Hedley frontman Jake Hoggard listens to music every single morning “like it’s my morning coffee,” he says, on the phone from a B.C. recording studio. “I wake up and I look for something to inspire me, and draw from everything that’s happening around me constantly.”

It’s what infuses his songwriting, and the sound of the band’s new album, Cageless – with its notable Weeknd-esque first single, “Love Again,” that’s racked up four million streams and landed in the Top 10 at four radio formats. It’s what prompts some to view the band – Hoggard, guitarist Dave Rosin, bassist Tommy MacDonald and new drummer Jay Benison (replacing Chris Crippin) –  as ever-evolving, and others to believe it’s chasing trends.

Hoggard has an honest – and passionate – explanation. “I’m the one in the band coming into practice going, ‘Yo, you guys gotta hear this! Have you ever heard a snare drum sound like that?’ Little details, little nuances, trends. Also, the way pop music’s evolving is very much a derivative of urban music. I’m sensitive, too. My ears are trained to be observant. I’m not just listening; I’m listening to a culture, in a sense. That sensitivity has always been filtered and factored into our writing process.”

“I’m listening to a culture, in a sense. That sensitivity has always been filtered and factored into our writing process.” – Jacob Hoggard of Hedley

The Hedley of today doesn’t sound like the Hedley that debuted nationwide with 2005’s self-titled album, which went double-platinum. With all six albums that followed on Universal Music Canada, Hedley has evolved from a pop-punk band, to EDM-infused pop/rock, to essentially an urban-dance-pop band (always sure to include big ballads); unlike, say, The Tragically Hip, Nickelback, Rush, or Blue Rodeo, all of whom have long maintained a strongly identifiable sound.  Hoggard co-produced the latest album with long-time co-writers and collaborators Brian Howes and Jason “JVP” Van Poederooyen.

Hedley co-writer Brian Howes

Brian Howes was brought in as a Hedley songwriter and producer for the debut album in 2005, and remains Hoggard’s main collaborator.

“We were both rookies, to be honest,” says Howes. “I lived in a small, dumpy apartment and he came over and grabbed my acoustic and sang ‘On My Own.’ We had such a blast working together, and then we just kept it going. You just have certain chemistry with some people. I’ll get in the room with really great writers and we cancel each other out; there’s no vibe. But him and I, because we’re both kind of hosers, we had a lot of chemistry. We work hard, but it’s fun, and a lot of the stuff comes really quickly. We had some big blow-up fights too, over songs which went on to be big hits. We’re like brothers.

“He’s a killer songwriter, and he’s become better and better and better. Both of us love the craft of songwriting so much that we just dive into it. Every record gets better and better. We made a conscious decision to transition the band from more of a rock edge to more of a pop edge, and he could go there because he’s so into different kinds of music. I think that’s what created the longevity for the band; we’re always evolving.”

“Because we’re so prolific — we write so much and so constantly — we’re almost constantly mirroring where we’re at in life,” says Hoggard. “I’m so thankful to be able to say that it’s constantly evolved, that we’ve constantly pushed ourselves to not be the same. That’s why our music really represents not just that, but times and places throughout our history. I think that’s really cool. It’s a time-stamp.

“I can look back at [2007’s] Famous Last Words, I was like, ‘Fuckin’ yeah, like angry rawr,’ and it’s so funny. I love joking about it now. I still say we’re a pop-punk band, just because it’s funny.”

When Hoggard says “we,” and “our,” he has to clarify. He does not write with his bandmates anymore, like he did on the first three albums, including Famous Last Words and 2009’s The Show Must Go.  The shift began with 2011’s Storms, and continued through 2013’s Wild Life, 2015’s Hello and the new Cageless with Howes and JVP as the main co-writers, but also a handful of others.

“We do it once in a while,” Hoggard says of writing with MacDonald and Rosin. “The ‘we,’ I’m almost always referring to the band, like a mechanism, but the reality is, I’m the writer.”

“We magically just shifted it into a place where I took more the lead, as opposed to being more of a democratic process. I spearheaded it because my vision seemed the most in line with where to go, but also because of the trust of the guys. As I started to take more of a leadership role creatively, they also started to see the success of the band still grow, and the music that I was writing on my own [have] impact and [make the audience] react well. It wasn’t like they were, ‘Oh God, we’re fucked,’” he laughs.

