The writing of a song is only part of the journey.

Once it’s committed to a demo recording, the task is then to get some influential people to listen to it, approve and endorse it, and hopefully turn it into some sort of success.

Such is the case with “Drifting,” a song born out of a 2014 songwriting camp held at the Deerhurst Resort in Muskoka, Ontario, organized by Casablanca Media Publishing/Red Brick Songs.

Two SOCAN writers, Nygel Asselin and STACEY (Howchin), teamed up with SESAC writer Nathan Eiesland – also a singer at the time, for Minneapolis indie rock band On An On – and finished the original demo within a few hours. “It all came together pretty quick,” says Asselin, whose previous claim to fame was producing Half Moon Run’s 2012 debut album Dark Eyes. “We did the whole thing at camp on my laptop. Then I went back to my studio and mixed it, and within two months it was released and started its success. The song came together in the matter of an hour or two, maybe three. Then we tracked and everything kind of fell into place with the initial production.”

For STACEY, it was an auspicious occasion. “I was a little nervous because this was my first-ever co-write,” she says. “I didn’t know what to expect. But I remember we went out on the patio and had a great view of the lake, and the song happened really quickly.”

By the time the smoke cleared, “Drifting” had landed seven synchronizations in TV shows, and been streamed on Spotify more than 12 million times.

How did it happen?

“This was written on day one of the retreat,” says Jana Cleland, Vice President of Casablanca/Red Brick. “We put them together – they hadn’t known each other.  They wrote the song with our guidance, because then it could be targeted toward our needs a little bit more, filling some holes we might have, especially when it comes to synchs. Once the song was written, we were really concentrating on it for synch. We wanted to finish the song quickly and have it out there.”

One of the first avenues Casablanca/Red Brick chose to promote the song was The Hype Machine, a Brooklyn-based website that acts as a meeting point for the tastemaker press. “Hype Machine is a collection of press outlets and music blogs that are tracked, so basically it pulls in the feed from all the different sites,” says Cleland. “People go there, fans can listen to the music directly without having to go to the actual sites, and they can discover music that way.”

“We put the song up on Soundcloud, and it was shocking how much love it was getting from everyone around the world.” – Jana Cleland, of Casablanca Media Publishing/Red Brick Songs

Listeners that like the music can signal by applying a heart to the track, and can also add it to their own personal feeds. Through that system, “Drifting” eventually reached No. 2 on the chart – via fan reaction. “It’s the kind of song that brings a lot of feelings and emotions the first time you hear it, which is why I think fans reacted so strongly to it,” says Cleland.

Casablanca/Red Brick also circulated the track to tastemakers. “We sent it out to 70 press outlets and they picked it up really fast,” says Cleland. “People were just drawn into it. We put the song up on Soundcloud, and it was shocking how much love it was getting from everyone around the world.” It got so much love that co-writer Eiesland decided to re-record it for his band On An On and release it as a single. Casablanca/Red Brick also issued a promotional-only vinyl album that showcased all of the most promising songs written at the 2014 camp.

As “Drifting” gained momentum, music supervisors (who determine the music to be used in movies and TV programs) came calling. Eventually, the song – which ended up with several remixed versions being circulated – landed seven placements, with TV shows The Fosters, iZombie, Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, Scream and Degrassi: The Next Class. “Drifting” also landed in a TV commercial called “33 Buckets” for Arizona State University, an environmental message about providing water in other countries, which aired during the Super Bowl in the U.S. “Because they bring such emotion into a scene, these kinds of songs are the best for synch placements,” says Cleland.

For a program like Degrassi: Next Class, which airs in more than 130 countries, and on Netflix around the world, Instinct Entertainment music supervisor Dondrea Erauw had a bit of an early start. She was a Casablanca/Red Brick employee during the time of the song’s creation, so she had heard the original demo before she started working in her current position.

However, hearing a song and landing it for a television program are two different things. Just because you’re aware of a song, doesn’t mean the show’s producers will like it enough to use it. “I was kind of working on a scene of Degrassi: Next Class – the first episode of the new rendition of Degrassi that came out – and it needed something extremely emotional, that kind of grew as the song went on,” says  Erauw. “I remembered that the re-recorded version of ‘Drifting’ by On An On did just that, and I hadn’t used it before. So, I tried it to picture and it worked extremely well.”

