Everyone remembers their first real kiss. Not everyone writes a song about the experience.

Emily Reid did. Grade 7 was the year. “Permanent Smile” is the song that came from that short-lived, pre-teen love. Singing the song into her PC computer microphone led to endless ribbing from her two older brothers. “It’s a wonder I pursued music at all,” she laughs. “They were so relentless!”

It’s doubtful her siblings are laughing now. In 2014, Reid released her first EP, Drifter, which eventually secured a publishing deal with BMG Nashville. One of the early songs she wrote as a published writer, “If I Wanted Wine,” caught the ear of Shannon McNevan, Senior Director of A&R – Country for Universal Music Group Canada (who’s worked with James Barker Band, The Reklaws, Jade and Eagleson) – ultimately leading to a major label deal with Universal.

Then, in April of 2021, Reid landed her first No.1 Billboard single as part of the writing team (along with Matt McVaney and Travis Wood) for “Boys” —a song Dean Brody recorded with Mickey Guyton, and took to the top spot on the Canadian country charts as well. The song addresses the different ways men (versus boys) handle relationships.

“It was crazy,” explains Reid. “I had a session with Matt and Travis, and we were actually writing songs for my next record. We were struggling, and they both turned to me and said, ‘Emily, what would you write about?’ And I replied, ‘Boys, obviously!’

“It was a big swing of a song,” she continues. “After we finished writing and recording it, I thought it would be better sung by a guy. I told my manager, and he asked if it would be OK if he pitched it to Dean Brody. The song went to radio, then to No.1. Then, they got Mickey Guyton to feature on it. Watching her career rise, and just to be a tiny part of that, was super-cool. I was also the only female writer on that [Dean Brody] album, and that made me extra-proud.”

Long before this big hit happened, and after that first kiss occurred, Reid, 27, started writing poems on scraps of construction paper during her formative years growing up in Victoria, B.C. She hid these folded-up creative outbursts in her bookcase for safekeeping, away from the prying and taunting eyes of her brothers. Her dad found them, though, and encouraged her to keep writing. Piano lessons followed. Reid never loved this formal training; she preferred to play her own chords and sing her own songs.

On signing with a music publisher
At 23, Reid signed a contract with BMG Nashville and was writing five or six days a week there. “The best part about it is that somebody is paying you to write songs,” she says. “You don’t need to work a bar job just to make ends meet. That is a crazy gift. I got lost a bit at first, as I was young and impressionable, and seeking approval. But it was an amazing six years of my life.”

“It’s been the one thing in my life I always knew I loved,” Reid says about writing songs. “It always felt like a gift; in a family of non- musical people, that is how I felt and expressed my feelings.”

From B.C. to Nashville, with a pit stop in Toronto, Reid eventually settled back West in L.A., where she now lives with her husband. The millennial songwriter has travelled thousands of miles – literally and musically – in her relatively short career as a professional musician. Reid, who describes her music as “bold, energetic, and indie-fun-cool,” has learned something from every city where she’s planted roots and eventually found a tribe of collaborators.

“The one big lesson I’ve learned is that you just have to be you, and figure out what makes you special – instead of trying to emulate what makes someone else special, or trying to conform to what you think people want you to be,” she says. “Also, accept your weaknesses. That’s the beauty of  co-writing: Your weakness may be their strength. You’re not supposed to be good at all of it; that’s what makes the process so beautiful. Find your truth. and bring that every day.”

“Sometimes I just pinch myself when I’m in a room with my friends, and we’re writing a song that potentially could make us some money,” she says. “I think, ‘This is the coolest job anyone could have.’”

Singer-songwriter Sara-Danielle has just released her second EP, Another Self, but she’s already pining to return to the studio for her next project, and she might even do it alongside producer Jesse Mac Cormack once again, since he served her songs so well. “Plus, lately, I feel like writing songs by working on the lyrics first,” she adds. “It’s like I want to say more precise things, whereas I used to start with the music. Nowadays, I feel like starting with the lyrics will lead the music to manifest itself on its own, according to what I want to share.”

Sara-DanielleAs with most of us, the last two years have been a time of soul-searching for Sara-Danielle, who fortunately didn’t have to put her budding career on hold: the EP was ready months ago, and was released by Simone Records when it was scheduled. The wait was worthwhile: her offering is a mix of mature pop songs, gently tinged with soul, and refined by Mac Cormack’s orchestrations, achieving a perfect balance between acoustic instruments and synthetic flourishes. (Drummer Louis René contributed to the recordings).

However, during the pandemic, Sara-Danielle “felt a lot of relationships change. The songs I’m writing these days are a bit of a sequel to the EP,” meaning a reflection on her relationship with others, with her friends, but also a reflection on the feeling of loss of freedom imposed by self-isolation.

“I want to feel free and, I don’t know… Feel like I’m moving forward. As we’ve all felt these last few years, I felt trapped, stuck. I’m really anxious for things to move forward again. I’m getting impatient!” insists the musician, who started her solo project six years ago, and launched her first EP, Healing (2019), as a lyricist.

Sara-Danielle enjoys the music of Liana La Havas and Lana Del Rey, and you can hear it. “I love Liana La Havas’s powerful yet soft aura, I find her very inspiring,” she says. “I love sparse music with catchy R&B rhythms. I love stuff like that, where you feel the rhythmic pulse,” which one hears in her own output. “I think it’s actually fun that it’s devoid of ornamentation and totally gentle.” As for Lana Del Rey, “she uses her voice in very special ways, especially on her most recent album,” says the artist. “I also like to play with my voice to create textures and atmospheres. For my EP, I wanted to create something that mixed the organic side of R&B with electronic textures.”

