Visual content presented on-screen would never be complete without finely-tuned, complementary music that fits like a perfect piece of the puzzle. Whether conceived specifically for a film scene, a TV series, an ad, or even without any ulterior motive, music enhances images in all spheres of our lives. These three Québec screen composers to watch are dedicated to doing that, each in their own way.

Anaïs Larocque

“When I was a child, all my toys were musical instruments,” says Anaïs Larocque as an introduction. An admirer of Michel Corriveau’s body of work, the 35-year-old has been composing for the screen for about six years. After studying jazz in Cégep and university, she switched to digital music classes, and those lessons stuck with her.

“After my Bachelor’s degree, I decided to enroll in a DESS (specialized graduate diploma) in film music,” she says. “I was a contestant in the Montréal international film scoring competition, and finished in second place. The following year, they asked me to be part of the pre-selection jury. I said no, and applied to be a contestant again. I finished in first place [this time], and that opened the door to my first opportunities.”

Mostly tapped to create music for TV ads, it was a 2019 documentary, Odyssée sous les glaces (Under Thin Ice), that was her professional launchpad. “I also worked on The Nature of Things on CBC, and I was very busy during the pandemic while I worked on the documentary The Walrus and the Whistleblower. I love working on documentaries, because I learn things while I compose.”

Larocque has a strong interest in composers who, musically, have to stick to stories that are as sensitive as they are themselves. She’s fine-tuning her art by taking  classes online from the Berklee School of Music, in Boston. “I dream of working on a fiction movie, and recording a symphony orchestra,” she says. “I feel like I may have thought about this career late; yet, when I was a kid, I watched movies for their music, so I’m convinced that this is where I belong now.”

 Evan MacDonald

“My uncle gave me a guitar when I turned 10, and the rest is history,” says Evan MacDonald, laughing. On the eve of his thirties, the composer can already boast an enviable portfolio of screen compositions. “My parents gave me the opportunity to try all the instruments because I was not the sporty type,” he says. “I studied at Vanier College and McGill, and up until I was 22, the only thing I had in mind was to become a guitarist. I had an epiphany when I was 22.”

That epiphany was an online summer course in screen composition from Berklee. That’s when he decided to enroll – and was admitted with a scholarship – in the actual master’s degree program, that was taught in Spain. That prompted him to complete two more years of education at McGill in a few months, to make sure he didn’t miss that opportunity.

“After a year in Spain, I came back to Montréal. and by then I knew that screen composing was going to be my trade,” says MacDonald confidently. “I sent hundreds of e-mails to film directors every day to offer my services as a composer. I barely got any responses, but when I did, I used the entire budget to record orchestras of several musicians. I was trying to build a portfolio.”

In the wake of his first major project – a documentary, That Never Happened (2017) – he turned to advertising. Now highly sought-after, he’s composed for Google, Pepsi, BMW, Toyota, and many more. “I even wrote music for Joe Biden’s television campaign during the U.S. elections,” he says, a little astonished.

His current modus operandi is to offer his compositions through a library music website called PremiumBeat, the audio branch of Shutterstock. He went to Abbey Road studios to record some of his library tracks and is planning to go back this spring. “I’m always trying to push my own limits to supply a library,” he explains. “I watch a lot of ads to get a feel for what’s ‘in’ lately. I feel like I’m competing with the best in the world when I make library music, because anyone can submit their tracks, and you have to produce the best possible track for the client to decide to purchase your music. Some people on that sound bank have actually won Grammys. I like that kind of competition, because it motivates me to always try and do better.”

Asked what he’d like to do in the future, MacDonald replies, with a laugh, “I feel like I’ve already reached the pinnacle of my career! I just want to carry on doing what I do with creative people.”

Benoit Groulx

Even though he didn’t start with music studies, Benoit Groulx has always had an intrinsic appreciation of this trade. “I played music, but in a very undisciplined way, when I was young,” he confesses. “I ended up realizing that I had a knack for spotting structures in music.”

After finishing his university studies in music writing, he became an assistant to composer François Dompierre. “I had my mid-life crisis at 30,” he says, amused. “I was having a rough time, so I left and spent the winter in India. When I came back, a lot of people wanted to work with me. I did arrangements for Daniel Lavoie and Louise Forestier, among others, and those were more serious contracts that gave a certain lustre to my career.”

In 2000, he orchestrated The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne, a British-Canadian series of 22 episodes, each one 60 minutes long. “British composer Nick Glennie-Smith was heading that project,” says Groulx. “He composed and I orchestrated.” A well-oiled machine, they decided to keep working together, which happened several times. “We’ve worked on films in Los Angeles, in England, and in Eastern Europe,” adds Groulx.

His biggest recent project was a series for the BBC, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2015), on which he worked with Benoit Charest. “We had to compose seven hours of music in two months, for directors that were highly educated musically,” he says. “It was incredibly rewarding.”

