Born in Nicolet, Quebec in 1960 as Michel Pepin, his family moved to Trois Rivieres when he was still young, and for the most part he taught himself how to play guitar and piano while growing up. He left for Montreal at 17 and before long found himself playing in the French prog-rock band Concert.
He joined them in time to record their sophomore album, 1982’s VITAMIN. But after it flopped, he decided he’d have a better chance of going mainstream. The first step was to go by the name of Michael Breen. He hooked up with The Sailcats as their frontman for a year or so, but eventually decided to go solo.
While doing session work, Breen caught the attention of Tom Berry, who owned Alert Records (Kim Mitchell, Pagliaro, The Box). He signed Breen to a deal, and they got to work on some material, but Berry brought in songwriting partners more fluent in English, including a then still unknown Sass Jordan and Geoff Hughes, who’d gotten into working behind the scenes after his 1981self-titled album went nowhere. Hughes wrote “Face To Face” with Breen, which did fairly well on the local radio stations, and even was a finalist in a national talent search in 1985 by Music Express Magazine and MuchMusic. He placed second, losing out to ironically enough, The Sailcats. Undeterred, he headed to DMS Studio in Montreal. With Pierre Bazinet (Luba, Boulevard, Celine Dion, Paradox) producing, his self-titled debut album was in the stores in the fall of ’87, featuring a mix of rock and pop with light AOR.
The lead-off “Rain” was co-written by Jordan and became the first single. With help from the video getting good rotation on MuchMusic, the single made it to #33. The power ballad “How Will I Know” (which also featured Jordan) followed in the new year, but failed to break the top 40. Other noteable cuts included the guitar-driven “Risky,” “Face To Face,” and “SOS Emotion.” He toured sporadically throughout central Canada, and was nominated for a Juno in ’88 for most promising male vocalist. The video for “Rain” also garnered a Prix Felix nomination for best video.
But before the end of the decade, he decided he’d be happy out of the limelight, and began working sessions with various other artists. Reverting to his birth name, he later opened his own studio, Studio Frisson, where he produced, engineered, co-wrote, or did studio work with the likes of Luba, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Sarah McLachlan, Emmylou Harris, and Martha Wainwright, among others. He also worked for awhile at Radio Canada.
MICHAEL BREEN (1987)
High And Low
How Will I Know
Face To Face
All The Way
How Will I Know (Reprise)