“In my mind, right now, it’s as if I was starting all over again,” says Stéphanie Boulay, as she’s about to launch her first solo album, Ce que je te donne ne disparaît pas, out Nov. 2, 2018. “Nothing is won in advance and, to be honest… I don’t want to win anything, strangely enough. Of course I like this album, I want it to do well, I want people to like it. But in the end, I’m not attached to the results that much. It was more of a need, a necessity, than it was something planned. My whole being wanted to create songs.”

When Les soeurs Boulay took a sabbatical, in November of 2017, so that Mélanie could enjoy her pregnancy, Stéphanie figured she’d travel and take it easy. “It lasted a month,” she says. “I was unhappy. Deeply. It’s one of my flaws – not that I advocate being a workaholic – but it’s more powerful than I am: it’s like I exist through creating.” That’s why today, she exists as a single female artist, via the album’s eight original songs, which she’ll play on stage with her musicians during the next Coup de cœur francophone. “I feel like a teenager,” she says. “Like it’s my first show at Cegep en Spectacle!”

The new collection of songs gives us a new perspective on this solo sister, who moves away from the country/folk sound of her duo, and embraces classic “chanson française.” As for the melodies and ornate orchestrations, “the songs stretch out but seem positioned in an era, because we listened to a lot of music from the late ’60s and ’70s,” she says. Some Jacques Brel, some Leo Ferré, “Canadian music,” probably a hefty dose of Leonard Cohen, and even Gordon Lightfoot’s first few albums.

Boulay readily admits that ensuring her solo album was a departure from the duo’s sound was something of a challenge, but says it wasn’t really deliberate. “When we started working on it, Alex [McMahon, producer] and I didn’t actually say to each other that we wanted to go elsewhere, it just happened naturally through the flow of our inspiration,” she says. “It was a time when I started listening to Brel and Françoise Hardy again, and Alex told me he could totally hear my songs played that way. We listened to all kinds of different stuff, even Brazilian music, and the songs just inspired us, effortlessly. It’s as if our two brains connected and decided to go in the same direction.”

“I felt like I had some kind of transcendent fever while I was writing.”

This symbiosis was very helpful for the hasty writing, “at the very last minute,” of an album that was initially planned as an EP. “I had five songs,” says Boulay, “all written pretty much at the same time, in February.

Then, [album opener] ‘Ta Fille’ was born, that was the most important piece coming out.” It’s a touching, solemn song that sets the tone of the album. “I can feel that if it wasn’t for the #metoo movement a year ago, this album would’ve been different,” says Boulay. “There’s a lot of vulnerability on it that I wouldn’t have dared to admit before. And female solidarity. it’s a sound that I live even more since #metoo. I sing a lot more about friendship than about love on this album. Like on ‘Des histoires qui ne sont jamais finies,’ which was inspired by my experience at SOCAN’s Kenekt Québec Song Camp – and all the friendships I developed while I was there, surrounded by the creative force of all those people. The song ‘Ta fille’ is not just about vulnerability, it’s also about solidarity. It’s about looking at yourself and saying: Hey, do you feel like that, too? Well, fuck it, let’s speak up about it! It’s a statement.”

As early as last May, after two months of writing, five songs had been recorded. “Then, ‘Les Médailles’ just came to me, and we went back in the studio,” says Boulay. “That’s when Éli [Bissonnette, head honcho of her label, Grosse Boîte] asked if I had more songs, because six is an EP, but with eight, we can call it an album. I was lucky, like I was connected to something, I’m not sure what, but the songs just came to me. Just like that. I felt like I had some kind of transcendent fever while I was writing.”

To wit: Boulay was walking along the road to the pier at Carleton-sur-Mer, in Gaspésie, where she’s from, when the song ‘Sauvage et fou’ just appeared. “It just fell on me,” she says. “I ran to my room and finished it that night. The next weekend, I was at the cabin and I remembered something Alex had told me, ‘You remind me of a coyote stuck in a trap who prefers to chew off his own leg to dying in there. You should write a song about that.’ And I wrote ‘Le piège.’ We went back to the studio, in extremis, two weeks before the deadline, to record those two songs!”

As soon as it’s released, this first solo album, which she considers an aside, will be behind her. “My sister and I have already gotten back to work,” she says. “I think we have about half an album already written. I look ahead. As much as I’m proud of my solo album – I cherish it, it’s my baby, my jewel – I now appreciate the presence of my sister Mélanie in my life even more.

