It’s said that a sophomore album is harder to create than a debut, according to singer-songwriter Émilie Kahn. “People put a lot of pressure on us to create an album that’s better than the first,” she says. “That might be difficult to manage, but personally, I wasn’t saying to myself: ‘This album has to be better.’ My problem was that I had a ton of ideas for this record. I struggled from the get-go, because I was trying to force my songs to go in all kinds of directions, musically.”

Let’s jump to the punch right now: Outro is a better album than the previous one, 10,000, released in 2015. And it’s true as much on the writing side as on the production side. “I find that too,” says Kahn. That said, here’s the real urgent question: Why release this album under your real name, Émilie Kahn, rather than under the moniker Émilie & Ogden? She knew that question would come.

“I did that for several reasons,” says Kahn. “Initially, I had a band name because I didn’t like that idea of attaching who I am as an artist to my name. It was a way of acknowledging that in this business, one needs to know how to market oneself. I liked the idea of separating the person from the artist, but… I don’t know, I guess I’ve realized it’s impossible to do that. There’s no separation between myself as a person and as an artist. Also, to be honest, after three years, there were still some fans who had no clue what Ogden was, exactly…”

To those in the know, Ogden is her fetish instrument. It’s the name of a range of instruments created by Chicago-based harp builders Lyon & Healy, privileged by folk and pop musicians because of their light weight and versatility. Ogden has become Émilie’s signature, thanks to the instrument’s silky harmonies that imbue her indie pop songs with an ethereal yet tense aura. It’s a feeling of being suspended between two states of consciousness, halfway between ethereal pop and an indie-rock aesthetic, darkened by drums and guitars.

“People get the impression the harp is a difficult instrument, but it’s very close to the piano,” says the artist, who was at first a player of the recorder, an instrument that allowed her to enroll in a classical music Bachelor’s program. “It was in Cégep that I fell in love with the harp; I found a teacher on internet and took private lessons,” she says.

Because she’s older now and knows herself better, Kahn admits that this album, released under her real name, will sound more personal and sincere. “Yet, the evolution from Émilie & Ogden to Émilie Kahn is natural,” she says. Which is not to say that evolution was an easy one, and she recalls having recorded a pile of demos in preparation for this second album. But she ended up trashing all of them.

“I went through a crisis,” she explains. “I knew from the beginning that I wanted to work on this album with Warren [C. Spicer, Plants & Animals’ singer/guitarist]. I called him and admitted I had no idea what I was doing… He said, ‘We’ll sit down together, will calm down, we’ll just play music. We’ll take a look at the songs you have, and see where it goes.’”

After that crisis, she got back to work: a full week of writing until the wee hours. “It’s funny, because I got that question a lot when the first album came out,” she says. “‘How do you write your songs?’ I never knew what to answer, because it’s a very intuitive process for me. I never knew where a song came from. But this year, I wrote much more with other musicians, and had writing sessions. That’s when I realized that there are many different ways to write a song.

“I get the impression that a lot of musicians tend to start with the music – they find chords, rhythms, then the melody, and find words to fit in. I’ve always given a lot more importance to lyrics. I like my voice to stand out in the mix of my songs, so that the lyrics are clearly heard.

“I’ve always loved writing, from my childhood on,” says Kahn. “Writing down my feelings is the easiest way for me to get them out. That’s why I start with words over a melody. A single sentence can be the basis of a song. But this year, I forced myself to write differently, in a much more pop way. I have a friend who’s a producer, he composes beats on his computer, and I write lyrics on top of them. This album made me realize I want to move towards pop a lot more,” says the musician, who loves it when songs seem to write themselves.

“My favourite songs are the ones I write in 10 minutes, in one sitting,” she says. “Generally speaking, most of the songs that ended up on this new album were created that way. It starts with a sentence that pops into my mind, and the rest just falls into place… It’s a difficult thing to describe.”


