The Franklin ElectricIt’s only been two days since Jon Matte’s been back in Montréal. The Franklin Electric’s singer and frontman has spent the last two months in Australia, a transformative trip – as evidenced by his words, and his sparkling eyes.

“We were there to première our second album, Blue Ceiling,” says Matte. “We did open for Half Moon Run and the Aussie band Woodlock, but we also played top billing at a few venues for our fans, who discovered us during our first tour there. We ended our trip in the countryside, on the West Coast, by the Indian Ocean. There, we played in a barn for about 100 people, and that turned into a party that lasted all night. Moments like that are true gifts.” The Australian stint prepared The Franklin Electric for the official Canadian and worldwide launch of Blue Ceiling, which will be followed by the usual tour schedule.

Right from the get-go, with their first album This Is How I Let You Down, the Montréal band found an audience for its music in Canada, Australia and Europe. Jon Matte’s gang has toured Europe five times already, twice as headliners. There are a few elements that explain the travel-ready nature of their pop-tinged folk music. The Franklin Electric has opened extensively, mainly for Half Moon Run, their Indica labelmates. The other determining factor was their deal with German label Revolver, and the support of European distributor Believe, which ensure them an active representation throughout the continent. “When you have a team working for you, no matter how big or small, it makes a world of difference,” says Matte. “Next week, we’re Album of the Week on a German college radio station. And we’ll tour Scandinavia for the first time. We’re spreading out. But there’s still the States, where we have yet to make it.”

Being on the road is such an important part of the band’s DNA that Matte started writing Blue Ceiling on tour. “We were in a hurry to release a second album that sounded like our live shows,” he says. “We felt a sense of urgency. That’s why I started writing while on tour. But in actual fact, we had plenty of time and there was no rush. I must say, there’s a kind of despair in the act of writing, an obsession, like I simply can’t help it.”

In between tours, The Franklin Electric book studio sessions at Mixart, at Pierre Marchand’s studio, or in Indica’s house studio, all in the hope of capturing those songs written on the road. “After a year of recording sessions, I went back in on my own, feeling a sense of urgency, even though the album was done. So I sat behind various instruments – drums, guitar, piano, bass, trumpet – to get it out of me. And five new songs were created. I look like some kind of completist who doesn’t know when to stop, but I just couldn’t help it.” Regardless, the swing of things proved Matte right. Those five tracks now appear on Blue Ceiling.

There’s something trancelike that happens to the Hudson-born multi-instrumentalist when he’s in the throes of songwriting. Matte has a trick to get his songs out, to stimulate his improv method: he names everything that’s around him. “I’d like to have love songs in me, but right now they’re songs about transformation, peeling away layers that are keeping us from ourselves,” he says. “I don’t summon the themes I write about. They impose themselves. Often, I feel the music and mumble the words. This very out-of-control creative process worried me. And one day I heard the demo for ‘Beat It,’ and I realized that happens, even to outstanding creators like Michael Jackson. I’d love to tell you I’m organized, that I sit down to write on a daily basis, but that’s not how it happens… It all comes out haphazardly. My creative process is highly instinctive.”

And since Matte pens all the music and lyrics on Blue Ceiling, one wonders why he releases those songs under the identity of a band – an unusual situation in a musical world that often prefers strong, flamboyant personalities. “I cannot conceive this musical project without a family,” he says. “That’s just the way I am. You see, the work of Kevin Warren, my drummer, is essential, and I want to recognize the work of the people around me, so I prefer this collective identity. Besides, being alone onstage has never appealed to me. Not yesterday, not tomorrow.”

It’s that desire to share, to exchange, human-to-human, that defines the existence of The Franklin Electric.

Yves DaoustIntroducing kids to music by letting them get their hands on, and create contemporary tracks; such is the challenge to which composer Yves Daoust has committed himself for the past decade. It all started with Musicolateur, at first an actual wood plank, which morphed into a mobile app, both based on a unique principle: using pre-recorded sounds, which the user can modulate them at will, thus liberating their inner John Cage or Gordon Mumma.

First launched in 2005 by Daoust and his multi-disciplinary artist friend Alexandre Burton, the project made the educational circuit throughout Québec, and was highly successful with audiences of all ages – who were allowed to discover a rich universe too often reserved for a relatively closed coterie of initiates.

“There’s no doubt that its ease of use is a great democratizing tool,” says Daoust. “Anybody can do it, and its access is limitless. That allows it to become part of people’s lives to the point where kids won’t even be surprised anymore… I remember this young girl, at the end of a workshop who told me: ‘I’ve discovered that it’s possible to make music with any sound, even with this!” she said while clapping her hands. That’s precisely our fundamental mission, our goal. We never mention any label when we talk to them, we don’t talk about electro-acoustic or contemporary music, we just create,” says Daoust , over the phone, on the day after the launch of his tool’s most recent incarnation, the fonofone, at Montréal’s Centre Phi.

The Result of a Long Process

FonofoneAs the outcome of 15 years of research, and partly financed by the SOCAN Foundation, the fonofone is both an electro-acoustic music studio and a digital chamber-music instrument.

Obviously, Daoust is conscious of the fact that targeting a young audience is especially relevant because of that audience’s capacity to absorb new information. “Young people are still relatively ‘pristine,’ and are therefore a rich soil,” he says. “Each workshop is an occasion of wonderment. Besides, it’s based on a technology that this new generation was basically born with, so we gradually left the hardware behind to focus solely on the software… We see how kids are perfectly comfortable with these technologies on a very instinctive level. Adults are hesitant to touch it, but kids are fearless and dive right in! They’re incredibly fast, and have impressive manual dexterity! Might as well make the most of it, and introduce them to something educational and interesting.”

And Music for All

To fulfill their desire to meet ever more curious, open minds, Daoust and his team made the fonofone available to everyone through the App Store last week.

