When the COVID-19 pandemic ground the world to a halt in March of 2020, singer-songwriter LØLØ, born Lauren Mandel, was undaunted. Locked down at home in Toronto, LØLØ kept herself busy by posting short dance videos to TikTok. It was there that she spotted a video of a young woman performing a version of the song “Hey There Delilah” by The Plain White Ts, inverting the narrative to tell the story from Delilah’s point-of-view. Intrigued,  LØLØ wrote her own version, quickly generating a strong following on the platform with her pared-down acoustic performance.

“It got more streams than my dancing videos,” she laughs. “I was, like, ‘Wait a minute – this makes sense!” Realizing the creative potential in writing covers from new perspectives, she began generating lots of original content on the social media platform. Her version of country duo Dan and Shay’s “Tequila” got radio play, while her cover of Taylor Swift’s “Betty” generated buzz on a Reddit page run by Swift’s fans. Before long, LØLØ had also attracted the attention of Mike Caren of the APG Publishing Group, who, in December of 2020, signed her as a writer.

“I’m now getting access to other amazing artists and other songwriters and producers I wouldn’t have had access to,” she says, still giddy from a recent trip to Los Angeles, where she had the chance to pitch for artists like BTS and Gwen Stefani. “I love writing for other people, coming into a room and hearing them say ‘I want to write about this…’ It’s like a therapy session, and I turn it into lyrics.”

But LØLØ wasn’t always so keen on becoming on songwriter. As a child, she idolized Shirley Temple, studied tap dancing, and dreamed of being on Broadway. In Grade 9, however, when she started taking guitar lessons to keep up with her younger sister, her teacher suggested she try singing, and encouraged her to write her first song. Though young LØLØ was accustomed to writing out her feelings in her diary, she was terrified at the notion of having people hear her innermost thoughts. It was only when her teacher threatened not to come back unless she did, that she buckled down and got to work.

 “I think my younger self would be freaking out”

“I sat down with my guitar and wrote a song – and it came super-naturally,” she recalls. “I was like ‘Oh, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’” From that day on, she wrote hundreds of songs, and still credits her teacher, Elliott Bernstein, for charting her career path.

With no connections to the music industry, however, LØLØ – who cites Avril Lavigne, Green Day, and Hilary Duff as early influences – began performing at open mics in Toronto, in a bid to meet people. After joining forces with a couple of music producers, she put out her first single in the Fall of 2018, quickly finding success as an IHeartRadio Future Star, which in turn resulted in widespread radio play.

“It was a blessing and a curse that I got on the radio [right away],” she says, admitting that she soon felt pressure to tone down her punky, guitar-driven sound for something more “straight down the middle” – but she wasn’t happy with the result. “It didn’t work not being myself,” she says.

Stepping back, LØLØ spent the next year working on her writing, staying true to her desire to craft “weird or quirky lyrics.” Since then, she’s released a number of new songs and videos that are truer to her roots, including 2021’s “Die without U” and “Lonely and Pathetic.” “I like trying to say things that nobody has ever said before,” she says.

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to lift, LØLØ has her eyes set firmly on the future, including touring with Simple Plan in the late summer, releasing a new EP, and then heading back to Los Angeles for another writing stint.

She admits she’s surprised to see how far she’s been able to come in a short time, but loves where the journey is taking her. “I always wanted to do this, but I didn’t know if I actually could,” she says. “And now I feel like I’m actually doing it. I think my younger self would be freaking out.”

J-F and Paige first saw each other during a trip in the Nevada desert, and after that, they felt like never going home. While travelling together throughout the American West, the Québécois and the Georgian, both musicians, decided to share their influences with each other. Once back in Montréal, they became MIELS, and even though they’re staying put, their electro-rock takes us on a trip. The music they made in the desert expressed what surrounded them: space, warmth, budding romance. And then, that story repeated itself in new landscapes: they found music everywhere they went.

When she decided to settle in Québec, Paige immediately wanted to translate all the notes she’d jotted down in her travelogue. “When I moved to Montréal, I was surprised to see so many Francophones in English bands, while I wanted to do exactly the opposite,” she says with a laugh. “It was important to me that I pursue my music career in French.”