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In the four years since Ása Berezny (vocalist/guitarist/primary songwriter), and drummer Sam Heggum-Truscott began playing together, Kingdom of Birds have released an EP and three full-length albums. They’re currently working on their next recording, scheduled for release later in 2019. “Our self-titled EP was released in 2017, and I’d say that was our first professional recording,” says Berezny. “The first two albums were early, kind of demo-y stuff.”

When you hear that old music industry saw, “You have your whole life to write your first record, and six months to write your second,” you might assume “your whole life” means somewhere between 18 and 25 years. Kingdom of Birds didn’t take nearly that long to sort out what they wanted to say musically, how to say it, and ultimately, how to put it out there. Both the EP and Kingdom of Birds’ third full record, Pretty, came out in 2017, which is a significant amount of work and output for any band. But, given that Ása and Sam are 16 and 11 years old, respectively, it’s pretty remarkable.

Granted, Heggum-Truscott, Berezny, and 16-year-old bassist Ewan Fotheringham (who joined the band in February of 2018) have had ample support for their musical endeavours. They all have supportive families, who encouraged them to take up music early on, and Sam and Ása studied at Toronto’s Red House Music Academy. “We both took lessons, and Ása and I were in a band together there,” says Sam. “Then we just took it out of school and started doing our own thing.”

Onstage and on record, that’s something they do with a degree of self-possession that belies their age. “A lot of that came from going to Red House,” says Berezny. “My teacher was tough… but he made me a more confident musician.” That confidence is evident in their compact, no-nonsense arrangements and tight performances. So much so that people are often surprised at their age. “There’s a little bit of that,” Ewan admits. “Yeah,” Sam adds, “but we’re getting older.”

Over time the band has evolved substantially, experimenting with a more heavily layered sound on one record, and adding Moscow Apartment‘s Brighid Fry on keyboards and violin for a time, before settling on their current lineup. Original bassist Zeul Mordasiewicz, Ása explains, also left to focus on a songwriting project of his own. “But he helped us get Ewan to replace him, so it wasn’t that hard. And Ewan’s a fast learner – he had two weeks in the band, I think, before playing our first show. So this, in my opinion, is the best-fitting lineup we’ve had. I think it takes awhile to find people you really work well with.

Ása’s tips for beginners 

  • “Stick with it until you get to a point where you can play a song and it sounds like a song. That’s when it really gets satisfying.”
  • “Remember that you don’t have to be amazing at your instrument to be able to make good music.”
  • “You have to be really motivated, especially when you start out. You can’t wait around for someone to give you a show. You have to actively seek them.”

“We also take more time now to discuss how songs should develop,” she continues. “Before we’d say, ‘These are the chords’ to Ewan, then Sam would start playing along, and that would be the end of the discussion. Now we start like that, then talk about everything we liked and didn’t like; to make it better and make it flow properly.”

As a songwriter, Ása cites Radiohead and Nick Cave as two of her primary influences. “I saw a documentary about Nick Cave, One More Time with Feeling, where he talks about never wanting to throw away any lines, so I’m taking a lot more time with songwriting now. I try to get to a point where I’m happy with all of the stuff lyrically. When I started, my songs were very simple. I’d sit down and write one in half an hour, just like verse-chorus-verse-chorus. Now I experiment more with dissonant sounds, and making up chord shapes. So it’s grown a lot.”

Each member is equally dedicated to honing their chops and progressing as a unit, and can’t foresee a time when they’d leave music behind. Sam, however, does offer one caveat: “I’d never give up on music, but I started playing baseball and drums pretty young, so I’m really into baseball, too.” He has major-league aspirations when it comes to the sport, but right now there’s room for the two pursuits. And his dual focus allows him to develop qualities that foster excellence in both: “Being focused and being dedicated,” he says.

 


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In the Spring of 2018, Rachael Bawn was minding her own business, quite literally, when she accidentally found herself signed to the record deal of her dreams. “It kind of happened backwards,” she says in Toronto, just before the release of Chasing Lights, her debut album on BMG in the U.S.

