Story by Claude Côté | Wednesday November 1st, 2017
People who didn’t watch the talent contest La Voix [the Québec-base franchise of U.S. nationally televised singing contest The Voice] in 2016 have probably never heard of Ryan Kennedy. They haven’t heard his stripped-down versions of Bruce Springsteen’s I’m on Fire, Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Cars” or Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone.” But most of all, what they haven’t heard is his soft, reassuring voice, one that weaves its way down to the bottom of our hearts.
“I learned to sing louder than the crowd in bars so that they would hear me, it’s part of my journey”, says Kennedy. At 30, he’s just launched his second album, Love is Gold. His first album, the Neil Young-esque Home Fires was released in 2015. Both were self-produced.
Love is Gold was recorded by guitarist Dimitri Lebel-Alexandre with invaluable help from keyboard wizard François Lafontaine (Karkwa, Galaxie, Marie-Pierre Arthur, etc.), who handled arrangements and orchestrations. “I was very fortunate to work with him, he definitely left his mark on the album,” says Kennedy. Marc Hébert, Patrice Michaud’s bass player, also collaborated on the album.
“I played Father John Misty, The Nationals, Bon Iver and Beck to Dimitri so he’d get an idea of where I wanted to go,” says Kennedy. “And the record reflects that; guitars are neglected a little for the benefit of atmosphere, and keyboards that we can hear better. The overall musical colour that was our guiding light, our inspiration.”
When one Googles Ryan Kennedy, another one comes up first – a Christian rock artist. Ironically, religion has also played a major role in this Ryan Kennedy’s life, having been a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses until he was 21, when he left the group. “They’re a sect that made me live full speed ahead, but I left and I can now enjoy life much, much more,” he says. “I want to turn the negativity into positivity. I don’t like to talk about it, but let’s just say there was only one line of conduct. When I decided to go into music, I was told I couldn’t, so I left. And when you leave, you lose your family and your friends.”
“I’m one of those artists who write songs in parallel to therapy; my songs are entirely autobiographical.”
He no longer had any contact with his loved ones; that was the price he had to pay for a better life in pursuit of his dreams and aspirations. Music was his redemption. One almost hears the REM song “Losing My Religion.” “I’m one of those artists who write songs in parallel to therapy,” says Kennedy. “My songs are entirely autobiographical.
“When I was writing the song ‘Sanctuary,’ I was thinking of my little corner of the world, the place I can go, in the mountains, and be at peace with my past, to avoid allowing all that to re-surface,” he says. “Morin-Heights,” adapted in French by Benoit Pinette, aka Tire le Coyote, is one of the two Francophone songs on Love is Gold, alongside “Je cours toujours.” (“I’m Always Running”)
L’histoire se termine là où elle commence
Dans les cendres blanches du silence
Et les plus beaux lendemains
N’y changeront rien
[The story ends where it began
In the white ashes of silence
And brighter tomorrows
Will change nothing]
Just as on “Whiskey Bar,” – a song about alcohol, and learning to cope with vice – “Love is Gold” is about being away on a never-ending tour, and the joy of coming home. “That’s pretty much my inspiration,” says Kennedy. “Ultimately, love is the theme that recurs the most, even when it has a bitter taste, like on ‘When You’re Sleeping.’ When a relationship ends, there’s always some apprehension that the other person will meet someone else and re-build their lives. That’s basically what I’m saying: I don’t care to know where you’re sleeping.” That’s a reference to his first wife, Tracy.
“‘Borderline’ says a lot about my condition and what goes on in the mind of the people who suffer from that disorder,” he says. [Borderline personality disorder, or BPD, is a complex psychiatric disorder with extremely varied symptoms.] “I am indeed very intense. The goal is to find a balance. On this record, I really laid my soul bare. It did me good.”
