Are kitchen jobs still worth it?

Even before COVID-19 flashed it’s teeth, the value of working in kitchen jobs was diminishing, and it’s not getting better

Let me be clear: cooking is a beautiful thing, whether it is the little dance that comes with combining ingredients, or the aroma of spices doing what they do best. However, moving this into restaurants is something that doesn’t translate all too well. When the server puts down a dish in front of a consumer, it’s all too easy to forget that there was a team in the back that had to prepare the ingredients, for the team on shift to put it all together.

These kitchen teams are falling apart. As a whole, the restaurant industry has seen a massive decline in staffing since COVID-19 joined the party. Following shift reductions and pivots towards takeout and delivery service during lockdowns, many industry veterans departed, and many have not returned. While it would be easy to place the blame on government aid like CERB, the reasons are actually much simpler. Government benefits have mostly subsided and many positions are still empty.

In a recent conversation with a coworker, I was told that this phenomenon is not particularly related to the coronavirus. There are an abundance of reasons to avoid working in food service positions, even if you love cooking. For starters, it’s hot, the pay is low, stress often runs high, and kitchen staff generally don’t see much of what servers get to take home in tips. Throw a mask mandate into kitchens that are poorly ventilated and you’ve got some poor working conditions. Having worked the grill at a steakhouse this past summer, I can say with confidence that the mask becomes a wet rag with ease.

So, what’s the deal? In my own observations from peers in the industry and interactions with management teams, I can say that everybody just wants to keep their heads above water. Supply issues have reduced the number of menu items, and operating costs like rent, utilities and food prices have all gone up. This has created a predicament for restaurateurs who are trying to put together teams of competent employees while also trying to make some profit, if any.

For a while now, average restaurants have hired people they know they can get away with paying less: teenagers! For the business, this makes sense from an economic standpoint. You can get away with paying them minimum wage with the lure of potential tips and occasional free food.

The caveat is that you get what you pay for. Throw a bunch of 17-20 year olds with little-to-no experience into a busy kitchen, and see how fast things can fall apart. When orders start flowing in without pause and servers are calling out how much longer, they can start making mistakes and food starts getting sent back to the kitchen. The culinary assembly line can slow down, and can very easily fall apart if not for one or two leaders keeping them afloat.

This mass shortage of people willing to work in kitchens and at a high level makes this a good moment for industry veterans. In comparison to the skills of an everyman, seasoned kitchen people’s skills are highly sought after because even if they command a higher salary, restaurants can feel comfortable putting this money into capable hands. That being said, the key workers here have more leverage to ask for more from their employers compared to their teenage counterparts. After all, restaurants cannot be run without people in the back who prep the ingredients and those who put it all together during service hours.

Amidst the lack of people who want to work in a kitchen and the lack of people who know what they’re doing, people with veteran experience can demand more from their employers when negotiating terms of employment. More work-life balance and higher wages are usually at the top of the list, although work-life balance is harder to strike when restaurants everywhere are short staffed.

Though it would seem that wages would absolutely explode in response to the shortages, that hasn’t been the case. While some chain restaurants with corporate backing can afford to trickle down some extra compensation, many independent restaurants and chains alike have not moved their starting wages. As a whole, the notion that restaurant wages are rising mostly applies to kitchen lifers who have stayed in their original posts, or those who have been headhunted by other desperate kitchens. The average kitchen employee is not seeing any noticeable increase to their rate of pay.

What seems to have happened is that people who were laid off in the initial shutdowns have found jobs in other sectors, and rightfully so. This past spring while working at a new kitchen job, my personal qualm was: why should I work under these conditions for 15 dollars an hour, without breaks or free meals, when I could be making minimum wage by working anywhere else? Then, at least I’d be ending when I’m supposed to and get to leave my shift without being all sweaty and stressed. For example, at 40 hours a week, the difference in pay between a minimum wage job and a 15 dollars/hour job is largely negligible. When the toll of demanding restaurant work is weighed against a small difference in pay, minimum wage jobs end up being better in the end for those that can afford it.

Is there an answer to the problem at large? Is there a way for kitchen jobs to appreciate after trending downwards for so long? Having worked in a handful of restaurants since I was 17, and still working in one to this day, I can say with certainty that things are relatively bleak. I’ve worked in low, middle, and high-end places, but the bottom line is that all of these are trying to survive. I can cut them slack in that regard, but my coworkers and I are still people. We have goals, families and lives that transcend the kitchens in which we converge to make our living.

Making things better for both people and these businesses is a tricky balance to strike because it centres around money. Regardless of wages soaring or sinking, kitchen culture is never going to die. A bunch of slicked and sweaty people sharing cigarettes after dinner service is something that has stood the test of time.

If coworkers truly make the job, then those bonds will continue to mould regardless of what these kitchen teams are composed of. That kind of camaraderie amongst people who are in the service industry is not going to diminish over the lack or surplus of a few dollars an hour.

