With twenty episodes of This Life now in the books, it’s time for reflection. In retrospect, there’s a lot to pick apart between the show’s two seasons. The second season saw an expansion of characters, from Raza to Miranda to Laroux and Oliver’s paramedic boyfriend, JD. Furthermore, unlike the first season, the second punched us in the gut with the tragic and sudden loss of a Lawson. This second chapter also introduced us to our favourite TV cat, Oliver’s expansive but troubling art, and a sure fire handbook for tricking our federal government.
One element that’s been constant between seasons is the indelible music. This week we explore (and wring our hands at!) one of This Life’s leading tear engineers: Delphine Measroch.
“The idea was to use a lot of the local scene here to make the show really Montreal-ish,” said Measroch, Music Supervisor of This Life. “My job is to find songs that fit in certain scenes and to negotiate the right [to use them].” She makes it sound rather simple but it’s anything but. This season included the use of about fifty songs, all meticulously tracked down, negotiated for use, and debated amongst the directors, editors, showrunner and producers of the show. “Everyone had their wish list,” joked Measroch and this season everyone made a conscientious effort to move away from the folky tunes that set the tone of the first season.
On a particularly busy day, with a deadline looming for a specific montage or scene, Measroch spends her days listening to anywhere from thirty to forty songs. In fact, she’ll often approach local labels like Secret City or Constellation and paint a picture for their people who, in turn, suggest artists and songs they think would work. “I search for a certain type of energy [...] rhythm, pace, and lyrics that flow very nicely into picture,” she said. When all of these elements work in harmony, it creates a fusion that’s easier to feel than define.
Throughout the season, these “fusions” have populated every episode. From Natalie and her girls playing car karaoke to “Spirits” by The Strumbellas, to the drone like pulsing of Majical Cloudz’s “Downtown” beneath the closing montage of “Scanxiety”, music is woven through the emotional fabric of the show.
If Measroch had to choose a favourite moment, she says it would have to be Mathieu Holubowski’s “Solitude”, the sparse but powerful track that layered the final moments of the eighth episode of the season. “The rhythm of the song fit perfectly with the montage [...] it was as if the song and the picture were dancing,” she said with subdued pride. She likes to think of songs as “micro-stories,” interspersed with melodic sentences that need to naturally flow into the ins and outs of scenes. “Solitude” checked off every box.
Though Holubowski proved to be her favourite musical moment, it wasn’t the one that most surprised her. That honour goes to Monogrenade’s atmospheric track, “Ce Soir.” The initial plan was to have Jean-Michel Pigeon, singer, guitarist and keyboardist of the band, re-record the song using English lyrics. At the end of the day, all agreed that sticking to the original version was ideal. “It makes sense because here in Montreal everyone carries a bit of French in their lives,” admitted Measroch, and she’s not just talking about Celine Dion.
In the end, branching out musically with This Life has given us a more accurate portrayal of the Montreal music scene as it stands today. This year saw more Toronto and east coast artists swing into the fold, but, according to Measroch, that’s simply a reflection of the transient nature of the scene. It’s very common for Toronto or Halifax based artists to record or collaborate in Montreal and vice-versa.
Basically, Montreal’s music has no fixed point, well, unless you talk about its one immovable object: Leonard Cohen. Prior to his passing, This Life’s braintrust were keen on using “Bird on a Wire” from Cohen’s 1969 album, Songs from a Room. “We were finding the license to the song the week he passed away,” remembers Measroch. Originally, there were thoughts about having a local troubadour cover the track but in the end, the original was too timely to ignore.
When it came down to digging into what she’s gleaned from the scene at large, she thought for a moment and said, “it’s hard to make any generalizations about Montreal.” Based on the level of the songs we’ve heard over the past ten weeks, it’s easy to see why.
If you’d like to re-introduce yourself to This Life’s music, click over to our Music page. I'm Max Morin, Junior Writer, Story Coordinator and your official insider for all things THIS LIFE.