We reach Peter Peter in Paris, where he’s lived for three years now, to talk about his third album, Noir Éden (Black Eden), an electro-pop gem that‘s already garnered much critical success in France. While Montréal is covered with a thick blanket of snow, the sun is shining brightly over Île-de-France, where an effusive, enthusiastic Peter Peter explains the genesis of his pop-yet-atmospheric album – created with one foot on each continent.

Peter Peter“It was created partly in Montréal, because I wanted to work with the same team as on Une Version Améliorée de la Tristesse, especially Emmanuel Éthier on production,” he says, “and partly in Paris, because that’s where I call home. In fact, it all began in my flat, the place which probably has had the most influence on the sound of this album. I went to Montréal, came back to Paris, and finished the mix in Montréal!”

One might imagine that the singer-songwriter was executing a carefully measured recipe, but be forewarned, you won’t find any maple syrup, wild boar, or Camembert poutine here. Peter Peter’s music exists within his own unique internal geography. “One thing I can assure you of, is that I did not set out to consciously make a ‘French’ album, especially since that doesn’t mean much anymore in this era of globalization,” he says. “Each city has its own personality, its particular context, no doubt about that, but musical genres increasingly transcend boundaries.”

One might think that moving to France was a calculated professional move intended to increase his footprint on the European market, but Peter Peter confesses that his ambition was much more personal than professional – and that it is, in fact, a longtime dream coming true. Call it a promise he made to himself when he was a teenager, back in Québec City.

“When I lived in Québec City, I would listen to Smashing Pumpkins over and over,” he says. “I would dream of running away, hopping on a bus and moving to a city where people didn’t speak French, like Toronto. Clearly, I had a very limited idea of what ‘exotic’ means! I didn’t do it, but it was that very urge that drove me to move to Montréal, and that was an epiphany. It made me more curious, I came into my own, and my perspective on the world changed. But it wasn’t enough, so as soon as I got a record deal in France, I jumped at the opportunity to move to a place where I would feel even more discombobulated – if only because I didn’t know anyone there.”

“I’m not known any more in France than in Québec. The big difference here is that there are ten times more people!”

Far from being a big star who’s all over the media, Peter Peter has nonetheless managed to build a loyal fan base in France since the release of Une Version Améliorée de la Tristesse three years ago. The media are fond of his charming disposition, especially music magazine Les Inrockuptibles, who recently described him as the “damned variety singer that French pop was missing.” From our vantage point, one could get the impression he’s the object of a tsunami of love, but Peter Peter is quick to curb our enthusiasm.

“I have an audience that likes my melancholy songs, and certain media are aware of me, but all in all, I’m not known any more in France than in Québec. The big difference here is that there are ten times more people!” Don’t go thinking that Peter Peter is the next Roch Voisine. When he walks the streets of Paris, he’s not overwhelmed by hordes of delirious teens. “As a matter of fact, I quite like being essentially anonymous,” he says. “I’m sure my label would prefer I’m more popular – and I would too, honestly – but the fact that I have an audience that allows me to earn a living means that I won’t have to make any compromises to reach the mainstream. It truly is the best of both worlds.”

Although he’s long believed that he was destined to a nomad’s life, changing cities or countries with every album, Peter Peter is now growing quite fond of the stability he’s found in his newly adopted country. And despite the unavoidable fact that he will forever be a stranger – his accent giving him away instantly, certain critics happily and somewhat bizarrely pointing out that he is not a “voice” singer, à la Céline Dion – he’s developed his own routine in Paris, his new port of call.

“I don’t know if it’s because I’m now a thirty-something, but I’ve found a certain stability here that I’d never found before, and I like it,” he explains. And Noir Éden is precisely about that. The record touches upon the extreme solitude of being an ex-pat – both geographically, and on a personal level – and on the desire for stability, domesticity, even, that drives the singer nowadays. “Those things are very present on the album, but it also comes from the creative process,” says Peter Peter. “My first two records were done really hastily, using Garage Band. For the first time, on Noir Éden, I had all my equipment and my instruments set up in my apartment. I was in my own bubble.”