Among the band’s accomplishments the past 12 years:  headlining arena tours, sales of more than a million albums and four million singles, two JUNO Awards, 11 MMVAs, 17 No. 1 music videos, 16 Top 10 radio singles, 83 million Vevo views,

Hedley co-writer Jason “JVP” Van Poederooyen

Jason Van Poederooyen came in as an engineer on the first album, and started writing with Hoggard on the fourth album, 2011’s Storms.

“My skill set is all over the map,” says JVP. “I’ll build the track and get the music going while they get the lyrics and melody going, but I pitch in on melody as well. We all do a lot of everything. Primarily I work on Pro Tools.

“Sometimes, I’ll have a track pre-made as a start and they’ll be inspired, or Brian will bring in a chord progression and I’ll build the track over that, but in those cases [‘Love Again’ and ‘Obsession’] we were just in the room noodling around, and I would throw a beat up, or some keys, and it just evolved. Sometimes when the melodies come in, the chords will change. Both those songs were born in the room, from scratch.

“[Jake’s] always wanting to do something new. That’s who he is as a songwriter. When we were building the track, he was really into it. Even after ‘Love Again’ was finished, he was texting me, ‘Dude I can’t get that song out of my head.’ Super-excited. Just pure creative energy. Ideas, ideas, ideas, and you just try and sort them out, and take his ideas and mix them with your own. We have a chemistry between us.”

1 billion radio audience impressions, and 65 million streams, and counting.

Hedley – a band Hoggard formed in his teens with an entirely different lineup — had success right out of the gate with its first major label album. Hoggard had the benefit of an awaiting nationwide fanbase, who had watched his campy, charismatic performances on the second season of TV talent search Canadian Idol in 2004, which took him to the Top Three. He was also a natural star, funny and talented, great with his fans. He was perceived as a goofball, but he was one who worked his ass off behind the scenes, wanting desperately to learn and become a better songwriter.

“I think early, in what’s now a career, I was always equipped with that appetite and that hunger to improve, to be better, to realize that you had peers, to realize that you had to apply yourself to a craft,” says Hoggard, who started playing piano at age four and guitar at 12. “Early on, I realized it’s not like accounting, but it’s like an exercise. It’s something you have to show up to every single day, and just put in the time. I think from that early point, I was developing an ethic.”

Subject-wise, even though Hedley has travelled with We Charity (formerly Free the Children) to Kenya and India, and frequently performs at We Day, and there’s been births, deaths and illnesses in the Hedley family, Hoggard sticks with love as the general theme, as well as some fun, party material. Droughts and cancer are not in his lyrical wheelhouse.

“A lot of my life’s work has been centered around falling in love, breaking all your bones on the way down. I’m also very much that type of person,” he explains.  “There’s something about developing a sensitivity to all of those experiences, not even just yours, but developing a sensitivity in that search for inspiration.”

For Cageless, he wrote 30 to 35 songs, he says, the chosen 10 with various co-writers: Howes and JVP, of course, plus Dan Book, Andrew Goldstein, Ryan Stewart, Jarett Holmes, Nolan Sipe, Kyle Moorman, Paro Westerlund and Susie Yankou.

Howe, an award-winning producer, has been Hoggard’s main songwriting collaborator since 2005 and is credited on every Hedley album since, some more than others. And JVP, who’s been on board as engineer since the debut album starting getting publishing on songs for Storms, when the band began exploring electronic sounds.  The three co-wrote “Love Again.”

“’Love Again’ we wrote at the beginning, before we had an album title,” says Hoggard. “It was a very early idea and it just was killer. It’s so funny when you’re making an album, you don’t know what it’s going be. It’s basically saying, ‘Hey, let’s go on a road trip. Where you wanna go?’ ‘I don’t know.’ And then you just get in the car and it takes shape.’”

Hoggard fully admits that the final destination sometimes surprises his bandmates, who aren’t in that car with him. “There’s always a bit of a disconnect because I’m always pushing us. So I think out of the gate, they’re not too sure how to react sometimes, but I keep them so close to the process.”

And Hedley’s fans are there at the end, too.