People are still leaving though, and kitchen teams are getting thinner and thinner — with the idea that things will return to normal being the only element holding them together.


Graphic by James Fay


Mac Miller’s Faces comes to streaming

The remastered project has its quirks and differences, but it’s still Mac

Over seven years after its release on Mother’s Day 2014, Mac Miller’s Faces has come to streaming services. The initial tape saw a free release via DatPiff, but this remaster via the family estate has brought about a version that is different, not better. Along with the remaster is a short film, a handful of animated music videos, and an officially pressed vinyl.

To put Faces in a box is the wrong way to write this article. The main differences sonically between this Faces and the original are slight. In terms of mixing, 2014’s Faces had a bit of a static-like quality to many of the tracks and sometimes had Miller’s voice low in the mix of his songs. This version sees most of the tracks adjusted to bring Miller’s vocals to the forefront, along with tweaked instrumentals. A good example of these changes can be observed on “New Faces v2.” On the latest release, the drum loop begins much earlier than it does in the initial release.

Part of what made Faces such a revered project amongst fans was the use of various samples in the original release. Having released it for free and not profit, Miller was able to use an abundance of samples throughout the project without needing to pay the originators to license their use. With the re-release, many fans were expecting most of the samples to be butchered or removed, which is only mildly the case.

Some of the samples that were kept were those on “Here We Go” and “Diablo.” The sample used in “Here We Go” was a paraphrased speech from a 2005 movie, Kingdom of Heaven. Another sample which was retained was the interpolation of Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood.” This sample is the heart of the beat in “Diablo”, so it was only right that it stayed.

Some samples that were cut from this remaster of Faces were those from the original versions of “Wedding,” “Funeral,” and “Grand Finale.” Whether it was a money or a licensing issue, this remaster saw the removal of multiple audio clips. Namely, a clip of a Charles Bukowski interview, a passage from a Hunter S. Thompson interview, and a clip from the 1980 film, Where the Buffalo Roam.

While these are not a big deal overall, they did play big roles in furthering the segue from one track to another throughout the project. Although they will be missed, having the mixtape on streaming is bigger than a few samples that didn’t make it (though hardcore fans will probably maintain their position that the underground version is superior). 

One major difference between the original Faces and this re-release is the addition of “Yeah,” a five-minute bonus track that was not available on the 2014 DatPiff release. The track originally leaked in December 2019 under the name “8:21 AM.” The song itself is a haunting slow burner that rifles through nihilism and existentialism over a simple beat. While Miller never had a fantastic vocal range, this song may just be one of his strongest vocal performances, if not the best.

Remastering Faces is not going to be detrimental to a legacy that was already solidified. It would be easy to write this off as a money grab, but that is not accurate to everything that the estate has done after Miller’s death. Money has been spent on remastering the project well, and on producing and creating music videos and the short film that had no necessity to be made.

Without a doubt, this tape being more widely available will make sure that it finds its way to new listeners. At its core, this re-release is for the fans, and even if it isn’t perfect, it’s an acknowledgement to those that still love his music.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


A few questions with Evan H. Clarke

This Concordia graduate’s music is full of life

Evan H. Clarke is making his return to releasing music all the way from Austria. The Concordia graduate is back with Nighthawk USA, Pt. II, the second installment of an initial vision for a double album.

Nighthawk USA, Pt. II marks Clarke’s third release in 18 months, following 2020’s Maverick, and Nighthawk USA, Pt. I, released earlier this year. Instead of releasing one album with 20-plus tracks, the original idea will see light via three separate releases.

“I was like, ‘What am I gonna do? A double album?’ No one listens to albums these days, let alone double albums, so I’m gonna release it as three EPs and figure out what’s the best way to sequence them so they worked in the album but also as three separate EPs,” said Clarke.

Creative space is not a problem for Clarke, who says he tends to write songs in batches. This batch, the second part of his double album, is one that borrows inspiration from different parts of the globe. Its roots as demos and ideas were in British Columbia, but these only wrapped up recently after settling into his new European groove.

If this new release can be summarized: it’s mellow, full of life, and an easy listen.

Whether it is the folk-pop feel of Maverick, or the folk riffs on these Nighthawk projects, what is being done is being done well, but it’s not a limit. According to Clarke, his next project is an electronic one — something fun just to get it out of his system.


The Concordian to Evan H. Clarke about his latest release, and what’s next.

TC: How do you differentiate this project from Nighthawk USA, Pt. I or Maverick? Is this an improvement?

EC: I feel like every time I make something, record, produce, release, I learn and I get better for the next one. So I feel like for this one, in terms of sequencing the songs, mixing, even honing in on my writing, I feel is potentially stronger than the other two just because I’ve learned from that, in terms of working on my proofreading and my editing and making sure that the lyrics are the best that they could possibly be.

