Singer-songwriter Jessica Mitchell is doing alright.

She’s a four-time Canadian Country Music Association Awards (CCMAs) nominee, and at the organization’s 2018 awards gala, she sang “No Fear” in a show-opening medley of Hall of Fame inductee Terri Clark’s hits, along with Meghan Patrick, Suzy Bogguss, and Clark herself. In 2017, she performed “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” at Massey Hall for the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame induction of Neil Young.

Mitchell’s Mates: Some of her co-writers

  • Tom Cochrane
  • Patricia Conroy
  • Todd Clark
  • Robyn Dell’Unto
  • John Goodwin
  • Tim Hicks
  • Stephen Kozmeniuk
  • Lindi Ortega
  • Meghan Patrick
  • Deric Ruttan
  • Gavin Slate
  • Dave Thomson
  • Matthew Tishler

Mitchell is also enjoying the benefits of a management deal with the RGK Entertainment Group, and her performances are booked by The Feldman Agency. After entering the Slaight Music “It’s Your Shot” competition about five years ago – even though she didn’t win – she garnered a publishing deal with the company. Though Slaight is most often thought of as more of an incubator than a publisher, they hired someone in Nashville to pitch her songs, and have been very supportive.

“When I first started working with them, I was in Nashville so often,” says Mitchell. “That’s why I wrote as many songs as I did – ‘cause I was constantly going there… I started doing my co-writing in Toronto, and that’s when I bonded with Gavin [Slate], and Todd [Clark], and Stephen [Kozmeniuk] – the Toronto crew, who are all now in Nashville! It took a long time, a good four years, to filter through hundreds of co-writers to find ‘my people’…It’s a small group… But that being said, I love the experience of writing with new people as well, so I try to do that.”

And what’s the source of that co-writing process, for Mitchell?

“Conversation,” she says. “Conversation is so important. If you’re not having a conversation with your co-writer, what’s the point? ‘Cause it’s a very personal thing…

“I know [some of] these people so well. It usually starts with, ‘Hey, how are you? What’s going on? What’s happened to you lately?’ And normally, an idea will spark [from that]… I’m not one of those people who, like some writers, write stuff or sing little melodies into their phone. If I’m stuck on an idea, it’ll come up again. If I forget it, it’ll come up again, Same with melodies…

“In Nashville you have to write kind of quick. It’s a three-, four-hour thing: Write, record, demo, ‘Bye,’ and you’re done. So a lot of songs get written very quickly, and you change stuff later, if you don’t like it.”

Inspired by the raw honesty and storytelling of country music, Mitchell believes that at the heart of every piece of music is pain and loss.  Her hope is that sharing these personal experiences will forge genuine bonds with her audience. Several of the songs on her current album Heart of Glass – like the title track, “Don’t Love Me,” and “Bulletproof” – are, at least partly, about people hardening themselves in order to not get hurt by love.

Staying sane on tour

Mitchell is in the midst of a long round of touring, and offers a few tips for surviving on the road:

  • Self-care. “Eating healthy, I do a lot of yoga. You can go on a treadmill every day, even if it’s just for five minutes.”
  • Packing cubes. “I just discovered these! They organize your suitcase [in little sections]. It’s important to be organized.”
  • Sleep. “Lots of it. And no drinking on show days.”

“I think that’s life, that’s a big part of life,” says Mitchell. “Thick skin in this business is necessary, and in relationships, and with family. I’ve spent a good portion of my life with my guard up. And every once in awhile when I let it down, it feels like bad things come of it. Trying to remain open to possibilities, and positive things, is super-important, but I also think you really need to watch yourself these days…”

Unless you’re performing for Neil Young – in which case, you mostly watch him.

“I feel like it was an out-of-body experience,” says Mitchell of performing in front of Young at Massey Hall. “You’re on the stage, but you’re almost, like, looking at yourself from somewhere else in the room. And you’re looking at Neil looking at you. It will probably go down in history as the coolest moment I’ve ever had, so far… You walk out on the stage, and you’re, like, ‘Not gonna look, not gonna look, not gonna look.’ And I bee-lined [with my eyes] for him and I didn’t look away. I think I looked at him the whole time. It was amazing. What a trip.”

Antoine Corriveau’s lyrics have never been this cryptic, but they’ve probably also never been this clear – and as devoid of metaphors as “Deux femmes,” the cornerstone song of Feu de forêt, his new EP.

Take a moment to imagine Corriveau’s compelling, musky voice pronouncing these simple, yet exceptionally intense, words, as if the song was unfolding before its creator, as he was finally seeing the blinding, naked truth.

Antoine CorriveauTranquillement je reviens (slowly I make my way home)
Il est cinq heures du matin (It’s five in the morning)
Il vente à l’arrière du taxi (It’s windy in the back of the taxi)
Entre deux femmes je suis ici (Between two women I’m here)

Tranquillement je reviens (slowly I make my way home)
Celle de droite me prend par la main (The one on the right takes my hand)
On pleure à l’arrière du taxi (We’re crying in the back of the taxi)
Entre deux vies je suis ici (Between two lives I’m here)

Quand elle est partie (When she left)
C’est là que j’ai compris (That’s when I understood)
Tu ne seras pas l’amour de ma vie (You’re not the love of my life)

“I felt I was saying things very, very, very, maybe too clearly, and I ask myself how I was dealing with that for a long time,” says Corriveau. He’s discussing this set of lyrics that burns all masks, a confession song that he’s been playing onstage for awhile now, and even left off his previous album, Cette chose qui cognait au creux de sa poitrine sans vouloir s’arrêter.

