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 famous bell frantically ringing at the beginning of the song. The harmonica that makes you jump up from your seat. The simple melody that makes it a moment of eternity distilled into 3 minutes and 59 seconds. Rudy Caya and Claude Samson were kind enough to share their memories of the song’s inspiration and creation. “Le Train” was made a SOCAN Classic in 2013 for its numerous radio plays.

“The song was inspired by a friend’s father,” says Caya who grew up in Laval, Québec. He was what we call a patenteux (a tinkerer), a free spirit with a lot of imagination, but who was trapped in his own life as a worker and provider for his family of five children, hence this visceral need to embrace another life and feed his true passion.”

As the song says, “Parce qu’on passe à travers sa vie à coups de journées / La seule chose qu’on veut garder c’est l’droit de rêver.” (“Because we go through life one hard day at a time  / The only thing we won’t let go of is our right to dream”). Proletarian lyrics of escapism, their affiliation with the style of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run or large swaths of Richard Séguin’s repertoire is obvious. “Un jour je vais sauter sur un train / Disparaître au bout du chemin” (“One day I’ll hop on a train / And disappear at the end of the road”).

“Rudy came to us with three guitar chords,” Samson remembers. “We recorded “Le Train” very quickly, spontaneously, we didn’t want to over-think it. The song is in the key of G, and the harmonica is in G as well, which should have been a lower key, but it was the only harmonica we had.”

As a result, this harmonica line is contagious; there is no defense against it. “Onstage,” says Samson, “as soon my harmonica sounded off-key, I’d throw it into the crowd and pull another one out of my pocket. On several occasions, people had their eyes on Rudy, and I’m pretty sure a few of them got one in the face!”

The song was recorded at Studio Victor in Montréal’s Saint-Henri district under the watchful eye of guitarist Rick Haworth. He assisted the five beginners, and worked out the arrangements, which were later produced by Glen Robinson – who mixed the album at the famous Morin-Heights Studio (Bowie, The Police, Bee Gees, Rush), which was no longer the property of its founder André Perry. Vilain Pingouin exploded on the scene in 1990 with “Salut Salaud,” “Marche seul,” “Sous la pluie,” and other festive hits, like “Le Train.”

Drinking rock? “Exactly!” says Samson. “I liked The Pogues at that time, and you can feel the influence on this first record. Some people even thought that the song ‘Du Rhum des Femmes,’ by the French band Soldat Louis, was ours! It’s true that we had mandolin and accordion in our instrumentation during this session. ‘Le Train’ is a mix of country-rock, punk, and chanson française. We listened to Steve Earle a lot back then.”

Vilain Pingouin reached great heights, with a first album that received many nominations at the Gala de l’ADISQ, as well as the Félix for Group of the Year in 1991. The song was co-written by Rudy Caya, formerly of Les Taches, drummer Michel Vaillancourt, Claude Samson (on guitars and harmonica), multi-instrumentalist Rodolphe Fortier, Frédérick Bonicard, and Nicole Beausoleil, now no longer in the group.

Vilain PingouinAll the tracks were recorded separately. “Audiogram [the record label] was very much in charge, which was a good thing, because together we sounded like a garage band,” says Caya. “We all had $12-an-hour, 40-hours-a-week, day jobs. To us, Vilain Pingouin was a band of buddies,” he says.

“The famous bell,” says Caya, “was stolen from a gym by Michel, and he used it as an ashtray!” Samson admits it with a laugh. “He’d set it up on his hi-hat, and was inspired by the song “Oowatanite” by the Canadian rock band April Wine. To this day, ‘Le train’ is still our closer when we play live.”

“There are a few cover versions of the song on YouTube, but they all fall flat,” says Caya. “There’s no easier song to play, but they try to sing it. I’m not a singer, but a performer. My flow is closer to spoken word. When you have so many lyrics to unpack at such a pace, you don’t stay on the note for long!”

The band is one of the song’s publishers, and the piece has evolved over time. On VP’s fourth album, Jeux de mains (2003), listeners were delighted to hear a new version of “LeTrain,” renamed “TGV!” (A reference to the France’s Train Grand Vitesse.)

“Our audience has made ‘Le Train’ its own, more than our other songs,” says Caya. “When people ask me if I’m sick of playing it, basically you’re excited the first five times you play it in a band, you’re proud of yourself the first 20 times you play it in a show. After that? Well, it’s the song on which so many have anchored their memories of the band!”

Vilain Pingouin, still going strong, and will re-issue Roche et Roule (1992) on vinyl in 2021.

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.”