Compared to the other two, lyrically, sonically, it is better. I think it is also more emotional. The first couple tracks on the first EP and Maverick, there’s some emotion, but a lot of it is just kinda rocking out and having fun. […] I think that with this one I’m very proud of it because I’ve allowed myself to be more vulnerable than before.

TC: Where did you finish the making of it?

EC: I wrote all of these songs around the same time when I was living in the Okanagan, so the sound of it, the content, the lyrics, the direction are all very much influenced by that landscape. […] I did some of it in Montreal, some of it in BC, some of it in Austria, so it’s been cool to see how the tracks evolve depending on where I am and what kind of instruments I have access to.

It was a lot of fun to do, but it is a lot of work. Particularly when you’re either finishing your degree or starting a new full-time job in a new country, you don’t always have a lot of time to work on it. So every now and then you have an hour or an hour and a half to work on the mix, but this whole project is just me having fun.

TC: How does your new life affect your creative output?

EC: Last time we spoke, I talked about wanting to do more electronic stuff. When I was in Osoyoos I was like, “Man I need a banjo,”  because it suited the landscape. Now that I’m here I’ve been producing, I don’t know if it’s going to be an EP or an album yet, but more like a sample-based electronic project. I feel it’s directly influenced by being in Vienna, I don’t know what it is, whether it’s being in the city, having more technology, I don’t know. That’s just how my creativity is manifesting in the city, more electronic.

I’ve still got the third part of Nighthawk USA to finish, I’ve got all the music done, I just have to record the vocals and stuff. I think I’m gonna try and do this electronic one first, to get it out of my system, then go back to the folky stuff.

TC: In our past conversations, we’ve talked about changing directions towards electronic. Where do you go from here?

EC: I just started making this beat one day, and it sounded awesome. Then the next thing you know, I’ve got three or four of them going and I’m thinking, “Maybe I’ll focus on this for a little while.”

When you’re recording acoustic folk music, you have to worry about your neighbours being loud and, I live near a street which is like super loud, so that stuff can be kind of frustrating as well. So I figure for a little while now, until I get some kind of booth set up in my apartment, I’m just going to focus on electronic. It’s funny how that kind of stuff is influenced by your surroundings.

Clarke’s musical career shows no sign of stopping regardless of what his life looks like.


Photograph courtesy of Evan H. Clarke


Looking down the rabbit hole of streaming services

Now more than any ever we have unlimited access to the art of music

Not too long ago, finding new music took a walk to the record store to ask the employees what they recommended. These audio aficionados were real human beings with ears for music and the knowledge to point out what constitutes art worth listening to. In that same spirit, new music had long presented itself to consumers in the shape of the live show, something we’re generally bereft of in a pandemic world. Opening acts allowed patrons to discover a performer often unknown to them, giving listeners the chance to come to their own conclusions.

With the introduction of countless streaming services, infinite artists and genres are accessible at any given time. These have opened the doors to vast historical catalogues of music from Cab Calloway to Brian Eno, or from swing to shoegaze. There is no doubt that this is a fortunate time to be a lover of music, but at the heart of all these streaming services is something to remember: they are businesses, and businesses love to collect data.

Take Spotify’s privacy policy for example, which outlines their use of user data which includes search queries, streaming history, user-created playlists, browsing history, account settings, and much more. Most of this is used “to provide the personalized Spotify Service,” and “to evaluate and develop new features, technologies, and improvements to the Spotify Service.”

In this sense, the algorithm is always ahead of its listeners, basing recommendations on their digital footprints. Although streaming services offer discovery playlists, they are still generated by the service itself. As a result of this, it becomes easy to fall into a loop of listening to similar artists from similar periods over and over again. You don’t need to know who Cocteau Twins or Car Seat Headrest are to have good music taste, but you can do better than the cheap recommendations produced by your own habits.

All of this begs the question: what’s the answer to big tech mirroring our tastes back to us? Not everyone has parents with a basement full of vinyl records and a turntable waiting to be discovered. In this regard, it would suit us to find and define music for ourselves. With sites like Rate Your Music or Chosic, the experience of discovering new music without any personal data required can be achieved in a time where live shows are sparse. With music so easily accessible these days, it becomes easier and easier to forget that music is an art form — and the act of discovering it should be an art form as well.


Graphic by Madeline Schmidt


How it feels to be a Cuban-Canadian right now

Greater governments have fallen, but this one has its heels dug deep

Perpetual struggle. This is the most accurate way to describe the life of an average person in Cuba. As the child of immigrants, it was a slap in the face to hear non-Cubans rave about their vacations in Cuba and how beautiful the country was. To this day, there are still crumbling buildings, starving families, and a continually declining economy — all of which has become exacerbated by the pandemic.

After 62 years under the same government, this past July, Cubans took to the streets in protest. They were chanting for “libertad” (freedom) and “patria y vida,” (homeland and life). To understand this is to go back to the days when Fidel Castro held power, a time when nationalist propaganda read as, “patria o muerte,” (homeland or death). The slogan was spray-painted all over Cuba, and emblazoned on our coins. However, pride has since fallen away, and “patria y vida” is now being used as a play on archaic propaganda. While it hasn’t found its way onto the coins yet, the phrase is now a token of rebellion and an anthem for the right to liberty.