Based in the Montrouge, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the 14th arrondissement, Peter Peter watched as the world was set ablaze while he was retreating into his inner world. “In the days following the Charlie Hebdo attack, I could see the GIGN agents (Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale] down in the streets; there was something apocalyptic about it all, and that’s what I sing about in ‘Allégresse.’” This contrast between the outside world and the cocoon of his flat is also present in “Vénus,” a song where he describes the impassive nature of his cat (whose meow we can hear during the song’s opening) in the face of mankind’s murderous insanity.

Thus, in between his existential reflections and pop sensibilities (to wit, the very radio-friendly “Loving Game”), Peter Peter creates music that’s both melancholy and rapturous, something like a post-modern Pet Shop Boys. There are more experimental passages, acoustic nods (“Cristal Bleu,” the album closer) and synth lines that are dangerously close to being kitsch. Noir Éden, as its title clearly states, is an album of paradoxes where Peter Peter seems to have found his way, and his voice.

“It’s true that I’ve allowed myself to explore more, vocally speaking,” he says. “Even though I’m Francophone, I’ve always found it challenging to sing in French… I was searching for my voice on the first two albums, I willingly avoided certain parts of my vocal range; there were ways of singing that were nearly taboo for me. I still have a flow that I define as Anglophone, but nowadays, I own my French side, such as the way I pronounce ‘no man’s land’ or ‘Shangri-La.’”

For his third album, Peter Peter explored his deepest recesses. He’s now at the stage where he needs to re-connect with his audience, which will begin during the Montréal en Lumières festival at Club Soda. “I’ve honestly never felt so happy to go back onstage,” he admits gleefully. “That’s another one of that album’s paradoxes: I feel like I made big sacrifices by creating this album with a feeling of great solitude and now, all I want is to get out of my own head and meet people.”

Joey Landreth is no stranger to the road.

Joey LandrethHis band, the JUNO Award-winning Bros. Landreth (in 2015, Roots & Traditional Album of the Year, for Let It Lie) is finally taking a breather after four years of almost constant, slow-build touring in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Europe – each round of roadwork scheduled as the record was released in those territories. During the current pause, Joey is now located in Toronto, guitarist Ariel Posner has moved to Ireland, while drummer Ryan Voth and bassist/brother David Landreth have stayed in the group’s hometown of Winnipeg – the latter with his new bride.

Breather or not, Joey decided to record a new seven-song album, Whiskey (with Ryan and David, in a trio format), and now to tour it, even after those long four years on the highway. As this story is being posted, Landreth has completed a European tour, is about to launch a Western Canadian one (starting Feb. 24th in Saskatoon), and is slated for some Southern Ontario dates after that.

This, despite the sentiment of new songs like “Still Feel Gone” (a co-write with the fast-rising Donovan Woods, who he met via their mutual manager, Stu Anderson), that catalogues the ill effects of touring on relationships, especially the “re-entry period” after a tour, with the chorus line, “How many roads can a man drive a van on / Before he’s called back to the one he’s left alone?”

“At the end of the day, [touring] is all I’ve ever done,” says Landreth. “This is what I do, and who I am. There is a bit of an innate struggle in being away from the ones you love the most, more than you’re with them. But the best version of myself is the one where I’m able to chase my art down the highway. It’s not always easy, but it’s always the best.”

“The best version of myself is the one where I’m able to chase my art down the highway. It’s not always easy, but it’s always the best.”

In his songwriting, Landreth tends to face these challenges head-on. He digs deep, sometimes for dramatic effect, and isn’t reluctant to search for the subterranean roots of his emotional experiences when he’s writing songs. For example, the title song “Whiskey” – co-written with brother David, and completed at the Sound Lounge in SOCAN’s Toronto offices – cleverly parallels the longing for an old flame with the same sort of yearning typical of a conquered addiction to alcohol. The song is one of those where the first verse leads one way (“It’s about a woman”) until the unexpected “reveal” of the chorus (“Hey! It’s also about addiction!”).

“For me, the idea of the song is, there’s a relationship with a significant other in there, and a relationship with the addiction, and they kind of exist together,” says Landreth. “Looking back at both of them, and maybe blaming whiskey for the demise, maybe the lady for the whiskey… It’s interesting what people take from it. For some, it’s like the country technique of giving an arbitrary name [Whiskey] to a lady. Some think of it as a sobriety song. I like that people can take their own thing away from it.”

