Milk & BoneIt’s been just shy of three years since Laurence Lafond-Beaulne and Camille Poliquin unmistakably arrived in the Big Leagues. Their Milk & Bone duo is a bona fide success, a love-at-first-sight story between the audinece and their mysterious universe. In the wake of their debut Little Mournings album,  they’re now welcoming us to Deception Bay, the place where two people meet, both wanting to get back on top, using the lessons of past mistakes to get there.

We meet with Laurence and Camille in a Montréal café, where they’re already giggling when we arrive. “We’re going into stand-up comedy,” Camille says facetiously. “We’ll be our own opening act: I’ll tell jokes and Camille will laugh,” Laurence adds.

Although such comedic leanings aren’t really part of the duo’s career plan, it’s telling of their uncanny ability to sing about sorrow with such a luminous approach. “All our lyrics are about real emotions,” says Camille. “We write them because we need to, but we’ve listened to an incredible amount of pop music in our lives, so that’s why it’s instinctively more luminous – like pop can be when we get to the arranging stage [of the process].”

You never said why you went away / We’ll meet again in Deception Bay / You promised you would be here to stay / We’ll meet again in Deception Bay

So the title track paints a picture of a place where one collects stories that didn’t have pleasant endings. It holds all the hope created when precious moments are gone. “Deception Bay is where you send everything that’s ever disappointed you,” says Camille. “It’s a shameful place, it’s hard to visit, but it’s still somewhere important, because it’s what makes you stronger afterwards – even though it’s painful.”

“That titles really worried us, even though we knew for a fact that the album had to have that title,” says Laurence. “We thought having the word ‘deception’ in your album title was like giving ammunition to critics who might not like it. Let’s hope people see the poetic side of it.”

A Time for Compromise

Teamwork requires some degree of sacrifice, and that’s true no matter what the field; but managing to create a common oeuvre from two distinct visions requires a particular approach. For Milk & Bone, there’s no need to find common ground somewhere between two poles; Camille and Laurence present themselves as complementary elements.

“I believe that the simple fact of working with someone who manages things differently than me has made me more sensitive to others,” says Laurence. “Everyone thinks everyone works the same way, that there’s only one way of doing things, before they try working as a team. Camille is very inspiring to me, and she challenges me. A large part of me always tries harder because I want her to be happy.”

As for Camille, that bond is nothing short of family. “A boyfriend, a girlfriend, best friends, these are all things that can be broken,” says Camille. “But we’re bonded by our project. It truly feels like being sisters. Even though we’ve seen each other at our worst, we know we’ll always take care of each other.” “This is not the type of relationship where you just walk away if things go south. It requires that you take care of the situation,” adds Laurence.

“We didn’t feel like setting any limits for ourselves. The only truth in creation is that we can do whatever we want.” – Camille Poliquin, Milk & Bone

Thinking About The Future

Three years ago, Milk & Bone was sketching out a project on an empty white canvas. Today, the duo has received both the critical and popular seals of approval, and the two young women have paid their dues.

“We know people are anxious to hear this new album, and that’s very motivating,” says Laurence. “If the first one hadn’t been welcomed as warmly as it was, we would’ve gone into the production of this second one with a bit of bitterness,” adds her bandmate. “People believed in us when we had yet to prove we were worth it,” says Laurence. “SOCAN gave us its Breakthrough Artist Award in 2015. They saw something in us from the start, when we were nothing more than two young women who had decided to give it a go. We never expected them to take us under their wing so much.”

Deception Bay contains songs with titles such as “BBBLUE, :’)” and “Tmrw,” which will surely irk more conservative types, and titillate fans who enjoy something unique. Milk & Bone revisit form and blow the framework to smithereens. “On the first album, we did things by the book, with a capital letter at the beginning of each word, but we don’t actually work that way, says Camille. “We didn’t feel like setting any limits for ourselves [this time]. The only truth in creation is that we can do whatever we want.”

Beyond getting rid of the framework, the duo has created its own: a unique visual identity. “All of that is calculated,” says Laurence. “We’re aware there are much higher chances people will appropriate what we do if they can wrap their head around the song’s entire cohesiveness.” “I consume as much music as I do images,” says Camille. “It’s perfectly normal to me. That’s why, even though we don’t make an official video for each song, we’ll come up with a unique visual identity for all of them, so that people can turn themselves off, and let themselves be impregnated by an image while they listen. We know our songs will end up on YouTube in that fashion. It’s important to us that everything that’s related to the consumption of our songs is unique.”

At Home Everywhere

Their electro grooves didn’t only resonate in Québec, and their sound quickly travelled abroad. Can one calculate the exportability of music? “I don’t know,” says Camille. “But I know that if you over-think it, it won’t work. To us, the only reason that it connects with people is because it reveals us. To intimately connect with someone, we need to feel it ourselves. It’s got nothing to do with singing in English or not.”

