“Each song has a different story,” says Pellizzer. “For ‘Rude,’ Nasri and me did pre-production on two versions. We came up with the hook, ‘Why you gotta be so rude?’ but it didn’t have a light-hearted story to it; it was more severe in nature about a girl that got drunk and was yelling at him. So he flipped the whole story with our producer Adam and that song took shape. At that point, I just played some guitar and helped out with the arrangement, put a guitar solo and put some other instruments in there.”

Before “Rude” was ever released as a single – which was before the album was even finished – Lavdanski ended up quitting in early 2013. Spivak, another friend trying his luck in L.A., already hanging out at the house working on music with Pellizzer, was asked to step in. 

“No opinion or suggestion is a bad one. You just want to come up with the best product you can.” – Mark Pellizer of MAGIC!

Sometimes the input of the rhythm section isn’t as welcomed in a band, but when your band is reggae-based, its importance is hard to deny. In MAGIC!, Tanas isn’t “just the drummer” and Spivak isn’t “just the bass player.” Tanas also plays a decent piano and when he began producing was making hip-hop beats, and Spivak released a self-titled album in 2010 on which he played all the instruments.

“We have a song on our album called ‘No Way No’ and it’s more led by Ben and I,” says Tanas. “He came up with the riff and I came up with a lot of the musical stuff behind it, and Nas came in with a couple of lyric ideas. It was really working together and we’re able to do that because everybody wants to serve the music, as opposed to just get in their personal ideas.”

Spivak says he was integrated immediately into the writing process: “They had about half the album done, so it was just working on those songs for live, and the rest of the time was spent in the studio. So I was there, coming up with bass lines, trying out different things. As a reggae band, as a band that’s based on songwriting but trying to keep things in 2015, bass is very important… Now I’m at a great place where I’ve got Mark and Alex and Nasri to bounce ideas off of.”

And Messinger’s role? It extends beyond that of producer or co-producer to being an integral part of the songwriting.  Atweh says, “Everybody allows me to lead and to make the end-of-the-day decisions, which I do 50-50 with Adam. He just comes in with an unbiased opinion.”

“He’s a fifth member of the band creatively and artistically,” says Spivak, “just like George Martin was to the Beatles, just like Dan Lanois or Brian Eno was to U2… Adam is such a huge part of our sound.”

“I don’t view him as an outside songwriter because he’s so much a part of the process,” adds Pellizzer. “I just see him as one of the songwriters that is part of the team. He’s also a multi-instrumentalist and approaches things from that standpoint where he’s thinking about the functionality of the various instruments in order to make the best mix at the very end.”

So why doesn’t Atweh carry MAGIC! on his own, or just with Messinger?

“I’ve always had the choice to do it by myself, but Mark is an exceptional person to collaborate with, so he only enhances what I do by a kazillion percent, because he’s truly gifted at enhancing the emotion of what you’re going for,” says Atweh. “He plays every instrument. He’s kind of a freak. But he’s also a good singer, and he loves good melodies, and you have more fun because you feel like you can go to another level with him. It’s very similar to the way I write with Adam.

“What I like about Alex is he’s like the other side of me; he’s the swaggy side of me… Alex is always right there with me because he grew up listening to younger music and what was on the radio, and even the way we dress, we’re a little more hip. So everything about Alex and I is [about] it sounding cool, and simplifying, and taking something and finding that balance. He’s also great drum programmer and he’s has really great ideas. He’ll always surprise you.

“Ben is a guy who’s newer to the writing process with us, but he’s quite talented as a musician, too. He’s kind of like Mark. He can play everything. But Ben listens to a lot of the Beatles and Tom Petty. His influences are a little more on the rock side so he’ll come in with ideas that Mark wouldn’t come in with because Mark comes from a soul side… Ben always keeps it a little more simple. He just gives you the line. There’s no embellishments.”

