There are those who are happy to be along for the ride. Then there are those who want to be behind the wheel. These days, Aaron Pritchett is in the driver’s seat.

The B.C.-bred country singer-songwriter’s four albums and numerous hit singles have garnered legions of loyal fans throughout Canada. Among his accolades are a 2004 Canadian Country Music Association award for Independent Male Artist of the Year and a 2007 SOCAN Country Music Award for the hit “Big Wheel.” Now, for his fifth album, the aptly-titled In The Driver’s Seat, he’s taken the bull by the horns, overseeing most aspects of the album’s creation, including writing or co-writing seven of the album’s 12 songs.

“I didn’t want so much to be the control freak,” Pritchett says with a laugh. “I just wanted to be a bigger part of the process… I wanted to have more say in the making of the album, with song selection, and with writing as much of it as I possibly could… I just wanted to be more responsible for it.”

Known for his intense and energetic live shows, Pritchett seems to have stacked the album with songs that were written for the express purpose of getting country fans up off their denimed derrières and pumping their fists. This is high-octane, arena-ready new country.

“I just like to have fun any time,” he laughs. “Doesn’t matter when it is. But onstage, that’s amped up times ten, and I really needed people to almost feel like they were at a show while listening to the CD.

“That’s what I wanted the record to represent: me and my show that I do live,” says Pritchett. “And anybody that’s seen my show knows that it’s high-energy, it’s in-your-face rock. Country-rock is what it is.”

But for Pritchett, it’s not all about writing songs that drive the concert experience. They also have to meet the age-old criteria for any good country song. “In country, it’s all about the story that you tell within a three-and-a-half minute period,” he says, “and I think if you can tell a great story within that short period of time, then you’re on the right track.”

” I did want to have more say in the making of the album, and with song selection, and with writing as much of it as I possibly could”

As he typically does, Pritchett traveled to Nashville a few times for some songwriting sessions with friends there, but he also had a few of his Nashville buddies come up north to write with him. One of these was Willie Mack, a prominent Nashville writer who’s had success with a number of other Canadian artists, including George Canyon, Adam Gregory, and Jason McCoy.

Pritchett also co-wrote with members of Emerson Drive, and with Shaun Verreault of the Canadian blues/funk/rock band Wide Mouth Mason. Pritchett met Verreault through one of his songwriting friends, and the two decided to try working together to see what might come of it.

“We ended up writing a song called ‘You and Me’ that made the record,” says Pritchett. “I think because of the fact that Shaun comes from a different genre – even though he was brought up on some country, being from Saskatchewan – I really believe that it added that cool rock/pop inflection that was needed for the song.”

When the writing was over and it came time to pick which songs would make the album, one would imagine that a natural bias for his own contributions would hold sway. Not so, according to Pritchett.
“That wasn’t the case. I treated it as though I needed the best songs,” he says. “And I really felt that the songs that represented me the best – seven of the twelve – were songs that I co-wrote.”
And now that he’s got his hands on the wheel, what’s next?

“I got a lot of big plans. I’ve got the two-year plan, the five-year plan and the retirement plan,” he says with a laugh. “The next two years, I’m still gonna promote this new record and keep that going, and in the meantime start writing a little more seriously for the next record, whenever that may be. And then the five-year plan is basically to keep on touring all those years… and get my music out to the incredible fans of country, of pop music, of country-rock, and all across the world with any luck.”

He says he hopes to make it to Australia, where he’s had a video in hot rotation and a Top 10 single.
As for the retirement plan, the way things have been going, that may be a long way off. With Aaron Pritchett in the driver’s seat, there’s no telling how far he’ll go.

Thrice awarded the Juno for Female Artist of the Year back in the 1980s, Montreal’s Luba remains one of Canadian music’s most recognizable women in song, even if out of the spotlight. (Her most recent release is 2000’s indie album From the Bitter to the Sweet.) She spoke to Words + Music about one of her most enduring hits, “Let It Go.”

Tell me where you were in your career when you wrote “Let it Go.”
Pretty well at the beginning. I had started playing clubs a couple of years before that, paying my dues. I had written some songs, like “Everytime I See Your Picture,” which had done really well. The night I wrote “Let it Go” I was actually on my way to Hamilton to record my first album with Dan Lanois, and I called my best friend to say goodbye. I don’t know why but this melody popped into my head as we were talking. Once I got off the phone I picked up my guitar and started strumming. I didn’t have the lyrics yet but I just knew there was something there. So I wrote down the chords really fast because I was packing. Once I got into the studio, I told Dan I had this idea that won’t go away. He really liked it, and he helped take it to another level.

How did Daniel Lanois impact the song’s development?
I’d never really worked with a “real” producer before. I am shy, and all of a sudden being in a room with someone with that great reputation, I was a little intimidated. He had a very experimental vibe, which I liked. When you’re new to something, it’s nice to have options to try different things rather than someone telling you to do it this way or that way.

How consciously were you trying to write an uplifting song? The lyrics are quite anthemic.
I don’t know. I came up with the phrase “let it go,” and it was sort of a female anthem. I had taken some women’s studies courses in university and was reading Simone de Beauvoir. I wasn’t trying to be heavy, but I guess I was feeling a bit like a fish out of water, being a woman in the music industry. Things were not what they are now. So I suppose maybe I felt the need to say these things to myself, but as I worked on the lyrics I realized this was turning into something bigger than just about me.

What was the reaction from the industry when they heard it?
I think the record label had a little problem with it! Here’s a Canadian girl and she comes up with this crazy calypso song! Dan, he was really frustrated; they gave him a hard time, and it went through many changes. But I had a gut feeling and my gut feelings almost always turn out to be right.

