Deric Ruttan rarely listens to his own advice. His recent, fifth solo album is entitled Take The Week Off, but the Nashville-based hit songwriter and recording artist has done little of that since moving to Music City 20 years ago.

Ruttan is eloquent proof that plugging away and honing your craft can pay rich dividends. He has now graduated to the A-list of country songwriters, with the No. 1 hits and major awards to prove it. This January, the Bracebridge, Ontario, native earned his first Grammy nomination, as co-writer of “Mine Would Be You,” a huge No. 1 charted hit by U.S. superstar Blake Shelton (which Ruttan also recorded himself  on Take The Week Off).

Ruttan has certainly paid those proverbial dues, as he explains. “I was here in Nashville for 18 months before I got my first publishing deal,” he says. “I’d dig through the couch for coins so I could gas up the truck to get into town to write. No fabrication! I later signed with Sony/Tree Publishing, but it took nine years before I heard my first song on the radio.”

That song, “What Was I Thinking,” became a U.S. No. 1 in 2003 for Dierks Bentley, who scored a Top Five hit as well in 2005 with another Ruttan co-write, “Lot of Leavin’ Left To Do.” His career as both a songwriter and solo artist then took off.

Ruttan insists his primary motivation has remained constant. “From the beginning, my desire was not to be rich or famous,” he says. “If I can make a living doing what I love to do, writing and/or singing songs, that is my barometer of success. So far I have been able to do that.”

“I’d dig through the couch for coins so I could gas up the truck to get into town to write. No fabrication!”

No resting on hard-won laurels for Ruttan. “I’ve been accused by friends and colleagues of not taking the time to celebrate my successes,” he admits. “I tend to keep focused on the work and keep my head down. I have a little office on Music Row and I treat it like a job, working there for six hours or more, four or five days a week. That keeps the songwriting machinery oiled. I feel that is what I need to do to keep on top of my game and be productive.”

In between writing hits for others, Ruttan releases solo albums that have found Canadian radio and fan support. “I’ve never been happier with the balance in my career,” he says. “I tour about as much as I’d ever want to. Jason Blaine, Chad Brownlee and I recently did 25 shows across Canada in the Your Town Throwdown tour, and I played festivals in the summer. That lets me get my performance ya -yas out, and I’m in Nashville writing the rest of the time. Considering I haven’t lived there in 20 years, I feel really embraced by Canada.”

Rusty Gaston, head of Ruttan’s publishing company, THiS Music Publishing, sees this parallel career as a real plus. “I think part of being a successful songwriter is the ability to put yourself in the mindset of an artist,” says Gaston.”

Ruttan regularly co-writes with and for Canadian artists. “People are always coming over to write,” he says. “Chad and I wrote on Monday, then went shooting tin cans off tree stumps on my property!” Ruttan and Blaine co-wrote the 2012 Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) Single of the Year “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like That Anymore” and another big hit, “Cool” (both recorded by Blaine).

Other collaborations have been with Jimmy Rankin (their co-writes “First Time In A Long Time” and “Up All Night” won SOCAN Country Music Awards in 2009 and 2011, respectively), Aaron Pritchett (“Hold My Beer,” a Ruttan/Pritchett/Mitch Merrett song, won the SOCAN Songwriter of the Year award at the 2007 CCMA awards), Michelle Wright, Terri Clark, Jason McCoy, Doc Walker, and Paul Brandt.

American country stars who’ve recorded Ruttan co-writes include Shelton, Bentley, Eric Church (“Hell on the Heart,” a Top 10 hit in 2010), and Gary Allan, but there still won’t be many weeks Deric Ruttan takes off.

“If I have a new cut or a No. 1 song,” says Ruttan, “I go back to my office the next day and try to get another one.”

: THiS Music Publishing, Doc’s Cabin Songs
: Deric Ruttan (2003), First Time in a Long Time (2008), Sunshine (2010), Up All Night – Deric Ruttan Live (2011), Take the Week Off (2013)
SOCAN Member since 1989

Hip-hop artist Shad likes the different energies that collaboration brings.  The two-time Polaris nominee and JUNO Award winner’s fourth full-length album, Flying Colours, includes guest spots from Lights, k-os,  Saukrates, Eternia and numerous co-writes with producer-songwriters, mainly Max Zipursky, Ian Koiter, Michael Tompkins, Ric Notes and (DJ) Skratch Bastid.

The Kenyan native, who came to Canada as a child with his Rwandan-born parents, handles all the lyrics himself, fusing the topical with the personal in such songs as “Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins)” about his own immigrant experience, to “He Say She Say,” about a relationship, to “Long Jawn,” more of a freestyle. But when it comes to the tracks, he collaborates.

“On this album, I wanted to push myself, just be more inventive, more imaginative,” says Shad, 31, whose full name is Shadrach Kabango.  “That’s the hard stuff to try to communicate because I don’t ever know what I’m trying to do, but with these guys and this album in particular I was at least able to communicate ‘This is what’s inspiring me right now; this is the general mood,’ and we would just try and figure ourselves out.”

“It’s a fun and cool experience just to be in the studio with some of these people.”

