One afternoon, musician Craig Northey (of The Odds) got a message from longtime friend and collaborator Bruce McCulloch (The Kids in the Hall and Saturday Night Live). For the past 25 years, beginning with his 1995 score for The Kids in the Hall’s Brain Candy, the duo had worked on numerous musical, film, and TV projects. Now McCulloch had a new one on the horizon.

He wanted Northey to score an all-male comedy revue, TallBoyz, that had just been picked up by the CBC. Featuring a young, multi-racial/ethnic cast of comedians, it tapped into the vibrant Toronto scene. Instantly, Northey knew he wanted to bring in another friend and collaborator, musician/producer Chin Injeti. The pair had previously co-written “Get Carried Away” with Colin James, for his 2000 album Fuse.

“[McCulloch] talked with the Boyz about music, and what they wanted,” says Northey from his home in Vancouver. “They wanted it to feel very much like Toronto now, and all its cosmopolitan beauty and fun.  When he articulated all this to me, I thought of Chin right away. I needed Chin to help me realize that. He’s from [Toronto] originally, and has a foot in the pond. He’s also one of Canada’s – and the world’s – hip-hop treasures. Our methods are different, and I knew we would push each other to new places. That’s what TallBoyz needed.”

When Injeti got the invite, he welcomed a new opportunity to collaborate with Northey again. “Craig and I have a love for all types of music – I mean, like, a real deep love,” he says. “We’re able to pull from the most obscure of references to the most popular – anything from Beastie Boys, to Masters at Work, [to] the Meters. Our different styles of production make it that much better.”

Northey agrees. “I’ve been a fan of vintage R&B since I was a kid, and that’s where Chin and I came together” he says. “Stax, Bill Withers, Sly & the Family Stone, the JB’s, the Meters. Chin [also] has a keen grasp of quirky, early-‘80s alt-rock. He would take me farther in one direction, and I would drag him somewhere weird at the same time.”

The pair implemented Northey’s in-depth approach to scoring, and set to work.

“You just keep trying to honour the mood.” – Craig Northey, on scoring

“When you’re underscoring a scene, you generally have the footage in front of you, and that’s your muse,” says Northey. “My methodology with Bruce is to start way before that. I read the scripts and talk too much with him about it, and then get started forming an aesthetic, demo-ing theme and motif ideas. This time I did that with Chin. We were composing stuff to imaginary scenes two months before we saw anything.” For Injeti’s part, he used his intimate knowledge of Toronto’s rich and diverse culture to tap into the vibe of the score early on.  “[Tallboyz] was totally relatable, and felt natural,” he says.

Two other Toronto gems also helped inspire them. “Shad and DJ TLO had already composed a few songs with TallBoyz that were to be sprinkled throughout the series,” says Northey. “They were dynamite, and gave us a few starting points for what might work.”

Though he had scored the 2015 documentary Highway of Tears (Matt Smiley), Injeti appreciates that the TallBoyz process helped build his scoring muscles even more.  “I am so lucky that I got to do this with someone as amazing as Craig Northey,” he says. “He taught me to use my instincts as a songwriter towards scoring.  The most challenging part was to create seconds of a sound that had the same emotional impact as a two- or three-minute song.  Bruce’s vision was so clear, and Craig’s direction was so easy to understand, that it came pretty easy.”

While Northey boast a list of scoring titles – Corner Gas (TV, film and animated series), Hiccups, The Kids in the Hall’s Death Comes to Town and CBC’s Young Drunk Punk and This Blows, he too developed a finer balance between songwriting and scoring.

“Songwriting requires you to bring all the inspiration to the table,” says Northey. “You need to find a great idea, and then manifest it in music. In scoring the inspiration is provided – it’s right there, all lit up in front of you. In TallBoyz, and just about every project I’ve scored, you get to exercise your songwriting muscles because there are often songs required. That part is fun, they’re kind of ‘made to order’ genre pieces. It allows you to stretch into new territory. You’re not the artist putting your song out there to have your hopes dashed by public apathy, or the barbs of critics. You’re honouring the scene with something that enhances the mood. The reward is always learning something new musically.”