Whereas sophomore albums are often a source of performance anxiety for artists, the road was much less torturous because of their first effort’s confidence-instilling success. “We wanted to take everything we liked about the first album and take it to the next level,” says Camille. “I only felt stressed out once the album was totally finished. It instantly became imperfect, because we couldn’t work on it anymore. But I really can’t wait for people to hear it,” says Laurence.

When the’re sitting at their keyboards and console is when Camille and Laurence are in control. Aware that the “singer who only knows how to sing” cliché is still strong in the music business, they decided, once more, to go on tour as a duo. “We’re surrounded by truly respectful people in our day-to-day lives, we don’t feel that kind of pressure, but we still felt it made more sense to us to play as a duo the music we compose as a duo.”

True, highly confident partners in crime, Camille Poliquin and Laurence Lafond-Beaulne allow us to gently sway on their never disappointing bay. It’s filled with strong voices that know how to guide sorrow toward calmer waters. “We’ve truly become better musicians since the first album,” says Laurence. We’ve evolved.” “We’re solid,” says Camille, “and although I‘ve doubted my own ability to make it in this trade I’ve chosen, I’ve reached a point where I can allow myself to be whatever the fuck I am.” It needed to be said and it couldn’t be more true.

Hubert Lenoir 2It’s been four years since we’ve heard the singular voice of The SeasonsHubert Lenoir on a new recording. This time, though, the man is going it alone, launching Darlène through the Simone Records label. Darlène is an album born of resilience, and a desire to be freed from the love/hate relationship Lenoir has with touring – gig to gig, almost non-stop, as part of a cycle that’s redundant and foreign to the creativity in which it originates.

A year ago, almost to the day – after walking out of the Olympia de Paris after the final show of a touring cycle that lasted longer than two years – Lenoir holed up in a small Québec City flat and immersed himself in a tidal wave of music listening, from Prince to Brian Eno and Oscar Peterson. He then dove head-first into a nirvana-like creative euphoria, the likes of which he’d never reached before.

Then came a Eureka moment, when he said “Fuck it, I’m writing an opera!”

While Lenoir was initially thinking of a concept album, his life partner Noémie D. Leclerc quickly joined in the process. “She was working on a novel at the same time,” he says. “We were next to each other in a tiny apartment and, at some point I decided that my songs would be a reflection of her story (Darlène, Noémie D. Leclerc, Québec Amérique).” This highly fluid creative union also saw Gabriel Lapointe collaborate with them, and produced a series of illustrations and a film. Ambition is obviously not a problem for Lenoir.

Although he’d achieved considerable success in his previous group, the artist desperately needed the visceral meaning of the fresco he was painting, as far as possible from “industry recommendations.” “I needed to believe it would have some impact,” says Lenoir. “I’m holding my hand out to those who seek something different, to give a voice to those who don’t recognize themselves in the so-called ‘mainstream’ culture. Yet, I cannot deny that there’s pop-culture baggage that’s an intrinsic part of what I do. Culture, as I currently see it, remains dictated by the establishment, and I wanted to offer something else.”

On the phone, the young man is more voluble and invested than ever. At the ripe young age of 23, the sadness and exhaustion that overwhelmed him not so long ago have disappeared and given way to creativity in its highest form. “I would gorge myself with soul and the Motown sound,” he says. “Darlène was my cure for sadness. I used more DIY, and less conventional methods of hearing and creating music. I had an idea, a feeling for what I wanted. At times, I was literally in a trance, in a zone where there were no limits, a place where there’s nothing else but sheer beauty.”

What we have here is a thorough exercise, powered by an ongoing reflection on art – in its rawest, barest form, where aesthetic dictates are gone. “We add a lot of categories and layers to artworks,” says Lenoir, “whereas artists are mainly seeking the purest sentiment of beauty.”

A die-hard romantic, Lenoir admits to knowing very little about classic opera. “I’ve never been to an opera,” he says. “My contact with the genre came through the records my grandmother would give me.” He’s more familiar with contemporary rock operas, like Starmania, and others of its ilk.

And although he promises himself, and us, a live show that as vibrant as the album, Lenoir – whose physique recalls those of Bowie and Jagger at the peak of the glam years – couldn’t care less about the expectations he might generate. Ideas inform the cross-disciplinary concepts, and the creative juices flow more freely than ever. Period. “Ultimately, what we’ve done is a punk album.”

That’s all there is to it.

This is the first in a new series for Words & Music, called “How did the song happen?” The idea is to look not only at how a hit song was written, but to also go behind the scenes to reveal all of the music-industry activity – like music publishing – that led to its writing, and that brought it from finished demo recording to commercial, critical or artistic success.