In response to this, Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel called a division into Cuban society by declaring that the streets of Cuba belonged to the revolutionaries (people who support the current government). Through this, he has created a more visible polarization between Cubans, something I have observed in my own life. Arguments of right and wrong have taken shape between family and friends — and at the end of the day there is one truth: the struggle continues for those on the island.

For most Cubans and expatriates, it is clear that the time has come for the communist regime to come to an end. People are tired of having to scrape by for basic necessities through illicit dealings in the black market, or as we like to say, “por la izquierda.” Moreover, they are tired of not being able to say anything critical about it. This is what the protests have been about at their core: the right to speak up about what citizens are unhappy with, the right to affiliate with a party that represents their values, and most importantly, the right to life.

The fight for change is like sledding uphill. Leaders of organizations in favour of democracy and overthrowing the current government have been detained, leading to some trials, but often ending in sentences. Cuban police have been walking through neighbourhoods in plainclothes, actively stalking, assaulting, and detaining anyone they hold in suspicion of conspiring to organize opposition. As a result, there are countless Cubans in jail for expressing their right to protest as outlined in the Cuban constitution.

Growing up in Canada, most of what I was told about Cuba came in the shape of horror stories — empty stomachs, silenced opinions, and tales of friends and family who fled to Miami on rafts. All of this manifested itself in my parents sitting me down prior to a visit to Cuba and telling me that I was not to repeat any of the anti-Fidel talk that I was hearing in our house. I didn’t get it then, but as the years went on I grew to understand the sentiment. Cubans live under an unspoken gag order — if they speak out against the communist establishment, they will be dragged to prison for treason.

In recent news, the Cuban government has imposed new censorship laws to prohibit stories of what is occurring on the island finding their way into western media. This policy aims to prevent expression of dissent through social media, marking these acts as cyberterrorism. It is because of this gag order and the censorship laws that expats have spurred such passionate outcries for the liberation of Cubans. Countless people in the Cuban-Canadian community have taken to platforms like Facebook and Instagram to voice their support for the fall of the current government in favour of one that repeals decades and decades of suffering and starvation.

When I decided to enter the field of journalism, the core of the decision was based on giving a voice to those who have theirs stifled, like Cubans. The article you’re reading is no more than a general picture of something that is ugly at its heart. There are many people who I could have reached out to, but I did not want to put them on the record speaking out about Cuba because they may not be able to return to Cuba, or worse. By no means is this how every Cuban feels. Those who have benefitted under the 62-year regime may feel outraged that a change is no longer a matter of “if,” but “when.”

The fact is that even the Roman empire collapsed. The present organization of Cuban society is one day going to fall, and the freedom of expression, of press, and the people as a whole will one day run through Cuba.


Graphic by James Fay

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Kanye West – Donda

Donda is finally here.

After over a year of delays, teasing and announcements, Kanye West’s tenth studio album has been released at last. Donda, named after West’s late mother, was originally slated for a July 2020 release, but turned into frequent delays that saw it pushed further and further with no official tracks ever coming out. This led to a series of listening parties hosted by West throughout the summer, leading fans and listeners into what has been one of, if not the most anticipated album of the year.

Donda marks West’s first album since 2019’s JESUS IS KING, and continues to create sounds that bring together genres like gospel, rap, and ambient. However, the album falls short on listeners with its overbearing length. Coming in at a whopping 108 minutes of playtime, Donda is a difficult listen for one sitting, and is now the longest project in West’s discography.

Thematically, Donda is not much different from the artist’s last two bodies of work, ye and JESUS IS KING. West’s raps focus on his Christian faith and his family with the help of choirs, synths, and organs, leaving this album almost as a continuation of these older projects. Tracks like “Come to Life” and “Pure Souls” could just have easily come from JESUS IS KING.

Like any Kanye West album, Donda is ripe with features from a plethora of artists such as The Weeknd, Playboi Carti and Travis Scott, just to name a few. Throughout the 27-track project there are a great deal of highlights surrounded by moments that are questionable. While some features are incredibly compatible with their beats such as Jay-Z on “Jail,” there are also features whose verses simply lack a connection with the track, like the late Pop Smoke’s verse on “Tell The Vision.”

There are a great deal of homages to Donda West, such as West rapping “And if I talk to Christ, can I bring my mother back to life?” It’s moments like these that offer a glimpse into the love that West has for his mother and touch back to the idea of a tribute album. On the other hand there are insipid verses such as Baby Keem’s on “Praise God,” that seem to be nothing more than random words over a beat. While the diverse range of collaborators can draw in listeners of other fanbases, some end up souring the notion that this album is supposed to honour someone’s life.

