Words & Music caught up with Chilean-born Canadian composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer in London, England, where he’s been scoring film and television productions since 2012. “Of course, I could do it from my studio in Montreal,” says de Veer. “The new generation doesn’t mind working via Skype. And sometimes I actually do, particularly in the last stages of a project. But, to tell you the truth, I also like to meet the team in person so I can understand the direction of a series or a film. This also helps me catch the energy of the people I’m working with.”

Cristobal Tapia de VeerFor the past month and a half, de Veer has been writing music tracks for the English-language series National Treasure (Channel 4) directed by Marc Munden, the man behind the cult series Utopia. De Veer and Munden are now working on their third project together since Utopia and The Crimson Petal and the White, the historical series that started their professional collaboration. “Meeting Munden was a stroke of luck,” de Veer says today. “I’ve been able to take on interesting projects thanks to him and to his notoriety.”

Although de Veer studied classical music at the Quebec Conservatory, where he majored in percussion, his first professional steps were taken miles away from that universe. He worked for a time with One Ton, the modestly successful, JUNO-nominated, Warner Music-signed electronic pop trio, but soon realized the limitations of an over-restricted music world. Moving to The Spider in Charlie’s Box, a solo project he wrote in his bedroom, de Veer got a taste of what it’s like to write film and television music without being encumbered by any restrictions, and never looked back. He was able to use that album as a calling card to introduce himself to a number of producers as a true individual, unwilling to follow the rules. “I didn’t have a clue what the film composers’ rules were,” he says. “Quite frankly, I got here by accident.”

In Québec, de Veer is mostly known for the exquisite soundtracks for the Série noire TV series, a winner in two soundtrack categories at the 2015 Prix Gémeaux French-language television awards, and a nominee for the 2016 edition as well. Cristo first met Série noire director Jean-François Rivard in a Montréal studio where he was recording Rivard’s band. Rivard later got in touch with de Veer to ask him to set the series’ sonic atmosphere, a very specific commission. “Rivard directed me to the soundtracks of 1980s horror movies, mainly those of John Carpenter, who was scoring his own films,” says de Veer. “So I leaned heavily on synthesizers, while maintaining a minimalist approach.”

“I wrote music for the Humans series that was enormously successful in England, with 7 million viewers a night, but I didn’t sign for the second season because I didn’t want to repeat myself.”

When asked to describe his musical style as a composer, de Veer thinks for a few seconds, and then launches into an explanation of his approach outside the film music profession’s conventions. “I like looking at the music of a film or series as if it were a character in itself,” he says. “Normally, music that’s written to image must be relatively transparent. It contributes to the pace and to the drama. Personally, this is not how I visualize the role of music. I like to occupy more space musically, and to give a defined character to the music. I like proposing a counterpoint to the emotion in a scene.

“In Utopia, there were scenes involving killers. What we wanted to convey at the same time, through the music, was those people’s childhoods, their lack of parenting, what had brought them to this, the information that wasn’t portrayed on-screen. So we superimposed a piece of childish music on a murder scene. It was a lot more moving and disturbing…”

De Veer also likes to create fresh sounds for later use in his scores. He stays away from synthesized and computer-generated sonics in order to create fresh new textures. His sound sources range from animal noises to urban soundscapes that he collects everywhere on his sampler.

As a musician, de Veer – who’s planning to spend some time in Montréal this summer – sees the whole world as his playground. He’s also working in Los Angeles on two series, including one to be aired on BBC America. The British science fiction film The Girl with All the Gifts, which he scored, will be released in theatres in September. In spite of his ambition, de Veer likes to remind himself of his guiding principles as a musician.

“What I value above all else is creative freedom,” he says. “I don’t want to be writing in L.A. just because it’s L.A. I wrote music for the Humans series that was enormously successful in England, with 7 million viewers a night, but I didn’t sign for the second season because I didn’t want to repeat myself. I reserve for myself the sacred right to choose those contracts that provide great creative opportunities, and promote innovation. I’m not here to be on automatic pilot.”


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Ian Kelly is a happy man. In fact, it’s the first thing that comes to mind when listening to his fifth album, Superfolk, which came out last March. Recorded after the birth of his third child, Superfolk is a record filled with hope and light, produced by a man who doesn’t shy away from his joy. Despite his natural inclination for rather depressing lyrics, the Québec singer-songwriter seems to have found peace, and didn’t hesitate to focus his new album on the joys of family life.