There are elements of recovery in other songs, like “Better Together” and “Hard as I Can,” where a sustaining romantic relationship allows the protagonist to transcend his limitations. “I think it reflects the place that I’m at in my life,” says Landreth, who’s been two years sober. “I don’t really play it up a lot, because I’m sensitive to the fact that it gets pretty easy to be self-righteous about sobriety. I really decided to get sober because that’s just what I needed to do.”

Landreth is something of a triple-threat. Besides his brave songwriting, he’s a gifted vocalist, and enough of a guitar hero that he has endorsement deals with Suhr guitars (electric) and Collings (for their Waterloo line of vintage-style acoustic guitars). When we catch up with him, he’s playing some events for them at the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) conference in Los Angeles. When he was featured in the Oct. 27, 2016, issue of Guitarist Magazine, he admits it was a real thrill. For many years before co-founding The Bros. Landreth, Joey earned his keep as a studio/touring guitarist-for-hire. His solo on Whiskey’s “Still Feel Gone” – recorded in one take, his third or fourth pass at it, with the lights down in the studio – is arguably the greatest of his many superb recorded solos so far.

As a writer, he’s working with the best, including Stuart Cameron of The Heartbroken and the aforementioned Donovan Woods. “Donovan is one of my favourites,” says Landreth. “He’s such a great writer, such an incredible lyricist, and he writes fearlessly – which I really admire.” You can practically feel Woods’ fingerprints all over the post-relationship line, “She let me walk on time served,” from their co-write, “Time Served.”

And how does co-writing generally work for Landreth? “It usually starts with an hour-and-a-half to three hours of just goofing off,” he says. “Co-writing ‘Time Served’ with Donovan and Stuart Cameron, we sat and kibitzed for a little while, and then we said, ‘Hey, what do you think about this idea?’ And ‘Yeah, that’s cool,’ or ‘What about this?’ I think I came to the table with the first verse… and we just pieced it together. Any places I got stuck, Donovan or Stuart just took the ball and ran with it.”

In a similarly unpretentious style, rather than recording Whiskey with a “name” producer in a famous studio in L.A., Nashville or New York City, Landreth chose to make the record in his hometown of Winnipeg. “I just wanted to make a great record with people that I love with all my heart,” he says.

Mission accomplished.

It’s Valentine’s Day, awakening the eternal lover inside every one of us. ’Tis the occasion to tell your husband, wife, partner or lover that you love them now and forever.

Red roses, gourmet chocolate, candle-lit dinner and a lovers’ getaway are the go-to gifts to mark Cupid’s Big Day. But what about music? Love has been by far the most universal song topic, regardless of language, since the beginning of time.

And there are plenty of love songs that are totally outside the scope of this February holiday. Timeless songs that talk about love on a daily basis, the ups and downs, its long-lasting effects. In short, songs like Francine Raymond’s “Vivre avec celui qu’on aime” (“Living With The One You Love”).

First released on the singer-songwriter’s debut solo album three decades ago, in 1987, “Vivre avec celui qu’on aime” (lyrics by Luc Plamondon, music by Francine Raymond and Christian Péloquin, published by Plamondon Publishing, Les Éditions Dernière Minute and Éditorial Avenue) became a SOCAN Classic 10 years later.  Valentine’s Day offers a great occasion to talk with the person who sang it, about how it was written, 20 years after it became a classic, and 30 years after its release.

Francophone Artist, Anglophone Song

Francine Raymond

Photo: Laurence Labat

“I already had the music, which I produced in close collaboration with Christian Péloquin, my go-to musician,” recalls Francine Raymond. “He wrote about three quarters of the song’s music. Christian always carried a big bag of loose cassettes. He would pull one out and say: ‘Listen to this.’ Without his bag of cassettes, nothing would’ve happened, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion today,” says Raymond, who lately devotes much of her attention to photography.

Raymond made her first steps on Québec stage in the early ‘70s, mostly alongside Péloquin and Hollywood and Wine, up until the mid-’80s. She spent years on Québec’s roadhouse circuit.