“The answer I found was that I absolutely need to have the guts to go there, because otherwise, it’s all pointless,” says Corriveau. “Recording that song helped me understand that as soon as I’m a little scared when I start writing a sentence, it means I have to sing it. I’m a big Dylan fan, and I often think of one of his [Music Cares] acceptance speech where he said that throughout his life, people criticized his voice and told him he sings like a frog. Dylan’s reply was something like, ‘The next time you want to evaluate a voice, don’t ask yourself whether it’s beautiful; ask yourself if it’s telling you the truth.’”

Not a Fan of EPs

“Quite frankly, I’m not a fan of the EP format,” say Corriveau with a laugh, well aware that it might not be the best sentence to utter while promoting your latest EP. The recording is a collection of songs he wrote to flesh out the narrative arc of the concert he presented at Montréal’s Usine C in December of 2017. Feu de forêt is both the end of a creative cycle, and the beginning of his association with Montréal’s Secret City Records imprint, also home to Patrick Watson, The Barr Brothers and Suuns, to name just a few.

The deal makes sense, because the music usually released by the label is spiritually linked to that of Corriveau, who’ll become the first Francophone on its roster. Hopefully, their European office could allow him to fly overseas more often.

So, not a fan of EPs? Corriveau is still a believer in the mesmerizing power of the full album, experienced from beginning to end, a notion antithetical to the culture of the almighty playlist. During a recent visit to a high school where he sometimes hosts workshops, a young girl admitted to him that she doesn’t know the name of any of the artists she listens to all day long. Why? Because songs are streamed in complete anonymity, unless one checks their phone screen.

“It’s a complex issue, but I find it makes music less sacred, and strips it of much of its value,” says Corriveau. “Sure, we consume more music, but how? I was happy to get three free months of Apple Music, because it meant I could listen to my vinyl albums when I was at my girlfriend’s, but I ended up hating how it changed my relationship with music. This smorgasbord of choices means I waste 45 minutes wondering what I feel like listening to. And it also hinders the intimacy that develops between you and an album that you listen to over and over.”

You’ll probably have guessed by now that the “ambisonic” concert he’s presenting on Nov. 9, 2018, at Club Soda, during Coup de cœur francophone – an event that will deploy speakers located in front, behind, and within the audience – is yet another of his schemes to increase the enchantment of our relationship with music that’s not disposable.

Thanks to Gilles Vigneault

Music, in all its sovereignty, will always triumph, no matter what slights its emissaries have to endure. (Or at least that what we repeat to ourselves as a form of reassurance.) “Mon coeur paré passera partout” Antoine Corriveau proclaims, that being the title of a song that came out of a week-long workshop at Gilles Vigneault’s place in Saint-Placide.

“We had to finish one song by the end of the week, and the reason Fanny [Bloom] sings it with me on the EP is because she’s the first one I presented it to,” says Corriveau. “I wasn’t quite sure what I was saying in that song, but the night I sang it to Fanny, we both realized that it was inspired by that 90-year-old man [Vigneault], and his desire to contribute and bequeath a legacy of French-language poetry in The Americas.”

JESUS CMPLXX had a dream job. He was an marketing representative at Sony Music for 10 years, working with everyone from Destiny’s Child to Tony Bennett, and making a six-figure income. It’s a rare job in music that many only dream of, but it ultimately wasn’t his dream. “I think my heart always knew I wanted to be an artist,” the now-producer says, reflecting on his decade-long former career. “But I was fearful of not making any money doing it.”

Passion overcame JESUS CMPLXX’s monetary concerns though and he eventually left Sony and struck up a musical partnership with Sway Clarke. Together they formed the band Freedom or Death, which found some success, including a major-label deal in the U.S. But the project would evolve over the years, first to focus on Clarke’s solo efforts, and in recent years, on JESUS CMPLXX. (Clarke is still a frequent collaborator, but JESUS CMPLXX is a new and separate solo outing.)

“It’s the reaction of going back and taking control of what I wanted to do from day one: make music for myself,” says CMPLXX, describing his experiences working for and with labels. “If I’m not making music, I’m not a happy person.”

JESUS CMPLXX is coming from a place of true freedom, where the artist can play with genres, mixing R&B, electronic, and dance elements into a wide-ranging sound that challenges listeners to break down sonic barriers, and explore something new. Part of that experimentation includes working with other artists such as JHYVE, Aleesia Stamkos, and Clarke, who all appear on the next EP. As he lists his new collaborators, CMPLXX adds, “I’m smiling as I share this… So I’m in a good place.

“As artists, we all need validation,” he continues. “But no longer do I need it from the industry. I had that and it imploded. The great thing about music now is, it’s very clear if you reach people or not. If I do, great. If I don’t, I’ll just keep going.”