Looking back, what does this song mean to you now?
It was the launching point of my career. I hadn’t been writing for that long, and I’m lucky that I had Dan as a producer. Anytime I perform it people go wild. It’s not your typical dance song, and yet it makes you want to move and I think it has a positive message. I love singing it

Translations prior to Fall 2013 are currently unavailable. 

Stefie Shock est de retour avec la perspective du battant évoluant depuis une décennie dans le milieu de la pop, et la fébrilité de celui qui ne prend pas son public pour acquis et veut le reconquérir. Très généreux en entrevue, le chanteur-musicien s’est entretenu avec nous de sa vision de l’industrie de la musique et, bien sûr, d’un quatrième album qui paraît après une pause de cinq ans, La mécanique de l’amour.

Il y a bien eu Tubes, remixes et prémonitions, une compil parue en 2009, mais on commençait sérieusement à se demander quand et sous quelle forme nous reviendrait Stefie Shock. « Des fois, développer des idées demande plus de temps, dit le chanteur au timbre grave et cuivré. J’ai besoin de me sentir inspiré, sinon ça ne vaut pas le coup. Et la compétition est forte aujourd’hui. Faire un disque est un long processus qui demande de l’énergie, certaines dispositions d’esprit, de l’inspiration. La première chanson qui m’est venue, “Bright Side of The Moon”, m’a crinqué. À partir de là, j’ai commencé à avoir les idées claires. Les bouts de paroles, les riffs, les amorces accumulés : tout s’est mis en place et ça n’a pas arrêté de l’été 2010. Faire un disque, c’est trop précieux à mes yeux pour que j’envisage de procéder autrement… Et tant pis si ça prend cinq ou dix ans. »

Dix ans ont passé depuis qu’un drôle de dandy gainsbourien est apparu dans le ciel de la pop québécoise en claironnant qu’il combattait « le spleen avec l’aspirine ». « J’ai commencé à écrire des chansons à vingt ans sur un coup de tête. Avant ça, je jouais de la batterie dans des groupes, mais je n’aimais pas cette dynamique-là, trop de monde prenait part aux décisions à mon goût. Et la batterie ne me suffisait plus, j’avais faim de plus. » Stefie Shock range alors ses baguettes, aiguise son crayon, puis entreprend de développer sa fibre et une signature vocale : « J’ai commencé par expérimenter avec les allitérations. J’avais remarqué que la contrainte me rendait créatif, et de fil en aiguille, j’ai défini ma façon de faire. Mais je trouve toujours ça aussi dur d’écrire les chansons, ça me donne mal aux jointures! Ensuite, je me suis trouvé une voix, parce qu’au départ je ne chantais pas dans le bon registre, comme la plupart des chanteurs qui débutent. À un moment donné, j’ai baissé d’une octave et c’est là que j’ai commencé à avoir de l’intérêt pour mes chansons. »

De Presque rien à La mécanique de l’amour en passant par Le Décor et Les vendredis, Stéphane Caron, 42 ans, a investi le territoire pop en progressant à sa façon. À chaque album, un nouvel instrument. Sur son dernier, paru au printemps dernier, les synthés sont à l’honneur, et entraînent l’auditeur vers des chansons carrément new waveuses. « C’est arrivé un peu par hasard. J’ai un ami – un wizz – qui s’occupe de l’entretien de mon ordinateur. C’est lui qui a installé les synthés dans mon ordi et soudain, je me suis retrouvé avec toutes ces nouvelles sonorités. Comme j’avais déjà commencé à m’amuser avec un vieux piano délicieusement désaccordé, j’étais déjà dans un “mood” clavier. Sur le disque précédent (Les vendredis), je m’étais entiché d’une guitare acoustique. L’instrument élu influence la composition des chansons. » Celui qui est aussi, depuis 2007, porte-parole de l’organisme Revivre (Association québécoise de soutien aux personnes souffrant de troubles anxieux, dépressifs ou bipolaires), se permet au passage quelques titres en anglais, dont « Middle of a Dream », coécrite avec Paul Cargnello, ainsi que deux reprises, « Dévaste-moi » de Brigitte Fontaine et « Zobi la mouche » des Négresses vertes, qui figurent toutes deux dans le palmarès des chansons-phares du chanteur. « J’ai voulu les mettre sur disque parce que j’ai senti que j’avais réussi à me les approprier. »

Au cours des dix dernières années, Stefie Shock a été un témoin privilégié des bouleversements de l’industrie de la musique. Petit bilan : « Quand je suis arrivé avec Presque rien, on était encore dans le modèle classique (compagnie de disque, producteur et contrat). Il n’était pas question de faire un disque soi-même et de le sortir sur sa propre étiquette, ou par Myspace et Bandcamp. Les réseaux sociaux n’existaient pas, la promo et la diffusion coûtaient cher et c’était difficile de contourner le moule imposé par l’industrie. Aujourd’hui, c’est possible de faire un disque avec peu d’argent. Mais si l’offre a grossi, la demande, elle demeure sensiblement la même. En 2000, quand je suis arrivé dans le milieu, ça se vendait encore, des albums. Mais entre Le Décor, paru en 2003, et mon troisième, Les vendredis (2006), quelque chose a bifurqué, les ventes de disques ont chuté et l’industrie a dû se réorienter. Durant cette décennie, j’ai vu ces transformations de très près. Le changement a été rapide et radical. »

Le vent a tourné. Ce fut brusque et subit. Rendez-vous dans dix ans pour voir où tout ça nous aura menés? Celui qui décortique si habilement la mécanique de l’amour n’a pas toutes les réponses pour celle de l’industrie musicale.