Powerful tracks like “Hurricane” or the beautiful “Jesus Lord” are moments where this album excels, but they get lost in a sea of too many tracks on one record. As a result of this long and seemingly unending listen, Donda sounds like the work of a perfectionist who didn’t know where to stop — which is a shame for the casual listener that will not listen to almost 30 tracks straight.

At its core, Donda would have made for an incredible 12 to 15 track project if fewer songs made the final cut. With the amount of talent poured into the writing and production credits there is something to be said about West’s perfectionism, but at the same time the album is too long for its own good. As a work with multiple tracks that serve as multi-minute interludes and songs that have part ones and two, this album feels like it has too much going on to be a cohesive body of work.

Trial track: Come to Life



Graphic by James Fay


Frank Ocean’s Blonde turns five

The acclaimed album is more than a collection of songs.

The end of August marks the fifth anniversary of Frank Ocean’s 2016 masterpiece, Blonde. The album came a day after the release of Ocean’s Endless, a visual album released under Def Jam Recordings. This was a punch in the gut to Def Jam, seeing as Endless satisfied the conditions of Ocean’s contract with them. The promotion used for it ended up generating attention for Blonde, which was released under Ocean’s own label, Boys Don’t Cry, exclusively licensed to Apple Music for a deal rumoured to be worth 20 million dollars.

Independence plays a large part in both the conception and musicality of Blonde. Throughout the album Ocean has multiple solo writing credits, and most others are just him and a few others –– a feat that is becoming uncommon in an increasingly collaborative music industry (Kanye West’s “Pure Souls” from Donda alone has 11 writers credited, as a recent example). Moreover, there is not a single song on the album that does not list Ocean himself as one of the producers.

On the surface, Blonde is the most airy sounding project in Ocean’s discography, where the majority of the album is upheld by gentle chords, beatless melodies and drum loops. Yet instrumentals are not the focal point of this album: the storytelling is. Still, Ocean’s minimalist approach to the production stretches the definition of R&B pretty thin, creating the ethos of this album with an emphasis on lyrics and story. In this sense, he threads a needle, touching on places and feelings but never giving enough away to the listener for any major dots to be connected.

In a 2016 New York Times interview, Ocean describes his commitment to his storytelling on the album, saying, “How we experience memory sometimes, it’s not linear. We’re not telling the stories to ourselves, we know the story, we’re just seeing it in flashes overlaid.”

Following a strong opening collection of songs with “Nikes,” “Ivy,” and “Pink + White,” Blonde reaches its midway point with “Nights.” The first half is bolstered by an upbeat rap and spoken word track that sees Ocean describing a previous relationship. After the guitar-laden beat switch moves into a calmer, more subdued rhythm, Ocean raps about his history having moved from New Orleans to Los Angeles after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In a BBC interview he admitted that he hated it at first.

Part of what makes Blonde such a complete and cohesive work is its use of skits, interludes, and a reprise to tie everything together. The use of interludes starts as a voicemail on the fourth track, “Be Yourself,” and continues onto the following tracks, “Good Guy,” “Facebook Story,” “Pretty Sweet,” before ending with “Close to You” as the last interlude leading into the album’s final four tracks. What these tracks do is almost equivalent to a palate cleanser before the album progresses into the following songs. Towards the end of the record, the narratives of “Facebook Story” and “Close to You” set up the broken-hearted ambience that is laid down by Ocean’s love story gone amiss on “White Ferrari.”

To put Blonde into words is not an easy thing to do. There’s a lot going on at the same time but it works. It is the sound of a vision fully realized, and there is something ineffable about the way this album felt back in 2016. Around its release was a very special period of anticipation and excitement that brought people together in a way not many artists have been able to match since then.

To this day, Blonde has aged beautifully. It has received widespread acclaim, and has since become the zeitgeist of a special period in music: the 2010s. Considering the story behind the album and how it has continued to inspire musicians since, it’s fair to say that Blonde is a record that will transcend time and continue to be revered as one of the best albums of our generation.


Olivia Khoury is making the most of Montreal

Singer-songwriter Olivia Khoury’s journey in the music industry has proven that her potential is limitless

Meet Olivia Khoury, the 24-year-old product of Montreal’s diverse music scene and F.A.C.E. Elementary & High School — a Montreal school with a prestigious arts program. She is now a third-year Concordia student in the Jazz Studies program, with a specialization in voice, and is expecting to graduate this spring. The interdisciplinary artist plays guitar, ukulele, sings, and once dabbled in oboe back in high school.

“I associate myself as a Montrealer but I’m still grappling with finding myself as Canadian, because I don’t have any roots in Quebec,” said Khoury. As a first generation Canadian, Khoury navigates her cultural identity by remaining uncommitted to any sole sound. With one parent from the Caribbean and another from Lebanon, Montreal is still home for her, as it is a world of its own. “I feel more linked to the city because it’s multicultural,” she said.

