Music streaming giant Spotify hasn’t always been well-regarded by musicians and songwriters, but fast-rising folk-rockers Wild Rivers credit the service with providing a crucial career boost via the 30-million-plus streams their music has received.

Reached during a recent tour stop in Los Angeles, singer and co-songwriter Devan Glover explains, “We have Spotify to thank for a lot of the word-of-mouth our music has been getting. We were pretty lucky that, in the early days of Spotify playlisting, some of the songs from our first album [2016’s Wild Rivers ] got picked up by those lists.

“We’ve primarily toured in the U.S.,” she continues, “and we started by looking at the back end of Spotify and seeing where the listeners were. Our strategy was to go where the people are, so we started by touring the major U.S. cities that were listening, and it’s grown from there.”

“It’s nice not to limit ourselves to a specific genre, because it takes the pressure off when you’re writing.” – Devan Glover of Wild Rivers

Wild Rivers are currently on the road supporting their recently-released EP Eighty-Eight, mixing Stateside gigs in with nine Canadian shows in November. The EP’s five songs showcase a band with a refreshingly eclectic, roots-based sound (one self-descriptor is “folk ‘n’ roll and country soul”). Describing their musical influences, Glover says, “We all converge on folk and Americana, from classic folk-rock singer-songwriters like Paul Simon and James Taylor, to modern artists like The Lumineers and Of Monsters and Men.

“We mostly listen to Canadian artists, like Donovan Woods, Andy Shauf, and Neil Young. We toured with Donovan earlier this year, a very cool experience.

“Individually, we’re all into very different styles of music, and I think you can hear on the EP how our different influences play into it. When we were writing and recording, we brought in elements we’d never brought in before, with different production notes, too. It’s nice not to limit ourselves to a specific genre, because it takes the pressure off when you’re writing. You have the freedom to be creative without thinking, ‘How is this going to fit into an album?’”

A producer for every flavour
Adding to the musical variety on Eighty-Eight was the use of three different producers – Skylar Wilson, Dan Horth, and Jack Emblem – with sessions taking place in Nashville, California, and Hamilton. “We wanted to try out some different producers based on how the songs sounded,” says Glover. “Because they fell on the cusp of different genres, we thought it’d be cool to find producers who specialize in those areas to complement those styles specifically. For instance, Skylar works out of Nashville, so he was able to give that sound for songs with a live country and rock feel.”

Working alongside Glover in the Toronto-based Wild Rivers are singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Khalid Yassein, bassist Andrew Oliver, and drummer Ben Labenski. The group evolved from what was originally a duo project, Devan and Khalid.

“Khalid and I met we met at Queens University in Kingston,” Glover recalls. “We started playing together in our second year there, as a fun hobby thing, going to open mics and coffee houses, and we had a residency at a bar. We played mostly covers, plus one or two originals, never thinking it’d become a full-time pursuit.

“When we graduated, we both said, ‘Let’s just record an album and see where it goes from there. That’s when the rest of the band came together. Having the drums, bass, and the electric guitar elements just seemed to elevate the songs so much, and that was very exciting.”

Initially, Yassein was the primary songwriter, but that process is now much more democratic, says Glover. “For the first album, Khalid wrote most of the songs and brought them to me. We would take them to the finish line together, arrangements-wise, then bring them to the rest of the band and build them out that way.

“On this new EP, it’s been nice for all four of us to collaborate more. Khalid likes to start on guitar, playing around with chord structures and guitar chords and riffs. He’ll then work on the melody, then fill that in with the lyrics.

“I’m different,” she continues, “in the sense that I’m mostly a vocalist, so I tend to gravitate toward the lyrics first. I’ll write notes on my phone, or poems, and I may bring that to Khalid, who’ll have some input in editing those lyrics and finding chords to match. It happens differently with each song.”

A core feature of the Wild Rivers sound is the imaginative and empathetic vocal harmonies of Glover and Yassein. “That came naturally from the start,” says Glover. “The first time we met, I went to Khalid’s house and he said, ‘What do you want to sing?’  We chose a Coldplay song, ‘Strawberry Swing,’ and  the moment he first came in on harmony just felt very special, natural and very comfortable.”

