It’s the No. 1 song in Universal Music Publishing Group Canada’s catalogue of more than 200 titles. Toronto classic-rock radio station Q107 plays it every single day. These are just two facts that stunned the crowd at the SOCAN panel “Life of a Song” at this year’s Canadian Music Week. Songwriter Mars Bonfire, who penned the tune made famous by Steppenwolf and the film Easy Rider, made a rare appearance to discuss this classic with SOCAN’s Rodney Murphy in front of a packed house of hard-rock fans and fellow writers looking for advice on how to turn heavy metal into gold.


Where did in the inspiration for “Born to be Wild” come from?

I had moved from Toronto to Los Angeles with a group. They had a station wagon but I didn’t have my own transportation. Eventually, I got enough money to buy a used Ford Falcon. The delight of driving around in my own car, seeing the beach, the mountains, the deserts of Southern California, inspired the song,


I heard it was originally a folk song. Is that true?

In my mind it’s always been a hard-rock song, but I was a starving musician at the time and I made my own demo of it. I couldn’t plug my guitar in because every time I did, my neighbour would pound on the ceiling. So I had a dry Telecaster, a tape recorder borrowed from a friend and my voice, which was worse than Bob Dylan’s. I guess that’s where some people got the impression it was meant to be a folk song.


How did the song come to Steppenwolf?

The precursor to Steppenwolf was a band called The Sparrows. I had been in that band with my brother, and after breaking up, most of the members decided to get back together and that became Steppenwolf. My brother said they needed some songs, so I took some songs over to his house. He wasn’t home. I took my tape and pushed it through the door. I could hear the sound of this big Great Dane and I thought, “There’s the end of the tape.” But luckily, it survived and they happened to like it.


Can you talk about how you got your first publishing deal and what that meant to you at the time?

The style of the day was to walk down Hollywood Boulevard with a guitar strung over my back and, unannounced, go into publishers and say, “Hey, want to hear one of my songs?” I got to see many publishers and played “Born to Be Wild” and they said, “Well, if you change this or change that…” But I loved it as it was, so I said I wouldn’t change anything. And then I went into what was then Leeds Publishing, and Warren Brown, the head fellow, sensed the music business was changing and they needed to have songs in a different category other than standards and swing. I played the stuff for him live, and I could tell he just had no concept of what it was. But at least he was willing to take a chance. He signed me for $50 a week. And it was great.


How important is the role of a publisher in managing all the business that this song continues to bring in?

For me, it’s critical. Because the period in which I wrote — the psychedelic ’60s — really was psychedelic! So no matter how hard I tried, I could not manage the business. Without a world-class publisher like Universal the full potential of the song could never be reached.


How does it feel to know how successful this song still is?

I feel so incredibly lucky. I was only doing music as a hobby. It might not have worked out and I’d be back on the line at GM in Oshawa, [Ont.], where I started

Matthew Samuels, a.k.a. Boi-1da, was a teenager working at clothing retailer Winners in Toronto when he received a lump sum of $500 for remixing Divine Brown’s “Twist My Hair.” That’s when he knew he could make a living making beats and producing. “If I wanted 500 bucks at Winners, I’d have to work full-time for two weeks or more,” he says.

The 23-year-old has since produced tracks for Drake, Kardinal Offishall, Eminem, Saukrates, Dr. Dre, Clipse, k-os, G-Unit and more. His most recent smashes include Drake’s “Forever,” which led to Eminem’s “Not Afraid.” “I’d give a lot of credit to Drake because we’ve been working together since Day One,” says Samuels of how he got his big break. “We were both 17 years old. We had no idea what to do — we went through it together. My friend had given me his contact and we always talked on messenger, but we officially met in this studio in Scarborough and did our first song, ‘Do What You Do,’ together.”

Veteran rapper Saukrates also recognized Boi-1da’s skills and acted as a mentor early on, opening doors and presenting opportunities. “I actually met Kardi throughSoxx,” says Samuels, who went on to produce Kardi’s song “Set It Off,” which featured Dre.

Born in Jamaica and moving to Canada with his family when he was five, Samuels began making beats “for fun” when his mother bought him a Casio keyboard at age eight. By 15, he was using the FL Studio beat-making program and ended up winning three consecutive Battle of the Beatmakers, Canada’s official producer competition. “I would study other people’s beats,” he says. “I listened to a lot of Timbaland-produced tracks, a lot of Swizz Beatz, Just Blaze and Dr Dre. What I used to do a lot is remake people’s beats to a T. By doing that, I saw what they did. I taught myself. They were secretly my mentors without even knowing it.”

Samuels still works in “a basement corner” with a laptop, hard drive and MIDI keyboard, but is now creating, not recreating, beats for some of the world’s top artists. He is currently working on new tracks for Drake, Keri Hilson, B-Major and Eminem. Why are they going to Boi-1da, does he think? “Because the beats I make knock hard,” he says. “People like that hard-hitting sound and they just want to feel their music. I don’t make music because this is the style of music being made now. I try to make my music with emotion in it. I think that’s what people feel about my music — and my sound is different,” he adds. “I try to experiment with different sounds. So people appreciate that.”

And if two or more artists like what he delivers, “first come first served,” Samuels says. “That’s how it works.”

Land of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell started cutting her teeth as an indie-pop songwriter and solo performer at the tender age of 14 in Guelph, Ont., before enrolling in the jazz program at Montreal’s Concordia University, where the original members of Land of Talk came together. When they released their debut EP, Applause Cheer Boo Hiss, in 2006, they hit the road running, but oddly enough, they first garnered attention south of the border, with Europe and the U.K. quickly swooning afterwards.

“We’ve been really lucky, being a Canadian band,” says Powell, Land of Talk’s principal songwriter, singer and guitarist, “but we never concentrated that much on Canada because right from the start, it was places like New York that took us under their wing. It wasn’t until after we toured with Broken Social Scene and got some airplay on CBC Radio that Canadians started to pick up on us. Even though we don’t sound like Broken Social Scene or Arcade Fire, I think that the phenomenon of those bands made it easier for us.”

The band’s new record, The Golden Guess, is probably its true jewel in an already well-decorated crown. With a denser musical mix that further carves out its signature sound, Land of Talk — with Joseph Yarmush on bass and Andrew Barr on drums — still possesses the strong pop sensibility that earmarked its earlier releases. But Powell’s croon and hard-fought lyrical pearls now burrow deeper into your skin, while the band is able to push beyond conventions and still remain grounded.

“When we were writing for the new record and recording it, we didn’t have a label in the picture, and we found that really freeing,” Powell says. “Because we didn’t have anybody looking over our shoulders, we were able to make the record we wanted.”

Much of the disc’s psychedelic flair and steadfast direction could be attributed to Jace Lasek, co-producer and member of the Besnard Lakes, whose grubby mitts [??] can be found all over the record. “We’ve worked with Jace before, but we were adamant about him coming more to the forefront,” says Powell. “He was pretty light-handed previously because he wanted to see how far we would take it on our own, but this time, I was really upfront about co-producing with him. Even if Jace and I didn’t live in the same city, I would travel anywhere in the world to work with him again. He really helped me piece together all of this crap that was trapped in my brain. He’s amazing.”