Pellizzer best sums up the magic of MAGIC!: “It’s important to take care of each other’s feelings. I don’t want to sound really sappy but most bands break up, right? A collection of four or five guys or girls, it’s hard to last because it’s a complicated relationship of unique individuals together, but I think the way that you can stand the test of time is, you literally take care of each other, and make sure that everyone’s voice is heard, and there’s a mutual respect that underlines how you conduct yourself.

“The good thing about MAGIC! is we’re grown-ass men. We realize that we have to make each other feel comfortable in these writing situations and these production situations. No opinion or suggestion is a bad one. You just want to come up with the best product you can, and the most meaningful song, that has the best music behind it. We’re all on the same page about that.”

At two in the afternoon, Gazoline’s singer/bassist Xavier Dufour Thériault was still lounging in bed waiting for the journalist to arrive. At a time when many musicians consider solo singer-songwriter careers more manageable and financially rewarding than collective endeavours, Gazoline not only thrives on rock music, but is doing so miles away from the current folk, pop or rap trends.

Since the waning, in the early 2000s, of the Rock wave surfed by the likes of The Strokes, The Hives, The White Stripes and, in Québec, Malajube, Les Breastfeeders and Le Nombre, many have claimed that rock was dead, or near death. “We were talking about that recently with [Gazoline’s first album producer] Xavier Caféïne,” Dufour Thériault says, “and we came to the conclusion that nothing is more rock-and-roll and provocative, in 2014, than writing a great rock song. It takes balls, because nobody is doing it anymore in French, and that’s where Gazoline comes in. So, rock is dead? I see this as a vacuum to be filled. An opportunity, even.” 

“So, rock is dead? I see this as a vacuum to be filled. An opportunity, even.” – Xavier Dufour Thériault of Gazoline

The Saguenay, Quebec, musician has a point. Since his band settled in Montreal, they’ve reached the finals of the Francouvertes festival, released a critically acclaimed first album, and watched several of their songs climb the NRJ French music station chart, with the catchy “Ces gens qui dansent” making the trio the “NRJ Buzz” for March 2014.

“NRJ adopted a rock format this past January to set itself apart from other commercial radio stations playing the same pop artists over and over again,” the station’s music director Geneviève Moreau explained. Following the fuss made by Les Respectables in 2009 over commercial radio shunning rock music, NRJ’s shift was great news for distortion lovers.

“Obviously, we’re not as hardcore as CHOM is,” Moreau continues, “but the word is out in the industry. We’re receiving more demos from young Francophone rock bands. There seems to be a new wave of artists who are less interested in sticking to a single sound. Gazoline’s compositions have more of a pop feeling than the wall-to-wall garage rock sound of the early 2000s.” Also a Mordicus fan, Moreau adds that she “loves the British music influences of their [February 2014 album Cri primal]. They remind me of Oasis, and this shows that the Quebec rock palette is widening.”

The Mordicus sound, according to the Chicoutimi, Québec, group’s bassist Martin Moe, came out of a need to be different. “Being from the Saguenay area,” says Moe, “the moment we break into a serious guitar riff, we’re being compared with Fred Fortin or Galaxie. With Cri primal, what we wanted to achieve was blending British rock and American blues music, and making them sound good in French.”

According to Maxime Desrosiers, the band’s singer, the continued support of Mordicus songs by NRJ and Radio X has had a major impact on the young band’s career. “You can easily measure that on YouTube and the social networks,” he says. “We can also feel it during our shows. When we play certain songs now, the audience starts singing along.”

At the opposite end of the FM band, the cases may be different, but the trend is the same, according to the University of Montreal’s CISM student radio station music director Benoît Poirier. “After a few lean years, I’ve received a lot more rock albums in the first quarter of 2014,” says this broadcaster, who moonlights as the drummer in the explosive rock band Jesuslesfilles.

Following the release of his first, self-titled EP in 2012, Philippe Brach went on to win a slew of industry awards including the Ma Première Place des Arts competition in 2013, three Petite-Vallée festival awards (as well as the SOCAN Best Song Award for “T’aurais pas pu nous prendre à deux”) and the top honours of the 2014 Francouvertes competition.

