This may be the year of album releases by big Canadian bands. The Tea Party, Moist, I Mother Earth and Great Big Sea are all pushing new records, and there's still more to come from Our Lady Peace and the Matthew Good Band.
But it's a debut album by Montreal duo Sky, singer-songwriters and multi-instrumentalists James (the blond one) and Antoine (the bald one) that has become one of the biggest homegrown success stories of 1999.
Sky's polished collection of R&B-and-urban-flavoured pop, Piece Of Paradise, released in early February, is nearing sales of double-platinum in Canada and has spawned three hits with Some Kinda Wonderful, Love Song and Push.
"Love Song went to the No. 1 position in Canada, which is pretty amazing," James says on the phone from Montreal while suffering from "one helluva cold."
"I never thought in a million years, no matter how well things went, that I'd ever have a No. 1 song in Canada. To be honest. I'm not that optimistic. It's just great."
Now Sky find themselves opening for teen pop queen Britney Spears on her cross-Canada tour, which pulls into the Molson Amphitheatre tonight after kicking off in Hamilton last night.
The other two openers are American singer Michael Fredo and British pop group Steps.
"It's our Canadian audience so it's great that we're playing to our fans," says James of the tour lineup. "In Edmonton, apparently, we sold more tickets than the headlining act, which floored me and that sort of put the tour into a whole new perspective. I kind of thought we were going to be playing to a tough crowd."
The duo have also just returned from three weeks of promotion in the U.S., where Piece Of Paradise was just released. After the Spears' road trip they will return to the United States and Europe to open for other acts before seeing if there's a demand for them to headline in Canada.
"It was just mind-blowing for us," says James of signing with Arista Records down south. "We met with three of the top guys at the top companies and (Arista's) Clive Davis was just the one that we fell in love with. He was just the music man."
There have been mixed reviews of Piece Of Paradise, not to mention a lot of hard work on the part of James and Antoine.
The duo met at music engineering school in 1992 and have been roommates for the last five years. They have a home studio. They got their first big break after producing an indie, five-song EP in 1997. The next year, they were signed to EMI, who hooked them up with producers Peter Mokran (Maxwell, R Kelly, Michael Jackson) and Euro-Syndicate, whose members include The Berman Brothers (Hanson).
"At times it can be tough," says James. "I don't want to sound like a whiner or anything, it's just that there are moments where you're touring and you're doing the shows -- it's a lot of people in a very small, contained area for a long time. You know, you tend to get on each other's nerves. Especially on a promo schedule, they really work you. Until you say stop, they'll just keep going."
SIGN IN, PLEASE: Sky has an autograph session today at HMV's superstore at 333 Yonge St. at 2:30 p.m.