Surge Records’ release of pop singer Julie Masse’s first English-language album ‘Circle of One’ on Oct. 13, 1994 is expected to spread her popularity outside the primarily French-speaking province of Quebec. Quebec’s most popular pop music stars are increasingly recording songs in English, a trend started by Celine Dion and Roch Voisine. The 24-year-old artist won in the most promising female vocalist category in the 1993 Juno Awards.
TORONTO–With her first English-language album, “Circle of One,” to be released Oct. 13 in Canada by Surge Records, pop singer Julie Masse is seeking to follow in the footsteps of Celine Dion and Roch Voisine, Quebec-based Francophone artists who have found success outside the primarily French-speaking province.
Even as the newly elected French separatist party, Parti Quebecois, is planning a referendum to decide the province’s independence, Quebec’s biggest pop music stars are increasingly starting to record in English. While these artists may not be federalists, they are far less interested in separatist politics or rhetoric than their predecessors.
Masse credits Dion for the change. “At the beginning some people were angry at her [for singing in English],” she says. “Now they have accepted it. I’m sure I’ll be asked why I’m singing in English, but I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”
Most English-Canadians got their first glimpse of the attractive 24-year-old Montreal resident on the televised 1993 Juno Awards, where she won in the most promising female vocalist category and co-presented the best group award to Barenaked Ladies, along with singer Corey Hart.
- Masse says she was surprised by her Juno win. “I was known in Quebec, but because the English market didn’t know me, I thought it wouldn’t vote for me,” she says.
- Masse’s self-titled 1990 debut album has sold 215,000 copies to date, and her 1992 album, “A Contre-Jour,” has sold 150,000 units, according to Mario Lefebvre, national director of marketing for Select Distribution, which handles Surge and its French sister label, Victoire. The majority of sales have been in Quebec.
Hart wrote five songs and produced seven of the album’s 10 tracks. The remaining material was produced by Michel Corriveau. The tracks were mixed by engineers Humberto Gatica (Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand), and Patrick Dillett (Mariah Carey).
Among the musicians on the album are guitarists Tim Pierce, Nicky Moroch, and Rik Emmett; bassist Darryl Jones (of the Rolling Stones); drummer Kenny Aronoff; percussionist Manu Katche; and pianist Greg Phillinganes.
“Julie Masse is not of the same popularity as a Celine Dion or a Roch Voisine, but she is a very interesting artist, and she’s got a shot [at success in English],” says Bill Walker, GM of HMV Canada’s Ste. Catherine’s outlet in Montreal. “She does very well with her Francophone product.”
Lefebvre notes that Quebec’s four major French-speaking radio networks added “One More Moment,” the album’s leadoff single, “out of the box” when it was released Sept. 19.
However, radio programmers outside the province are not committing themselves yet. “It’s still very early out there,” says Linda Dawe of Music Solutions, a Toronto-based independent promotion company. “We’ve only got a couple of smaller stations. It’s very ballad-heavy out there right now, and she’s also a new artist.”
SPOTTED IN LAVAL
Masse’s career got under way when Serge Brouillette noticed her singing backup with the group Fairlight in a Laval, Quebec, nightclub in 1986. Now Masse’s manager, Brouillette released her first single, “C’est Zero,” on his Victorie label in 1990. Three weeks after its street date, the song reached No. 1 on the Quebec trade Radio Activite chart, and the Quebec video channel Musique Plus was playing her video in heavy rotation.
Brouillette then approached those multinational record companies with offices in Canada about a deal for Masse, but was turned away. “Major record companies weren’t then signing new French-Canadian artists,” he explains. “From 1962-1987, French-Canadian releases weren’t selling, and there wasn’t much going on here.”
Brouillette decided to use some booking commissions he had saved, along with some additional funding from the federally supported MusicAction program, to record Masse’s debut album. Produced by Voisine guitarist Rejean Lachance, and boosted by “C’est Zero” and additional No. 1 Quebec hits such as “Billy,” “Sans T’oublier,” and “Prends Bien Garde,” the album stayed on the Radio Activite album chart for more than a year.
Masso’s electrifying six-minute performance on the televised 1990 ADISQ Gala (the French Canadian version of the Junos), singing a medley of the year’s top songs, made her a name throughout Quebec practically overnight. “Two weeks after the ADISQ show, I sold another 25,000 albums,” says Brouillette.
HEADING FOR EUROPE
For decades, making it in Europe has been the goal of the majority of Quebec Francophone artists. In order to make her mark there, Masse signed with Les Editions/Productions in France, with distribution of the album handled by BMG. “C’est Zero” and “Billy” charted in Belgium and Switzerland, and the album sold 50,000 units throughout Europe, according to Brouillette.
While Masse completed three European promotional tours, demand for her presence continued growing back home, and she was wary of spending too much time away. “I was at the peak of my career in Quebec, and we did not want to lose what we had built.”
- In 1991, Masse dominated the ADISQ Gala. Nominated in six categories, she won three Felix awards for best first album, discovery of the year, and top female artist.
Masse’s 1992 album, “A Contre-Jour,” spurred by the success of its leadoff single, “Les Idees Noires,” sold 50,000 units within two months in Canada, according to Broulliette. That year, Masse completed a 50-date tour of Quebec and New Brunswick.
- During 1993 Juno rehearsals, Brouillette had asked Hart to write a song for Masse. Four months later, Hart sent “One More Moment” and “Love Is All I’m Looking For,” and suggested he produce them as well.
Brouillette anted up $30,000 [Canadian] to enable Hart to record the two tracks at the Power Station in New York and Andore Studios in Los Angeles. Masse’s final vocals were recorded at Toronto’s Metal-works Studio. Next, Brouillette manufactured 200 CDs and sent them to label contacts.
Following the sessions, Hart wrote the album’s centerpiece song, “I Will Be There,” a tribute to Masse’s father, who died in an airplane crash in 1991. “When we were in Toronto recording ‘One More Moment’ and ‘Love Is All I’m Looking For,’ we spent four days together, and I talked about my father,” says Masse. When she first heard Hart play “I Will Be There,” on piano, “I just broke down,” she says.
For the album, Masse had a firm idea of her goals. “I wanted it to be live with no drum machines,” she says. “I also wanted people to know I’m a strong person, which is why I chose songs like ‘Love Is All I’m Looking For,’ ‘Devious Nature,’ and ‘Circle of One.'”
Brouillette decided that his Montreal-based distributor, Select Distribution, was best suited for handling Masse’s album nationally. The distributor had just had success in English-speaking Canada with “I’ll Always Be There,” the English debut by Voisine on Star Records, which Lefebvre says sold 450,000 units nationally.
Says Brouillette, “I don’t want to be an independent in the States or in other countries, but in Canada, I can sell the album as an independent.”