After completing a Master’s degree in composition, Groulx decided to write concert music, and now teaches at the Université de Sherbrooke. “I’m in my early fifties. I teach young people who want to follow in my footsteps, and there’s a lot of talent out there,” Groulx says, while still hoping to hear his music played by orchestras.

“Nothing compares to hearing your composition played by an orchestra. I’m not from the synthesizer generation, and I want to continue working with musicians for the rest of my career,” he says. “I’m one of those people who prefer to write more soberly, and let the magic happen with humans in the room.”

On Live Your Truth Shred Some Gnar, their second EP, NOBRO is getting dangerously close to its goal: to be the most kick-ass all-female band of all time.

NOBROThe EP’s title is symbolic of the Montréal-based punk-rock quartet: the NOBRO girls live their truth in a raw, authentic way, through their music as much as in their daily lives. The fast, spirited way they play is the perfect embodiment of an expression used by snowy mountain boarder aficionados: “shred some gnar,” which refers to hurtling down said mountain with exceptional speed and enthusiasm, especially when the conditions are sub-optimal. And, in the rock world, shred is also used to describe the exceptional technique of guitar virtuosos.

“Playing really fast and in an impressive way is our mojo, generally speaking,” says percussionist and keyboardist Lisandre Bourdages with a smile in her voice.

And as far as sub-optimal conditions are concerned, let’s just say that being an all-female band in a predominantly male realm, NOBRO has its work cut out for it. “We’re women in the punk world – of course we had to make a place for ourselves,” says Bourdages. “It’s also a nod to all the ‘brown’ shows we did. The conditions are never optimal in the beginning.”

“Rock is a way of life,” continues singer-guitarist Karolane Charbonneau. “When you love it, you play it, no matter what the conditions are!”

Which is why the tale of NOBRO is, first and foremost, a story about determination. A seasoned musician in her own right, singer and bassist Kathryn McCaughey waited a good while before finding the perfect combination of people to achieve her dream of forming an all-female punk band. Founded in 2014, the group underwent various shuffles before settling down in its current, stable form after Karolane Charbonneau joined the already solid core of McCaughey, Bourdages and drummer Sarah Dion.

“It’s been a couple of years that I knew deep down that I wanted to be in a punk band. I wanted to let off steam, and express myself in a different way,” says Charbonneau, the newest member of the band, who also plays with Comment Debord. “You can’t lack self-confidence to play a NOBRO tune. Kathryn’s energy is unbelievable. We could ask any slightly insecure girl on stage with us and she’d feel like she fits in immediately. When we play, it’s like the world no longer exists.”

“The minute you start talking to Kathryn, she makes you feel self-confident,” confirms Bourdages who, alongside Sarah Dion, also plays in the all-female trio Les Shirley. “Even if she doesn’t know you, she’ll believe in your potential. She props up all the women around her.”

In and of itself, the music on this second EP is made to boost your confidence. Live Your Truth Shred Some Gnar considerably amplifies the ardour and intensity of 2020’s Sick Hustle through its lively mix of garage rock, irreverent punk à la Ramones, and’ 60s pop-rock.

Once again, the quartet tapped Thomas D’Arcy (July Talk, The Sheepdogs) to produce their EP. The recording sessions were held 18 months ago at D’Arcy’s Taurus Recording studio. “We gave ourselves two weeks to do everything,” says Bourdages. “We wanted to take some time to live in the moment and try out those songs. We recorded all the instruments by playing together. That’s probably what gives it this raw feeling.” “We didn’t do that for the previous EP, and I think it shows,” adds Charbonneau.

She’s also taking her first steps as the main singer-songwriter of a NOBRO song, on top of having penned the band’s first song in French (“Bye Bye Baby”). “Something happened in my life, a major breakup, and I really wasn’t doing well,” she explains. “Kathryn came by my place often. One day she said, ‘I think this is the perfect time to write a song. It’s going to be powerful!’ I was unsure at first – I’m a really shy person – but I decided to accept the challenge. But when the time came to sing the song in our rehearsal space, I just couldn’t do it! Kathryn would yell, ‘You can do it!’ to me.”

In the end, the whole exercise turned out to be therapeutic for Charbonneau. “A classic breakup song is a good way to let go of your emotions,” she says. “It really helped me to play it live, and scream it at the top of my lungs.”

All NOBRO songs have this liberating aspect, from the epic Gospel intro of “Better Each Day” to the psychedelic trip of “Life Is a Voyage,” that joyously concludes the EP. McCaughey’s frank, straight-to-the-point lyrics are a perfect fit for the project’s festive, raw, almost savage spirit. “Kathryn has lived, and that allows her to write solid lyrics. She’s been wild and done a lot of stuff,” says Bourdages. “But in the end, we’re not that wild.”

“We know how to party, though. We just don’t party every day,” adds Charbonneau. “Maybe we’re not truly a punk band, in the end.”

In the just under five years since Milford, Ontario’s Jade Eagleson, 27, decided to trade in his tractor for tune-smithing, the country music world has welcomed him with open arms.