Richard Reed ParryRichard Reed Parry is lying on the floor a few inches from me, and we spy a discreet smile on his face. While his music is slowly filling the air of the Plateau Mont-Royal location where we’re gathered, we notice how his current, nearly meditative state is in contrast with the raw energy he usually displays onstage when playing with his band, Arcade Fire. That said, it’s true that we’re not here to talk about one of the world’s most famous rock bands; no, we’re here to talk about his recent solo album, at the invitation of Julien Boumard Coallier, the host of Montréal’s Die Pod Die evenings. The musician has agreed to listen to his own album – on vinyl, naturally – with a small group of fans before answering our questions.

Right from the start, we tell Parry how appropriate this collective, almost religious, listening session seems. Even if the intimate and hypnotic music on Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1 is tailor-made for headphone listening, it’s also, paradoxically, too expansive for a single pair of ears.

“It’s true that it’s an introspective album that aspires to stretch out in wide spaces,” says Parry. “Not only was it inspired by nature, it touches on the theme of transcendence, of going beyond oneself. When I was writing those songs, the one image that kept coming back to me was that of a funeral at sea. I love the idea of scattering someone’s ashes over water, then that water evaporates to become clouds, and comes back to earth to feed a tree, and when that tree dies, it goes back to the water. I’m fascinated by this immense circle of life, the eternal return to nature.”

In fact, it was in the midst of nature that this project was born about a decade ago. After an Arcade Fire tour, Parry wanted to flee from the daily chaos of the rock-musician life, and exiled himself to a Japanese monastery. Far from the world, his days were punctuated by Buddhist chants, and the infinite silence of a snow-covered setting, where he found a ghostly inspiration. One day, deep in the forest on one of his long walks, he thought he heard a melody from his dad’s repertoire – his father being a folk musician who played with Friends of Fiddler’s Green.

“The music was there, even though no one was there to play it,” he says. “It was as if nature’s silence had awakened something and brought me back to myself: the music was there, everywhere… The image of the river in the album title also symbolizes this musical continuum that’s at the heart of the folk music I grew up with: the transmission of ancestral songs from one generation to the next. That’s something the I feel very strongly about.”

Although some songs are clearly situated within the folk tradition – notably the epic “I Was In The World (Was the World in Me?)” – others fall more into the realms of ambient music, and even psychedelia. The natural sounds of insects, birds, wind, and rivers are scattered throughout this spiritual musical journey. In other words, it’s as if Parry has connected the two poles of his artistic personality: the traditional side of his familial legacy, and the experimental side he explored during his electro-acoustic music studies at McGill University in Montréal. Everything is tied together by a highly complex conceptual approach, where Japanese spirituality occupies a central role.

“Granted it’s a concept album, but it’s not The Wall, either,” he says. “There’s a beginning and an end, and Volume 2 [to be released in Spring 2019] is going to explore the other side of the river, but I’m not trying to tell some kind of linear story. To me, it’s like painting with words, evoking rather than saying. And I believe that if you let yourself go, the sound itself will tell a story.”

That’s most likely the only key one needs to understand this bewitching album. Lay back, close your eyes, and allow yourself be carried away by the sound: the journey is much more fascinating than the destination.

It’s already been five years, and everyone’s still wondering where the name Lisbon Lux came from. Finally, the label’s co-founder and director, Julien Manaud, tells us: “It’s the name of a character in Sofia Coppola’s movie The Virgin Suicides. I’m a big fan of her work, and a big fan of Air, the French duo who scored the movie. When I started this label, five years ago with Le Couleur’s Steeven [Chouinard], we were looking for a name that would be a reference to Air, and if we’d named the label Moon Safari, we would’ve quickly be pigeonholed… Lisbon Lux is more subtle!”

As a record producer, artist manager, and publisher, Manaud wasted no time in shaping Lisbon Lux’s profile: Francophone, groovy, electronic, something perfectly embodied by the first band the label signed, Le Couleur.

“Le Couleur asked me to produce their EP after stumbling across my MySpace page, a very personal affair with a few songs on it that were, as a matter of fact, very much in line with Air’s style,” Manaud recalls. Born in France, he arrived in Québec in 2006 and, for five years, was the band Chinatown’s guitarist, alongside, notably, lead singer and guitarist Félix Dyotte.

The guys in Chinatown “were more or less put on the map as artists thanks to the band, and I’d already met a lot of industry people,” Manaud explains. “After that, I dabbled in music for advertising, and that’s how I began learning the ropes of this business; prior to that, I was never really in contact with the industry side of music,” even though he did take an active role in the contracts Chinatown had signed with its label, Tacca Musique.