“We’ve grown up together with our fans now,” Hoggard says. “It’s always been something I’ve factored into the songwriting process because I’ve never wanted to alienate them. I’ve never wanted to take a huge left-turn and completely shock everyone to the point of a disconnect. I think that’s why it wasn’t like it happened overnight; I think that’s also been a huge contributing factor to our ability to stay relevant.”

In early 2017, Gabrielle Shonk appeared on SOCAN’s list of 10 artists to watch this year.

The shock wave began in the spring of 2016, when the video for her song “Habit,” produced with video artist Dragosh, was an instant hit. Yet she was still without a record contract. “The video went viral,” says the 28-year-old musician from Québec City. “I got a ton of e-mails from labels all around the world. The impact was much bigger than if I had simply shopped around a master recording.”

Thanks to her 10-track calling card – seven songs sung in English, three in French –Shonk joined Bobby Bazini on Universal Music Canada in early 2017. At the same time, Rimouski’s Louis Bellavance, the programming director of the Festival d’été de Québec, also became her manager.

“I was a little bummed out for a while, I thought that a bilingual album would be hard to sell in this market, but that’s how I wanted it to be,” says Shonk. “In the end, it’s a nice outcome, I’m happy. In any case, my musical culture has always been more Anglophone; my dad [Peter Shonk & The Blues Avalanche is celebrated on the Québec City blues scene] is American, and my mom from Québec. I loved Céline Dion when I was younger, but in fact, I come from the punk rock / hardcore scene.”

After a SOCAN showcase during the M for Montréal conference an festival a few months earlier, she was introduced to a wider audience on Feb. 24, 2017, when she opened for Bazini at the city’s Métropolis club. It became obvious: backed by her five-piece band, she infused her soul-tinged folk with powerful energy. There are no orchestral flights of fancy here; this woman has a romantic temperament, in the best sense of the words. Her music is touching, like a caress. Of her many influences, Feist, Kurt Vile, Marvin Gaye and Joni Mitchell are on the short list.

Simon Pednault produced this first album, while Guillaume Chartrain was in charge of recording and mixing. They collaborated with Louis-Jean Cormier and Tire le Coyote. “I write my songs with a guitar and my voice,” says Shonk. “I love intimate stuff, and I consider myself as more of a musician. I’m always looking for melodies and chord ideas. It is certainly an intimate, very personal record. And we recorded live, all playing together, so we’d get a feeling of something real.” That meant ten songs to fine-tune, for which to create arrangements, and to record all at once – even though some of them were composed six, eight or even 10 years ago.

From one song to the next, the joy of bilingualism was preserved. One listens to “Raindrops” and “Part plus sans moi,” then from “Trop tard” to the more commercial “Missing Out,” and it all flows seamlessly, naturally. It’s exhilarating, and it’s clear that Shonk is an extremely sensitive, private songwriter.

When we walked towards the stage, itself sitting next to a railroad track, on Sept. 3, 2017, at the inaugural edition of the Mile EX End Music Festival in Montréal, she was singing Al Green’s soul classic “Let’s Stay Together” under the Van Horne overpass. “I have to do covers, because I only have 10 songs and they go by fast,” says Shonk. Her distinctive, stripped-down covers tell a lot about Shonk’s idea of pure singing: “One Dance” (Drake), “Ain’t No Sunshine” (Bill Withers) and even U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” – which she had revisited during her galvanizing tenure at TV talent contest La Voix, the Québec franchise of The Voice, in 2014 – are ideal for her. Less is more.

Louis-Jean Cormier, her mentor during the show’s second season, advised her to bet on simplicity. And that’s what we hear on her first album. Ten sparsely, yet finely arranged songs. “I went on La Voix wondering if I’d be able to deal with such a level of stress,” says Shonk. “The audience, a big televised show. In hindsight, I learned much more about myself than I did on a musical level. I gave me confidence. And it gave me a swift kick in the ass to start composing my own songs.”

Gabrielle Shonk plays
Feb. 23, 2018, at L’Astral during Montréal en Lumière

When Ottawa-born pianist Christina Petrowska-Quilico was only 10 years old, she performed Joseph Haydn’s Concerto in D Major with Toronto’s Conservatory Orchestra – and amazed the audience. By the time she was a teen, the New York Times was using such descriptors for her talent and skill as Promethean, phenomenal, “dazzling virtuosity” and “playing to perfection.”

