Here’s the latest in our series of stories on the creative meetings of songwriting duos. But rather than looking at a collaboration between two singer-songwriters, we met with one of our most brilliant and consistent songsters, Luc de Larochellière, and one of Québec’s most ingenious producers of late, Philippe Brault, who’ve recently worked together on the album Autre Monde.

Luc de Larochelière“My albums were sometimes like song collections. With this one, I wanted something more musical, more thematic. From that point, the production work was there to ensure there’s a common thread through it all,” says Luc de Larochellière during our interview, at the café around the corner from his place.

Autre Monde (Another World), his  eighth solo album, is a turning point in his career, while at the same time harkening back to Un toi dans ma tête, released seven years ago. The common thread here, if we look beyond the delicately crafted lyrics and graceful melodies, are the string arrangements on which his 12 new songs rest – hence the link with the soundscape of the magnificent Un toi dans ma tête.

As for the turning point, it’s named Philippe Brault – the prestigious producer renowned for being open-minded; being able to adapt his style to the musicians whose albums he fine-tunes (from Koriass to Philémon Cimon); and who came to the forefront of the scene thanks to his work with Pierre Lapointe. He caught up with us a little while later than de Larochellière, after dropping off a bass that Michel Robidoux had lent him.

Autre Monde is also de Larochellière’s first solo effort recorded without the help of his “big brother,” producer Marc Pérusse, who’s responsible for Serge Fiori’s comeback record, among other recent projects. One hopes that Pérusse didn’t take the news badly when de Larochellière’s told him he’d be looking elsewhere for the producer on this project. “I gave him a call and we had breakfast. I didn’t just tell him via text!” says de Larochellière.

“It had nothing to do with competence,” he quickly adds. “As a matter of fact, I personally think that my previous album, and the one with Andrea [Lindsay, C’est d’l’amour ou c’est comme, 2012] are my best. My decision was simply based on the fact that we’ve been working together for almost 30 years.

“When I started out,” says de Larochellière, “I wasn’t a very good guitar player, I was still green, and Marc was my mentor. He did all the arrangements, all the programming. There were a lot of machines involved on my first two albums. Then we explored working with session musicians on Los Angeles [1993], and especially Vu d’ici [2000]. We explored so many things, really. And precisely because I believe the last album we did was the best, I became convinced that it was time to look elsewhere and try something new.

“As a matter of fact, Marc told me, ‘You know, Luc, when you always work with the same methods, you always end up with the same result.’” Moreover, de Larochellière’s recent musical ventures, especially the Sept Jours en mai project, stimulated his desire to be in contact with new ideas and different influences.

So de Larochellière wrote up a list of producers he’d like to work with and contacted them. He already had ideas, certain musical colours and emotions in mind, but he didn’t share those initially. “It was kind of like a test,” he says. “Philippe came to my place and I played a few songs for him.” There were about 40, “but his favourites were also my favourites.” The producer picked two that were going to be recorded as a first demo: “D’état en état” and “Dis… tu te souviendras?,” recorded in simple guitar-and-voice form.

The first demo is very quiet, and was supplemented with electric piano, muted drums, strings, and a gorgeous melody played on the oboe. The second is more raging: electric guitar, funky drums, a rock song that keeps on growing right up to the bridge, which hangs from the strings of violins.

It sounds like classic de Larochellière, but with the elegance and intelligence of Brault’s orchestrations. The producer clearly listened to his “client” and never seemed to impose his own signature. “He called me a few days later to listen to his versions,” says de Larochellière. “I listened and I loved it. I immediately felt like he totally understood what my songs needed,” says the songwriter, at the very moment that his producer, Brault, enters the café where we sit.

“You really let me run free with your songs,” he tells de Larochellière. “That’s quite a vast creative expanse. After those two demos, Luc gave me 20 songs to work with for the album – quite a luxury when you produce an album, something that doesn’t happen often enough. Usually, artists give me, like, 14 songs, and keep a dozen in the end.” Separately, they established a list of their 12 favourite songs. “When we compared our lists,” Brault recalls, “10 out of the 12 Luc picked were also on my list.”

“Philippe chose songs that mattered to me, and that’s a good start,” de Larochellière, who only expressed his own ideas later. For the most part, they matched those of his producer: a sense of classicism (“almost like classical music, which I’d done on the previous record. But I also felt these songs needed a drumbeat”); and a more robust, rocking feel that serves the lyrics, which are less cutting and less cynical than those to which the eagle-eyed singer-songwriter has accustomed us.

“I try not to shoot blanks with my songs,” says de Larochellière. “I feel the atmosphere [in our society] is quite aggressive lately, so I didn’t want to throw oil on the fire. I also feel a sense of urgency: I’m a father again at 50, and my older daughter is 21, so I feel I have to offer more than simply, ‘Life sucks.’ I wanted something more open, hence the title, Autre Monde.”