As a creative, Khoury’s biggest year of successes came in 2019, when the singer performed at  les FrancoFolies event “En route pour la gloire.” As a finalist, she sang at Place des Arts in downtown Montreal and performed her French composition, “Lumières.”

Following the festival, she attended the Summer Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation workshop in Gaspésie in August 2019. As the summer came to a close, that September saw her cut a few classes to perform at the Toronto Undergraduate Jazz Festival, something she described as “an excuse to do a mini tour.”

Upon returning home, Khoury admittedly became depressed after coming off a great time in Ontario. At one point she considered dropping out of school, citing trouble doing day-to-day life. However, it was a nomination by one of her professors for the Oscar Peterson Jazz Scholarship that reinvigorated her to keep pushing through that year. At Concordia, the faculty chooses students to compete within the school for a bursary and a performing spot at the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. Khoury later won the faculty competition and took home the bursary.

With the victory fresh in mind, she embarked on a one semester exchange at Kingston University in London, England. Right around then, COVID-19 hit and she was forced to return home early due to lockdown. Though locked in, she found solace in having creative pressure removed from her shoulders.

“I was relieved to not have to produce anything creatively,” she explained. 

The performance at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal has yet to happen because of COVID-19.

In 2020, Khoury was able to release three music videos, including two clips from the same live session at the Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill, near Concordia. As the new year begins, she is looking forward to her latest music project, latin folk band Dos Pesos. While plans for the project initially fell apart due to COVID-19 shutdowns, she still sees a light at the end of the tunnel and hopes to debut performing with the band sometime in the near future.

Alongside the paused band project, Khoury is collaborating on a new song with fellow Concordia student Emma June Huebner with the benefit of a Fine Arts Student Alliance (FASA) special project grant. The song is expected to be released in early 2021 featuring a live video version filmed by Khoury’s partner, Alex Beausejour.

“It’s very folky, less jazz,” said Khoury. In her approach to the track, she appreciates the liberty that comes with creating something that is not as demanding as a full length album, but brings collaboration in a time of separation. “Both of us are feeling isolation, artistically speaking.”

With things expected to get better in 2021, Khoury is not going to shortchange her desire to continue creating, saying that “Art feels like more of a necessity than a plan.” Now in her numbered days at Concordia, Khoury is working with plenty of collaborators, such as fellow student Adrien Poulin and Khoury’s cousin, Lia Jureidini who is doing the single’s artwork.

Aside from the collaborative project, Khoury is also in the midst of planning and putting together an EP on her own terms with the help of Montreal producer Jesse Mac Cormack. Even with her eponymous first EP from 2017, Olivia Khoury, she considers this new EP in the works to be a more formal debut for her music that will require some more planning and contemplation. While planning her next project, she has mused the potential directions to take, pondering, “It feels weird for me to stick to one genre or one thing, that’s why I haven’t released another EP so soon, I’ve really been reflecting on that, what genre it is. Is it going to be jazz?”

With a resume that speaks for itself, Khoury now sits upon a growing body of work and accolades, but she is not resting on her laurels as a creative. Regardless of what 2021 holds in store for the world, if there is a certainty to be had it is that Olivia Khoury is going to continue creating.

“It’s inconceivable for me to live a life without art,” she said. With a plethora of new projects in the works in music and other forms of art, she is ready to take things as they come.

While nothing is definitive yet, Khoury is still moving forward, saying, “If music is my plan in life, music doesn’t feel like a plan, it’s always been with me, just like dance, just like being creative in general.”


A conversation with Montreal’s genre-bending Ivytide

We spoke to Ivytide about their past, present and what’s to come

Ivytide is one of those bands you can’t put into a box. The Montreal-based group is made up of Concordia alumni Nathan Gagné, Kyle Ruggiero and McGill’s Jamie Snytte – none of whom ever had any formal music training or education.

Having learned everything via YouTube and lessons as children, Ivytide debuted in 2018 with their self-produced EP, Bloom. As far as debuts go, their sound was something bordering on experimental, which was telling of their promise as artists. With its languid psychedelic sound and crisp production play, Bloom has become a springboard for Ivytide’s sound.

In the years since, Ivytide has stayed steadfast in their release of singles, and even signed with Higher Reign Music Group, a distributed label of Sony Music.

Last year came the band’s sophomore project, Pardon Our Distance. Instead of succumbing to the sophomore slump that some musicians may encounter, the project leans more into the blending of genres. Compared to the woozy sound of Bloom, Pardon Our Distance sees an Ivytide that blends the genres of lo-fi, indie, R&B and bedroom pop, into something that has become a sound that is uniquely theirs.

Most recently, Ivytide made their debut to the new year with the single “talk about it.”

TC: Who are some people you admire in the Montreal music scene?

Nathan: Montreal is full of super talented artists, like Edwin Raphael, wordsbyjuni, Oscar Louis, Common Holly and Fleece. We’re lucky to work with some of them, and be inspired by their art, as well as learn from them about how to navigate the music industry.