“I like the idea of building long-term relationships with people.” — Julien Manaud, Lisbon Lux Records

Back then, Le Couleur didn’t have any kind of structure, and no label, only a desire to record an EP produced by Manaud. “It quickly became clear that they had no idea what to do next,” he says. “I offered to help by pitching the EP for them.” And so, by moving behind the scenes, and meeting other industry players, he got hooked.

Manaud’s quick impressions on…

Le Couleur“Their musical references are different, and outside of the usual Francophone register. They like Metronomy, LCD Soundsystem, and Stereolab, yet Laurence Giroux-Do [the band’s singer] only speaks French, and told me she wouldn’t feel right singing in English. » Luckily, the language thing doesn’t slow the band down, as Manaud confirms: “Canada only comes in third position on Spotify when it comes to where they’re the most streamed. The biggest two are the U.K. and Mexico, then Canada and France. As for Paupières, a lot of their plays are in Québec and France, but we’re trying to make it in the States; they played in New York last week.”

Das Mortal“The label’s biggest project. As a matter of fact, Das Mortal [Cristóbal Cortes] just finished working on the soundtrack for an American horror movie that will come out soon. It’s a small production – he wasn’t paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, but hey, he was approached by an agency in Los Angeles, so it’s pretty cool that they’d heard about his work.”

Fonkynson“Oddly enough, Fonkynson [Valentin Huchon] isn’t very well known in Québec, but he’s the artist we have synched the most. His sound is hot right now, very fashionable. We did a lot of fashion ads online, and even one for a bank. His track “Aquarelle” has been synched at least 25 times.”

“One day, I told Steven, ‘Look, we haven’t signed the EP yet, but I have a feeling we could set up our label and release it ourselves.’ That was all there was to it, in the beginning: releasing that EP,” says Manuad. They found a distributor, built relationships with potential business partners and Lisbon Lux—the label now employs two people and a handful of interns—was up and running.

It happened really fast, in part out of necessity. “Back in 2013,” says Manaud, “synth-pop made in Québec was very rare. It’s part of the reason why the labels were hesitant to work with us. They would say stuff like, ‘Your project is cool, but we don’t know how to sell electronic music with French lyrics.’ But I had a vision. We hired press agents to further our projects – not just in Québec, but in London and Paris, too. That put the label on the map. With nothing but an EP and a few cheap videos, we managed to attract some attention.”

Attention found elsewhere in the world – mainly in Europe – but locally too, thanks to the label’s oblique approach. Albums are released digitally and on vinyl only. There’s an emphasis on danceable Francophone music and instrumental electronic music, at first with the on-boarding of Beat Market. “They came to us looking for management,” says Manaud. “Then Das Mortal came, I found that guy on Bandcamp,” followed by the Francophone electro-pop bands Paupière and Bronswick. “That’s when we started being pigeonholed by the people in the biz as Francophone pop with an electronic and experimental bent.”

Manaud’s work as a publisher plays an important role in the dissemination of Lisbon Lux’s roster. “We work with our artists on an à la carte basis,” he says. “Some are entirely represented by us –  management, publishing, album production – while others have their own management. I have to say, it’s very rare we’ll sign an album if you don’t publish it. We even have strictly publishing artists; they wish to remain self-produced but need some help.

“When I worked in advertising, I worked with a catalogue of library music, and that introduced me to the world of music supervision. I met quite a few music supervisors back then and maintained that network of people who do music placement.”

Using the revenues generated by radio plays and streaming, synching Lisbon Lux’s catalogue has become structural a priority, Manaud explains: “Revenues fluctuate from one year to the next, but this year it blew up, we have more and more synchs.” Aside from hiring a new employee to develop the publishing market, the label director launched a monthly newsletter dedicated exclusively to music supervisors. “We introduce them to an artist, an upcoming album, sometimes two or three months ahead of time so that they can have some head start on that record,” he says.

“Where do I picture us five years from now?” Manaud muses. “I don’t have a precise goal, like having this much revenue and 10 employees… I play it by ear. I mostly want to take good care of the artists I work with now; you have to be careful to not sign too many, because you might end up neglecting some. I like the idea of building long-term relationships with people. I see ourselves as an organic, GMO-free farm. Plus, labels increasingly pitch internationally. Some prefer building a super-solid local market, but we’ve always been curious: ‘Let’s see what happens if I send that to my partner in the U.K., or in Chile, and see if gets some traction.’ We’re adventurers, in a way, because nothing guarantees a hit, but at least we explore.”