With McCulloch’s feedback helping them make it less complex and dense, the pair soon hit the scoring sweet spot. “I think we knew we’d got the vibe down for the series about halfway through episode one!” says Northey. “You just keep trying to honour the mood. Eventually it distills itself down to the essential elements that resonate.”

When asked if another Injeti/Northey collaboration lies in the future, Injeti hopes so. “We’re getting together this week to jam,” he says, “so I’ll hint at it.” And Northey says it’s pretty much guaranteed.  “Chin’s a treasure and talent beyond comprehension – he goes deep as an instrumentalist, singer, composer, and person.  You want to stay close to people like that. They’re like power points on the globe.”

France D’Amour’s 13th album will thrill her early fans: D’Amour et Rock’n roll is raw, an album whose heavy sound grounds the listener while her voice and lyrics soar to the sky.

France D’AmouOn October 2, 1994, France D’Amour finished the Rock Le Lait tour at the Montréal Forum, alongside Vilains Pingouins and Jean Leloup. We were there. Animal, her first album, was launched the previous year and Déchaînée would break the sophomore jinx a few months later. The young Mont-Rolland native told the media, back then, “I’m confident enough to not be afraid of standing up to artists like them.”

We were blown away when she sang her anthem “Vivante,” her fist raised and her leg kicking, as if on a mission: “Chanter à tue-tête / Tout ce que j’ai dans l’ventre / Chanter comme une bête / Pour me garder vivante” (“Sing as loud as I can / Everything I’ve got / Sing like an animal / Just to stay alive”). For many of us – despite the artist having shown us a softer side on hits such as “Si c’’était vrai” and “Ailleurs” – this woman is a rocker at heart.

Now, D’Amour returns to her roots with 10 songs recorded at the studio of Jason Lang, her guitarist, with the help of longtime collaborators Patrick Lavergne on bass and Sam Harrisson on drums – “my very own Dave Grohl,” she says. “It was about time, and even though I’ve never stopped playing rock, a woman told me at the record launch, ‘I’ve been waiting for this album for 20 years!’ I thanked her for her patience, I know I took people on a wild ride, in the meantime,” she says about the various musical styles she’s explored over the years, like her two-volume exploration of jazz, Bubble Bath and Champagne.

What’s the difference between the 1993 rocker and today’s rocker? “There’s one helluva difference!” she says. “The rocker back in the day of Animal operated purely on instinct and energy. Now, my energy is more channelled, controlled. There was something truly serious about Animal. Now, nothing’s serious, we don’t give a damn, we just let go and have fun! We were like teenagers, we just wanted to find good grooves, raw and imperfect material. When you listen to albums from the ’70s, there are off-notes, and it sounded more natural.

“I want to stand up on my chair, drive too fast, be too loud!”

“We’d sometimes laugh uncontrollably, as if the music was taking us back to childhood, and we were unlearning what we know. We wondered how we played when we didn’t know how to play. It feels amazing to let go like that, to play any which way. A lot of the songs sound like demos, which drove our producer crazy, trying to fix those imperfections, but we like those songs just the way they are. I was sick when we recorded ‘Tout à gagner,’ my voice is completely off, but I said, ‘let’s keep that!’ Rock ’n’ roll is all about feeling and emotion.”

Straight to the heart, without neglecting the mind, the album is very guitar-driven, and emerges as quite cohesive from repeated, playful elements, without being overly innovative.

“Rock music is perfect when you want to sing about topics such as outrage, which is the case on this new album,” says D’Amour. “I sing about what I’ve realized over the years, my personal life, I reveal a lot about myself. It’s me, right now. There’s not a single love song on the album,” says the newly-single 54 year-old, with a sliver of irony – although it’s worth noting that the last song on D’Amour et Rock’n roll, “T’étais mon père,” is the eulogy she read at her father’s funeral, not long ago.

