Carole Facal’s atypical journey once again captivates listeners with the release of her fourth, electro pop-tinged album. It’s obvious even on the first listen: Symbolism sees Caracol elegantly and masterfully treading new artistic paths.

CaracolWorking with Los Angeles producer Joey Waronker (Beck) and husband and producer Seb Ruban (ex-DJ Champion guitarist, who’s also worked with Radio Radio), singer-songwriter Carole Facal, aka Caracol, presents us with a new batch of English songs, served over a bed of synths and beats.

Five years after her latest effort, in a solo career that started in 2008, the ex-member of Dobacaracol has previously released three albums – L’arbre aux parfums, Blanc mercredi and Shiver – as well as an EP, Les yeux transparents, released earlier this year.

During that hiatus, the mother of three wrote lyrics for Valérie Carpentier and Ludovic Bourgeois, winners of the talent contest La Voix [the Québec franchise of The Voice TV singing copetition], and, more recently, for New Brunswick singer David Myles (over half of the songs on his most recent Francophone album). “That’s how I earn a living: copyrights,” he says. That’s why she set up her own publishing company, Lady, which handles all her other projects besides Caracol.

And don’t expect her to bore us to tears with any pretensions her album might contain. “Give me a pen and a piece of paper and I’ll write you a song,” she says. “My life ain’t boring, I’ve got plenty of subjects to write about. I’m constantly inspired, constantly writing,” she told us recently, in the offices of her record label, Indica.

“Song camps have set off a creative explosion in my brain.”

Symbolism is a kind of rebellious spirit,” she says, “like when I used to snowboard (100 days a year, including several competitions), the return to a more savage birth. When I was a teen in Sherbrooke, I was into punk rock, and my favourite band was Grimskunk.” It’s no coincidence that Franz Schuller, Grimskunk’s frontman and Indica label boss, was also her manager for 13 years.

“My inspiration comes from one event to another,” says Caracol. “[That’s been the case] since 2015, when I was lucky enough to spend two weeks at the SOCAN House in Los Angeles, and to participate in the Kenekt Song Camp. I didn’t have a specific plan, I was going on intuition, and it turns out I was inspired by the symbolism of those encounters, and 75% of the album was written there. Since then, I’ve been doing a lot more co-writes, like American songwriters do. These song camps have set off a creative explosion in my brain, and helped me get out of my usual patterns.”

The most immediately striking thing about Symbolism – aside from Caracol’s unique voice – is a feeling of musical maturity. There’s a lot going on, instrumentally speaking. “I’ve re-connected with percussion and beats, more tribal, more pop, but I wasn’t sure if my audience would get it,” she says. “I had this history that I wasn’t banking on enough, and my music is a hybridization of genres, my strength is being able to gather a wide variety of things.

“Instead of being negative about the rather morose situation of the record industry, I decided to work with less, while being more creative. When I was in L.A., Waronker and I played keyboards. I’d never played keys before. I can play many instruments, but I’m not a virtuoso on any of them. Seb Ruban is the one who put in the most work on this album, and Toast Dawg put his touch on two of the songs. It definitely is a production album!”

Her productions already possessed heart and soul, but she can now boast greater depth, thanks to another SOCAN Kenekt Song Camp in Nova Scotia; performances at Canadian Music Week and South by Southwest; and a writing workshop at Gilles Vigneault’s place in St. Placide in 2017. Caracol is constantly improving her talent. “I’ve acquired a lot of precision in my writing, which is important to communicate,” she says.

“I’m a very bohemian woman, but I’m also very hard-working,” she adds. “I come from a family where everyone has a doctorate, which means I’ve spent my entire life following my instincts, and staying away from the family path.”

Symbolism will quite likely unite all of her fans, dating back to the Dobacaracol era, as well as those who are more into modern, high-tech productions.

 

 


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Not many people get to sit at the foot of a master to learn their trade, but musician, composer, and producer Mikel Hurwitz has experienced that golden opportunity twice.