Photo by Kenneth Cappello
An exclusive interview with world-renowned DJ A-Trak
Story by Jeff Knights | Thursday November 2nd, 2017
Alain Macklovitch, better known as A-Trak, is a leader in mainstream DJ culture, an electronic music pioneer whose career spans 20 years so far. A-Trak is a powerful force behind the rising electronic music renaissance which, in the last decade, has landed him on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 50 most important people in EDM. The groundbreaking record selector was born and raised in Montréal, but now resides in L.A. He’s half of Grammy-nominated DJ duo Duck Sauce, and co-founder of the electronic/hip-hop label Fool’s Gold Records, whose roster of artists include Chromeo, Kid Cudi, and Run the Jewels, among many others. The champion turntablist and producer’s big break came as Kanye West’s tour DJ in 2004. Since then A-Trak has gone on to produce and remix tracks for Kid Cudi, Kimbra, and Jamie Lidell, among many others. After wrapping up an Australian tour in late 2016, A-Trak released his first-ever greatest hits album, In The Loop: A Decade of Remixes, which marked his life’s work as EDM’s most notable and charged electronic music-making machine. We caught up with A-Trak in early 2017, and talked with him about his evolving career and influence on worldwide electronic dance music culture.
Do you remember the first full-length album that you remixed? Yeah, I do. It was for [Australian pop band] Architecture in Helsinki. Actually, I did one remix before that one, that I wasn’t able to fit on the compilation because of sample questions. I did some remix work for Bonde do Rolê, a Brazilian group on the Mad Decent label. I did the remix for them, then sampled… pretty heavily. So that one was never really “papered.”
Why didn’t it make the list? Stylistically, that remix was more connected to my earlier style of production, where I would be doing purely turntable, and it was all very sample-based. When I started producing on the laptop, with more of a fusion of electronic sounds mixed with other kinds of sounds, I came to realize that “I’m a DJ,” and the music I’m playing in a set had been changing…
People from bands, and other DJs and producers, were [then] connecting around the world via MySpace. Remixing was a way to connect with people making cool music… When I got an e-mail from Architecture in Helsinki, I was familiar with them already, because I was playing one of their other remixes in my sets… I was just looking for ways to try to extend [my work] to production more, you know? I had ideas on what I wanted to do with tracks, but I certainly didn’t feel like I was comfortable enough in the production exercise to make full songs by myself yet.
At the time, I was very established as a DJ for 10 years, a World Champion, Kanye’s tour DJ, all this stuff. But… as a producer, I saw myself as a novice. I had ideas and a certain understanding of how production was done. I had watched my [older] brother [David Macklovitch] produce for years, even before Chromeo, when he was just making hip-hop beats in Montréal. I knew the basics of producing and how certain things are done, but when it came down to just knocking out a track, I felt that doing remixes were an ideal way for me to just try stuff out.
The first one came from an e-mail. Most of them came from direct contact. Nowadays… there’s an infrastructure, right?… It’s an industry, a huge industry. So, things go through managers and, you know, sometimes label reps, and lawyers, and all this stuff… In those days it was like, “Hey my friend gave me your e-mail. Can I send you a download to the file? See what you can do with it.”
You started as a turntablist, with mostly a hip-hop kind of influence, and now here you are 10 years later celebrating remixes. Looking at you now, compared to 20 years ago, it’s a little bit different, right? It happened progressively… Music evolves. I’d say around mid-2005 or so, I liked new music… I started discovering versions of electronic music that appealed to me, that appealed to my hip-hop ear. Prior to that I wasn’t that interested in electronic music, because a lot of it just felt too cold for me, but a fusion happened around that time where indie bands started making electronic music. And then this sound of like electro that had riffs, musical riffs, and distortion, and things like that. It was breaking rules between genres, and when I heard that, it was exciting to me.
Music evolves, and so did I as a DJ. I’m always gravitating toward new sounds that I find interesting, that catch my ear.
What advice would you give to a producer or DJ just starting out?