That, too, is easy to hear, just as her formal training as a jazz singer at Université de Montréal is noticeable, in the way she controls her voice effortlessly. This training was the logical next step after completing the Musique et chanson program at Cégep Marie-Victorin. Less obvious is the fact that she learned music through traditional Québécois repertoire.

“My first instrument was the violin,” says the Gatineau-born musician, whose mother is a Franco-Ontarian. “I was introduced to music through Québécois reels which I listened to and played in my childhood and teens. My father’s a good singer, and he played mandolin, and my grandmother was involved in the traditional music community, so there was a lot of jamming going on at home!”

Yet, by growing up on the provincial border with Québec, Sara-Danielle was mostly exposed to Anglophone pop. “That’s my inspiration, I wrote my first songs in English,” she says. She started by dreaming of an international career in English, although for awhile, she felt overshadowed by her friends who were pursuing projects in French. “I saw them being invited to Francouvertes, for example, and I’d think to myself: ‘It’s really saddening that there are no contests or showcases like that for Anglo artists in Québec.’ I felt like I was falling through the cracks. So, I figured that if I couldn’t participate in those contests, I needed to surround myself with a great team. I sent demos everywhere, and that’s how I found my manager and my label.”

Her collaboration with Jesse Mac Cormack has finally allowed her to strengthen her musical identity, even though the Montréaler – currently releasing his new album, SOLO – is known for having his own signature sound, regardless of the projects on which he’s invited to work.

“It’s undeniable that he has his brand – you immediately know when an album was produced by him when you hear it,” Sara-Danielle readily admits. “I’ll be honest: I hadn’t thought about that when I walked into the studio; all I wanted was to work with someone who was a good fit. Such a fit between two musical personalities is important, just as important as being able to listen to the other. The fit was immediate between us, and he didn’t try to impose his sound on my songs. I showed up with my compositions and he just embellished them, naturally.

“I found it helpful to get to the studio with well thought-out compositions, lyrics, music, structure, and a good idea of where I wanted them to go, sonically. My ideas were clear enough to guide Jesse; he knew the direction I wanted to go in, like ‘the rhythm I hear is more like this, or that.’ He was the perfect complement to me, I never felt like he was taking up all the space.”


Thus OwlsErika and Simon Angell refuse to fall into the trap of music that becomes a habit, a routine, or a repetition. Their duo project Thus Owls has found a way to re-invent itself, album after album, for nearly 15 years. Their double-album Who Would Hold You If The Sky Betrayed Us?, released on March 4, 2022, explores even further the unbeaten path where they’ll most likely never set foot again.

This fifth project is fraught with so many elements, launched with the deep ardour of true artists, that it’ll always be a little idealistic to pretend that they can ever play the same songs in their original form. “We love that space where compositions and improvisation meet. And what we love even more is blurring the line between the two,” says Erika. Simon adds, “For our first album in 2009, when we still had our Swedish band, that was our vibe. Full circle.”

Founded in Stockholm, Thus Owls have been based in Montréal for many, many years, now. And yet, the pandemic has sown seeds of doubt that can be heard in Erika’s lyrics throughout the album. “My words are my own, they’re my diary,” she confesses. “I write for months on end, then look at what I wrote. I like improvising melodies in that second phase.

“For the new album, I wanted to find out how I felt about uprooting myself. Being disconnected from my family, my home, and even more so because of the pandemic – it changed me. Not all humans have to speak a language that’s not their mother tongue, day after day. I wanted to know who the uprooted me is, and that’s what I sing about here.”

If you don’t hear much of the Thus Owls sound in Québec, it’s not necessarily because it’s the Swedish sound, but rather because they embrace a broader musical ideology that shapes musicians there. “It’s free jazz,” Erika suggests initially. Says Simon, “To be more precise, a lot of different styles will incorporate some sort of jazz improvisation over there, whether it’s pop, rock, contemporary.” Erika adds,  “All of my friends I went to school with 20 years ago now approach music with a greater fluidity in mixing genres. We have an urge, and you can hear it, to avoid pigeonholing anything. Music doesn’t need to have a name.”

While their whole creative process seems to have been born in the heart of a fanfare in a sold-out stadium, the last two years have instead brought the Angells back to a dense and multi-faceted expression of their music, standing in front of almost nothing.

“When you play for a large crowd, it brings out the fun, it opens the door to possibilities and, yes, that’s how we like to think of our music,” Erika elaborates. Simon says, “What’s really interesting about our new album, however, is that even though we’ve managed to invite friends to play with us [including the three saxophonists Claire Devlin (tenor), Adam Kinner (tenor) and Jason Sharp (bass sax)], the album is built so that we can always invite someone else to the stage on the road. It’s the very essence of this project: freedom.”

When they’re in the studio, it’s very common that the first take is the one, and they “definitively never do more than two or three.” “A song’s energy is like a flame,” Erika surmises. “After three takes, the fire is gone. So, when we’re in the studio, we all play together in the same room, except for me; I’m in the vocal booth. We light up together, and we record as best as we can exactly how we would play onstage.”

When the pandemic struck, Thus Owls were finalizing the music for the movie Woman In Car. Their song “Lovers Are Falling” is nominated at the Canadian Screen Awards in the Best Original Song category. This type of project takes the couple out of its usual workflow. “You need to conceive music differently,” confides Simon. “The accent isn’t on the music. You need to reel it in.” Erika adds, “When I compose, I see colours in my mind. In the case of film music, the colour palette is already there, you just need to draw the contours.”

Thus, in spite of the heavy sounds and complex, multi-layered arrangements, Thus Owls travel lightly: a simple starting point that gets painted with all the possibilities found along the way. “We decide to listen to ourselves,” says Erika adamantly. “We bow to the unpredictable.”