Catapulted into streaming platforms on Feb. 28, 2020, the Blue album was scheduled to be performed on tour starting at the beginning of April. Instead, Rosie Valland is self-isolating at home, planting a garden.

Rosie Valland“The shows and the promotion stopped overnight,” she says. “It was really intense, and then my work schedule became completely empty… I never thought I’d be cleaning my yard and sowing seeds right now.”

The telltale small gusts of wind that can be heard on her cellphone indicate that she’s somewhere out in the open. All interviews, of course, are conducted remotely in the time of pandemic. Valland takes the call from her plot of land in Rigaud, Québec, not far from La Blouse and the Québec-Ontario border. It’s a 50-minute drive from Montréal’s Cabaret Lion d’Or, the Francouvertes venue where she was discovered five years ago.

That many years have passed since the release of Partir avant, her second album, and best-known so far. That collection of songs, released on the Duprince label, introduced her to the general public, the industry, and most certainly to the press. “When I listen to Partir avant again,” she says, “I feel no regrets, but I feel much empathy towards the person who did that. Those were early songs, something rough, sketchy, and I don’t sense that I’d found myself yet.”

Without actually disowning « Olympe » and that album’s other songs, the singer-songwriter reckons that Blue was where her career actually began. She says she also took part in production then. This time around, she’s sharing this side of the work with Jesse Mac Cormack, her partner since the early days. It was really a 50-50 team.

“Although Blue’s life may be cut short by the pandemic, the album brought me a lot,” says Valland. “Before getting into it, I knew nothing about computer programs, and any of that. I allowed myself so much time to do it that I was able to learn how to record myself. I was already making a living from my music, but I now have more strings in my quiver. I feel that I’ll be able to grow old in that environment, because I’ll be able to do much more than my own individual projects in my own name.”

These days, actually, the new Rigaud resident is working under contract for the Télé-Québec platform La Fabrique culturelle. She’s been writing original music for every episode of Proxémie, a podcast exclusively featuring female artists, that’s being hosted by the actress Sophie Cadieux. The constraints of commissioned music are allowing her to explore brand new territory that stands far away from the pages of her diary.

“You create a mood,” she explains, “and, at the same time, it’s not permitted to dominate anything else. It’s a top-notch team, so I’m really happy to be doing this, particularly right now. I’m grateful to have this… It’s instrumental music, I’d never done that, and I’m finding my own way around as well.”

A second chance to make a first impression

Enhanced arrangements, crisp melodies, a less sad and whiskey-stained voice… The improvement was so great that Valland could almost have started singing under a new name. With Blue, the former Montréaler is sporting a new sound and entering another cycle.

“Automatically, it was folkier than before, because I was composing with what was around in my one-bedroom apartment, which was not much,” she says. “The songs may be somewhat richer because I can start with a beat, or a synth idea, instead of always from a guitar.”

Clearly inspired by 1990s pop rock (“it’s most like me”), the one-woman-band admits having indulged in a tribute to Smashing Pumpkins on “Chaos,” and in a few nods to the Céline Dion of the D’eux album.

“I’m so fond of her voices, the reverbs, the way she sings,” says Valland. “I have to laugh when my aunts and uncles write to me online and tell me that they ‘can’t make out what I’m saying.’ I feel like telling them, ‘Listen to a Céline song, and tell me if you can understand anything!’ You can’t hear a thing, and she doesn’t articulate either, there’s really something left out. Personally, I never understood the lyrics, and I don’t want to know. I only thought that it sounded like me, and the way I see my own voice. Like an instrument.”

STOP THE PRESSES! Mere hours after this feature story was uploaded on April 30, we learned that JP Saxe and Julia Michaels had just released a new video of “If The World Was Ending” to support Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières in its global response to COVID-19. It features Alessia Cara, H.E.R., Keith Urban, Kesha, Niall Horan, Sam Smith, Anthony Ramos, FINNEAS, and more.

Toronto’s JP Saxe and now-girlfriend Julia Michaels co-wrote “If the World Was Ending” on July 20, 2019, the day they met. During the global COVID-19 pandemic, the duet takes on new meaning.

The 2019 music video – which has now been viewed more than 74 million times on YouTube – begins with, “We interrupt your programming. This is a national emergency.” The pair just released a new live video of the song on April 15, 2020, filmed at Michaels’ home, where they are self-isolating together.

“It was one of the more magical experiences of my life,” Saxe says of writing the hit single with multi-platinum recording artist and top-liner Michaels (Keith Urban, Justin Bieber, Gwen Stefani), who got in touch with the L.A.-based Saxe after hearing his song “25 in Barcelona.”

“It was two weeks after the earthquake in Los Angeles,” he says. “We were both talking about where we were, what we were doing, what we were thinking, and the conversation just flowed naturally into the song. We wrote it in about two hours, and then recorded and cut all the piano and vocals that day.”