My favourite thing to tell people who are just getting started is to think about what it is that makes you, you. It’s important to identify what your sound is, and to focus on that as you do your work. There’s a gazillion mixers, and producers, and stuff out there. You almost need to give people a reason to come to you, and sometimes the pure quality is what gets them interested. If someone is just great, then they’re great. People will come, but, in a lot of cases, I think it’s important to be aware of your own identity and sound as you’re developing it. That becomes something that you can nurture and, inevitably, the result of that will be something that stands out. Standing out is probably the most important thing nowadays.
So, I started… on some tracks that were more electronic, but that I felt I could fit into my new set somehow. And I remember at first I felt like I needed to literally connect them to the hip-hop in my set, so I started making mash-ups, which were a big thing… [I’d] put a rap vocal over an electronic track to make it fit into my set better. And when I had enough of those, and accumulated a certain amount, I made a mix tape out of them called Dirty South Dance that came out in 2006, with the help of the clothing brand OBEY…
Two months later, I started the Fool’s Gold label, and I was producing Kid Sister. We signed Kid Cudi and got some remixes for him, and the fusion of electronic music and hip-hop was just beginning before us. And this time I no longer felt the need to put rap vocals over everything I was playing, and I started having sets that included more and more house music, and electro, and this and that… Then I started Duck Sauce with Armand Van Helden, which makes a very sample-based version of house, in some ways…
And I remember when I started implementing more and more electronic selections in my sets. I was taking a bit of a leap, in that some of my prior peers – the people who were doing DJ battles and stuff alongside me – weren’t really jumping for that sound yet. And I remember I was playing to a new kind of audience, and there was a bit of a separation happening, but I was reassured two years later when a lot of those DJs, who used to only play hip-hop, followed suit and started mixing genres in their sets, too… It’s just that music evolves, and so did I as a DJ. I’m always gravitating toward new sounds that I find interesting, that catch my ear, and then I figure out how to put them in context with everything else that I do musically.
Music creators often refer to a melody, or a lyric, or a certain sound, as starting point for creating a song. From a DJ or producer perspective, how do you create new music? Where does it start for you? If I’m sitting down in the studio we’re at the starting point to create a track… I don’t have a method… I think if I was predominantly or only a producer, and making beats every day, I’m sure I would have a method that would emerge naturally. But I’m jumping around between DJ-ing, touring, running Fool’s Gold, working on artwork collaborations, and producing and remixing. So because it’s one of many things I do, I always kind of have one foot in it, one foot out. And what I like about that is that every time I make a track, I try something new, and I think you can hear that on the compilation; each track had an idea, each one was like: “This is the one where I’m going to try X, Y, Z…”
With production, I like the idea of not fully knowing where I’m going with it, because I think that happy accidents are behind some of the most graphic songs of all time, and I like that. So as far as “how do I start” a track, it varies. I always have something in my head, and sometimes it could be a remix where I’ve isolated the part I want to use, or it can be an idea for a drum part. Sometimes it’s literally just about finding a sound… It really, really, varies.
Does it change at all when you’re producing a remix? I’m always very conscious of the idea that the original version of a track achieved one thing, and my remix is supposed to take it to a different place. So, I’ll take into consideration the production style and even the tempo of the song. A lot of my remixes are kind of house[-music] tempo, but if someone asks me to remix their house song, then chances are I’m not going to want to keep it at that tempo. I’m going to think of how I could take this tempo and take it somewhere else. Or if I keep it in tempo, then what am I going to change about the production style to really change the identity of it? So, a lot of times I’ll start by thinking of what the intention is… Once I have the intention, then… I’ll use a few of the parts that I want to, and build it from there… If you’re grabbing something from a song that exists, and is done, and enough people liked it, you’ve got a starting point that you can trust. Part of the biggest challenges for us, I think, is that trusting moment, where you decide to dive in; where you think, “Okay, this starting point is good enough for me to build on top of it.” So, it helps you conquer that first step.