Commenting on his achievements over such a short time-period, the young musician explains, “Music competitions are still relevant today, even though I’m through with them personally. They not only provide artists with a certain amount of visibility, they also prompt you to write more songs. I’m a determined artist, I know where I’m going, but competitions helped me meet people. And the exchanges that take place after the awards ceremonies are over are the most valuable prize you can get. Competitions are master classes being taught by artists who have reached various stages in their careers, and you learn a lot from them. They helped me hone my performing and creative skills, and I feel I am a better, more transparent artist for it.”

“I feel more at home exploring dark, grimy, negative corners of the human soul.”

“However,” Brach cautions, “music competitions are not for everybody. I’ve seen artists running out of awards ceremonies in tears and blaming themselves. The main thing with contests is to know who you are and where you’re going. Competing provides you with the ammunition you need to succeed and gain respect,” the voluble musician sums up.

Awash in music industry awards, the 25-year-old musician released his first full-length album, La foire et l’ordre (Chaos and Order) in April 2014. This wilfully untidy folk-rock opus with appealing country touches and simple, effective arrangements has brought some listeners to draw creative parallels between Brach and Bernard Adamus for lyrical irreverence, Pépé for pervasive humour, and Vincent Vallières for sonic quality.

“I had no particular outline in mind,” says the Saguenay-born, Montreal-based musician. “I wasn’t planning on a concept album, but only trying to put the songs first and build the album around them. I must say, I’m rather pleased with the result. It’s crooked in places, but that was on purpose. There are four or five years of writing in there. Some songs are not what you’d call great songs, let’s face it! But it’s OK with me. Some tunes may not be all that accomplished, but I was eager to perform them onstage, and they all contain a message. This recording paints a true picture of where I was at that particular stage in my career. I need references like that to be able to move on and try something different.”

With the help of producer Pierre-Philippe Côté (a.k.a. Pilou), who has been with him since his first recording, Brach deals with sensitive topics (such as a harsh criticism of today’s Church on “Race-pape”) on his first full-length album, and does so with just the right amount of zeal, and without insistence or complacency.

“My songs are inspired by what I see around me – love, death, drugs, religion, travelling,” he says. “But I sometimes also talk about things I know nothing about, and that’s really interesting. All human beings have their own hurts, and I like to adapt mine to song. It’s an excellent creative engine while being an exercise in trying to understand what makes human beings tick. I’ll be the first to admit that I feel more at home exploring dark, grimy, negative corners of the human soul.”

Influenced by the music of Harmonium, Fred Fortin, The Doors and Frank Zappa, Brach is also a lover of hip-hop. “I love the Wu-Tang Clan, and although there are no traces of hip-hop on my album, that attitude is there,” he says. “I’m not a textured sound guy – I’m a feelings guy. The main thing is to remain true to yourself. I’ve been called a ‘bloody sellout,’ but that doesn’t bother me. You know, I have strong opinions on a lot of things, but I always listen to other people, and I am open to the possibility of changing my mind at some point. I’m open,” he says with an amused smile.

While he’s scheduled to perform in a handful of venues before the end of 2014, Brach is basically looking forward to concentrating on writing songs for his second album. He’s planning to go into the studio in June 2015 for an October 2015 release.

“I have a feeling it’s going to be more acoustic, more sedate, maybe a bit less crazy,” he says. “I need to be in control and know exactly where I’m at. Many artists allow themselves to get distracted by things outside of music, but not in my case. I want to put my own house in order, finish the songs I haven’t yet completed, and then see what songs I still need and plan the overall creative feel of the album. Although Pilou is a close colleague, I also want to work with different people each time. It teaches me new ways of doings things, it’s creatively stimulating. What attracts me in this profession is the possibility to keep learning. Who would I like to work with? Éric Goulet, Philippe Brault, Philippe B or Louis-Jean Cormier. I admire their work.” Any takers?