It’s always in such moments that D’Amour gives the best of herself. She goes on, supercharged: “I want a scrapyard, I don’t feel like being sexy. I want to stand up on my chair, drive too fast, be too loud, turn around and stop only when I feel like it. I need to say, ‘Fuck off,’ and to just let go.”

The first step was duly accomplished during her record launch concert at Coup de cœur francophone. “My armpits were sweaty, but I didn’t fumble a single word of my new songs,” she says. “I’ve got a good memory; apparently Alzheimer’s won’t be [happening] right away in my case. I’m still a teen, inside. Age is all in the mind.”

From the infectious tunes she writes, to gorgeous threads that have landed her in the pages of ELLE magazine, RALPH doesn’t half-step when paying attention to detail.

Case in point: Flashbacks and Fantasies, the catchy title of her EP, that arrives on November 17th. “All the songs deal with the idea of yearning for something that isn’t there anymore, or that never was, so I wanted a title that would unify those themes,” says RALPH (a.k.a. Raffaela Weyman). “For example, ‘Last Time’ is about seeing your ex and having an intimate encounter with them, and there’s another song about knowing there’s someone out there for you who you haven’t found yet. I think there’s an aspect of flashbacks and fantasy in both of them.”

And there’s definitely an aspect of confessional songwriting, as it pertains to the fun and messy world of relationships. RALPH says that while everything she writes is autobiographical, she doesn’t feel vulnerable sharing her experiences with millions of strangers.

“I don’t worry about people knowing about the ins and outs of my relationships, but I do think about how a song might affect the person that it’s about,” she says. “For example, when I released the song ‘Gravity’ [earlier this year], I was nervous that an ex would be upset, and accuse me of airing dirty laundry.” But, she adds quickly, “If someone is with me, they should be aware of the fact that the delights and traumas of my life are going to come out in my songs.”

By all accounts, RALPH’s personal stories are resonating strongly with music fans. To date, the 27-year-old singer has earned more than 26 million streams on Spotify, four million on Apple Music, and her videos have racked up more than 1.5 million views. She played the Mariposa Folk Festival this past summer, appeared on CTV’s national eTalk show, and opened Canadian tour dates for Carly Rae Jepsen. Credit those impressive numbers and mainstream reach to her versatile, soulful voice – she’s a classically trained vocalist – and her “glossy pop.” It’s a term she prefers to “electro pop,” even though synths play a huge role in her super-catchy tunes.

“The delights and traumas of my life are going to come out in my songs.”

On Flashbacks and Fantasies, RALPH is moving further away from being pigeonholed as “the singer who releases mid-tempo bangers by experimenting with things I hadn’t tried before,” she says. “There’s a slow R&B song on it, an anthemic Robyn-like track, and a House-inspired dance jam. I hate the idea of being predictable so, yeah, the new record will feel different, but it’s recognizably RALPH.”

While RALPH’s music takes lethal aim at dancefloors, she doesn’t shy away from spicing her pop with social commentary. “There’s a song on the new EP called ‘Headphone Season,’ and it’s about when a stranger asks me to give them a smile or to smile more,” she says. “I hate that because it’s someone telling me what to do with my face or body. At the end of the song you hear me saying, ‘Here’s an idea. How about you never tell women what to do with their bodies?’”

Last August, RALPH helped organize, and performed at, a pro-choice benefit in Toronto – one that she says raised $17,000 for the Bay Centre for Birth Control at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, and the National Network of Abortion Funds in the U.S.

“I’m constantly inspired by the increasing number of women who are sharing their personal stories, like [those of] being sexually assaulted in the workplace,” she says. “I write songs with social commentary because I want all of us to be more aware, and sensitive, and respectful.”