Initially, Erauw didn’t pitch it to Degrassi’s producers, but directly to the show’s editor. “I had ‘Drifting’ and a few other songs in a folder that I had sent off to the editor,” she says. “I was working directly with him, and I said that ‘Drifting’ was my favourite, because when I tested it to picture, it seemed like it was edited to that song already. Sometimes, that’s a little bit of the magic synch rule for us, when the editor doesn’t need to go back in and do another picture edit, they can just lay the track in nicely and it kind of does the job for them… which is what this song does… He said, ‘Oh my God, this is the one.’”

For Jana Cleland, the story isn’t over, not by a long shot. “I feel like the song does have way more life in it,” she says, “in that we’ll see more placements – and, substantially, that an artist will feel like they might want to do a version of this song, because it could be done  so many different ways. Somebody could make it their own.”

Nate Husser doesn’t like talking for no reason. Voluble on the mic, tireless onstage, the 26-year-old rapper is, paradoxically, discreet in an interview context. “I concentrate entirely on music,” he says unapologetically.

We meet in a café on Montréal’s Sainte-Catherine Street, a location he documents with a barely contained, explosive rage on his blazing rap-rock album Catherine. The Montréal-born artist talks with iron-clad precision and not a trace of confession. “I have very mixed feelings about that street. It’s both light and dark,” says the young man who grew up “10 minutes’walk” from the heart of downtown.

Explicit, but not in-your-face, the violence that imbues the dark lyrics of Catherine is rooted in the tumultuous journey of his life. The rough experiences that young Nate Husser survived in the city’s Little Burgundy neighbourhood have marked him deeply. “I had to grow up much faster than most people,” he says. “I witnessed a lot of stuff on the streets. I’ve seen violence, corruption, people turning against each other… And that was before I was a teen,” he says, with a rare openness.

The stories of young Husser would become the canvas for things to come. To survive between school, work and shenanigans – “grindin’ and hustlin’” – the young man who lived in his mom’s basement turned to his passion for rap. At the tail end of his teens, he met his future Posterz partners, Joey Sherrett and Kris The $pirit. “Our paths crossed in a Little Burgundy community centre. There was a studio at the bottom of the stairs,” says.

Between 2013 and 2016, The Posterz recorded three EPs that were critically acclaimed in Québec, and found promising traction abroad. Satisfied with his band’s œuvre, Husser felt it was time to pick up the pace and let his creativity run free on a solo project. Launched last fall on the Cult Nation imprint, and lauded by several major media outlets such as Noisey and The Source, Geto Rock for the Youth is emblematic of the contradictions that inhabit its creator: aloof yet incisive; scattered, yet dense.

Peppered with references to the turn of the century – think Eminem and American nu metal – the music on this EP is somewhat nostalgic. “I wasn’t exposed to hip-hop radio stations when I was a kid,” says Husser. “What I was exposed to was mainly pop, rock, and alternative. It all stayed with me, and influenced my music.” Husser tapped his producer friends Joey Sherrett, Mike Shabb, Maky Lavender, Ajust and Jay Century for his first solo recording, which has racked up more than 300,000 streams on Spotify so far.

An devotee of freestyle – “Paid to Party,” for example, is an entirely improvised song – Nate Husser speaks frankly when he’s on the mic. Without going so far as to label his style “protest rap,” he readily admits the importance of being authentic, hip-hop’s ultimate value. “I’d rather inform people of my reality than brag or try to look cool,” says Husser. “I believe a song should always have a message, regardless of the message’s weight or depth. If your topic is popping molly, you need to incarnate it and tell it like it is, with authenticity. The same goes for politics.”

This sincere approach is the driving force of Like It Doesn’t Hurt, a collaboration with label-mate Charlotte Cardin, whose striking video has already garnered more than five million plays. Husser didn’t have to look very far to write this piece about a tortuous and failing relationship. “It’s totally based on my own life experience, because that’s easy for me to do,” he says. “I’ve lived [through] a lot of totally crazy situations and, in any case, I’m no good at imagining things.”

