Valerie Carpentier lived through the tsunami of La Voix in 2013, after she won the first edition of Québec’s version of the immensely popular TV show The Voice. Her first album came soon after (L’Été des orages, now certified gold), as well as a tour that saw her perform in more than 50 cities across the province. Now, after a well-deserved rest, she’s back with a renewed, warrior-like energy – and a new album Pour Rosie, on which she penned 11 of the 13 songs. We met with the carpe diem-imbued singer-songwriter.

“I’ve always loved writing, ever since I was a child,” she says right from the start. “Writing songs requires a connection with oneself… I let myself live, I loved and lost, and I discovered parts of myself I was unaware of.” Evidently, Carpentier doesn’t shy away from describing her creative process. She goes on: “It’s in the face of adversity that you learn about yourself and grow.” Her genuine quest for authenticity overshadows the often clichéd nature of such statements, and it’s backed by a candour that cuts short any blasé or morose reaction. “I’m an optimist, it’s super important to me!” she says guilelessly.

“I’m so at peace with the music I write that I think I won’t even read the critics.”

Valérie CarpentierCarpentier, who’s in tip-top shape, was inspired by the recent vagaries of a career that hit the ground running, a particularly tempestuous breakup, and her travels. “I’m so at peace with the music I write that I think I won’t even read the critics,” she says. “I used to be very insecure about my femininity, about my music, etc. I feel like I did a lot of things to seek validation from the audience, but I no longer feel that way… This allows me to truly go back to something more real and authentic.”

Her new full-length record has a clear thread, she says: “There’s a concept behind my album. Rosie is someone looking for love in all the wrong places. She a bit like an alter ego, someone extreme and lost at the same time. The further you get into the album, the more it’s me talking. In the end, I’m on my own, which is to say you need to find love within yourself.”

Musically speaking, she delves into silky-smooth arrangements, courtesy of Jean Massicotte (Pierre Lapointe, Lhasa, Patrick Watson): “He’s fabulous!” says Carpentier. “I can sometimes get weird and describe my songs as vignettes, like ‘It’s nice out, but the girl is sad and she’s looking at the boats by the pier,’ or ‘I’m in a train in 1960s France,’ and he totally got where I wanted to go with that.”

Once they both understood her “movies,” the pair struck the right balance about the substance. “I wanted ambiance, lots of textures, cute instruments, and Jean respected my intentions amazingly well,” says Carpentier. “I didn’t want the singing to be buried in the mix, I wanted the music to support and lighten the lyrics. It really is built around the lyrics, they definitely are songs.” Of course, Carpentier’s favourite instrument, her rugged and sensual voice, is once again the star of the show.

Content with such crystal-clear answers, we dare ask if the idea of writing a book might one day be tempting. “I’ll definitely write a book someday, no doubt about it, but I do believe I’m too young at the moment,” she says. “You need to have something to say and the stamina to see it through… I love the French language so much that I’d need to feel like I’m honouring it as best I can.”

She concludes with clarity and confidence: “I don’t think my mission is to make music, I think it’s more important than that.”

Case closed.

Guardian angels sometimes arrive in unusual forms.

For Calgary singer-and-songwriter JJ Shiplett, after 12 years of constant slogging on the club circuit, his cherub arrived unexpectedly in the guise of Johnny Reid, the multi-platinum-selling singer-songwriter who has the ability to pack arenas across Canada.

After hearing Shiplett sing harmony on some Joni Delaurier songs, Reid called him up.

“At first I was taken aback by JJ vocally,” Reid admits.  Within two days, Shiplett was in Nashville and the duo were working on Something to Believe in, the album he’ll release in January 2017. Shortly after recording, Reid invited Shiplett to tour arenas as his opening act; signed him to a management deal with his own Halo Entertainment; negotiated deals with Warner Music Canada and eOne Music Publishing; and secured Paquin Entertainment as his booking agency.

“I do believe that songwriting is supposed to connect people and hit them right in the gut.”

“I’ve still got a long way to go, but I feel like I’m making up some ground now, you know?” says Shiplett from his Calgary abode. “But I don’t think I’d change anything, because that’s what makes you the singer and the songwriter that you are. No regrets, but it’s nice to be moving forward.”

As much as Shiplett initially impressed Reid with his distinctive, raspy tenor, the Calgarian eventually won him over in the songwriting department, with such songs as “Darling, Let’s Go Out Tonight” and “Something to Believe in.”

“I’ve built a career out of songs that are about dedication, devotion, admiration: That’s who I am,” says Reid. “So I heard this song ‘Something to Believe in,’ and I thought, that’s kind of what people need. I was drawn to that song. He did an acoustic version and I could hear where I would go with that song, like with a choir.  The very first song I heard was ‘Darling, Let’s Go Out Tonight.’ And I instantly became a fan. He writes in a style I don’t: very abstract, in comparison to me.”

Career improvement aside, Shiplett’s approach to writing hasn’t changed. “Usually what I’ll do is, I’ll write and get a song to a point,” explains Shiplett, a multi-instrumentalist whose musical pursuits were encouraged by his parents. “I’ll get it to a point where there’s a rough structure and rough arrangement. But I don’t really hold songwriting too sacred. There are a few friends that I’ve been working with for years, and I’ll take it to them and say, ‘Here’s the skeleton, can you help me put some meat on this thing?’

