Two heads are better than one. That’s the mandate of the composing team Asher & Skratt (Asher Lenz and Stephen Skratt), and it’s served them well. “With the pressure we’re under, deadlines-wise and creatively, having two sets of shoulders to carry that load is important,” says Lenz. Skratt concurs, explaining, “ultimately the music will be better, with two heads working on it.”

Asher & Skratt have been enjoying great success in writing music for diverse clients in the film, television and advertising world. They’ve worked together for 15 years, first at Lenz Entertainment and, for the past four years, as Asher & Skratt. Their positive personal and creative chemistry has remained intact, Skratt affirms: “We spend so much time in a room together, yet amazingly we’ve never really had a flare-up where someone storms out.” Lenz explains. “There’s a synergy between our two sensibilities, with our backgrounds complementing each other.”

“There’s a synergy between our two sensibilities, with our backgrounds complementing each other.” – Asher Lenz

Asher is the son of Jack Lenz – a multiple SOCAN Award-winning, veteran film and TV composer, and a writer/producer of songs for many high-profile artists. A song he and Asher wrote, “Go Where Loves Go,” was recorded by Andrea Bocelli, for example.

After studying music composition and piano performance at the Interlochen academy and jazz composition in New York City, Asher began his career at his father’s company, working his way up the ranks. Skratt studied drums at Humber College, then joined Lenz Entertainment, working on shows like Due South. Lenz notes that “as a team, early on, we cut our teeth on the grind of scoring a one-hour dramatic series, Sue Thomas FBEye, every week.”

The duo set up their own company four years ago to, says Skratt, “take some ownership of our futures.” High-profile work has come their way ever since. One recent career challenge was re-writing the opening theme of Inspector Gadget. Skratt notes, “the original, by Shuki Levy, is the greatest cartoon theme ever written.” The team is now scoring Ever After High, Mattel’s animated, web-based series (and impending feature film).

“We’re very lucky to be able to work in so many genres,” says Skratt. “They all make you a better composer. Why wouldn’t you want to do some crazy cartoon thing, then switch to Hyena Road, the new Paul Gross film, which we can write some serious and beautiful music for.”

They enjoy working together physically, too. “For many years, we worked with just one computer and one set of gear,” says Lenz. “We got so busy we had to get a second system, so now we run two shifts in parallel. We edit each other’s work, so it’s still a real collaboration.”

Success demands a varied set of skills, Skratt explains. “You can’t be precious about your work,” he says, “as you’re at the whim of the director and client. You have to help tell and sell jokes, especially in animation. You have to know your software and update it regularly. You also need to intelligently discuss films with guys like Paul Gross and Larry Weinstein of Rhombus. Many different tools are required.”

Selected Credits: Escape from Tehran (film), Hyena Road (film), Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (TV movie: their score won a 2013 Canadian Screen Award), Sue Thomas, FBEye (TV), Doc (TV) Ever After High (web series) Detentionaire (TV), Inspector Gadget (TV)
SOCAN Members since 2002 (Asher), 2000 (Skratt)

Do you choose to live a life in music? Or does music choose you? Young composer Antoine Binette Mercier, 28, has never thought of doing anything else. “I’ve never questioned my career choice,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to write music for films, for as long as I can remember.” In spite of his young age, the composer has already written music for video games, advertising jingles, short film soundtracks (Ça prend des couilles by director Benoit Lach, among others) and documentary features like Le nez by Kim Nguyen and Take Down: The DNA of GSP by Peter Svatek and Kristian Manchester.

For his musical work on the GSP documentary about ultimate fighting champions, Binette Mercier received a Gémeaux award, a Canadian Screen Award nomination, and a SOCAN Foundation Young Audio-visual Composers prize. 

“If you want to survive in the business of composition for films and documentaries, you have to create your own sound.”

Binette Mercier started off creating music for video games. While he was studying classical music composition at Laval University, a teacher put him in contact with Long Tail, an independent gaming studio. The job was so demanding that he decided to drop his university studies. “I sometimes miss the academic world,” he says. “But at the time, I didn’t find it very practical. It was a gift to be able to do music for video games.”

After three years of working there, Long Tail was bought by Ubisoft and the contract ran out for Binette Mercier. He arrived in Montreal and linked up with Apollo Studios musical services, an association that guided his choice of a professional path. “I had an office on their premises as an independent worker,” he says. “And that enabled me to get my footing, and get involved with the people and projects in the field. I wouldn’t have won the contract for the GSP documentary without them.”

Binette Mercier understood what the GSP documentary producers wanted, because of their larger-than-life musical references in George St. Pierre’s image. Directors Peter Svatek and Kristian Manchester acknowledge Radiohead and Hans Zimmer as musical influences. “In our job, we’re always dealing with the demolover, directors who are obsessed with the music they’re using to make their film before adding an original score,” says Binette Mercier. “As composers, we must understand the feelings that are touched upon. To move beyond the references provided at the beginning of the project, and find the musical tools to express the three or four emotions within a scene. Peter and Kristian had used a Radiohead song in a school bullying scene at the school where George suffers in silence and then, one day, fights back to get some respect. I went for Claude Lamothe’s cello, which has the athlete’s strength and intensity but also his warmth. Everything worked out.”