Now, he might not characterize it that way himself, but having chosen film scoring as his profession, being able to observe two giants in the field, at work – John Welsman and Danny Elfman – altered his early life plan, moving him from the world of Latin American politics to a universe of sound. An award-winning composer in his own right (for Ron Taylor: Dr Baseball, a documentary about the World Series-winning pitcher who became team doctor for the Toronto Blue Jays), Toronto-born Hurwitz now lives in Los Angeles and works as the “technical score assistant” for Elfman, on films including Justice League, Fifty Shades Darker, and re-boots of The Grinch and Dumbo.

Serendipity has played a large role in Hurwitz’s life. Although he always had interest and ability in music, at 19 he left Toronto for the University of British Columbia, eventually earning a BA Honors in Political Geography and Latin American Studies. While studying in Vancouver Hurwitz had a regular gig on Saturday nights with a jazz trio. “I could have taken a minor in music,” he says, “but the School of Music at UBC was very conservatory-ish, and felt really dry.” His studies led him to become a human rights observer during 2006 social upheavals in Oaxaca, Mexico. “It was a time of pretty intense political unrest,” he says. “I was working for an Indigenous human rights group. It was the early days of YouTube and they were making all these little documentaries. I helped them put together the videos, but they also needed some music.”

This is where the first instance of serendipity came into play. It just so happened that John Welsman, currently the president of the Screen Composers Guild of Canada, but then merely the country’s premier, award-winning master of the craft, was a close family friend and had earlier noticed 15-year-old Hurwitz’s musical talents.

“He invited me to one of his orchestral sessions. It was the first time I saw that whole process,” says Hurwitz. The memory sat dormant in his mind for years, until the scoring opportunity arose at Oaxaca. It was after this second episode of serendipity that he realized, as he says, “Hey, this music thing can go well with my philosophical/political [endeavors].” The experience was so life-changing that, four years after his UBC graduation, Hurwitz traded coasts and careers, moving to Boston to attend the Berklee School of Music, where he’d earn a Music BA in Film Scoring. Since then, he’s worked on national advertising campaigns, feature films and music for television and theatre, as well as collaborations with other highly regarded composers and producers.

The Lessons of Elfman

Hurwitz has been working with Danny Elfman – who’s earned two Emmy Awards, one Grammy and four Academy Award nominations – for three years and seven films now. Asked what lessons he’s learned that he’s applied to his own work, he comes up with three.

“The first big lesson,” he says, “is kinda boring. It’s file organization.  He’s had a career that spans so many different incarnations of technology. He started out in the early days of orchestral demos, where you would take a sampler, and there are millions of wires, and there’s lots of outboard gear ,and you’d put together an orchestral demo on a four-track or eight-track recorder, [using] the early Macintoshes.” Hurwitz’s first job for Elfman was compiling the sound library from has decades-long career. “I learned a lot from that, because it allows me to organize myself so that, 20 years, 30 years down the line, if I’m lucky enough to have a career that long, I’ll be able to go back and be organized, look at my earliest projects and say, ‘Oh hey, that’s where this thing is.’

The second lesson? “We’re living in a self-scoring world now, that’s dominated by the Hans Zimmer model of very, very, very light on melody and very heavy on rhythm and sound design,” says Hurwitz. “The melodic score is still there, but it’s not the trend. Yet Danny has maintained an ability to write a melodic score for big superhero movies and make it work, make it relevant to modern audiences. There’s a certain genius to that, and it’s really interesting for me to see how that plays out.

“The third lesson, also a musical thing, [came from hearing] some of his demos, his basic sketches for either his concert music, or his film scores. It’s invigorating, from the standpoint of my own compositions because you realize that, ‘Wow! Everything has to start somewhere.’ We’re often used to hearing a composer’s final product. It’s for full orchestra, it’s mixed, it has tons of different, really interesting orchestration elements. You don’t really think about how it started out as a piano sketch, a really simple idea. I’m lucky enough to hear those germs of ideas. I think what that allows me to do is respect the germs of my own ideas. Before I was working for him, I would have this little seed of an idea, and then I’d take ‘X’ amount of distance, and think, ‘That’s crap,’ and move on to something else. Now I never think of a piece of music that I write as insignificant, because there’s always a way to take it to the next level from a production, orchestration, mixing, and compositional standpoint. It’s enabled me to learn about and respect my process.”