TC: Now that you’re coming up on three years together, is it safe to say you have a vision for the future of Ivytide?

Jamie: We’re just trying to keep making the music we love, and we’ll see where that takes us.

TC: What was your favourite song to work on for the last EP?

Jamie: “Undone” was probably the most fun song to work on from the last EP because we got to make lots of cool weird noises. Nathan rubbed nails together in his palms next to a microphone to get a cool shaker sound, and it came together really quickly and naturally.

Nathan: “Blurr” was probably the least fun song to work on, because Jamie made the original beat in a tuning that was impossible to replicate. Adding other instruments to the arrangement quickly became implausible, and we had to be creative to get things going (tuning different bass strings to individually “off” pitches).

TC: As a band, what’s that feeling like when you’re finally signed?

Nathan: It was an exciting moment for us, and it gave us the motivation to work even harder.

TC: In a band of multiple members there can be a lot of creative clashing, is there potential for collaborations between Ivytide and other artists or bands?

Jamie: I think if everyone’s ideas lined up perfectly, then there’d be no creativity. So usually different opinions and ideas are conducive to creating the best work. Sometimes ideas can clash, but as long as we try things and explain our reasoning then usually we can come to an agreement pretty quickly. In terms of collaborations, we’re looking forward to working with a bunch of our Montreal homies.

TC: Can you describe the conception of a song from thought to finished product?

Nathan: Usually starts off with a demo that either I or Jamie work on and send out. And then we get together and the creative process really starts. This means there’s usually a guitar (or keyboard or sample) plus a vocal melody, or just a beat, and then we add more elements and adjust melodies, rhythms and percussion elements to make it fit. Sometimes the song will emerge relatively quickly, and sometimes it takes many days, weeks, and sometimes months of tweaking the tempo, key, and arrangement until it’s just right.

TC: Can you tell me anything about what’s next for you guys?

Jamie: We’re working on a string of new singles for 2021. We’re really excited about these songs, we really think they’re our best work yet. We think people who dig our music will dig these tunes, and hopefully we’ll hand out more shovels so more people can keep digging the songs.



Images courtesy of Ivytide


Underrated Albums of 2020, Vol. 5: Dijon – How Do You Feel About Getting Married?

Dijon’s last project slipped through the cracks of 2020

Dijon Duenas is a musical savant, to the tune of over 80 million streams on Spotify. His sophomore project, How Do You Feel About Getting Married? released in May 2020 saw the artist taking a chance on trying out a new sound — one that went relatively unnoticed.

Coming off the release of Sci Fi 1 in 2019, Dijon’s sound was a fusion of genres — a delicate blend of folk guitar with R&B that was led with a wide range of vocals. How Do You Feel About Getting Married? brought back that same gentleness that Dijon explored on Sci Fi 1, doing so in a way that’s oriented more on ambient music — a sound that you can close your eyes to.

Opening up with the short song “do you light up?”, the 6-track EP spans just 15 minutes. With Dijon’s gentle vocals and harmonies backed by simple finger picking and light keys playing, this opener feels reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s earlier work, blended with a touch of electronica from The 1975.

Still, Dijon’s merit is not based on other artists he may sound like. How Do You Feel About Getting Married? sees him testing a more experimental sound compared to his earlier work.

The project’s second track “alley-oop” is essentially the title track of the project, with his woozy vocals singing, “Hey slim, how do you feel about getting married? / We don’t have to wait forever, and you don’t have to know the answer right now.” Delivered with the combination of soft guitar and a simple drum beat, Dijon’s finesse in producing the track himself allows the vocals to be the focal point of the song.

Even though the capacity to self produce has become increasingly common with indie artists, credit has to be given where it’s due — Dijon self-produced four of the tracks on How Do You Feel About Getting Married? 

As the EP continues, there is a continuation of the project’s narrative, a speaker asking his subject about marriage. On the fourth track, “dance song,” Dijon sets the mood with a languid and airy song that is built on light guitar strumming — again placing the sung poetry to be at the focus.

With tracks “hunni” and “jesse,” Dijon lulls the project to its end on a mellow note. If “hunni” is day, then “jesse” is night. Whereas “hunni” is the most upbeat track on the project, “jesse” is equally as calm of a song, one that musically brings to mind Frank Ocean’s “Seigfried.” With “jesse,” the last track of the project, the concept of marriage throughout the EP comes full circle with lyrics like, “He could break all his promises. But when I see Jesse I smile.”

How Do You Feel About Getting Married? definitely strays from the sounds of tracks like “Skin” and “Drunk” that made Dijon become acclaimed, but you can’t hate a man for trying out something new — it shows that he’s not just in it for the catchy singles, he’s an artist willing to push his own boundaries.


Underrated Albums of 2020, Vol. 4: The Strokes – The New Abnormal

The Strokes’ most recent album pulled out all the stops after Julian Casablancas’ divorce.

