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.

The individual going by the stage name of Delachute wears a white mask in all his press photos and videos, but on his side of our videoconference call, the songwriter shows his true, likable face, that of a 30-ish  man who’s not at all taciturn, contrary to what his music might suggest. The masked singer’s real name isn’t exactly a secret, but its owner kindly asks us to keep it so, not just to preserve his aura of mystery, but also for more sensible (and understandable) reasons.

Delachute The truth is that, for a couple of years, Montréal’s indie-pop mystery man was working with the Parole Board of Canada as a regional communications officer, a job involving not only informing the media of Board decisions about the release of prisoners, but also supporting the victims of these criminals through the hearings process.

“My job didn’t involve providing psychological support as such, but one necessarily ends up developing a relationship with these people,” he says, who are often afraid that their aggressor, or a person close to them, might re-offend. “You’re talking with them on a daily basis, and they start telling you their life story, and the reasons why they’re now living in fear.”

Thus, one of the main reasons Delachute insists on remaining hidden is to prevent those victims and their families from recognizing themselves in his lyrics. The son of amateur musicians, the guy behind the avatar grew up in the town of Saint-Alexandre, in Québec’s Haut-Richelieu region, first playing bass in a rock band, then trading his amplifier for an acoustic guitar, as he was about to go to university.

The melancholy of the For Emma, Forever Ago (2007) album, recorded by Bon Iver alone in his father’s cabin, had a powerful effect on him, and gave him the courage to work by himself, in his bedroom, with his instruments and computer. “I’d really been impressed by seeing someone taking an idea and bringing it all the way to its conclusion, like a painter with a canvas,” says Delachute.

Between 2015 and 2020, Delachute’s alter ego refused to share his music with anyone except his sister and girlfriend. The latter persuaded him to send his demos to Mark Lawson (Arcade Fire, Beirut, Timber Timbre), who immediately agreed to mix his first song series.

Delachute’s hypnotic, enigmatic lullabies are based on bewitching rhythms that captivate the listener, with coiled guitars, and the falsetto voice of a singer who loves layering sounds. His sound is a mixture of bluesy despair (he’s a dedicated John Lee Hooker fan), synthetic textures, and strangely lecherous grooves that sound a little like a dance of death.

As for his lyrics, they’re borrowed from the horror stories that the artist has heard in the courtroom, including testimony from killers – who often spoke about love, despite the fact that their stories had nothing at all to do with it. “Songwriting truly helped me when I couldn’t fall asleep at night because I was thinking about everything those victims had gone through, and about those guys describing their murders,” says Delachute. “Those were surreal days, really.”

At no time did he intend to produce an aestheticized representation of violence, the songwriter adds, while at the same time referring to the recent, shocking wave of femicide in Québec. “Out of the 25 cases I became familiar with, at least 20 involved a man who had killed the woman he was either married to or living with,” he says. “I remember one particular story involving a man who was providing a play-by-play account of the murder he’d committed, the same way I’d describe a baseball game to you. He kept saying that he loved her, that he couldn’t bear the thought that she was leaving him. It was truly troubling.”

The enthusiasm on streaming platforms for his eponymous debut EP, which came out in March of  2021, took Delachute by surprise. He’s now busy writing new songs to provide him with a broad enough repertoire for future stage performances. Will he be wearing a mask then, we wonder? On the screen, the mystery man smiles. Chances are, when the rest of us finally get rid of our masks, he, too, will be putting his away.

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.