Philippe BraultBrault totally picked up on that. Autre Monde is a record of rare elegance, yet very contemporary in its rhythms and guitar sounds, as well as in its dynamic and timeless lyrics. Says de Larochellière: “When we’d meet, I’d say stuff like: ‘This one needs to open up at this point, it needs to go big,’ and all kinds of details on the songs, and he would take notes…But it turned out he wasn’t taking many notes after all!”

Brault grins. “You weren’t very annoying!” he says. Their both agree that their collaboration happened organically. “It was quite easy,” says an almost surprised de Larochellière. Using the basic guitar-and-voice tracks, Brault crafted the songs to his liking in his Mile-Ex Masterkut Studio. All the string tracks were recorded in one afternoon; additional voice tracks were laid down in another afternoon. “I’d heard about Philippe’s knack for understanding the artist he’s working with,” says de Larochellière. “Even if we didn’t see each other that much throughout the process, he came up with the album I was looking for.”

“Luc’s composition work was perfectly respected, even more so than on other albums I’ve produced, because we started from the basic guitar-and-voice tracks and we built on them,” says Brault. “The song is there, at the core, in its simplest form… The heart of the album is his voice, even though the finished product is quite orchestrated.”

While Vancouver-based film, television and video game composer Adam Lastiwka is heavily influenced by contemporary electronic music, his compositions inevitably include a wide range of acoustic and electric instruments as well.

As for the appeal of digital sources, he says, “It’s utilizing technology in a way to create new, exciting sounds that people have never heard before, and a way of approaching music that’s not totally conventional… But I really enjoy and appreciate world music, and on my projects I’ve always made it a point to play as many instruments as I can. I have a room in my house with, probably, 40 different instruments from around the world. I play them to get ideas.”

Some of those instruments are rare, or even unique: Among them, a lutekulele (a lute/ukulele hybrid), various Togaman GuitarViols (boasting a range that takes in everything from Cello to Viol), and a ten-string South American charango made from the body of an armadillo that still has – naturally – the fur and ears on it.

 “You sit down, look at a project and, if you’re really listening to everything, it tells you what to do.”

“Stringed instruments come easily to me,” he says, citing the similarities between instruments from different cultures. “I don’t think I’ve come close to mastering any of them, but I can pick one up and think, ‘What are we working on today? Can something be inspired or derived from this?’”

The more sources he can draw on, the better he’s able to serve his clients and create a unique product with signature sounds and textures.

Like many a screen composer, Lastiwka didn’t start there.

Adam Lastiwka“I got into music pretty late,” he says. “It wasn’t until I was about 16.” Immediately, however, he made up for lost time; signing a three-record deal with an indie label, completing his debut record at age 17, and releasing it the next year.

For many people, being a solo artist, or being in a band, is what lights a fire under them to go after a career in music, but for Lastiwka the spark was scoring and soundtracks. “So instead of… trying to be a rock star, I started focusing on making music for licensing projects.” Consequently, Lastiwka’s first album was intended as a showcase for his compositions.

Roughly 10 years ago, after releasing three records, Lastiwka moved from his hometown of Lethbridge, Alberta to Vancouver. “I thought I could be a film composer just like that,” he says, laughing. But it wasn’t quite as seamless a transition as he envisioned, and Lastiwka soon found himself working “practical jobs” – and more or less quitting film composition for a time.

“It was the cusp of home recording,” Lastiwka says. “You had digital studio technology, but it was the first time you could record on your computer utilizing affordable technology. So what was great was, while I was simultaneously failing as a film and TV composer, I was working for music stores, setting up their digital recording departments, and got to see what was new, how to use it and what was coming down the pipe.”

Roughly a year after moving to B.C., after struggling and almost giving up, a track from Lastiwka’s first record was tapped for use in Ridley Scott’s movie Body of Lies. “At the time I was barely making rent, but that gave me a glimmer of hope that I could do this for a living,” says Lastiwka, “and that sustained me for a long time.”

He soon landed a gig assisting film composer Shawn Pierce (The Dead Zone, Recreating Eden) and, for several years, honed his chops and made numerous contacts in the industry. Since then, Lastiwka has contributed music to more than 500 episodes of TV series, multiple documentaries, as well as feature films and video games, including Batman Arkham City, various Discovery channel and CBC documentaries, reality shows, and features such as the aforementioned Body of Lies and Foreverland.

One of his most recent projects is providing music for Travelers, a sci-fi offering from Netflix and Showcase, on which he worked with Stargate producer/creator, Brad Wright. “What’s really exciting about Travelers is, because it’s this time travel concept, it allowed me to bring in and use all these unconventional instruments,” says Lastiwka.

