Il y a tout juste un an, un certain Philémon faisait irruption dans le paysage de la chanson d’ici. Sa participation à Vue sur la relève et aux Francouvertes, une expérience glanée au fil des ans, doublés d’un talent fou et d’un tour de chant intense, sensible et émouvant ont allumé une rumeur qui a propulsé le jeune auteur-compositeur-interprète jusque dans les palmarès de fin d’année. Quelques journalistes se sont entiché de sa mélancolie enjolivée d’arrangements cubains, de ses textes à fleur de peau et – osons l’écrire – de cette grâce, de cette pureté rarissimes et qui font sa fibre.

Fin mai 2010, Philémon Chante lance Les sessions cubaines en indépendant, allant jusqu’à en assurer lui-même la distribution dans les magasins… et ce jusque chez les journalistes, au volant d’une voiture de Communauto, ne se doutant aucunement qu’un an plus tard, le même album serait lancé par la plus grosse étiquette de disques québécoise, Audiogram. « J’ai été chanceux car le fait d’avoir lancé l’album en indépendant m’a donné une certaine crédibilité. C’est du travail et beaucoup de stress, pas mal de gambling aussi. T’as zéro dollar pour la promo, tu assumes tous les rôles et chaque fois que tu dis non, faut que tu l’assumes. Je me rends compte que depuis que j’ai signé avec Audiogram, c’est pas nécessairement plus facile, en fait c’est autant de travail, plus même, car les occasions se multiplient, mais je travaille plus large et j’ai l’impression d’avoir les bras plus longs. Ce que je fais a plus d’impact. Ce que j’aime avec cette équipe-là, c’est que même si on ne s’entend pas nécessairement sur tout, il y a toujours place à la discussion et en bout de ligne, c’est moi qui ai le dernier mot. »

On connaît la petite histoire derrière l’album : le cœur en miettes, Philémon Bergeron-Langlois part en voyage à Cuba. Il y retrouve le pianiste Papacho, un cousin qu’il avait perdu de vue depuis des lunes, et se lie avec quelques musiciens locaux, se retrouve par un alignement d’astres exceptionnel au mythique studio Egrem (Buena Vista Social Club) et enregistre en quelques jours son magnifique premier album. « Des moments comme ça, aussi parfaits, ça m’est arrivé quatre ou cinq fois dans ma vie. Tu sais, quand même les imperfections contribuent à ce que ça fonctionne? Tu te retrouves dans un état où t’es tellement bien que tu te mets à croire à tout. Le bon Dieu a la main sur ton épaule. Je n’aime pas les situations contrôlées. Quand tout est prévu à l’avance, je m’emmerde. Cette vie en éprouvette qu’on essaie parfois de recréer en Amérique du Nord me dégoûte; on passe à côté de quelque chose. »

La mélancolie de Philémon enveloppée d’arrangements cubains, toutes ces couleurs cuivrées ajoutées aux tonalités crépusculaires de sa musique : il y a là un ingénieux mariage des sensibilités, une union naturelle et convaincante. Une question s’est posée une fois Philémon rentré à Montréal : comment s’approcher d’un tel résultat sur scène? Une suite d’essais et erreurs, de rencontres et d’ajustements l’ont mené au groupe de musiciens actuel. Son cousin Papacho avait même fait le voyage depuis le Mexique jusqu’à Montréal pour le deuxième lancement sous l’égide d’Audiogram en avril dernier. Quant aux autres musiciens ayant contribué à l’album, « certains savent qu’il a été lancé, mais garder contact avec eux est difficile, car plusieurs n’ont ni Internet ni téléphone. En plus à Cuba, ils ont juste accès à un Intranet, ils n’ont même pas le droit d’aller sur Google! J’ai envoyé quelques courriels via Facebook à la fille qu’on entend chanter et à ma prof de danse, mais j’essaie de me planifier un petit voyage à Cuba pour leur remettre l’album en mains propres… » La boucle de cette fabuleuse épopée serait alors bouclée.


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Les traductions pour les articles avant l’automne 2013 ne sont pas disponibles pour le moment.

It’s been a long day at the office for Ian LeFeuvre. Deadline demands. Computer problems. Clients. But now he’s arrived home and his 22-month-old son, Evan, is at the door to greet him, welcoming Daddy as if he were a modern-day Fred Flintstone returning home from a day’s work at the quarry. Soon they’re off to the park for a little stroll before supper.

Not very rock ‘n’ roll.

But that’s okay with LeFeuvre, because he’s done the rock ‘n’ roll thing. Been there, done that, got the tour shirt. Best known on the Canadian music scene for his acclaimed power-pop band Starling, which the guitarist and singer started in 1997 in Ottawa, LeFeuvre’s done his time on the road, soaked up the spotlight onstage and toiled away in recording studios. These are different days.