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If you asked Dave Pelman in 1995 where he saw himself in 23 years, you can guarantee his answer wouldn’t have been, “composing songs for an animated TV show, broadcast on the Internet, based on a videogame.” Heck, the nascent Net in the mid-‘90s was mainly a vehicle to send and receive e-mails. Yet, in 2018, that describes one of the SOCAN members’ main gigs.

It’s also apropos, since Pelman, like most in the industry, has always had to adapt, and remain responsive, to market demands. He landed in the City of Angels armed with big dreams, and a degree from Boston’s Berklee College of Music, at a time when the business was in a state of flux.

Shifting Gears
“I got to L.A. right around the time record stores were closing,” says Pelman, who was born in Vancouver, and spent his formative years in Calgary. “I remember arriving, looking for Tower Records, and it was closed. Record companies were being conglomerated and recording studios were shutting down left and right. I had to switch gears and figure out what to do. Most of my graduating class of friends have stories about having to jump ship and shift gears.”

Initially, Pelman found steady work as an engineer on records, while composing on the side. As the studios started to close and the record industry contracted, he transitioned more into the creative side – scoring TV commercials for brands such as Honda. Years of writing for this medium saw many of his compositions left on the cutting room floor.

“When you write TV commercials, or anything for the advertising world, you write a lot and end up with a bunch of music that doesn’t get used or sold,” says Pelman. “So you start to stockpile a lot of music.”

Sitting on a ton of music, Pelman decided to put together a music library and open up a boutique publishing company, DP Music, to license his compositions to the TV and film industries. Select credits include So You Think You Can Dance (Fox), American Idol (Fox), Ultimate Beastmaster (Netflix), S.T.R.O.N.G (NBC), The Briefcase (CBS), and The Jacksons: Next Generation (A&E).

Pelman started playing piano from the moment he could walk, and there were always musical instruments lying around the house. “It was obvious I would stay on that path,” he says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else … this is what I’m wired for.”

That path today is one that shifts faster than the tectonic plates at California’s core. Pelman’s most recent project: scoring the music and songs for an original online series called Clash-A-Rama! The free show now streams on iTunes, Google Play, and Clash YouTube channels. It’s based on the popular mobile games Clash of Clans and Clash Royale, and is written by the writers/producers of The Simpsons. What started as 11-minute episodes are now 22 minutes long. They feel like you’re watching a 30-minute sitcom without the commercials. The series, which just finished filming its third season, averages more than 20 million views per episode.

“What is interesting about this project is that while it’s geared solely towards the YouTube format, the process of making it is no different than a TV episode in terms of how it’s written and how it’s animated,” Pelman explains. “Actors are hired, the scripts are written and revised, and we follow a traditional sitcom production schedule, except for one difference: there’s no hard deadline. This allows you the opportunity to make it a really cool, great production, without feeling rushed, or having the pressure of a deadline, or a roomful of executives having to weigh in before it’s broadcast.”

The series is written in an upbeat, humorous style, with lots of dry pan. The variety of characters, and disparate themes, in the show allows Pelman to stretch his compositions in many directions. “Each episode might have a theme, but it takes many tangents throughout the show, so it makes sense for the music to jump all over the place,” he explains. “The music needs to support the jokes.”

That also makes writing for a show like Clash-A-Rama! so challenging. “You need to be as fresh as you can from one moment to the next,” says Pelman. “There are constantly different styles of music, from barbershop quartet stuff, to Broadway, to rap.”

Besides scoring Clash-A-Rama! And running his own music publishing/library/licensing company, Pelman composes music for a variety of other Hollywood productions. But just as he did that first day he set foot on the streets of L.A., nearly three decades ago, the musician remains nimble, ever ready for what’s next.

“At the end of the day, I work really long hours, and do a multitude of different things… I wear four to five different hats every day,” says Pelman. “It’s like the Wild West out there. Things are changing on a monthly basis. You have to stand fast and be ready to adapt quickly and jump on opportunities while the irons are hot. That’s my life!”


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