As a remixer and producer, do you find that you have a lot of creative freedom? It’s great that there’s an element of trust that comes with remixing that’s really cool, it’s kind of sacred. It’s another artist or their label, someone reaching out to you and saying, “I trust that you would do with these parts, just do your thing with it.” And then it’s exciting.
Photo by Marc-Étienne Mongrain
Maude Audet: Writing in Balance
Story by Élise Jetté | Tuesday October 24th, 2017
Last year, she re-visited Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in a Francophone adaptation that transported us to the edge of this scent of decline, that feeling of withering away a little more every day. This fall, without the song even appearing on her third album, Maude Audet’s reprise sits at the epicentre of her entire oeuvre like a pillar. Comme une odeur de déclin, which was released on Sept. 29, 2017, is slowly seeping into the zeitgeist. “It’s about the decline of life, which remains a fact we all have to contend with on a daily basis,” says Audet. “We’re all going in that same direction,” says the Groose Boîte label’s new protégé, absolutely un-pessimistically.
A seasoned sailor of the many intimate musical seas, what sets Audet apart from the rest is that her melancholy writing imbued with a raw strength. Whereas some calculate every last detail, she feels more instinctive. “I forget to plan ahead, but on this project, I felt I needed to re-invent myself,” she says. “I could’ve done hip-hop. I love hip-hop, but I wanted to retain my essence,” she says laughing.
Contrary to 2015’s Nous sommes le feu (We Are the Fire), this new offering manages to create strong links to its themes because most of the songs are presented in the second-person singular. “They’re conversations, whether it’s with a friend, a lover, or even a stranger,” says Audet.” Each song is a dialogue.” Musically, we find ourselves navigating the calm waters of folk, yet with several additional musical layers added to her silky-smooth sound. “I wanted this to come across as vintage folk-rock, generally,” she says. “But I need my distorted electric-guitar songs, just as I need my guitar-voice-and-cello songs.”
The lyrics and mood of Comme une odeur de déclin might inspire concern for Audet. It certainly did so for writer Erika Soucy, who helped with the lyrics after being seized by Audet’s artistic outlook, very similar to her own. “We know each other well, but on a professional basis,” says Audet. “She has a very raw and sensitive kind of writing. It’s feminine and strong.” Audet wasn’t looking for complements, or add-ons, she was looking for validation, and a catalyst for good ideas.
“Just as with Ariane Moffatt’s production, I let people’s suggestions run free,” says Audet. “You can’t collaborate with someone and put road-blocks on their path at the same time. It’s like painting an artwork with four hands. You need to accept that the other person will paint their part,” she says, adding that through it all, she managed to remain true to her core. “It’s funny, because when I told people I was going to work with Ariane, everybody thought I was going to do an electro album,” she says. Instead, producer managed to rein it in without stripping it of its essence.
Moffatt was a natural choice for Audet’s when she decided she was going to work with a woman on this album. “The choice is indeed rooted in solidarity and awareness,” says Audet. “When I was thinking about a producer, only guys came to mind. And then I thought, wait, why not a woman? I’m always acting instinctively and, yes, at some point, there are some wake-up calls that need to happen.”
The critical acclaim is almost unanimous, and Audet isn’t worried about the absence of commercial radio support. “I do what I please, and commercial radio is very narrow,” she says. “I’ll never conform to that mould, and even if I wanted to, I just don’t get what the formula is,” she says with a laugh.
Audet’s art resides in keeping a balance – between musical genres, with other people, in her own life. “I have a family, so my life is not about writing songs until three in the morning on weeknights,” she says. “It mostly happens during the day, when I’m alone at home. I’m guided by concerns, troubles, hopes or sadness.”
Still, sometimes, inspiration strikes like lightning: “Léo is for Leonard Cohen,” she says. “I wrote it the day after he passed. Trump had just been elected, I was at home, and I didn’t know what to do. That song came out on its own. It allowed me to take a pause.”