Being a recording artist and performer can be a tough row to hoe at the best of times. With today’s plummeting record sales, tight radio playlists, and jam-packed internet bandwidth, making a go of it can sometimes seem as futile as planting seed in stone. Musicians who don’t throw in the towel to look for a “real” job have to try to dig up other revenue streams that suit their talents.

For LeFeuvre, who had always kept his fingers in several different pies – scoring short films, producing other artists, co-writing – the answer came when he landed a gig writing music for TV ads, television series, radio programs, and films. Now his working day is spent in a studio at a Toronto media production company, a quick jaunt from his downtown home.

“You just start thinking in terms of, ‘How am I gonna make a long-term go of applying the skills I have?’ It just seemed like a logical thing to have as part of the equation,” he says.

You’ve likely heard his voice and ultra-catchy songs in any number of TV commercials, including ads for Ritz Crackers (“Make Believe”), Toyota, Hyundai, Bud Light, Microsoft, Telus, Bell and others. If you have little ones running around your home, it’s quite possible you’ve heard the music he co-writes for the Teletoon series Johnny Test (with fellow SOCAN member Chris Tait), which also airs on the Cartoon Network in the United States as well as in various European countries.

Though his work day in the commercial music quarry is fast-paced and sometimes stressful, for the most part LeFeuvre finds it a joy to trot off to work with a lunch pail full of tasty melodies, meaty choruses and a variety pack of musical flavours. It allows him to keep his musical chops sharp and hone his songwriting and producing skills.

“I really love having to put on different hats in terms of styles,” he says. “For the series that I score, Johnny Test, I get to do all kinds of stuff. You’re literally all over the map. I really like that. It’s pretty fast-moving, but if you can keep up with it, it’s pretty fun.”

Toronto-based artist Kurt Swinghammer has also found a way to score some stability though his musical talents. Having played for years in the city’s clubs and done session work as a guitarist, other music opportunities started presenting themselves when he was asked to work on the music for a film. Swinghammer’s scoring and theme composing credits are now numerous and varied, including movies such as The Falls and Ginger Snaps II: Unleashed, documentaries like Acquainted with the Night and Waterlife, and TV series like Paradise Lost and Marketplace.

“I’ve always been interested in the craft of writing songs,” he says. “With film work, so much of it is about craftsmanship and solving problems; you’re basically a servant to the director and your role is to create something that’s often invisible or transparent, which is kind of the opposite of the singer-songwriter tradition. But there’s that element of solving the problem, which has always drawn me to creating art.”

In between working on scores, session work, and other projects, Swinghammer – like the other SOCAN members in this story  – tries to find time for making his own music (“My motto is, if the phone don’t ring, I do my own thing”), but scoring is his bread and butter.

“I feel pretty fortunate that I get to do something that I love to do and I find it completely rewarding and challenging work,” he says. “If I didn’t have that, and if I didn’t have my SOCAN royalties, I probably wouldn’t be able to afford to just play music. It’s been the solution to figuring out how to make a mortgage and stuff.”

For others, the road to a fruitful career has meant giving up the road and the performing life, and doing the write thing.

Though he started out penning songs for bands he was in, acclaimed songwriter Gordie Sampson eventually decided to devote more of his energies to writing songs for other people to record. Since then, he’s written tunes for some of the biggest names in country music in the U.S.A., including Carrie Underwood, Faith Hill, LeAnn Rimes, Martina McBride and George Canyon, as well as leading Canadian artists such as Great Big Sea, Ashley MacIsaac and Carolyn Dawn Johnson.

“Somewhere in my mid-to-late 20s when I started to see [songwriting royalty] cheques coming in, that light bulb went off,” he says from his home in Nashville, “and I realized that this is why I’m here; that co-writing for other projects is the thing that feels the most comfortable to me.”

He’s written and released his own music on three solo albums (a fourth is on deck for June), but these days he dedicates the bulk of his energies to writing and recording demos. He spends nine months of the year in Nashville and the remainder of his time at home in Cape Breton, where his trophy shelf bends under the weight of a dozen East Coast Music Awards (including several SOCAN Songwriter of the Year honours); a 2002 SOCAN Country Music Award; two Juno Awards; a Grammy (for co-writing the 2007 Country Song of the Year “Jesus Take The Wheel,” sung by Underwood); and dozens of other prizes from various musical associations.

In a similar way, Simon Wilcox started out as a singer-songwriter before hanging out her shingle as a tunesmith for hire. Signed to EMI Music Publishing Canada from 2004 to 2010, she’s collaborated with, or written songs for, artists such as Jully BlackJoraneMatt Dusk, Three Days Grace and The Trews. Her songs have appeared in many TV series and films, including a composition, “Empty Sky,” commissioned for the 2009 film Brothers.

“It was like I had found my calling, in a way,” she says from her current home in Santa Monica, California. “I love working with people to realize their vision. It feels like a beautiful kind of service.”

While it was once considered anathema for “serious” artists and songwriters to write for commercial outlets, the times they are a-changin’. “It really depends on whether you want to hear your song in a television show or a movie,” says Wilcox, “or if you’re comfortable with your songs being used in commercials.”