Another decisive meeting was one with Julien Sagot. Binette Mercier has been friends with Karkwa’s percussionist since 2009, when he wrote the arrangements for the group’s symphonic concert performance, and the creative exchange is still going. Binette Mercier produced the second part of Sagot, Valse 333, which came out in late 2014. The exchange has set the composer off on an artistic quest. “Sagot has woken me up as an artist,” he says. “He’s instilled a feeling of urgency in me, to find my own sound, my own style, my own language. I’ve been looking for a musical identity ever since. And that’s all down to him.”

Binette Mercier has therefore started composing his own album of “cinematic” songs in his spare time, or when he feels inspired. “If you want to survive in the business of composition for films and documentaries, then you have to create your own sound,” he says. “It’s easy in this business to just do what people ask… Plus, our creative time is often cut short. It’s up to you as a composer to do the groundwork, to feed yourself with painting, creation, life.”

When you ask Binette Mercier what it takes in this business, he replies with no hesitation that resourcefulness, determination and communication are his key themes: “You have to be up to speed technically speaking, and able to compose with a computer. You have to be versatile and meet people. No man likes to sell himself, but when I had no more video game contracts, I bought myself a $300 ticket for the Montreal International Games Summit. And I came out with a $2,000 music contract.”

Nothing like making your own luck.

At the time of our meeting, on a lovely April day, Ariane Moffatt admits to suffering a bout of post-partum depression. It’s got nothing to do with her two-year-old twins, Paul and Henri, who were carried by her partner Florence and have greatly inspired the songs on her latest album. Ariane is mourning the creative cycle that led up to the launch of 22h22. “Most of the promo’s done now, and after the initial buzz, the media has already moved on to covering something else,” she says with a smile.

One could say the same thing about Moffat, an artist whom anyone would be hard-pressed to accuse of remaining in the same spot for too long. To her, every new album is a chance to explore new ground, to share with new musicians, and 22h22 is no exception. She even switched record companies for the occasion, moving from Audiogram to Simone Records.

“Deciding to not put my songs on Spotify doesn’t really make much difference, but it gives me an opportunity to explain what’s going on for us.”

But if Moffat, by her own admission, can be fairly fickle, she still relies on a few loyal friends. That’s how it is with old pal Jean-Phi Goncalves – who she met when he was the drummer in Plaster and Beast – who co-produced 22h22. “He’s a special kind of collaborator, because he’s also my best friend,” explains Moffat. “Energy flows naturally between us; we don’t need to say a word to understand each other. Obviously, as a producer, he contributed greatly to the sound. But I went to him with an almost finished album, as I tend to think about everything at once: the melody, the song, the arrangement.”

For this record, Moffat laid down a few ground rules: no guitars, lots of synths, all the while ensuring that it didn’t sound like all those super-trendy New Wave revival acts. Goncalves understood the vibe and got right into reconciling extremes, amplifying the catchy pop of “Debout” or “Miami” (a gem which, strangely, almost didn’t make it onto the album), or opting for minimalism on sadder songs like “Domenico,” an homage to a well-known homeless resident of Montréal’s Mile-End neighbourhood.

What Goncalves brings to Moffat’s music, Tristan Malavoy Racine  brings to her lyrics. The poet and journalist is one of her closer friends, whose advice she heeds. “He’s my first reader; he does to my lyrics exactly what an editor does for a novelist,” she explains. “Of course, he’s open to poetry, but he’s also a great listener. We talk a lot, with no ego involvement, and he helps me to make personal things accessible.”

Since the album launch, she’s spoken at length about the meaning of 22h22, whose elegant symmetry matches that of her twin sons. Beyond its aesthetic qualities, the titular time was the expression of a transition between two states. When her sons were finally falling asleep, the mother in her gave way to the artist. This seems too good to be true; but…  “No, no, it’s all true, I didn’t make this up,” she insists. “I was seeing those numbers everywhere when I started working on the record. After, of course, I asked myself if I wasn’t talking about it a little too much, if it wasn’t risky to insist on a concept that might ultimately overshadow the songs on the album. But I take responsibility for it and I intentionally chose the title track as the album’s opener: it’s kind of like the decoder ring that allows you to understand the rest of the album.”

There’s no denying that on this album, Moffat lets us into her inner world more than ever before. On “Matelots & frères,” samples of her sons’ voices, and the cry for help of “Tireurs fous,” it’s Moffat the mom who’s at the forefront; whereas on songs such as “Les Deux Cheminées,” a veritable declaration of love for a girlfriend, she brings forth the inner lover.

But no matter where Moffat decides to go, she can count on the fact that her fans will go with her. Several times during the interview, she mentions, almost in disbelief, the young woman she was at the launch of Aquanaute in 2002 and, above all, the incredible journey she’s made since then. She seems to have come to terms with her pop-star status, and doesn’t hesitate to use her fame to address important issues, whether it be gay parenting or music industry changes.

“I don’t think I’ve become a militant, but I think it’s important to talk about these things when you have the opportunity to be heard, like I do,” she explains. “Deciding to not put my songs on Spotify doesn’t really make much difference, but it helps me to explain what’s going on for us. Those who are making the big bucks nowadays are paying us peanuts and are, unfortunately, not re-investing anything in artists’ careers.”