Saxe, who went down to Los Angeles for the first time in 2013, estimates he’s written “probably thousands” of songs to get him to this point, the February 2020 release of his six-song debut EP, Hold It Together, on Arista. “I maintain that the only way to write good songs is to write a lot of bad ones,” he says of the oft-repeated cliché.

“I only started feeling like my songs were more my own when they felt the way I talked to my friends”

Writing on the piano when he’s at home, and guitar when he’s travelling, Saxe uses the Day One journaling app to get his thoughts down for lyrics. “It’s connected to my phone and my laptop, and then once every year or two the app will send me a printed book of the journal with photos, all documented, and where I was in the world when I wrote it. It’s really cool,” he says.

All of the songs on Hold It Together were co-written by Saxe: the lead single “Sad Corny Fuck,” “3 Minutes,” and “Explain You” with his creative partner Ryan Marrone; “25 in Barcelona” with Marrone and Khris Riddick-Tynes; “Hold It Together” with Benjamin Rice; and the aforementioned “If The World Was Ending” with Michaels.

He also co-wrote the “healthy-relationship” duet “Golf On TV” with SOCAN member Lennon Stella – alongside two other collaborators, Ruslan Odnoralov, and multiple-hit co-writer and SOCAN member Simon Wilcox – and released a video for it at the start of April.

Saxe’s songs are distinctly “him.” He can take complicated emotional situations, good or bad, and instead of square-pegging them into simpler but unoriginal lines, he keeps them as-is.

One such example is “25 in Barcelona” – the song that prompted Michaels to message him – written in March, 2018, when his friends Matthew Takes (the director) and Marrone took him to  Spain post break-up, as it reads at the start of the video,  “in an effort to not be fucking miserable on his birthday.”

What’s unique about the lyric is that it tells his own story, no one else’s, even if some people might have come close to experiencing something similar.

He sings: “I thought you woulda called yesterday  / I said I didn’t want you to, but I still thought you would/ I don’t know what I expected you to say / But I turned 25 and had in my mind you’d be part of that in some way  / I’m half way round the world with all these people / Happy in a foreign language where they don’t know a thing about you / I’m half way round the world in Barcelona / Trying not to think you’d love this / This wasn’t supposed to be about you

“I only started feeling like my songs were more my own, and something I wanted to share, when they felt the way I talked to my friends, a partner, or whoever,” says Saxe. “I really wanted the voice I had in my songs, and the voice I have day-to-day, to not be dissimilar.”

He says he first felt that with the first two songs he ever released,  2017’s “Changed” and 2018’s “The Few Things” – written around the same time – as “the voice I want to have in my songs because it just feels like me. I don’t want songs to feel like songs. I want them to feel like somebody just telling you something about themselves.

“I really love songs when it just feels like the part of a conversation that you remember the next day, that moment where you’re talking to a friend and, maybe it’s an hour into a deep conversation, but you say something and you’re like, ‘Damn, that’s kinda it, huh? That’s what we’re talking about.’ It’s a conversation I’m having with myself and an instrument.”

Saxe’s tour plans are on hold for now. Since the coronavirus pandemic, besides the at-her-home video with Michaels,  he’s done a Spanglish version of “If The World Was Ending” with Venezuela’s Evaluna Montaner, along with a split-screen video shot from their respective countires. “The plan is to put out an album this year, but everything feels a little precarious right now,” he says. “My plan at the moment is to quarantine myself and be alone with my thoughts and with the people I love.”


“Golf on TV”: Saxe on Stella, working together

“We’re fans because of each other’s music. We’d been talking about writing for awhile and we also ended up doing this tour together in Europe. We [all four writers] got in the studio a couple of weeks before the tour.

“We’re both cognitive about how we’re very in love with our people, recognizing that it feels more and more rare these days that you find one person who you love, especially young people exploring different versions of what it means to have an intimate relationship. To each their own, I’m all for it, if it works, it works.  But in the session, [it was] something along the lines of that, but in slightly more articulate, concise way.

“I said, ‘I get that some people like that, but some people watch golf on TV, and I don’t “get” that either.’ We all thought that was funny. Then decided we would write a song about monogamy, using ‘Golf on TV’ as the title.”

Ariane Moffatt and Étienne Dupuis-Cloutier take us on a track-by-track journey behind the scenes of their new collaborative album.

 Don’t miss the discussion (left) that Paroles & Musique editor Eric Parazelli had with Moffat Moffatt and Étienne Dupuis-Cloutier about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

We’ve known her for quite a while now. Ariane Moffatt seems to age backwards, and she hides her secret of the fountain of youth. Étienne Dupuis-Cloutier is a behind-the-scenes hero that loves left-of-centre pop music. As a sought-after producer, he’s set the voices of Fanny Bloom, Dumas, Cœur de pirate, and Eli Rose in his backdrop of lush, fresh instrumentation.