“It’s a fact that being happy in love is a relatively new subject for me, but I needed to find a certain counter-weight to my songs about how screwed up the world is!” says Kelly. “Besides, even though things are generally screwed up, there are still many things to celebrate in this world. All I really hope for is that people come out of my concerts with a smile and a light heart…”

Ian KellyThe creator of “Montréal” found his happiness in the hills of the Laurentians – more precisely, in Morin-Heights. Over an hour’s drive North of  the city where he’s spent most of his life, Kelly bought a home for his young family, who were growing weary of the city. “It’s the perfect place for me. I’m just outside the village, but still within reach of high-speed Internet,” he says with a laugh. “I’m not completely cut off from the world, you know. The sidewalk stops just before my house, but I can still walk to the convenience storeif we run out of milk!”

But his house in Morin-Heights has mainly allowed Ian Kelly to achieve his lifelong dream: building a real studio where he could produce his albums, and those of other artists, from beginning to end. A place of inspiration. “With today’s technology, you can record anywhere, but I still wanted to have a room with its own sound, where you can place the mic more than an inch away from the singer’s face,” he says. “And there was also the drive to actually build something with my own hands, according to my standards: I can still see myself shovelling gravel only two years ago, while preparing the foundations. Today, I have a professional studio 30 seconds from my living room, which allows me to stay close to my family when I work.”

Kelly isn’t the first artist to move to this area. Éloi Painchaud and Jorane also have their own studio, a few minutes away from Kelly’s, and this proximity has already led to a beautiful collaboration. When the time came to create the English version of the theme song for the movie La Guerre des Tuques, Éloi immediately thought of his neighbour to translate the song. Ian gladly did so, not knowing that the person who was going to sing it was none other than Céline Dion! “Let’s just say that ‘I wrote for Céline Dion’ kinda looks good in your résumé, but I haven’t seen a royalty cheque yet, so I can’t tell if it was a lucrative job!” giggles the singer. Can he picture himself writing for others on a more regular basis? “It’ll never be my main line of business,” he says. “I do it when I’m asked, like in the case of Térez Montcalm. Oddly, since I’m a self-sufficient songwriter, I never have the impulse to think that others might need songs, let alone my songs!”

“I don’t know if it’s because I’m more demanding of myself when I write in French, but in the end, only one thing matters: it must be a great song.”

Another reason for Kelly’s obvious happiness when Superfolk came out was that the album as we know it almost didn’t exist. Kelly made headlines in the Québec media after announcing that someone had stolen his hard drive ­and the backup copy­ – containing all of the album’s songs – from his car. The story gained traction for a few days, enough so that some believed it was all a hoax to create a buzz around the upcoming album. There really was a theft, and thanks to the culprit’s father, Kelly got his recordings back without too much trouble.

“In the end, that experience turned out to be a positive one,” he says. “I obviously felt really bad for about a day or two, but the reaction that came of that event left me totally flabbergasted. I was nearing the end of my line of credit, and I was a bit stressed out by the idea of starting all over, but I was getting calls from musicians who were offering to play for free so that I could record it again! I got coverage in newspapers here and abroad, I felt a lot of empathy for what I was going through, and it reconciled me with humanity a little.”

And even though the larceny occurred on the streets of Montréal’s Park Extension neighbourhood, the new hillbilly is not one to bad-mouth the city that saw him come of age. On the contrary: “Montréal,” the upbeat single that became the album’s locomotive, is nothing short of a love letter to the metropolis. “I hope people aren’t too fed up with it next year, because I think it would be perfect for Montréal’s 375th anniversary!” he says. Mayor Denis Coderre, take note: this truly is the type of hymn that could rally the island’s entire population! Heavily rotated on the radio, it’s also one of the biggest hits of Kelly’s career, and even though he does sing more in Richler’s tongue than in Tremblay’s, it’s certainly not his first French song.

Ian Kelly“I know that if you want to get airplay in Québec, your chances are better if you sing in French, because when you sing in English, you’re competing with the likes of Coldplay and Rihanna,” he says. “That said, I certainly didn’t write “Montréal” with commercial intentions. Initially, I wanted the album to be half French, half English, but after listening to the whole thing a few times, I felt some of the French songs weren’t as good. I don’t know if it’s because I’m more demanding of myself when I write in French, but in the end, only one thing matters: it must be a great song.” “Montréal” is undoubtedly one of the best songs on Superfolk,  as is “Comme Un Loup” (roughly translated: “Like a Wolf”), which is more about his new life in the countryside than the urban world he left behind.