“I believe that I have a very conventional and square way of writing, whereas my sister is more creative,” says Boulay. “I’ll write more classic melodies, but Mélanie will find a twist that makes it unique. I’m also in a hurry: if it’s good, I move on. Mélanie can work on a single sentence, or a snippet of melody, for hours, until she is satisfied it is perfect. And the way she plays is also in your face. She’s solid, legs straight, she knows where she’s going, whereas I’m much more fragile.”

JESUS CMPLXX had a dream job. He was an marketing representative at Sony Music for 10 years, working with everyone from Destiny’s Child to Tony Bennett, and making a six-figure income. It’s a rare job in music that many only dream of, but it ultimately wasn’t his dream. “I think my heart always knew I wanted to be an artist,” the now-producer says, reflecting on his decade-long former career. “But I was fearful of not making any money doing it.”

Passion overcame JESUS CMPLXX’s monetary concerns though and he eventually left Sony and struck up a musical partnership with Sway Clarke. Together they formed the band Freedom or Death, which found some success, including a major-label deal in the U.S. But the project would evolve over the years, first to focus on Clarke’s solo efforts, and in recent years, on JESUS CMPLXX. (Clarke is still a frequent collaborator, but JESUS CMPLXX is a new and separate solo outing.)

“It’s the reaction of going back and taking control of what I wanted to do from day one: make music for myself,” says CMPLXX, describing his experiences working for and with labels. “If I’m not making music, I’m not a happy person.”

JESUS CMPLXX is coming from a place of true freedom, where the artist can play with genres, mixing R&B, electronic, and dance elements into a wide-ranging sound that challenges listeners to break down sonic barriers, and explore something new. Part of that experimentation includes working with other artists such as JHYVE, Aleesia Stamkos, and Clarke, who all appear on the next EP. As he lists his new collaborators, CMPLXX adds, “I’m smiling as I share this… So I’m in a good place.

“As artists, we all need validation,” he continues. “But no longer do I need it from the industry. I had that and it imploded. The great thing about music now is, it’s very clear if you reach people or not. If I do, great. If I don’t, I’ll just keep going.”

Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance have written so many pop songs together since 1979, as the idiom goes, they could do it with their eyes closed. But three years ago, the pair took on a coveted project that neither anticipated would be such an enormous learning experience, and a hell of a lot of work: writing the score for a Broadway show, Pretty Woman: The Musical.

“I don’t think either Bryan or I quite understood what we were signing up for,” admits Vallance. “We haven’t taken on other projects, and we’ve done very little outside writing, away from Pretty Woman.  It’s just been all-encompassing for the last couple of years.”

The musical is based on the 1990 blockbuster film Pretty Woman, starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, written by J.F. Lawton, and directed by the late Garry Marshall, who was a key part of the Broadway show’s development until his death in 2016. It’s the street corner-to-penthouse story of bright, feisty prostitute Vivian Ward (played by Samantha Barks) and wealthy ambitious businessman Edward Lewis (Andy Karl), adapted closely for the stage by Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell.

“It was all about creating the best songs we could.” – Bryan Adams

After out-of-town previews for five weeks in Chicago earlier this year, the Broadway production officially opened in August at the Nederlander Theatre, to glowing reviews. The companion cast recording — which Adams and Vallance produced in just two weeks, after the new male lead role was cast and songs finalized — is out now in digital and physical formats.

It was director Mitchell who had the final say. He told Adams and Vallance not to be too “on the nose” — for example, “if an actor’s walking down the stairs while he’s singing, you don’t want him to sing, “Here I am, walking down the stairs,” explains Vallance. He also prevented them from being too metaphorical, or have any meaningless words that simply sounded good. “We thought we could sneak something past Jerry, but he catches everything,” Vallance laughs.

The songwriters willingly accepted the direction as students of this genre, even though they’re not used to that for Adams’ own albums. No one tells the singer of such enduring global hits as “Cuts Like A Knife,” “Run To You,” “Summer of ‘69” and “Straight From The Heart,” with 75 million albums sold, to go back to the drawing board, or change this and that. “With the musical, every song, every line of lyric, every word, has to serve the story,” says Vallance.  “The director was very particular about that.”

Jim Vallance, Bryan Adams, Pretty Woman

Working on Pretty Woman in the studio. (Photo: Angie Bambii)

“We would just listen to what he had to say, and go back and start doing some sketching,” says Adams. “People that have a lot of experience writing musicals, they understand the format, the buttons that have to be pressed throughout the course of a musical. We didn’t know that, so it was a bit of a learning curve. But I don’t know that there was a hard or fast rule on how to create this. It was all about creating the best songs we could.”

