborating with a prolific entourage. “We were used to working together, and we didn’t want to let anybody in,” says Mélanie. “We were afraid to lose our essence. But now, we have such confidence in ourselves as a duo that we’re not afraid of going out and getting all the best that others have to offer.” “We barely played on the album,” Stéphanie adds. “We delegated. We discovered colours we didn’t know we could have. We showed talented people what we’d come up with, and asked them what they heard in it.” So we can hear Marie-Pierre Arthur’s bass playing, and the meticulous guitar stylings of Joseph Marchand and Simon Angell, the latter a real savant of the instrument. To wit, his breathtaking fretwork on the album’s closer, “Immensité.” “I believe we hired the best guitar player in existence,” Mélanie says. “His playing sounds like the instrument is moving back and forth. It’s like the music is holding its breath.”

The sisters stopped denying themselves what they enjoy, and dove right into what they once loved, finding inspiration in Jean-Pierre Ferland, Michael Kiwanuka, Sinatra, and Julie Masse. “We learned new chords, and I got back to composing on the piano, an instrument that affords me a lot more creativity,” says Mélanie.

Ambition is no longer at the centre of their lives, now that the girls have taken heed of their impact on things to come, especially since the birth of Léonard, Mélanie’s son, who sees his name used as a song title on the album.

They obviously couldn’t ignore everything that came in the wake of the #metoo movement. “Il me voulait dans la maison” (“He Wanted Me in the House”) is an intense testimonial on psychological violence. “We watched the documentary on R. Kelly and realized that narcissistic perverts truly are everywhere,” says Stéphanie. Women lived through #metoo, they assimilated all of that. Now, the time has come to dissect it. “Invisible violence is very frustrating, because it leaves no evidence, and is often blamed on the woman,” says Stéphanie. “I lived it, so many women lived it. On the day we recorded that song, I couldn’t stop crying, and everyone had to leave the studio so that I could get on with it. I was crying from rage. Psychological, verbal, and economic violence goes unpunished, because it’s intangible.” “Au doigt” touches on similar themes, and describes the weight of what’s expected of women on a daily basis, in society. “Boys are sometimes afraid of being crushed, when all we want to do is walk by their side,” says Mélanie.

Politics aren’t spared either, since the society in which we live is still subjected to values that are imposed from above, and have a real impact. “We sang ‘La fatigue du nombre’ in front of 300 MPs and Senators, last May at the SOCAN reception on Parliament Hill. We sang, ‘Vous étiez jeunes avant nous votre feu a tout brulé’ (‘You were young before us, and your fire burned everything to the ground’). It was only once we were onstage that we realized what we were telling them,” the sisters say, giggling. “That’s the role of music: carrying messages. After that, it’s up to you to digest it at your own pace,” says Stéphanie. “What we were telling them, in a song, is that if no law comes into effect, all you’ll ever hear are songs by the same 12 people who have to means to make music.” “Music is a psychotherapy that you pay $10 a month for on Spotify,” her sister adds. “It’s more important that we think.”

The Mort des étoiles tour will be carried by the incandescence of stars, thanks to enticing visuals, and new arrangements that will help us embrace once more songs that we’ve known by heart for nearly 10 years. “We wanted to renew our love of those songs we were tired of playing,” says Mélanie. “We wanted to embrace our evolution, and the evolution of our audience.”

As a young adult, David Marin read obituaries for a community radio station in his hometown of Drummondville (a town of about 70,000 located about 90 minutes Northeast of Montréal). He suppresses a laugh. “It was a major source of revenue for stations back then!” he says, as if to justify the practice that has since been, well, put to death. David Marin, master of puns, will forgive us for our bad one, about technological progress. Nowadays, it’s on the web that we learn of Lisette and Adélard’s passing.

David’s love for the medium, however, never died. Having graduated from an Art and Technology of the Media program, the songwriter sat before many microphones in his twenties, and has found a new one of sorts in Radio Compost, his new live stage show that’s inspired by current and third album, Hélas Végas, released in November 2018.

“When I prepared the show, I did come up with a few anecdotes to tell, but we concentrated our efforts on the music, nonetheless,” says Marin. “But that always made me feel like I wasn’t delivering everything I have. I would improv, and towards the end, I told myself that if I just worked a little harder, it would be much better.”

