The touchstones of our lives often present themselves when we least expect them. These messages from the universe remind us that the journey we’re on is the right path. Songwriter Carly Paradis recently received one such sign. The object: a letter featuring a stamp of Elton John’s classic 1973 double-LP Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. This brought back early childhood memories of discovering the gems in her parents’ record collection, and those first feelings of a raging fire in her soul to write, and to create, that never went away.

“When I was really little I would listen to my parents’ vinyl,” Paradis recalls. “As a child, that Elton John record blew my mind; ‘Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding’ was such an epic, genre-bending tune. I decided right then that one day I would make epic music like this.”

Catching up with the songwriter via Skype, just before the Christmas holidays, finds Paradis in a contemplative mood at the London, England, studio she designed in an old warehouse building.  We chat about the human condition (the central conceit of her new solo instrumental record Nothing is Something), the creative process, and her journey from Ontario indie rocker to award-winning film and TV composer, now based in London, England.

Born in Hamilton, Paradis grew up in nearby Stoney Creek. At nine, she started writing tunes. Later, she studied classical piano, but admits she always felt more like a rock ‘n’ roll player. After completing a music and multi-media degree at McMaster University, Paradis honed her skills playing in bands and learning about production. This led to a desire to get tracks synched. On a whim, in 2006, she reached out via MySpace to Clint Mansell (who scored Darren Aranofsky’s Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan), one of her favorite composers. “I told him how his music made me feel,” Paradis recalls. “I did not expect a reply.”

Mansell was moved by Paradis’ message and did reply. This correspondence led first to a longer coffee conversation in Los Angeles, and then into a lasting friendship. The songwriter joined Mansell’s band, arranged and played the piano parts for the composer’s songs, and toured with him around the world. Through his mentorship, Paradis also started to place songs in films and TV programs. Some of these successful synchs include the end credits theme from the successful Netflix original series The Innocents; writing the score for every season of the No.1 BBC drama Line of Duty; and compositions in trailers for True Detective, Homeland, and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.

“Ever since I was little, I’ve connected deep down with things I didn’t understand, through music.”

Nothing is Something is the songwriter’s third solo record. The orchestral, brooding collection of original compositions and collaborations features a diverse range of global musicians – from Norwegian composer EERA, to Jonas Bjerre (the lead singer of Danish rock band Mew), to U.K. spoken-word artist PolarBear. In scope and complexity, it’s as grand as those seminal songs first heard in her youth. “This album draws back to those early musical experiences,” she says.

Seven years in the making, some parts of the album were recorded at her London studio, but most was captured at Hamilton’s legendary Grant Avenue Studio, where she played her favorite piano: a vintage Yamaha, circa 1979. With song titles like “The Crushing Weight of History,” inspired by a visit to La Rocca Cefalu in Cefalù, Sicily; “Heaven Ain’t a Place”; and “One Light in the Sky,” the record explores the state of being human, and the range of sensations we all face.

“It’s been quite an emotional journey,” Paradis explains. “The concept of the title Nothing is Something is this: if you think you have nothing, see nothing, it is really something. Just look into outer space. There is so much stuff we can’t see. If you’re feeling hopelessness and loneliness, that is something… to feel that emotion is part of the human condition. We all feel these things. You can find comfort in knowing we are connected by these negative emotions, and you’re not alone. When you go through that journey, you realize it’s OK.”

For Paradis, music expresses emotions, thoughts, and feelings you can’t – or don’t want to – vocalize with words. “Ever since I was little, I’ve connected deep down with things I didn’t understand, through music, and I’ve written and created sounds that match those feelings,” she says. “This album is a diary of the last eight years of my life. It feels like a big book. A chapter is closing. It’s that moment before you open the next one.”

She’s created a new business and creative model, and paved the way for all those bloggers and influencers who dream of getting up onstage in the real world. Candid and uber-lucid, the musician takes stock before moving on to her second chapter.

Roxane Bruneau stands alone in her field. The blonde singer with distinctive black earlobe stretchers and eyeglass frames became the Big Brother of her own reality TV, thanks to YouTube videos, before adding music to her repertoire. Suddenly, her army of fans discovered a new aspect of her personality, but one that was as authentic and real as the rest of her. Only this time, her moods and chronicles of daily life can be listened to in your car with the windows down. Her voice can now accompany us off-screen. People live through her.

Seemingly coming out of nowhere for some, yet at the height of her celebrity in Québec for hundreds of thousands of others, the Monteregian surprised everyone last fall by winning the Song of the Year Félix Award for “Des p’tits bouts de toi,” a song that was released in 2017, along with the rest of her album, Dysphorie. The song is an incredibly catchy and sincere guitar-voice ditty that’s been streamed more than 1.5 million times on Spotify alone, and the video of which has earned more than 6 million plays on YouTube. Which goes to show how much she touches people.

Yet in the beginning, the singer-songwriter/YouTuber wasn’t convinced, herself. “I thought I’d sell a few dozen CDs to my subscribers on Facebook and YouTube, and then it would peter out,” she admits.

“In a nine-to-five job, you only have one boss. I have 100,000 bosses.”

But being recognized by the industry and the masses, in a way she didn’t even hope for, comes with its own set of apprehensions – namely, the fear of fading away as fast as she became famous. During our interview, Bruneau turns out to be brutally honest and straightforward. It’s no wonder, then, that she’s the same when she writes.