Never would one imagine that an album by The Strokes could ever be considered underrated after nearly two decades of being heralded as greats – yet here we are.

Coming off of an album hiatus that spanned just over seven years, band frontman Julian Casablancas and The Strokes came back with one of the best albums of 2020. Backed by production and music industry legend Rick Rubin, The New Abnormal sees The Strokes returning to peak form that any casual listener can appreciate.

Objectively speaking, it would be hard for a fan of The Strokes to put anything else over their 2001 opus, Is This It, or their 2011 masterpiece, Angles. However, The New Abnormal makes a compelling case with its dive into bouncy guitar riffs and demanding bass lines. 

Something about the way guitar is used throughout The New Abnormal speaks to the genre-blending of the album. Whether it’s the back-and-forth duel on “The Adults Are Talking,” or the guitar synthesizer used for “Why Are Sundays So Depressing,” it’s safe to say that band guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. had fun with the album. The lines between indie rock and new-wave pop come to be blurred on this album, but the nod to their earlier work is there, with a more mature and well-produced sound.

Fresh off his divorce at the time, a lot of Casablancas’ lyrics read as though they speak directly on the subject. It doesn’t go without saying that The New Abnormal featured big name co-writers like Billy Idol, Richard Butler and Tony James on tracks like “Bad Decisions,” and “Eternal Summer.” In any case, some of the more head scratching lyrics make more sense in the context of a breakup. “Selfless,” the album’s second track, shows this with lyrics like, “Bite my tongue, I wait my turn / I waited for a century / Waste my breath, no lessons learned.” In the same breath, “Why Are Sundays So Depressing,” offers that same curiosity, “Don’t ask me questions / That you don’t want the answers to.”

Another facet of this album that is often overlooked is the wide range of vocal performances. In a music career spanning over twenty years, it would be assumed that listeners have heard everything that Casablancas has to offer. And still, he has more in his bag of tricks. The New Abnormal’s strongest vocal performance comes to the tune of “At The Door,” which is just over five minutes of Casablancas pushing himself to hold notes while articulating every syllable; a performance reminiscent of 2011’s “Metabolism.” Though The New Abnormal is only nine songs long, there is enough content over these tracks to make it one of The Strokes’ better albums.

Even though The New Abnormal earned a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album, it still feels like the album has yet to fully receive the praise it is due, especially after seven relatively quiet years from the band. Besides, a Grammy nomination isn’t worth much these days. 


OFFISLAND is turning his career on

Meet the 19-year-old producer turned singer with his upcoming debut project, zero.five

Sometimes you need to turn the focus on your own craft and see it through. Coming off his debut project, zero.five, 19-year-old Alex Mavroudis flipped the switch from producer to artist under the moniker OFFISLAND.

What started for Mavroudis at age 12 with Minecraft dubstep remixes on free softwares eventually grew into a curiosity for music making. When it came time for post-secondary, he attended Recording Arts Canada in Montreal to take up audio engineering and music production.

“I picked up mixing and producing because I wanted to make my own stuff,” said Mavroudis.

He asserts that his education in mixing gives him an edge as a recording artist, saying, “If you learn an instrument or a sound you don’t have to rely on a producer.”

With formal education finished, Mavroudis got to work in the Montreal scene, getting in the studio with artists like 3MFrench, nayil, and YNG Travs.

“I admire the people I’ve worked with a lot, these guys are all great and on their way up,” he said.

Having worked primarily in the Montreal trap scene, Mavroudis opted for a different direction on his debut project, zero.five, slated for independent release in February. With a trio of tracks varying from indie rock to psychedelic synth-pop, the variety is there, though it’s not something to hold against him.

“It’s not the first fully defining sound I am going to release,” he explained. “I would describe it as fluid and spacey.”

Through his three-song tracklist of “Burn Down The Bar,” “Cynical,” and “No Make Up,” Mavroudis wrote, recorded and mixed everything except the bass on “Cynical,” done with help of bassist Ilia Galanakis. There is room for comparison between the Mac DeMarco-esque “No Make Up.” He admitted he “Took heavy inspiration from ‘Chamber of Reflection.’ He’s a one man show but he’s insane at bringing a track to life — someone I look up to as a singer, artist, and producer.”

Even with a short tracklist of three songs, Mavroudis’ inspirations are still at the forefront of his creation. For “Burn Down The Bar,” he wrote the song based on a photo of his parents’ old car, the same photo used in the album artwork.

“I wanted to take the feeling I got from that photo and put it in the song,” he said. While the song is close to home, it’s a double-edged sword for the musician, adding, “I saw two young people partying having the time of their lives and I wanted to capture that, but it’s sad also because time catches up to you.”

When it comes to the future, Mavroudis’ plans are ineffable. 

“It’s hard to explain what your vision is sometimes, with words,” he said. Without a set plan in mind, the artist is taking things as they come while navigating new sounds, saying, “I don’t think that far ahead, especially when it comes to making music. The next thing could be completely different.”

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