Eagleson has accomplished quite a bit in a short time. He’s released two albums, including Honkytonk Revival in November of 2021. He’s also landed six Top 10 Canadian country singles, including three No. 1s – for “Lucky,” “All Night To Figure It Out,” and “More Drinkin’ Than Fishin'” (a duet with Dean Brody). Eagleson has received platinum certification (80,000 sold) for  2018’s “Got Your Name On It,” and earned two gold records (40,000 sold) for “Count The Ways” and “Close.” In 2019, he won the Canadian Country Music Rising Star Award, and he’s received two JUNO Award nominations so far.  He’s garnered nearly 200 million cumulative global streams, and 78 million-plus views on YouTube. (On a personal note, he met Maria Paquin on the set of the video for “Got Your Name On it,”  and married her within a year.)

The whole kit-and-kaboodle kicked off in 2017, when Eagleson played a life-changing Emerging Artist Showcase at the Boots and Hearts Festival (following a pattern set by the equally-rural-Ontario, and hugely successful  James Barker Band).

“Boots and Hearts was an experience I couldn’t compare to anything else,” recalls the now-Nashville transplant. “It was pretty awesome – getting up there and singing the songs I wrote – and hearing people react in a big way for the first time. I played a lot of hometown shows and the honky-tonk at home (in Millford, Ontario), and it’s pretty big, but you can only fit a couple of hundred people in there.  Boots and Hearts – you’re talking thousands of people – and  it was, ‘Ho-Lee!’ The Fear of God was put into me the first time I stepped onstage. It was some type of adrenaline rush that confirmed, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.'”

Blessed with a ten-gallon baritone, Eagleson initially made his mark with a 2018 self-titled EP, and his eponymous 2020 album, with the help of a core stable of SOCAN collaborators – Beaverton, Ontario’s Travis Wood. and from Toronto, Gavin Slate and Todd Clark (all three of whom have had great success co-writing with James Barker as well) – that supplied six of the album’s 10 songs.

Eagleson has an amusing anecdote about writing “A Little Less Lonely” the first time he met Slate and Wood in Toronto.

“I met Gavin and Travis just when I started getting into the country world,” Eagleson recalls. ” And I had no idea about how those writing sessions were supposed to be structured. Pick away at it for a couple of days and have a few beers? I had no clue. I was still farming back then,  and so we began writing the song and four hours in, that’s all the time I had. So, I told them, ‘You know what? I have to go home and feed the pigs.'”

Apparently Wood and Slate didn’t take Eagleson so literally, and thought it was an “Eagleson-ism” for “going out to have a cigarette or grab a coffee.” Two hours after he arrived home in Milford, he received a call from the buddy who had introduced him to the duo. “He says, ‘Why did you leave?'” Eagleson recalls. “To this day, I get teased about it: when we have a break, they tell me, ‘Just don’t go out and feed the pigs.'”

For his current album, HonkyTonk Revival, Eagleson contributes two of the eight songs – “Whiskey Thinks I Am” with Daryl Scott and “I Don’t Drink” with Scott and Kyle Renton – and says part of the reason was the pandemic.

“It was difficult to get into (writing) rooms,” Eagleson admits. “Obviously, there’s technology around it,  but I feel like you lose some of the authenticity in your writing when you do it over Zoom. I did have some times where I came up with something great while using that method, but it’s hard to write when you’re not reading or feeling the emotions of the room.  I wrote a lot over the pandemic but there was nothing that said, ‘This is going to give the fans what they want to hear.’ So, we started sourcing out different songs, and if there’s something better than a song I wrote, that’s what we’re going to use.”

Eagleson’s Expertise: Three tips for Novice Songwriters

  1. “A song doesn’t get done in a day.”
  2. “Massage an idea.”
  3. “Have fun with it.”

Eagleson says his most useful device for capturing ideas is the iPhone. “A lot of the time, I’ll be doing something random and I don’t have time to get right to a guitar,” he explains. ” A lot of times, I’ll be going to sleep – and my wife has yet to complain about this – but I’ll take my iPhone and record a voice memo, humming a song. That’s my go-to right now. I’ll put in a melody here or an idea there and try and massage it later.

“Then I’ll bring it in and see what [the core writers] think of it,” he continues, “and I’ll have something on guitar, and show them what I’m thinking. Sometimes it works really great and we get some awesome ideas of it.  Other times, this may not have been my best idea. It’s always good to try.”

While Eagleson takes the time to write by himself, he also loves the art of collaboration, and would one day love to write with Shania Twain. “It’s always good to have someone else’s opinion,” he says. “I know a lot of people that think it’s not as creative to co-write, but I strongly disagree. The more people you have, the more angles of life you attack. You could have your situation out there on paper, and you could have a couple of other guys that are also going through something similar, but may be a bit different, so your audience is going to be that much bigger.

“You also don’t realize how much room for improvement there is until you write with someone else that’s been in the game longer,” he admits. “You write with them and you’re like, ‘Man, I never would have thought of that!’ I wouldn’t have put that chord structure in there. I wouldn’t have twisted the words like that. It really levels your game up.”