So far, so good. “We got a lot of reactions, people are passionate about it,” says Daoust. “I don’t think anyone has seen anything like this before on iOS. It was initially designed with educational intent, but as far as creating music goes, there’s nothing else like it. What draws people in is its purely intuitive side: everything is in real time! But it’s also a performance tool. The beta versions were purely educational, but when we developed the current version, it became just as interesting from a creative perspective, and Kid Koala is a great example of that. It’s a tool that anyone can use!”

From school to stage, there clearly is only one app. Despite delivering his tool, which he uses for his own professional compositions, to a wider, less homogenous audience, the breadth of his commitment towards future generations is unimpeachable. “I believe the best way to discover a medium, and introduce young people to music, is to invite them to create some,” says Daoust. “It develops their imagination to an unbelievable degree, and that is not important, it’s essential! All one needs to do is come at them with respect and intelligence.”

Joey Landreth is no stranger to the road.

Joey LandrethHis band, the JUNO Award-winning Bros. Landreth (in 2015, Roots & Traditional Album of the Year, for Let It Lie) is finally taking a breather after four years of almost constant, slow-build touring in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Europe – each round of roadwork scheduled as the record was released in those territories. During the current pause, Joey is now located in Toronto, guitarist Ariel Posner has moved to Ireland, while drummer Ryan Voth and bassist/brother David Landreth have stayed in the group’s hometown of Winnipeg – the latter with his new bride.

Breather or not, Joey decided to record a new seven-song album, Whiskey (with Ryan and David, in a trio format), and now to tour it, even after those long four years on the highway. As this story is being posted, Landreth has completed a European tour, is about to launch a Western Canadian one (starting Feb. 24th in Saskatoon), and is slated for some Southern Ontario dates after that.

This, despite the sentiment of new songs like “Still Feel Gone” (a co-write with the fast-rising Donovan Woods, who he met via their mutual manager, Stu Anderson), that catalogues the ill effects of touring on relationships, especially the “re-entry period” after a tour, with the chorus line, “How many roads can a man drive a van on / Before he’s called back to the one he’s left alone?”

“At the end of the day, [touring] is all I’ve ever done,” says Landreth. “This is what I do, and who I am. There is a bit of an innate struggle in being away from the ones you love the most, more than you’re with them. But the best version of myself is the one where I’m able to chase my art down the highway. It’s not always easy, but it’s always the best.”

“The best version of myself is the one where I’m able to chase my art down the highway. It’s not always easy, but it’s always the best.”

In his songwriting, Landreth tends to face these challenges head-on. He digs deep, sometimes for dramatic effect, and isn’t reluctant to search for the subterranean roots of his emotional experiences when he’s writing songs. For example, the title song “Whiskey” – co-written with brother David, and completed at the Sound Lounge in SOCAN’s Toronto offices – cleverly parallels the longing for an old flame with the same sort of yearning typical of a conquered addiction to alcohol. The song is one of those where the first verse leads one way (“It’s about a woman”) until the unexpected “reveal” of the chorus (“Hey! It’s also about addiction!”).

“For me, the idea of the song is, there’s a relationship with a significant other in there, and a relationship with the addiction, and they kind of exist together,” says Landreth. “Looking back at both of them, and maybe blaming whiskey for the demise, maybe the lady for the whiskey… It’s interesting what people take from it. For some, it’s like the country technique of giving an arbitrary name [Whiskey] to a lady. Some think of it as a sobriety song. I like that people can take their own thing away from it.”

There are elements of recovery in other songs, like “Better Together” and “Hard as I Can,” where a sustaining romantic relationship allows the protagonist to transcend his limitations. “I think it reflects the place that I’m at in my life,” says Landreth, who’s been two years sober. “I don’t really play it up a lot, because I’m sensitive to the fact that it gets pretty easy to be self-righteous about sobriety. I really decided to get sober because that’s just what I needed to do.”

Landreth is something of a triple-threat. Besides his brave songwriting, he’s a gifted vocalist, and enough of a guitar hero that he has endorsement deals with Suhr guitars (electric) and Collings (for their Waterloo line of vintage-style acoustic guitars). When we catch up with him, he’s playing some events for them at the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) conference in Los Angeles. When he was featured in the Oct. 27, 2016, issue of Guitarist Magazine, he admits it was a real thrill. For many years before co-founding The Bros. Landreth, Joey earned his keep as a studio/touring guitarist-for-hire. His solo on Whiskey’s “Still Feel Gone” – recorded in one take, his third or fourth pass at it, with the lights down in the studio – is arguably the greatest of his many superb recorded solos so far.

As a writer, he’s working with the best, including Stuart Cameron of The Heartbroken and the aforementioned Donovan Woods. “Donovan is one of my favourites,” says Landreth. “He’s such a great writer, such an incredible lyricist, and he writes fearlessly – which I really admire.” You can practically feel Woods’ fingerprints all over the post-relationship line, “She let me walk on time served,” from their co-write, “Time Served.”

And how does co-writing generally work for Landreth? “It usually starts with an hour-and-a-half to three hours of just goofing off,” he says. “Co-writing ‘Time Served’ with Donovan and Stuart Cameron, we sat and kibitzed for a little while, and then we said, ‘Hey, what do you think about this idea?’ And ‘Yeah, that’s cool,’ or ‘What about this?’ I think I came to the table with the first verse… and we just pieced it together. Any places I got stuck, Donovan or Stuart just took the ball and ran with it.”

In a similarly unpretentious style, rather than recording Whiskey with a “name” producer in a famous studio in L.A., Nashville or New York City, Landreth chose to make the record in his hometown of Winnipeg. “I just wanted to make a great record with people that I love with all my heart,” he says.

Mission accomplished.