“That works for me, because songwriting can be laborious. I’m not one who’s able to pop out 10 songs in a day. I’ll sing the same two lines over and over again for three months until something else comes to me.”

In terms of his ideal creative location, Shiplett says, “I’m pretty big on my environment. I don’t like to sit when I write, I like to stand. So if I’m at the living room in my house, I close all the blinds, grab my acoustic guitar, and just start singing. I allow my natural instincts, my gut, to lead the way. That’s how I stumble upon something, and I go, ‘Okay, so that’s an idea that I can consider further down the road.’”

Once it’s down on his iPhone or iPad, Shiplett will go through the snippets he’s compiled every six months or so, mixing and matching them if the song warrants it. “I’ll make a judgment call on it then,” he says. “I allow myself enough time to think, okay, that’s something that I want to come back to and work on, or I’m going to let it go.”

Shiplett prefers to write songs like “Something to Believe in,” – which he wrote five or six years ago – and make a connection.

“The most important thing to me is that I do believe that songwriting is supposed to connect people and hit them right in the gut,” he says. “I want to be known as a songwriter who hits people in the gut pretty hard, with honesty and the truth. It’s a big thing for me – I want people to feel it.”

Alex nevsky

Photo: John Londono

Featured in any and all Québec media outlets for months on end, Alex Nevsky can say one thing unpretentiously: the timing couldn’t be better to release Nos Eldorados, an album that goes well beyond the pop compromise for which he seemed destined.

Nevsky’s life changed completely after the release of Himalaya mon amour during the summer of 2013: an impressive harvest of awards et the 2014 ADISQ Gala, radio hit upon radio hit, several SOCAN No. 1 Song Awards, and an audience of two million viewers who watch him every week on La Voix Junior. “Let’s just say that it’s much more difficult to act like an idiot on the street,” says Nevsky. “I allow myself to anyways, because I can’t forget to live my life throughout all of this. I don’t want to go ‘all-in’ in this game.”

Without being entirely tainted by the songwriter’s meteoric rise, this third album does nonetheless touch upon many mirages in life. Where Leloup had his dome, an illusory crystal sphere that was a refuge for “time’s desperadoes,” Nevsky has his Eldorados, utopic havens that are both feared and desired.

“The Eldorado is my dream country, a fantastic place where two lovers live,” he says. “Those are songs that I write when I’m in love. The basic romantic emotion is very strong and I really get a kick out of it,” adds the 30-year-old singer-songwriter, who admits to having lived through three different relationships during his latest creative phase.

“But the Eldorado is also a utopia, a mirage,” he says. “Take ‘L’enfer c’est les autres’ (‘Hell is Other People’), for example. In it, I sing about my radio-hit inflated ego. I’m turning the mirror on myself and, looking at myself, I realize that I, too, can be mediocre and ugly. It’s very important to me to reveal that side of me, but I didn’t want to do a whole album about that. That would’ve been way too depressing!”

“I thought it was the worst time ever to not try different things. It would’ve been pathetic if I’d stayed in the comfort zone of the previous record.”

Not quite depressed, Nevsky did nonetheless live through very intense periods of self-doubt during the recording of his third album. Songs such as “Le cœur assez gros” (“A Heart so Stout”), “La beauté” (“Beauty”), and especially “Réveille l’enfant qui dort” (“Awake the Sleeping Child”), a duo with rapper Koriass, all took a long time to fully bloom.

“I was in the studio for seven months. . . It’s ridiculous!” says Nevsky. “Anyway, it’s always like that. I’m unable to finish a song in one go! ‘Réveille l’enfant,’ for example, I started writing in February on my phone. When we were in the studio, we twisted it, deconstructed it… Nothing worked. I started hating it and decided to get rid of it completely. And then we had this idea of inviting Koriass to participate. If we had canned the album in two weeks, I know I would’ve missed out of gorgeous musical moments like that one.”

Nevsky worked once again with producer Alex McMahon and mixer Gabriel Gratton, frequent collaborators who also helped with arrangements. With their assistance, the Granby-born artist now flirts with electro, and even forays into tropical indie pop on ‘La beauté,’ and dancehall on the title track. “We decided to go all in, to take the songs as far as we wanted to,” the songwriter confides. “I thought it was the worst time ever to not try different things. It would’ve been pathetic if I’d stayed in the comfort zone of the previous record.”

Nevertheless, with that amount of success, it would’ve been all too easy to stick to the radio-friendly formula of yore. Nevsky does admit, out of sheer honesty, that he did succumb to that temptation by launching an early single from the album, “Polaroïd,” last summer.

“I felt tremendous pressure to perform on the radio and wanted to get rid of it,” he recalls. “I knew ‘Polaroïd’ would be a hit, and that radio stations would follow. When it started climbing up the charts, it relieved a great amount of stress. It allowed me to veer off and try other stuff.”

In other words, just as on Himalaya mon amour, the singer-songwriter doesn’t consider pop as a means to an end, but as an efficient way to captivate an audience. “The trick is to hook them with a huge chorus and bring them in to live the rest of the song after that,” he says. “During my concerts, it’s not necessarily my biggest hits that I like playing the most; I prefer doing the densest and most poetically refined songs. Those are the significant songs to me.”