At the other end of the spectrum, a track like “KillaKop” is just as striking, with its intense, straight-to-the point narrative, one that leaves no doubt about his past history of violence. “In 2014, I was facing two charges of assault against a police officer,” says Husser. “For a year-and-a-half, I had to go back and forth to court for absolutely nothing. Nothing but lies and bullshit! So I figured, if I’m gonna end up behind bars, might as well have actually done something wrong.”

Thankfully, such dark thoughts have since fled the rapper’s mind. As a matter of fact, he’s after a new, more wholesome lifestyle now. “I’m trying to be more normal, calmer,” he says. “Obviously, it has an impact on my lyrics, because for the first time in my life, I’m happy.”

With upcoming, even more potentially bright projects on the horizon, Husser wants to prove his relevance and his worth beyond Montréal’s rap scene. “I don’t want people to see me just as a rapper, but as a complete artist,” says the man who won the Anglophone Artist of the Year Award at the last Dynastie Gala, a ceremony that celebrates Québec’s Black personalities. “Rap is something I can do, but I can also do a lot of other things, like writing and producing songs.”

Hubert Lenoir 2It’s been four years since we’ve heard the singular voice of The SeasonsHubert Lenoir on a new recording. This time, though, the man is going it alone, launching Darlène through the Simone Records label. Darlène is an album born of resilience, and a desire to be freed from the love/hate relationship Lenoir has with touring – gig to gig, almost non-stop, as part of a cycle that’s redundant and foreign to the creativity in which it originates.

A year ago, almost to the day – after walking out of the Olympia de Paris after the final show of a touring cycle that lasted longer than two years – Lenoir holed up in a small Québec City flat and immersed himself in a tidal wave of music listening, from Prince to Brian Eno and Oscar Peterson. He then dove head-first into a nirvana-like creative euphoria, the likes of which he’d never reached before.

Then came a Eureka moment, when he said “Fuck it, I’m writing an opera!”

While Lenoir was initially thinking of a concept album, his life partner Noémie D. Leclerc quickly joined in the process. “She was working on a novel at the same time,” he says. “We were next to each other in a tiny apartment and, at some point I decided that my songs would be a reflection of her story (Darlène, Noémie D. Leclerc, Québec Amérique).” This highly fluid creative union also saw Gabriel Lapointe collaborate with them, and produced a series of illustrations and a film. Ambition is obviously not a problem for Lenoir.

Although he’d achieved considerable success in his previous group, the artist desperately needed the visceral meaning of the fresco he was painting, as far as possible from “industry recommendations.” “I needed to believe it would have some impact,” says Lenoir. “I’m holding my hand out to those who seek something different, to give a voice to those who don’t recognize themselves in the so-called ‘mainstream’ culture. Yet, I cannot deny that there’s pop-culture baggage that’s an intrinsic part of what I do. Culture, as I currently see it, remains dictated by the establishment, and I wanted to offer something else.”

On the phone, the young man is more voluble and invested than ever. At the ripe young age of 23, the sadness and exhaustion that overwhelmed him not so long ago have disappeared and given way to creativity in its highest form. “I would gorge myself with soul and the Motown sound,” he says. “Darlène was my cure for sadness. I used more DIY, and less conventional methods of hearing and creating music. I had an idea, a feeling for what I wanted. At times, I was literally in a trance, in a zone where there were no limits, a place where there’s nothing else but sheer beauty.”

What we have here is a thorough exercise, powered by an ongoing reflection on art – in its rawest, barest form, where aesthetic dictates are gone. “We add a lot of categories and layers to artworks,” says Lenoir, “whereas artists are mainly seeking the purest sentiment of beauty.”

A die-hard romantic, Lenoir admits to knowing very little about classic opera. “I’ve never been to an opera,” he says. “My contact with the genre came through the records my grandmother would give me.” He’s more familiar with contemporary rock operas, like Starmania, and others of its ilk.

And although he promises himself, and us, a live show that as vibrant as the album, Lenoir – whose physique recalls those of Bowie and Jagger at the peak of the glam years – couldn’t care less about the expectations he might generate. Ideas inform the cross-disciplinary concepts, and the creative juices flow more freely than ever. Period. “Ultimately, what we’ve done is a punk album.”

That’s all there is to it.