Kelly is currently touring the province on the tail end of his album’s success, with a solo concert that he describes as returning to his roots. “It’s a tour that allows me to play in smaller, more intimate venues,” he says. “First, because I love being close to the audience, but also because I prefer playing to a packed 200-capacity room rather than a half-full 600-capacity venue!” Kelly also allows audience members to leave the concert with a USB key they can purchase, containing the recording of that night’s concert. It’s a liberty he can afford, now that he’s fully independent. “I love this newfound freedom and I can tell you that decision are much quicker nowadays,” says Kelly. “That said, I certainly have no regrets about my years with a label: without Audiogram, I would probably not be here talking about my music.”

Beside his tour, Kelly has a few projects that will keep him busy for the next year. He’ll spend part of the winter scoring Marc-André Lavoie’s (Bluff, Y’en Aura Pas de Facile, Hot Dog) next movie, after Lavoie directed the video for “Montréal.” Then, next summer, if all goes well, people will flock to Morin-Heights for the first edition of a music festival that he and his friend Éloi Painchaud are putting together, and which will be called… Superfolk! “My head is full of projects, and I’m full of ambitions, but being rich isn’t one of them,” says Kelly. “Every day, I feel privileged to be able to make a living from my music, but all I really want is to be able to do things that I enjoy, and that make people feel good.”

 


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Just two years into his career as a country singer-songwriter, Edmonton-based Dan Davidson is making a definite mark in Canadian country music.

In late June of 2016, Davidson’s latest single, “Found,” was No. 16 on the charts and climbing – the highest-charting indie song on Canadian country radio – and had been added to CMT in heavy rotation.

While Davidson is relatively new to country fans, he’s not new to music, having cut his teeth during more than a decade as lead singer of rock band Tupelo Honey. It was with the group that he first became associated with Red Brick Songs, entering into an administration deal with the Toronto-based publisher in the late 2000s.

Jennifer Mitchell

Jennifer Mitchell of Red Brick Songs

“We didn’t know much about the publishing world at the time,” Davidson says. “We were the kind of band that put our heads down, got in the van and did all the shows we could.”

Working with Red Brick led to multiple song placements, and a major synchronization deal in the U.S. Davidson continued to work with the company as a solo artist after Tupelo Honey drifted apart in 2013, and signed a publishing deal with them in 2015.

When Davidson approached Red Brick owner and president Jennifer Mitchell, she thought it was a no-brainer. “We already had a good working relationship,” she says. “I believe in him and his work ethic. It just fit.

“I think ‘Found’ is a special song,” adds Mitchell. “It’s definitely been embraced by radio. When we first heard the demo, it was obvious to us right away; we all loved it.”

Davidson credits Red Brick as key to helping him launch his solo career as a country singer-songwriter. “Country music really seems to be something that will give me a bit more opportunity and longevity as a musician and a songwriter,” he says.

Moving from rock to country isn’t exactly a stretch for the 32-year-old artist. “Born in Alberta,” Davidson says, by way of explanation, adding that though his father was a big rock fan, he introduced his son to artists like Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Johnny Cash and Blue Rodeo. For Davidson, “Country music’s always been there. I just hadn’t gone in that direction.”

“I’m loving the vibe of the country music scene. The demographic is, like, 12 to 85, and they’re fans for life, so it’s more of a long game.”

Before deciding to dedicate his efforts to country, Davidson had a heart-to-heart talk with Dallas Smith, whose career path in the industry – first as lead singer of alt-rock band Default, and later as a successful country artist in his own right – was similar to his own.

“I saw Dallas open for Florida Georgia Line,” says Davidson. “Afterwards we were chatting and he said, ‘You’ve got the right voice for this, you’ve got the personality for the scene, and I think you’d love how supportive the country industry is.’”

During a subsequent conversation with veteran producer Jeff Dalziel (Autumn Hill, Brett Kissel) – who Davidson calls an important musical mentor – “Jeff and I decided that, creatively, we were in this together… and I’m loving the vibe of the country music scene. There’s something special about country. The demographic is, like, 12 to 85, and they’re fans for life, so it’s more of a long game, and I like that.”

‘Found’ is co-written by another singer-songwriter who also migrated from rock to country, Clayton Bellamy of The Road Hammers. Although the two had crossed paths, they’d never hung out or worked together. In December of 2015, with a chorus idea in mind, Davidson called Bellamy out of the blue and suggested they finally hang together, and write some music to boot. Over a couple of days at Bellamy’s home, they “banged out a couple of songs,” including “Found.”

Between working with Bellamy and Dalziel, “I think we’ve nailed my sound and the creative direction I want [to take],” says Davidson. While he’s a fan of a variety of country artists, his focus in developing his own sound is remaining true to himself. “I want to do what’s right for me… I’m doing my best to stay true to my voice.”


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