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.”

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.”

Rosie Valland

Photo by Philippe Sanfacon

Two EPs, an album, countless concerts, the semi-finals of Francouvertes 2015, opening for Ariane Moffatt, a few songs placed in the TV series Nouvelle adresse, a finalist spot in the Prix de la chanson SOCAN 2016: needless to say, Rosie Valland has just experienced two eventful years. Ever since releasing her first EP in April 2014, she’s been learning the business. “I’m learning to lead a project,” she says. “These are formative and creative times.”

Many discovered her with last year’s Partir avant, an album inspired by a breakup that was plainly difficult. But her latest, launched in the spring, takes the listener on a different trip: “Both albums came out in rapid succession, almost back to back, “ she says, “but one of them brewed for two years while the other one’s more spontaneous and reflects much more where I’m at now. Nord-Est is a beacon. It’s not necessarily happy, but it’s definitely more nostalgia than pain.”

Her work is reminiscent of the œuvres of Salomé Leclerc and Cat Power, but her slight pop tinge and soft voice are closer to that of Feist, especially on a song like “Nos guerres” (“Our Wars”). “Singing is my main instrument,” says Valland. “I let my voice take the lead and Feist is a great influence in that regard. Over the past year, I listened to Justin Bieber as much as I did Suuns. All influences converge in my music; I consciously try not to limit myself to a single direction.”

Valland, now 24, started singing in the choir of Saint-Césaire, a small village in the Montérégie region of Québec, about 45 minutes east of Montréal. There was a piano in her house, and she tamed the beast on her own. “I grew up with Star Académie and Mixmania [two popular singing contest TV shows in Québec in the 2000s],” she says. “In my mind, being a singer meant singing other people’s songs.” In her late teens, while living in Granby, the young artist became acquainted with the trade of songwriting when she saw many of her peers signing up to the École nationale de la chanson. “I started writing the second it dawned on me that I could write my own songs,” she says. “The next year, I too signed up to the École, and from that point on, everything went super fast.”

“Women still instinctively seek the approval of others on their musical ideas.”

During those formative years, Valland left the piano behind in favour of the six-string. “I judge myself very harshly when I play the piano, it’s less intuitive,” she says. “The guitar came into my life naturally in 2012, and the transition from one instrument to the other was very smooth. When I play guitar, I’m mostly following my instinct.”

Her apprenticeship on the instrument kicked into high gear when she met a talented and inspiring musician named Jesse Mac Cormack. They met at the Festival international de la chanson de Granby, and Jesse immediately became one of Rosie’s main musical partners in crime. “That was a crucial meeting for my career,” says Valland. “Jesse is very demanding and will only accept the best I can give. Working with him is the best, most intene school there is.”

Valland is increasingly assuming her role as the leader of a solo project. “Whether I’m in a duo, a trio or on my own, I’m learning to assume that the project will bear my name,” she says, “and that, no matter who I play with, its value doesn’t decrease. I don’t depend on anyone but myself, and I’ve discovered that this freedom is a strength.”


A few weeks ago, the young artist was nominated as one of the finalists in the Prix de la chanson SOCAN thanks to her song “Olympe,” a subtle homage to literary woman and feminist pioneer Olympe de Gouges, who was guillotined in Paris in 1793. “People often compliment me for my singing and then turn to Jesse to congratulate him on the music,” she says. “But they’re my songs! Women still instinctively seek the approval of others on their musical ideas; I think that’s partly why there are so few female producers. We have to boldly forge on, make a place for ourselves, become the woman who inspires us, and who we want to be. There are details left to fine-tune, but we’re on the right path.”