Initially, he says, Travelers allowed him to draw from a very wide-open palette, sonically; but as the show progressed, he “weaned it down.”

Scoring for film versus television presents different challenges, says Lastiwka. “You sit down, look at a project and, if you’re really listening to everything, it tells you what to do,” he says. “With TV, it can span years, so you get closer to refining exactly what’s needed. It’s a very instinctive thing; first episodes are always a nightmare, but by the time you reach the end everything is very well established.”

Every production requires a different approach. “In the process, you’re watching and taking things apart technically and you develop an instinct and approach, but you need to play to the audience,” says Lastiwka. “When I’m working with a director or producer, I want to find a way to communicate with them, to find out how they communicate their emotional ideas, and how [best] to capture that.”

Before taking to the stage at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall to open for Canadian pop singing phenomenon – and fellow SOCAN member – Alessia Cara, as the opening act on her 22-city fall tour, Ruth B did what many a 21-year-old would: she took to Twitter. “Opening for Alessia at Radio City tonight,” she wrote to her more-than-a-million followers. “I’m shaking like a baby puppy.” Five hours later, she was back online: “Radio City just happened. I didn’t faint. I’m now waiting for pizza. Life is amazing.”

Amazing is an understatement. A year ago Ruth B (short for Berhe) was a university student worrying about exams, trying to decide on a major (she was leaning towards political science) and working a part-time job at a department store. “I was folding clothes and working cash,” she laughs. “That life feels like forever ago.”

That was all before her rapid and unanticipated leap onto the international pop music charts with her viral hit “Lost Boy,” the mournful piano ballad which has now achieved more than 33 million views on YouTube, and gone platinum in Canada, the U.S., Sweden and The Netherlands.

“Every time I leave my room, I’m bound to run into a song – from the look on someone’s face, to something someone says to me.”

Ruth BIndeed, for many the Edmonton native is still known as “that Vine girl” because of the role the social media platform – where users share videos no longer than six seconds long – played in her remarkable rise to stardom.

Ruth B, whose parents emigrated to Canada from Ethiopia before she was born, grew up taking piano lessons, and always loved to sing around the house. “There was never a time when I wasn’t obsessed with music,” she explains. “It always came naturally – like breathing.”

After discovering Vine, she played around with posting “silly videos” and clips of herself covering tunes by everyone from The Beatles to Iggy Azalea to Coldplay. But it was a video she posted of herself playing a song by Drake that took her rapidly from 50 followers to nearly 1,000. “And I thought, ‘Oh, maybe this will help me get my voice out there,” she recalls.

In January 2015, inspired after watching an episode of the Canadian-made fairytale TV drama Once Upon a Time, Ruth B sat down at her keyboard and shared two lines from what would ultimately become her first original song: “I am a lost boy from Neverland/Usually hanging out with Peter Pan.”

The six-second clip earned 84,000 ‘likes’ in a single week. Shocked and encouraged, she released more clips in the weeks that followed, eventually posting a video of herself on YouTube playing the finished song. By then the calls from agents and record labels were already rolling in. Putting her academic career on hold, she signed with Columbia Records in July 2015, and a few months later released her four-song EP, The Intro (which includes the song “Lost Boy”) to critical acclaim.

While Ruth B says she’s as surprised as anyone by her sudden success, she admits that she’s always known, at some deeper level, that she was destined to have a life in music. She’s quick to point out, however, that her forays into performing online were never part of any kind of career plan for making it happen because, as she puts it, “that didn’t seem do-able.” Instead, she resolved to let things unfold naturally. “I knew it was going to happen, but in its own time,” she says.

Crediting her family and friends for keeping her grounded as her star rises, Ruth B is now focusing her attention on developing her skill as a songwriter. Describing herself as an avid reader and as a lover of stories, she’s focused on penning tunes that include strong imagery and characters. “I love when that’s incorporated into a song,” she says. “I like when I can picture it, and not just hear it.”

Ruth B points out that she finds her inspiration everywhere. “Every time I leave my room, I’m bound to run into a song – from the look on someone’s face, to something someone says to me. There’s a song in every experience. I don’t limit myself to anything.”

It’s an attitude that has enabled her to write 20 original songs in the past year, some of which will be included on a full-length album, currently in the works (with an anticipated release date of early 2017).

She’s quick to add that she still does all of the writing herself, and considers it a critical piece of who she is as an artist. “Before anything, I feel like I am a songwriter,” she says simply. “When I have grandkids, I want to be able to play my album and say, ‘This is all me.’ That’s important to me.”

While she still has plans to return to university down the road (she’s now leaning towards a degree in English), Ruth B’s enjoying the unexpected ride on which she’s found herself.

“Music brings me joy, whether I’m singing for thousands at Radio City Music Hall, or just singing in the basement for myself. As long as I can do music, I’m happy.”