“That fear of losing my audience is going to be omni-present on my next album,” she says. “It really is a subject that hovers over the album. I’m aware that I’m somewhat of a slave for other people’s love. If people don’t like us, we cease existing in this trade. That’s it. Venues stop being sold out, you sell fewer and fewer albums… It’s crazy when you think about it. In a 9 to 5 job, you only have one boss. I have 100,000 bosses.”

Propelled by the song “J’pas stressée” (“I’m Not Stressed”), the artist was, ironically, too anxious to start writing again. “I was submerged by the pressure of writing hits, songs that get played on the radio,” she says. “That froze me completely, I couldn’t write at all. I had no idea what a good song was, before, I didn’t know what a radio hit is… I wrote for the sake of writing, and that’s what people loved. Once I realized that, I said to myself, ‘Ffuck radio hits,’ and I started writing again.”

Freed from her own expectations, the artist is about to manage, once again, all aspects of the artistic direction of her next album, due to be released in the Spring. “I don’t know how things work for others, but I think I’m the most spoiled rotten artist, because of the fact that my producers 100% trust me,” she says. “They don’t ask to hear what I’m working on, or to change this or that… They understand that the product people like is that girl, Roxane Bruneau. They don’t want to change my clothes, my face, what I have to say, my content, my container.”

Fully in charge and totally independent, Roxane Bruneau will probably never let anyone step on her toes. She directs and edits her videos, and she’s never hired a stylist. She makes all her own decisions. “I meet more and more artists who tell me about their gigs and their environment,” she says. “And I’m, like, ‘Oh! you mean you didn’t pick the shoes you’re wearing tonight? Is this a joke?’ It does go that far, y’know?”

Casey Manierka had a fantastic 2019. I know, right? Most of us barely endured to the end, but not the movie score-composing, electronic music-producing party-thrower also known as Casey MQ.

He began last year with his queer club collective Raven’s Vision dubbed “the sound of Toronto right now” by Now magazine, and ended summer with three films at TIFF bearing his musical scores. Then he entered autumn with new MQ dance jam (and self-directed video) “Wings are Growing,” welcomed winter with a solo slot at Toronto’s Festival of Cool, and capped it all by spinning at an RV New Year’s Eve party in a west-end industrial arts space.

“I did feel busy this year,” he admits, “but it just felt like what I’ve always been doing – making music for various projects, my own and collaborations. Things were moving. It’s exciting and awesome but I’m always thinking about what I’m doing next.”

Indeed. But out here on the West-downtown Dundas Street patio of Loveless, during an unseasonably warm winter day in Toronto, Manierka takes a moment to think about what he did first.

“It goes back to when I was six,” he recalls. His parents put him in piano lessons, and unlike his siblings, he stayed strong, continuing to classical training and songwriting. “I’ve always wanted to be surrounded by music and singing, dancing, acting, all those things,” he says. “I just wanted to be creative and in the arts in some way.”

He loved classical, but being a teenager during the electronic dance music (EDM) come-up also meant beats were “built into the landscape of what I now come to know as pop music and electronic music,” he says. Ever open-minded, he was as into Tiesto’s arms-up festival trance as Burial’s dark-hued dubstep experiments.

His musical worlds were kept separate, until a piano teacher’s advice backfired, when they told him if he was going to be a classical musician, he needed to only listen to classical music.

“I was upset by that,” he says. “What does that mean for me, as a person who likes classical music and who also loves pop and electronic music? I started to realize that they don’t have to be exclusive to each other. They can really live together,” he explains. “That’s where influence really comes in – you have a passion for things, and they make their way together, to create something that felt honest coming from me.”

“I don’t ever want to feel limited.”

Things also started making their way together career-wise, starting with a 2015 Slaight Music Residency at the Canadian Film Centre. “It was an interesting opportunity to meet so many amazing filmmakers and people who were making art,” he says of the year spent learning to apply his skill set to cinematic compositions.

He was also making his own experimental electronic music, and was accepted into the now-defunct Red Bull Music Academy, landing in Montreal the following summer, where he got to learn from industry mentors. Oh, and also got into DJ-ing.

Casey at the Movies
Manierka’s film-composer credits include:
* Tito
Honey Bee
Mary Goes Round
Bee Nation (Documentary)
Kiss and Cry
Holiday Joy (TV Movie)

Manierka and friends soon launched Raven’s Vision – yes, named after the Disney Channel classic That’s So Raven – and he started playing out, mixing his own songs, samples, and edits into sets. “I love seeing pop music come into the dance sphere,” he says, “so I’ll often really mess with some a capellas, and just stuff I’m really loving. But I want to see it completely hyper-accelerated, you know?”

Meanwhile, his movie-scoring career was taking off, a particular victory for a lifelong film fan who’d made movies as a high-schooler, then put film aside to focus on music. “At some point I just wanted to be closer to film and drama again, so this was a great way to connect back to that,” says Manierka.

He landed eight films in three years – including the indie features Raf, Tammy’s Always Dying, and Easy Land, scoring his TIFF hat trick, with the latter eschewing electronics altogether in favour of a string quartet. “They’re inspiring each other,” he says of his two disparate genres. “That’s just where I’m coming from, with my  story, but I’m not afraid to explore and really let a palette speak.”

Speaking of exploring, Manierka is readying another left turn for 2020 – a solo pop record as Casey MQ. “I don’t ever want to feel limited,” he says. “If I’m going to make this pop album, I’m going to make it unabashedly. Who knows what will come after that, but it’s so exciting to dive into worlds!”