Shad describes longtime co-writer Koiter, a trained musician who comes up with parts quickly, as taking a “mathematical approach,” while Skratch Bastid is “full of infectious energy” in terms of positivity and vibe. Shad calls him a “music historian” with “this library of drum breaks and references.”

Zipursky is a “wizard on the piano,” who can turn a simple chord progression “into something colourful and great,” while Shad’s childhood friend Tompkins has “a neat process” because he beat-boxes all his melodies and parts and loops them. And Notes “messes with sounds” and will e-mail him tracks that have “this big bright energy.”

“There’s a few things I like about collaborating,” explains Shad, who plays guitar and rudimentary piano. “For one, there’s just so much that I’m bad at, where people can help me, whether it’s playing, performing on an instrument, or coming up with parts.

“It’s a fun and cool experience just to be in the studio with some of these people that are really good at what they do, and get to observe that,” he adds. “The energy, too, is sometimes as important to me as the contributions to the writing and the playing. That energy, to me, is very musical.”

Discography: When This Is Over (2005), La Cassette Mixée (mixtape, 2007), The Old Prince (2007), Besides (mixtape, 2011), Songs (EP with Dallas Green, 2011), TSOL (2011), Melancholy and the Infinite Shadness (mixtape, 2012), The Spring Up (EP with Skratch Bastid, 2012), Flying Colours (2013)
SOCAN member since 2006

Track Record

  • Got his Masters degree in Liberal Studies from Simon Fraser University
  • Plays a lot of basketball (“It’s the only exercise I like.”)
  • Is hosting a history of hip-hop documentary

I cover myself in napalm so I can burn like a bomb /
And go up in flames in front of the crowd – I want gas

On the lips of another rocker, this kind of lyrics might sound tacky or over the edge, or meant to create an aura of toughness and bravado that has nothing to do with real life. Éric Lapointe, a transparent artist singing without shame, embarrassment or filters of any kind, doesn’t need that, and fans listening to Jour et nuit (Day and Night), his latest album, already know that its excessive lyrics reflect the excesses of a rock ‘n’ roll life well lived.

Broadly exposed in the popular entertainment media and through such soul-baring earlier albums as Obsession, Invitez les vautours (Let the Vultures In), Coupable (Guilty) or Le Ciel de mes combats (My Demons’ Heaven), Lapointe’s personal life is no longer big news.

“There were times when I thought that being such an open book was not serving me, but in the end it’s proven to be the right thing,” he says. “People are well aware of my dark side. I’ve never hidden anything. So, if I ever find myself on the front page of the newspapers for something other than my music, well, nobody’s going to fall off their chairs. I am who I am. What you see is what you get.”

Should we, however, be concerned about Éric Lapointe’s future? His loved ones might, but his fans definitely shouldn’t. Artists going through long troubled periods tend to be treated as outcasts, existing in their own bubbles, but their life experience is too rich and too precious to be discarded off the bat. Lapointe belongs in that category with Quebec singer Jean Leloup, another mythical character with irreplaceable life experience.

“People started seeing me in a certain way because of my self-admitted alcoholism,”

“The thing is that, at some point, people started seeing me in a certain way, mostly because of my self-admitted alcoholism,” says Lapointe. “Sometimes, the myth becomes larger than life. At other times, the reality is even worse. I can only blame myself for that image I created by spelling my problems out in my songs. Everything I put in there is something I’ve gone through. That’s why I can identify with Roger Tabra, with whom I write many of my lyrics. We share the same lifestyle. I could never sing a lyric that wasn’t patterned after the way I live.”

In May 2014, Lapointe’s first album, Obsession, will have been out 20 years, and the artist will have been working with the same creative team (French-born lyricist Roger Tabra and guitarist Stéphane Dufour) for two full decades. “You don’t mess around with a winning team,” Lapointe insists, recalling how his first collaboration with Tabra came about. “I had completed all the lyrics for Obsession, but I still needed that one ballad. I had just broken up with the Marie-Pierre portrayed in ‘Marie Stone,’ and I was still too messed up to write it down – it was just not going to happen. Tabra came over my house for a ketchup spaghetti dinner and said to me, ‘OK, you and I are going to write this sucker. What is it you want that woman to know?’ I said, ‘How would I know? Anything!’ Without missing a beat, Tabra looked me and said, ‘That’s our title right there!’ The rest of the song was written in a matter of a few hours.”

Stéphane Dufour, whom Aldo Nova brought in towards the end of the studio recording sessions for Obsession, and who has produced Lapointe’s latest albums, also is an indelible part of the rock musician’s creative signature. “He produces and arranges all my songs. We’re so used to working together that we don’t even have to speak any more. We just look at each other and know exactly what’s going on. It’s a cosmic relationship,” Lapointe says. “If there is such a thing as inspiration after all, it can’t be striking if you’re not working.”

This, for Lapointe, usually happens in the middle of the night, as it did for his most recent album. “I don’t know why, but my brain seems to be working better then,” he says. “Maybe it’s because I sometimes find myself alone, and that thought frightens me. But I never feel alone with a guitar or a piano. Anyway, my studio is in the basement of the house, and it’s always dark like a son of a bitch down there at any time of the day or night. When we recorded Jour et nuit, the only way I could tell the time was when I could hear my kids’ footsteps overhead.”

So even as a dad, a rocker’s life is a rocker’s life.