Increasingly for songwriters and composers – whether it’s film and television work, ads or even video games – these outlets represent viable, even desirable, career options.

For Ian LeFeuvre, although he receives some revenue from songs he’s co-written over the years (including a few on the latest Barenaked Ladies album, All in Good Time), and songs of his own that have been used in films, it’s the television work that’s been a real eye-opener.

“It starts to add up,” he says. “Johnny Test has been undoubtedly the biggest plus for me. If you can find a show that’s got some legs, and it’s something you enjoy doing, it’s great.”

 


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Last January, Rita Chiarelli received the prestigious Blues With A Feeling award at The Maple Blues Awards. Derek Andrews, President of The Toronto Blues Society (which bestows the awards), says Chiarelli “is a pillar of the Canadian blues community, inspiring many women to follow her and pushing the creative envelope.”

Such  lifetime achievement awards are often bestowed in an artist’s twilight years, but in her acceptance speech Chiarelli pledged, “I ain’t done yet.” This tireless Toronto blues-rock veteran is busier than ever, and 2011 is shaping up to be the best year of her career. Her most recent album, 2010’s Sweet Paradise, is still showing plenty of life, while she’s now making a real impact on the big screen.

          Music From The Big House, a documentary film conceived by Chiarelli, received a selected release in theatres across Canada in March, with the U.S. and Europe following. By that time, it had already earned critical acclaim from appearances in major U.S. film festivals, and will doubtless enhance Chiarelli’s international profile.

          Music From The Big House is a powerful film based around Chiarelli’s experiences in the notorious Louisiana State Penitentiary, commonly referred to as Angola – the largest maximum security prison in the U.S.. The prison’s population has included such notable musicians as Leadbelly, Pete Williams and Aaron Neville, and this rich musical history caught Chiarelli’s attention.

“I’d never heard of Angola before, but I went on something of a blues pilgrimage down Highway 61 about 10 years ago,” she recalls. “In my research I came across Angola, and powerful recordings of some of the women once there… Later, I saw a sign on Highway 61 saying ‘Angola, turn right,’ and that’s how it started.” Chiarelli took a tour of the facility, and told the warden she might want to do a concert there. “I couldn’t get it out of my mind,” she says. “After a couple of years, I went back down and asked to meet some of the musical inmates.”

She terms the result “an epiphany. I heard them perform, and I knew then that I should really do a concert with them.” Music from the Big House shows Chiarelli making music with the inmates in styles ranging from blues to country to soul and gospel. It also demonstrates the ability of music to transform the lives of people who’ve made terrible, tragic choices. Making the film has also transformed Chiarelli. “It has been the most outstanding experience to date in my life,” she says.

Chiarelli decided the concert should be filmed for posterity. Her choice to direct was longtime friend Bruce McDonald. Known as Canada’s premier rock ‘n’ roll moviemaker via such films as Highway 61, Roadkill and This Movie Is Broken. McDonald immediately jumped on board, and the clout of his name helped snare Oscar-nominated documentary producer Erin Faith-Young, of Cache Film and Television, and funding from the Bold and Documentary channels

Chiarelli and McDonald first met and collaborated back in 1989, as they were both launching their careers. McDonald heard Chiarelli’s independent single “Have You Seen My Shoes?” on the radio and instantly knew it had to be in his film Roadkill. He got in touch, used the song in the movie and ended up directing a video for it, boosting Chiarelli’s career.

Prior to Roadkill, the Hamilton-born-and-raised Chiarelli had received some attention fronting R&B band Battleaxe and as a member of Ronnie Hawkins’ band. She’s always been known for the lusty, paint-stripping power of her voice and her high-energy performances, but has gone on to gain real respect as a songwriter. For instance, her album Sweet Paradise is comprised solely of Chiarelli originals.

“Songwriting has come rather late in my career, and I’ve really worked on it,” she explains. “Singing was natural. I loved being a vocalist, and I was happy for a long time doing other people’s material… Then I really started getting the itch to write.” Chiarelli digs deep in her soul-searching material. ” It’s almost like you have to be courageous enough to expose yourself,” she says. “I’ve found the more you open up in telling how it is for you, the better it’s accepted.”

After releasing acclaimed and often Juno-nominated albums with various record companies, Chiarelli now records for her own label, Mad Iris. Recent work has showcased her artistic adventurousness. She turned heads and won a new world-music audience with her 2006 album, Cuore; The Italian Sessions. A record comprising traditional Italian material sung in dialect, it won her the 2007 Canadian Folk Music Award for Best Solo World Music Act. Equally ambitious was 2008’s Uptown Goes Downtown Tonight… Rita Chiarelli with the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, featuring earlier material rearranged for the symphony.

Chiarelli is already considering her next studio album. “I have this itch to do something I haven’t done in a long time, a really wailing blues record,” she says.

Rita Chiarelli certainly ain’t done yet!

 


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