That self-flagellation session led to the creation of Radio Compost, the radio station that invites – forces us – to tune in when attending one of his concerts. It’s constructed as an FM radio program that includes taking calls from listeners, ads (for Assurance Love, a love insurance broker), live reports from the Beach Club, and more traditional on-mic interventions that link together songs cherry-picked from his three albums.

“I love radio shows of all kinds – and sometimes it’s a bad trip, especially when I’m in Québec City,” he says. (For reasons that remain unclear, Québec City has a mind-boggling ratio of trash-talk and shock-jock radio programs per capita.) “So instead of trying to find the story, the anecdote that best segues into the next song, I asked myself: what element from the world of radio could be used to get people in the mood for the next tune? My idea was to give the audience an [Andy] Kaufman-esque experience: What’s real and what’s not? I think those are important questions to ask ourselves nowadays.”

He actually dreams, more or less secretly, of a virtual radio station that would link the various regions of Québec, so that they have can a greatly lacking dialogue between them. “We are so disconnected from what’s happening elsewhere, outside of Montréal,” says the man, who splits his time between his apartment in the city and his house in Trois-Pistoles (a rural town located about 4-1/2 hours Northeast of Montréal, in the Lower Saint Lawrence region).

“I’d like to create a common space that’s something other than trash-talk radio, something more than bitching, to create a true socio-cultural web of what Québec really is. We live in an era where there are a ton of loud speakers, people who yell their opinions. If we want things to change, we need to find another way of doing it.”

“Chu un été trop chaud/ Un automne humide/ Un hiver trop rude/ Et un printemps timide/ Je fais toutt les temps, toutt les temps/ Je reviens maintenant/ Avec le goût d’me refaire/ Une beauté du monde” (“I’m too hot a summer / A humid autumn / A winter too harsh / And a timid spring / I’m all over the place, all over the place / I’m back now / And I feel like re- creating/ A beautiful world”), Marin sings in “Rue de la Grève,” the piano-and-voice ballad that closes Hélas Végas.

As with all great breakup albums, this one is at once the autopsy of a relationship that’s dying, and the story of the necessary re-discovery of oneself – including all the anxiety-inducing, and not always thrilling, questions that this duel with the mirror implies.

After re-patriating his sentimental assets and mending his heart, a man in his forties wonders who he is, when he’s no longer a boyfriend and not yet a father. “We can devote ourselves to love or to a cause, but sometimes, in life, there may come a time when we decide to devote ourselves to ourselves,” says the singer. “That’s what I did: I gave myself permission that I hadn’t given myself in a long time. I was on my own, with nothing to negotiate for awhile, and I just left doors open to anything.”

Writing Tip: Cut Yourself Some Slack
“When you write lyrics and music, you have to learn to cut yourself some slack. What that means to me is, for example, that when I feel like one of my texts is a bit more on the cerebral edge, I’ll compose music that’s simpler to go with it. One also needs to learn that it’s OK to not always rhyme, that you can break free from metering. There are so many toys you can use as a writer. It can be as simple as ‘La nuit je mens/Je m’en lave les mains’ (‘At night I lie / I wash my hands of it,’ with the pun of “mens and “m’en”). It flows, it’s fun, it’s beautiful.”

The result: David Marin, already known as one of his generation’s most agile writers, penned some of his most brilliant and touching lyrics yet on Hélas Végas, thanks to a poetic style that draws the listener in, and lets them slowly discover its prowess (rather than highlighting it gaudily).

“I found my comfort zone as a writer by listening to the words of Jean Fauque (Alain Bashung’s lyricist), he’s the one who taught me where the limit is,” says Marin. “My earlier albums contain some seriously regrettable puns, and Jean Fauque made me realize that if I want to play with language, it has to be refined, not cheap puns.”

Yet, Jean Fauque is often called “hermetic.” So how does one avoid writing, for oneself, overly opaque lyrics? “When I hear ‘Quelle autre solution/Que de se dissoudre’ [in Bashung’s song “Faites monter,” ‘What other solution is there/but to dissolve’], I go nuts! Not you? There’s nothing opaque there! To me, good lyrics are like images, like the strokes of a paintbrush. It’s having three coats of paint in a single sentence. It’s like beautiful fireworks for your brain, your intelligence, and your heart.” He’s talking about Fauque, but he might as well be describing his own songs.

David Marin presents Radio Compost on Sept. 10, 2019, at Ministère.