Quilico went on to become the extraordinary adult talent one imagines possible when listening to a child prodigy perform. The praise and accolades, including four JUNO nominations, have continued to flow throughout the almost six decades she’s been recording and performing a diverse repertoire of solo, orchestral and chamber music on four continents.

Quilico’s music travels to space
In 2006, the tribute to her talent went out of this world. One of her 50 albums, a recording of the piano concerto written by David Mott specifically for Quilico, debuted in outer space when astronaut Steve MacLean took it with him on the space shuttle Atlantis. It became the first CD to put human music in the heavens. Quilico, who’s also a professor of piano performance and musicology at York University, walked into her class the morning the debut was reported in the news. “All the students were clapping,” she says. “I asked them what I had done. They said, ‘You didn’t see the newspaper?’  I had no idea. It was very exciting.”

The focus of her excitement now is in anticipation of her scheduled soloist performance of Claude Champagne’s piano concerto with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and maestro Victor Feldbrill on Oct. 21 and 22, 2017, at Roy Thomson Hall. Curated by Feldbrill and called With Glowing Hearts, the program explores Canada’s rich history of classical composers.

“The concerto I’m playing was written in 1948 and it’s wonderful,” says Quilico, who’s performed more than 35 concertos. “I get to do flashy stuff, and romantic stuff, and it’s nice to be able to play music that reflects that era of Canadian music. I love all music, but I really love playing concerto. I get a real high with an orchestra.”

The concerts also bring together two of the most respected champions of Canadian contemporary composers: Feldbrill and Quilico, who has premiered more than 150 contemporary pieces, including the work of such renowned Canadian SOCAN member composers as Violet Archer and John Weinzweig. That devotion earned her the 2007 Friends of Canadian Music Award from the Canadian Music Centre (CMC) and the Canadian League of Composers. And in 2010 she received the inaugural Harry Freedman Recording Award for composers as a co-recipient with composer Constantine Caravassilis. “I’ve wanted to support Canadian music because there are so many wonderful composers who get lost by the wayside,” says Quilico, who’s been especially recognized for her virtuosity in interpreting challenging contemporary compositions.

PULL QUOTE: ““I’ve wanted to support Canadian music because there are so many wonderful composers.”

In turn, Canadian composers have been so taken with her interpretation of their works that many, including SOCAN members Mott, Larysa Kuzmenko, Steven Gellman and Heather Schmidt, have written music specifically for her. The late Ann Southam, known for her minimalist style, was another composer who trusted Quilico profoundly with her compositions. “I really fought to have her music in the beginning, because music has its flavour of the year and at the time, and in the 1980s the flavour wasn’t minimalist,” said Quilico. The two first collaborated in 1982 when Southam asked Petrowska Quilico to do a demo recording of Rivers. “I found it quite slow,” said Quilico. “I was seven or eight months pregnant at the time, so I figured she wouldn’t yell at a pregnant lady. I called her and said, ‘You know, I’ve changed your stuff around quite a bit.’ She said, ‘Well, let me hear it.’ She just loved it and said ‘You can do whatever you want with my music.’”

The two developed a 30-year friendship and collaboration. In 2018, Quilico will be releasing an album of Southam’s early work. “There are some really neat surprises that are going to happen on that album, and it shows the wealth of her creativity,” says Quilico – who, between teaching, performing, and recording, keeps a hectic schedule.

As of September 2017, Quilico had already performed more than half-a-dozen-times in the year, including a recital featuring the solo piano works by her late first husband, Michel-Georges Brégent, at the 50th anniversary celebration of Montréal’s Société de Musique Contemporaine du Québec. She released Worlds Apart, a double-album recording celebrating Canadian composers. She’ll also give a concert of solos by women composers for Winnipeg’s Groundswell series, Global Sirens, on November 28, 2017.  And she’s working with David Jaeger, who’s setting to music a selection of poems she wrote in her youth.

It turns out the child prodigy was also a talented poet, whose work was published in the New York Times. “I did speak to one of the editors, who said, ‘You have to make up your mind. I love your writing, but if you go into writing, then you can’t also be a concert pianist,’” she says.

Luckily for Canadian composers and the classical music genre, Quilico chose to be a concert pianist. “I found playing was really easy so I just went along with it,” she says. “Music is sound and emotion and there are no boundaries. It’s always changing. I like it. It gives me a sense of adventure.”