Her team was methodically following a strategic plan for Bawn to establish a social media presence, laying the groundwork for an eventual signing. She’d already completed the album, produced by Mike Krompass (Smash Mouth, Jordan Knight), and executive-produced by Dean Jarvis (The Weeknd, Alessia Cara), both of whom share songwriting credits with Bawn, and others, on the album.

“We had the entire album done, we even had all of the branding done,” says Bawn. “Basically, we’d done everything independently up to that point. We’d been working with a social media PR company based out of New York City, and they brought me there just to shoot some live footage so that we had that content. They set up this show at The Iridium and they had me perform there.”

The venue originally planned for the performances was booked, and The Iridium was their “Plan B” location. “When we got there, we found out the night was hosted by Fieldhouse Music, which is under the BMG umbrella,” says Bawn. Unbeknownst to her team, Fieldhouse founder John Loeffler had just been named Executive Vice-President for BMG in New York. The rest, as they say, is history.

The 20-something Bawn set out on a songwriting career when she moved to Toronto from Hopeville, in Northern Ontario, at 19 years old. However, she put her musical ambition on hold for a few years after her father passed away from cancer. She spent several years counselling and mentoring young women – four full years with one group of girls – before returning to her first love, music. She caught the attention of Dean Jarvis, who then introduced her to Toronto-based Mike Krompass. Her work with young women still fresh in mind, Bawn set out with a specific goal: to write an album with a positive message. “Every song had [to have] something that people can relate to, [that] hopefully inspires and helps people,” she says.

Jarvis and Krompass set up sessions in Nashville and Los Angeles, where Bawn worked with a wide swath of experienced writers. Although the album songs are all collaborations (except for “Trying”), Bawn says, “Every song on the album has a piece of me in it. Even if it was geared towards a lot of the stuff the teens I was working with were going through, there was always something I could relate to, and [I always] put a part of myself into the song.”

Bawn describes the division of labour as pretty even. “I have a lot of fun with melodies, but I’m also very particular when it comes to lyrics,” she says. “I think as a songwriter, I really try not to be cliché… because they’re more geared towards teenagers, I try to keep them a little more conversational, I guess, rather than super-deep and poetic. It depends on the song. It was always different, depending on the writer I was working with.”

Rachel on the road: Three tips for live performance

  • “You’ll have great and excited audiences, and you’ll have ones that aren’t, but this is where you grow as a performer – by having fun with it, and bringing the energy, no matter what.”
  • “People want to be seen, so I always try to make eye contact, or point out people that are really engaged.”
  • “People love to sing along, so to keep them engaged. I always work a cover song into my set.”

Serious issues, such as eating disorders and self-harm, are dealt with in an honest fashion. “I spent so much time with [her mentoring group] that it was easy to put myself in their situations, and imagine how it felt,” says Bawn. She recalled similar feelings from her own school days, too.

“I was really insecure,” she says, “and I would never have gone to school without makeup on. I spent so much money on clothes, and pretending to be something that I wasn’t, really. I was trying to live up to this standard. I remember the feelings of insecurity, and how that can lead to influencing the choices you’re making, and the people you’re surrounding yourself with, and the situations you find yourself in. I mean, kids make really bad choices sometimes. It’s just part of growing up, and learning who you are.”

Since the signing, Bawn has been working on new music, and gaining some valuable performance experience. “I toured a lot last year,” she says. “I toured the States for five weeks with High School Nation, a travelling festival, then this fall, from October to December, I was touring the East Coast of Canada with Live Different, a charity based out of Hamilton, with motivational speakers.” Bawn’s songs were interspersed throughout the programme.

Now, on the eve of her record release, the whirlwind years of writing, recording, and performing the songs has finally come to a head. “It’s exciting,” says Bawn. “I feel like this day has been coming for a long time, and I’ve been singing these songs for the past year while I’ve been touring, so it’s surreal. I think on the day it’ll hit me a little harder.” It probably will.


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