But Vallance, far more detailed and forthcoming than Adams when discussing the writing process for a musical, in a separate interview, says that there are some rules.  He explains what he learned from the director:

“There’s some real critical points… We discovered this as we went along. Again, the director, the producer, the book writer were all very helpful, but also very particular at making sure that we check those boxes and hit those points,” Vallance begins.

“Obviously, the opening number is a big deal.  It has to draw the audience in, and that lyric went through two or three re-writes over a two- or three-year period. The end result wasn’t quite where we started out, but the director wanted the character, who’s called Happy Man, to very obviously be a narrator.  He’s literally in the opening number, over three verses, describing Vivian, Edward, and where they’ve come from, where they’re going. He even says in the lyric, ‘Pay attention, I’m going to be your guide for the whole evening.’  That’s where the lyric ended up, but it didn’t start out that way.  The opening number is critical.

“The closing number to Act I is another place where you have to leave the audience wanting more, because there’s an intermission.  Second song in Act I is what in Broadway is traditionally called the ‘I want’ song.  This is something we didn’t know. Virtually every musical ever written has an ‘I want’ song.  In My Fair Lady, it’s ‘Wouldn’t It Be Loverly.’  The ‘I want’  song is where the main character tells the audience, literally, what they want, what they hope to achieve over the course of the next two-and-a-half hours, and over the course of the story,” he continues.

Adams Songs at the Movies

  • “Heaven” and “Best Was Yet To Come” — A Night in Heaven, 1983
  • “Hiding From Love” — Class, 1983
  • “Try to See It My Way” — Voyage of the Rock Aliens, 1984
  • “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” — Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, 1991
  • “All For Love” — The Three Musketeers, 1993
  • “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?” — Don Juan De Marco, 1995
  • “Star” — Jack, 1996
  • “I Finally Found Someone” — The Mirror Has Two Faces, 1996
  • “Here I Am” — Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, 2002
  • “I’m Not The Man You Think I Am,” “It’s All About Me”, “Rely On Me”, “Too Good To Be True”, “Gift Of Love” — Color Me Kubrick: A True…Ish Story, 2005
  • “It Ain’t Over Yet” — Racing Stripes, 2005
  • “Never Let Go” — The Guardian, 2006
  • “Mysterious Ways” — Cashback, 2006
  • “Way-Oh” and “By Your Side” — Jock of the Bushveld, 2011
  • “Nobody’s Girl” — TalhotBlond, 2012

“We wrote three or four different ‘I want’ songs. Each one would last for maybe six months of rehearsals, and then the director would come to us and say, ‘It’s not quite right. It needs to be more like this.’ It wasn’t for lack of us giving him what he’d asked for, but the goal posts kept moving, too.  As the rehearsals evolved, as actors came in, and even brought some of their own sensibilities to the project, the director would re-think a scene, and then send us back to write a whole new song.

“The ‘I want’ song was three or four songs over two or three years.  That was a difficult one to get.  ‘Anywhere But Here’ is what it’s called.  The other critical point is what they call the 11 o’clock number.  That’s the second-to-last song.  That’s another spot where things get wrapped up, story-wise.  Our song is called ‘Long Way Home.’ That was one of the first songs we wrote and presented, back in 2015.  That song stayed in almost unchanged through the whole course of the project.  Finally, the closing number [‘Together Forever’]. You want to send the audience home happy.

“We get a standing ovation every night, which is nice. I’m guessing the closing number does what it was intended to do,” Vallance concludes.

The resulting two-act score — available in sequence, including preamble and reprise, on Pretty Woman: The Musical (Original Broadway Cast recording) — features 20 original songs, from the opening number, “Welcome To Hollywood,” to punchy big finale, “Together Forever.”

Many have that Adams sound (“It’s sort of unavoidable, that’s how we write,” says Vallance).  The Latin-flavored tango “On A Night Like Tonight” recalls his Oscar-nominated hit “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?” There’s a familiar feel, from the lyrical phrasing of the ballads “Freedom” and “You and I,” to the injection of rock in the driving duet “You’re Beautiful,” the stomping “Never Give Up,” and the anthemic “I Can’t Go Back.” But the duo also venture beyond the familiar, with the jazzy “Don’t Forget To Dance,” and even include a rap in “Never Give Up.”

“I’m proud of it,” says Adams. “It was a lot of work. It was a lot of fun, and I think the cast is great. We went through a lot of work to get to this point. I was saying the other day, I wish I was stepping into another one right away, because it’s got my head in that space at the moment.”

Perhaps Summer of 69: The Musical? We could find out whatever happened to Jimmy and Jody, and the other guys from school…