“I’d just stopped touring that scene six nights a week, back then,” says Raymond. “His music and my inspiration yielded a first draft. For me, melody always dictates what’s gonna come next. Because I had a lot of experience with Anglophone sounds that are easy to articulate, I’d written that first draft in English, and a complete demo.”

For Nicole

“It was the first song on that album that we completed,” Raymond continues. “In fact, it found its final form a good two years before the album came out. I’d even submitted my English demo to Nicole Martin. She said, ‘Darling, that’s a huge hit. I want it.’ But at the time, I was in France for engagements I had with Johnny Hallyday and Michel Berger. That’s when I ran into Luc Plamondon. At some point, we were at his place, and I played him the demo. Then, he tells me he wants to write a set of French lyrics for that music. I figured I needed to tell Nicole about this. She graciously gave the song back to me and said, ‘Go for it.’ She knew that song was going to be a huge hit. The rest, as they say…”

New Theme

Francine Raymond

Photo: Monic Richard

In the end, the lyrics Plamondon gave to Raymond had nothing to do – nothing at all – with her own first draft.

“It wasn’t at all an adaptation of my English lyrics, the likes of which were so common in the ’60s in Québec,” she says. “Luc drew inspiration from a secret love affair that had just ended between two of his friends. In English, the song was about something totally different. It was a song about changing the world… I think I’ll change the world todayTell me how I can work it out. Something to that effect.

“Having Luc’s name on one of your songs opens a lot of doors. Back then, I’d been living in Paris for months when it happened. I was in a ‘Paris-zone.’ I jumped from one square to the next. I had absolutely no trouble switching from an Anglo scene [where she sang covers] to an entirely Francophone environment, because I’m very adaptable.”

In the bottomless pit of love songs, there’s a plethora that are filled to the brim with “I love you”s and “I want you”s. And their opposites, of course, breakup songs that mean the same thing, in the end, but where the notion of departure is crucial. “Vivre avec celui qu’on aime” is both.

Passages such as “Vivre avec celui qu’on aime/balayer tout derrière soi/pour ouvrir tout grand les bras” (“Living with the one you love / Leaving everything behind / To throw your arms wide open”), or “À chaque amour/la vie recommence/À chaque amour/une autre existence” (“With each love / Life begins anew / With each love / A new existence”), or yet again “Vivre avec celui qu’on aime/quand on s’y attendait plus/À cœur perdu de trouver/le goût de vivre” (“Living with the one you love/When you didn’t think it would ever happen/With a heart for finding/The will to live”) are prime examples of this. Although it’s undeniably a breakup song, “Vivre avec celui qu’on aime” also looks beyond the horizon of heartbreak.

“We did indeed stand on both sides of the fence,” says Raymond. “We wanted to establish a theme and fully understand that emotion. I had to lean into it. If a role is not a good match for you, you can’t play that role. The comments of the audience showed us the many ways they made that song their own. People used it at weddings. Others used it to move forward after a breakup. Remember, this was in the ’80s, when people started talking a lot about re-constructed families. Luc understood that.

Video from Yesteryear

“The video for the song was filmed when Musique Plus [the Québec equivalent of Much Music] was still in its infancy, and played on the notion of departure/new beginnings because of the boats in the port where we filmed it. We filmed it in the port of Sorel with a few connecting images shot at [the] La Ronde [amusement park] in Montréal. It was October, and it was freezing. Christian’s hands were literally frozen by the end of the day.”

In that video, Raymond sports blonde locks that are reminiscent of Stevie Nicks, but she holds her guitar like Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders would, while wearing a beret and matching jacket that wouldn’t look out of place on Rod Stewart.

“Rod Stewart, yeah, there’s some of that in there,” she says. “The look was totally intentional on my part. I figured if I didn’t look like a ditz, people would listen to the music more closely.”

And listen to the her songs we did: “Vivre avec celui qu’on aime,” “Souvenirs retrouvés,” “Y’a les mots,” to name but a few. Irresistible pop songs. While we’re on the topic, what is Raymond’s definition of a good song?

“It’s an observation of the mind,” she says. “It’s contemplation with one’s ears. It involves your heart, your soul, and all the right places… We are the channellers of an essence. In reception mode.”