“Being Francophone, I’d forgotten what it was like to have favourite words for no apparent reason, and now I love seeing how Paige has fun with the language she’s learning,” adds J-F. Travelling in Québec now takes on a special meaning, as the duo uses such opportunities to dive into the sounds of the places they visit, and the accents that are unique to them.

In the months that followed their acquaintance, Paige and J-F introduced each other to their musical universes, the former being keenly interested in Québec rock classics which she’d obviously never heard before. “She really dug Pagliaro, for example, while it brought me back to our own rock from another era, and made me want to bring back certain elements of that time in the music we’re creating today,” J-F explains. “Before Paige moved here, I would mail her vinyl records. Didn’t take long for me to turn her on to Jean Leloup,” he recalls.

Paige learned her new language through music which, she believes, “is much better than through a formal course.” Besides rock from a bygone era, the duo felt the urgency to impart the presence of mobility inherent to their project. “We met on the road, and after that, every time we were together, it was on a road trip,” says J-F. Their first album, Prends-moi comme la mort (May 2021), is – almost by definition – a very intimate creation. “It’s a musical chronology of our travels, an homage to everything we wrote in our notebooks while on the road in the States,” he explains.

A few shows at the Festival de musique émergente (FME) and during the Taverne Tour, among others, opened up new avenues for the couple, who let themselves be influenced by the fun they have on stage. “We began as somewhat of a blues-rock outfit,” says Paige, “but what we really enjoyed on stage was getting closer to electro, with drum machine backing tracks. It was the kind of electro-rock you heard in the early 2000s.”

In short, MIELS let itself be carried away by the endless possibilities of spontaneity. As a duo, basically anything became possible. “The more we wrote, the more we became comfortable with the idea of being just the two of us, but with guest musicians if and when we felt like it,” says J-F. “The White Stripes became a huge influence: something we feel just as comfortable in when it’s just the two of us – or more.”

“There are some challenges in adapting our material from the studio to the stage, but we can improvise,” says Paige. “You carry your gear in a suitcase and you can play anywhere,” J-F continues. “Sure, it does change our sound and our methods, because when we create, we’re always focused on whether it can be done by just the two of us. But we make sure it’s never limited to that. Who knows? Maybe we’ll move to Europe next week.”

Their second album was crafted during the pandemic, and was guided by this more minimalistic mentality, while never sacrificing their desire to “make big noise.”

No matter what the case may be, the constant through it all is that the only place where MIELS finds its inspiration is on the road. “We went on trips without leaving the confines of our apartment during the pandemic,” says Paige, tongue-in-cheek. “Those were a different kind of trip. We also want to travel throughout Canada in our van.”

“We found it tough to write in our kitchen, so we spent two months on the road last year with a guitar plugged in the tape deck,” reminisces J-F. “We would camp out in the woods so that nature would dictate what’s next.”

The duo will carry on songwriting, with its eyes looking outward. “We’re constantly taking notes and looking around us,” says Paige. “I hear sounds I’d never heard before coming from the mouths of the people here, and I want to reproduce them and learn even more. I’ll never stop learning.”

If Yonatan “xSDTRK” Ayal is the face of the Chiiild project, singer-songwriter Pierre-Luc Rioux is its heart and soul. Following an EP launched in February 2020, the group is back with Hope for Sale, its first proper full-length album of engaging, easy-on-the-ears, synthetic soul. The Montrealers have been based in L.A. for awhile now, offering their songwriting and producing services to various pop stars, and are now ready to fly on their own.

Chiiild, Pierre-Luc Rioux

Pierre-Luc Rioux. (Photo: Rosalie Deschênes-Grégoire )

“Yoni and I came to L.A. in 2015,” says Rioux. “We quickly started getting booked for sessions left and right” – by which he means sessions for Katy Perry, David Guetta, Jessie J, Usher, Céline Dion, and Chloe X Halle, to name only a few. “In 2016 alone, we worked on about 300 sessions – we never stopped! Then, at some point, we thought, ‘Maybe it’s time we start working on our own projects?’”

Rioux and Ayal’s approach reminds us that being a songwriter is a profession, and that experience is a valuable currency to earn a place in the sun on the California music scene. Hope for Sale, Chiiild’s first album, is the perfect example of the skills honed by the two musicians over the past few years: formidable choruses backed by a welcoming sense of groove, and slick production. First-class pop.