Together as SOMMM, Moffat and Dupuis-Cloutier have created a turbo-charged electro-pop offering, with hints of rap, trap, and even jazz. Their music is perfect for springtime, right here and now, and couldn’t have come at a better time to heal broken hearts. The duo de-constructs its eight songs for the readers of Words & Music.

“Le ciel s’est renversé”

With its slightly supernatural intro and moving bassline, the opening song  bridges the gap between Ariane’s usual universe and that of the upcoming SOMMM songs. It’s a poetic and dream-like introduction. Rosie Valland naturally finds her place here, inspired by Robyn’s “Never Again.”

“When Moffat told me she was thinking of asking Rosie to feature, she had just released her single “Blue,” and I was really a fan,” says Dupuis-Cloutier. “I really like what she does, I like her voice and her artistic approach. We clicked very quickly. And by having a timbre in mind, I even got melodic ideas.”


 Thanks to its house music-inspired crescendo that leads to the chorus, “Aimant” is the first truly dance-oriented song of this project. A nu disco aesthetic has appealed to Moffat ever since the release of “Debout,” and that genre has also influenced the arrangements for the Petites mains précieuses tour. When collaborating with Dupuis-Cloutier, singer-songwriter Moffat fully embraces the genre:

“On this project, we were, like, ‘Let’s go in the studio to make current pop music!’ I’m not in an aesthetic concept, here, I’m just trying to write pop music like what’s hot now. I’ve had a taste while working on SOMMM and it’s a fun challenge, because it’s not any easier than writing a full emo, dramatic song.”


On this one, the songwriters looked towards Ruffsound, the man behind the beats and sounds of Loud’s biggest hits. They also worked with Mike of Clay and Friends to make this single even more infectious and life-affirming than it already was. It’s an ode to joy that’s made to play at full volume, with car windows rolled down, in the middle of summer, while driving to the beach.

But as Dupuis-Cloutier says, “it didn’t happen in one day!” The creative process of this fluid, light, and likeable song was indeed quite labour-intensive. “The mix contains about 100 different tracks. It’s huge, it’s very dense, but it’s the energy we were after. We wanted to give you the feeling that sound is coming from everywhere, and that each one of them is perceptible.”


“Essence” is a smorgasbord of succulent alliterations, and a door to the world of hip-hop that stays open until the second-last song on the album track. The song, recorded with LaF, ends with a jazzy segment reminiscent of “Tercel,” by Les Louanges – Moffat’s protégés, who also open for her on tour. This time around, however, it’s not Jérôme Beaulieu who sits at the piano, but Moffatt herself, displaying another one of her many talents.

“We decided to go for a little melodic freestyle,” she says, her face turning red in front of her cellphone screen.” I recorded that and sent it to Étienne saying that it would be cool that the song ends with something played on the piano. There’s piano throughout the track, but this is bluesier. The song is kind of a contemporary blues, a song for today’s youth, who are trying to figure out who they are. It’s fitting.”

“Get Well Soon”

Maky Lavender, a rising star on Montréal’s hip-hop scene, is the guest on this soulful, hopeful song. It’s minimalist and experimental, and features distorted flutes laid on top of a finely-syncopated beat.

“Instead of telling us he’d write his verse sometime next week, Maky followd-up on our request for a feature by sending us his takes,” says Dupuis-Cloutier, still clearly wowed. “Ariane was at a dinner function, she was getting the insigne of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres alongside Pierre Lapointe. I texted her saying she had to hear this. Seriously, it was just perfect. I had nothing to add or change. She had to hear this right away!”

“Finir seule”

Here, Moffat walks a fine line between singing and rapping, over her most trap-style recording ever in her career. Lyrically, she even dabbles with “Frenglish” in a very natural and convincing way. She’s daring, but without being a daredevil. She respects MCs too much to go overboard.

“I don’t pretend to be a rapper,” she says, “but my love of rhythm comes out in this kind of trip. But I can assure you, I’m super-careful to not come across as some kind of wannabe! I take immense pleasure in exploring such a playground, full of with phrasing like that.”


The single that kick-started this project – the first round, as Moffat puts it – wasn’t supposed to turn into a full-length project, yet their work with Fouki made them want another taste.

“Collaborating is in his DNA,” she says. “It was truly a great moment when he came into the studio. He was fully prepared, very impressive.” Dupuis-Cloutier adds: “He’s super-professional and collaborative.” Side note: both men play on the same garage league hockey team. “He’s really into teamwork, that Fouki. He has the same attitude when it comes to music as he does in sports.”


The last fllower in this bouquet is a romantic, lusty ballad written with Marie-Pierre Arthur, a hyper-influential singer-songwriter and one of Moffat’s old friends. They’ve known each other since their time at Cégep Saint-Laurent.

“She’s a great friend, but we have a drink more often than we collaborate on music, sadly. Or maybe it’s because we don’t drink enough? Whatever the case may be, we were looking for an opportunity to work together… There are many representatives of the new generation of rappers and singers on this album, but closing it with an artist I respect so much was important to me.”