For the first one, we fittingly examine “First Time,” a song co-written by SOCAN member Jenson Vaughan (who’s co-written for Madonna and Britney Spears, among others), along with Shy Martin and Fanny Hultman, and production team Hitimpulse. “First Time” is also co-published by his publisher Ultra Music Media.  Written at a song camp in Stockholm, the song found its way to huge commercial juggernaut Kygo, and now it’s gone Platinum in Canada and Australia; Gold in France, Italy and Denmark; and Silver in the U.K.  “First Time” reached the Top 10 on the Billboard U.S. Dance Club Songs and U.S. Hot Dance/Electronic Songs charts. It has earned 250 million streams on Spotify, 58 million views on YouTube, and 22 million on Vevo. Here’s how it got there…

SOCAN member co-writer Jenson Vaughan discusses how he co-wrote “First Time”:

Shy Martin

Shy Martin

When I was a young, we used to sneak booze from my friends’ parents liquor cabinets, and go drinking by the train tracks that ran parallel to Windmill Road in Dartmouth, where I grew up.  There was one park in particular, by my house, that we used to go to. We called it Three Bump Hill, because it had a hill with three bumps (how original, I know).  It’s a nostalgic place for me, so much so that I named my music publishing company Three Bump Hill.

Fast forward 20 years, and it’s day one at an Ultra Music Media/Ten Music songwriting camp in Stockholm, Sweden.  I’m paired up with production team Hitimpulse from Germany, and local songwriters Shy Martin and Fanny Hultman.  We got off to a great start, finishing our first song in just a couple hours, and decided to write another, Thank God).  Hitimpulse starts with some cool chords, and Fanny and Shy start right away with some interesting melodies.  It becomes clear pretty quickly that the song has a nostalgic feel, and we decide to write about our youth; love, loss, sowing our wild oats.

It was one of those “dream” sessions, everything flowing effortlessly, and all the pieces quickly fitting.  Lyrically, I drew on some of my own experience such as “getting drunk on the train tracks” with my friends, and “your dad’s black Honda was our Maybach,” which is really how we felt whenever we got the keys to my friend’s car.  It was just really cool to be able to include personal lines like this, and give Dartmouth, of all places, props in the song.

Once the camp was over, we all went our separate ways.  But we all felt we had something special with the song, and in tandem we all started shopping it.  Hitimpulse especially loved it, and had actually planned to release it as their own single, feat Shy Martin.  But it wasn’t long after that Shy e-mailed us saying her management sent it to Kygo’s people and he loved it.  However, a few months went by, and we weren’t getting any confirmation from Kygo that he would release it. I kinda lost hope, when out of the blue, I got a call from Patrick Moxey [Founder & President of Ultra Music Media] that went exactly like this: ‘Hey Patrick, what’s up?’ ‘Hey Jenson, so, it looks like your song “First Time” will be Kygo’s next single, and it’s going to feature Ellie Goulding.’”

Patrick Moxey, founder and President of Ultra Music Media, discusses the behind-the-scenes work that fostered the writing of “First Time,” and placed it into Kygo’s hands:

Patrick Moxey

Patrick Moxey

Ultra were having our Stockholm songwriting camp, and we were thinking very much about getting the right writers together. Ultra was sending Jenson there for the camp, and I had met Shy Martin’s manager Anna Cornelia, and her producers. So I said, “Anna, let’s get Jenson and Shy Martin in together.” Then it was co-ordinated by our U.K. A&R team, Tracy Fox and Paul Arnold… [Producers] Hitimpulse were there, who are our artists on Ultra Records…

The original impetus bringing it together was the idea of, “Jenson, great writer, who in Sweden would understand his vibe?” I thought, Shy Martin. And then we had Hitimpulse coming up from Germany, as great producers. That gave us the chemistry, and that chemistry came up with “First Time.”

It was actually Shy Martin’s camp that sent the demo to Helen [McLaughlin, then head of A&R] at Sony Sweden, who was working with [both] me and Kygo. He heard the record, loved it, and it got placed. Hitimpulse liked the idea of Kygo cutting it, with them being involved as writers on the song. It was created, it ping-ponged back and forth a little bit – “Is it going to come out with Hitimpulse?” – but then the Kygo possibility presented itself, and Hitimpulse thought that was a good idea. So it just flowed very naturally, to become a great single, which has done over 250 million streams on Spotify. It’s been an absolutely huge record, and a huge hit for Jenson Vaughan.

It’s tremendous teamwork, and that fundamental statement is true: by creating chances, you create luck. If we hadn’t sent Jenson to Stockholm, if he hadn’t gone in with Shy Martin, if Hitimpulse hadn’t been there from Germany… Each one of these things took a little effort, [and together] you create the chance for that to happen.