Most of the time, as Ayal explains, they work together. “I’m not necessarily the one who always writes the lyrics,’ he says, “but for the Chiiild project, I’m mainly in charge of that, more than I am of the music or production,” which is the purview of Rioux.

“What’s cool about the relationship I’ve built with Yoni is that it is based on collaboration, not competition,” says Rioux. “We each have our strengths, onstage and in the studio. There’s stuff I do better, the same goes for Yoni, and as time goes by we each develop further into our respective roles. Yoni [as a singer] is the face of Chiiild, but there’s a lot of his personality that shines through, especially in the lyrics.”

When it comes to writing, Yoni finds inspiration in the real world around him: “I don’t write songs about fictitious subjects, I don’t like fiction in songs,” he says. “If it didn’t happen, I won’t write about it. It’s all real,” and sometimes even predictive, Rioux adds: “We’re used to working with people with their fingers on the pulse, people who know what time it is, intuitively,” he says, citing the song “Hold On Till We Get There,” a pop-soul number propelled by a mellifluous rhythm reminiscent of a Gorillaz groove. “‘Hold On Till We Get There’ was written in December of 2019, and when the pandemic hit, that song took on a completely different meaning. That feeling that everyone’s in lockdown, and we’ll get through this together. It wasn’t written to describe that situation, but it works perfectly!”

The song was produced by their mutual friend Mathieu Jomphe-Lépine, a.k.a. Billboard, another one of those pop geniuses who deploys his talents as a composer, accompanist, and producer in the service of others (Madonna, Dua Lipa, Ariana Grande, etc.). “He’s one of our great friends, but also someone we admire: he’s such a good producer!” says Rioux. “He felt like leaving Montréal to come and work with us in L.A. for a few days, of his own volition. It’s a nice story.”

“What’s really cool about the Chiiild project is that we were able to count on the talent of many great collaborators,” Rioux goes on. “Yoni and I are obviously at the heart of the creative process, but it’s a heart that beats in every direction. We’ve participated in many a song camp over the years, and each time, we try to involve new talent in our project.” Hope For Sale, as a matter of fact, features a few guest vocalists, notably Jensen McRae, on the remix of the irresistible “Gone,” and Mahalia’s delicate voice on the ballad “Awake.”

“Throughout the lockdown, I would throw Zoom pizza parties on Fridays,” says Rioux. “I discovered Mahalia on Instagram, where she posted a cover version of Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car,’ and I clicked. Thanks to a mutual friend, I was able to contact her, and I invited her to our pizza party. Later on, she was kind enough to accept [our offer to] sing on that track, and boy did she kill it!” says the musician, who switches from French to English seamlessly throughout our conversation.

His own voice is full of charm, and his singing is inspired by the delicate stylings of Astrud Gilberto on the classic Getz/Gilberto album from 1964. “You know, some singers sing to you, and others simply sing,” he says. “I didn’t want to be that type of singer who sings ‘to someone’ – I prefer a more internalized and heart-on-the-sleeve type of interpretation.”

Chiiild was getting ready to play Lollapalooza in Chicago when we spoke, just a few weeks after being invited to perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live! “We were super-lucky,” says Rioux excitedly. “They’d secured a time slot for us, but that was before the pandemic. People make promises, but they’re generally postponed… The people at Lollapalooza, however, called us back, so we’re really stoked!”

For that gig, the band will feature five musicians on stage: Ayal on vocals and keys, Rioux, discreetly on guitar, one violinist doubling as a backing vocalist, Nick Clark on bass (“He’s an authority here in L.A., he plays for everyone including Kanye West”), and drummer Maxime Bellavance (who was the tempo master of the house band for the TV competition La Voix, the Québec franchise of The Voice).

“For us,” Rioux continues, “releasing an album isn’t about the number of views on YouTube or of plays on Spotify. It’s about being proud of being able to say we took our destiny in our own hands. Our future used to greatly depend on the success of others – now, we’re flying on our own. I’ve been a touring musician for a long time, playing for others. Being able to go on tour with our own material and releasing songs that we created with our friends is a victory in and of itself. That, and being able to represent the talent pool from Montréal.”