Jordan Benjamin is angry, and he wants you to hear that in his music. The artist, known as grandson, isn’t afraid to describe his sound – which blends electronic production with more aggressive rock and hip-hop elements – as “angry, urgent and, for me, very cathartic.”

Its urgency, which can be heard all over his latest EP, a modern tragedy, vol. 1, is a result of the politically divisive landscape in which we currently live these days. It’s reactionary and in-your-face, but grandson isn’t trying to push listeners away; in fact, he wants to do the opposite.

“In a society where we’re being force-fed ignorance and apathy, stuffed with cultural Big Macs with no nutritional value, having even one voice enter the conversation can change a kid’s life,” he says. “It can make them okay with who they are, encourage them to think differently than their neighbour, or family member, or pastor, or teacher – empower them to want to participate in the shaping of their world… That’s pretty cool to me. That’s rock ‘n’ roll.”

So far, his music has won over a lot of fans, most notably Linkin Park member and solo artist Mike Shinoda. “I still can’t believe I get to say that,” says grandson, after calling Shinoda his good friend and mentor. What started as an Instagram follow (“I thought it was a fake account”) quickly turned into an invitation to the studio, where grandson says he begged to be on one of Shinoda’s songs. The result is not only a guest spot on Shinoda’s song “Running From My Shadow,” but also much public praise from the music veteran who said grandson has a lot of potential.

At the root of it all, whether it’s in his music, or his newly-formed relationships with other artists, grandson has one goal in mind: continue connecting with people and, as he says passionately, “empower the grandkids in their communities.”

It’s a little unusual for a songwriter who grew up on a varied diet of records from Bob Dylan to Fleetwood Mac, Metallica to Madonna, and who has co-written for artists just as diverse, to cite two of the most influential composers of, um, the 1700s as her main inspiration, but that’s what Maia Davies says.

“I come from a very classical background, and I base a lot of my melody choices on Mozart or Bach, because I think that they wrote all the best pop melodies already,” she laughs. “And then we carry that over musically for the instrumentation.

“Folk music has a lot of acoustic guitars; pop music has synths; rock music has big drums, and for the lyrics it’s always clear communication of an emotion, and a story that someone wants to tell. Then it’s really a lot about the artist, and who they are, and in what genre.”

Davies is a former member of all-female country-pop quartet Ladies of the Canyon, which was managed by Warner Music Canada’s new division at the time, and put out two albums, 2010’s Haunted Woman and 2013’s Diamond Heart. She’s co-written for Monster Truck, Jill Barber, One Bad Son, Serena Ryder, Mother Mother (whose song “The Drugs” earned a SOCAN No. 1 Song Award), Delhi 2 Dublin, Clayton Bellamy, and more.

Does the genre matter, in terms of approach? Davies puts it this way: “In Jill Barber’s songs you say the word ‘love’ a lot, and in One Bad Son you probably won’t.”  She adds, “On the face of it, any good song that nears the realm of rock, or folk, or pop music, is just a communication of emotion – so there’s two parts of it, the lyrics and the music.”

In Ladies of the Canyon, which formed in Montreal in 2005, the four members had typically contributed their own songs to their repertoire — a process Davies says was very solitary — but “halfway through the first record, we started co-writing, and it was something I really enjoyed.”

“A lot of times if they’re coming to me, they’ve figured out what they’ve already done, but they want something they’ve not already done.”

While touring with Ladies of the Canyon throughout Québec, where she has family roots dating back to her great-great-grandparents, she was inspired to make a Francophone solo album, which she appropriately titled Héritage and released under her first name, stylized as MAÏA. That project led to lyric work translating — or as she says, “re-writing” — two songs from Serena Ryder’s 2012 album, Harmony, for the Québec market.

Ryder showed her the French-language versions she already had and Davies — whose parents are both translators and editors — took another crack at it. “I think we can do better,” she says she told Ryder, explaining, “I believe you shouldn’t translate songs, but you should keep the intention and meaning of the song intact, take some liberties, and write accordingly.”

Three Tips for Novice Songwriters
1) “Every idea and every song that you have is not always the greatest, and you have to be okay with that. They become your children, but you have to let some of them go. That’s how you grow and get better.”
2) “Get a mentor, someone you really look up to. Just sit in the room next to them, and you’ll be amazed what you absorb.”
3) “Creativity and inspiration isn’t something that happens to you. It’s the culmination of being awake and looking around you: Looking at colours, going to a concert, going for walks, and all these things – synthesizing them into what you think is “accidental” inspiration. If you get writer’s block, change what you see. I like to go to a museum exhibit anytime I feel stuck, or surround myself with creative, vibrant people, and share ideas with them. That’s how you’ll never lose inspiration.”

The opportunity to launch this new phase of her career, writing and producing for and with others, came after Ladies of the Canyon started working on their third album with JUNO Award-winning producer Gavin Brown (Billy Talent, Metric, Barenaked Ladies, Mother Mother, Three Days Grace, Tragically Hip). But that album was never to be. The band went their separate ways, but Brown became Davies’ mentor, and helped open up the world of co-writing to her.

He gave her invaluable advice, especially about lyrics: Who are you saying this to, and why do you have to say it in a way that’s trying to be flowery or poetic? Have a direct conversation in the song.

“He offered me a job to stay on his team, and learn to be a producer and professional songwriter. At first, it was like bootcamp, which turned into a creative partnership,” says Davies, who now works with Brown out of Toronto’s Noble Street Studios.

Brown is also producing MAÏA’s second solo album, an alternative pop record, again en français. “I can express myself more emotionally clearly in French,” she says. “This album has a different lyrical flair to it. It’s a destination. I went through a crazy breakup, so it ended up becoming a record about love, heartbreak, and healing. There’s a lot of images and emotion in it.”

The first single was “Echos,” and the follow-up, “‘Laisse-moi libre,” is out Aug. 17, 2018. The album, still untitled, will be out Oct. 12, via Brown’s Inside Pocket label (the company also manages Davies), distributed by Warner Music Canada. Meanwhile, Davies continues to co-write and produce, with releases on the horizon from Monster Truck, League of Wolves, Delhi 2 Dublin, and Clayton Bellamy.

“A lot of times if they’re coming to me, they’ve figured out what they’ve already done, but they want something they’ve not already done. So I try to envision where music is going; where it is right now; where I think it will be tomorrow; where that artist can sit in that landscape; and how I can help bring them there.”

For more than 25 years, Vancouver has been a hotbed of activity for the film and television industry, from The X-Files in the early ’90s to the recent Deadpool franchise, with no shortage of homegrown projects. In 2017, the industry spent a record-setting $2.6 billion dollars in British Columbia. All of this has entrenched a stable infrastructure of talent that repeatedly brings filmmakers back to the Canadian West Coast.

But what happens once the film stops rolling? A lot of post-production is then taken back to L.A. or Toronto, including scoring and soundtrack work. That hasn’t stopped a new generation of composers from cashing in on Vancouver’s cachet as a film hub. And they’re getting it the old-fashioned way: through networking, hustling, and hard work.

Eli Bennett

Eli Bennett

Eli Bennett was born into the job: his father, Daryl, is a winner of multiple LEO Awards (the B.C. screen industry honours) – although Bennett junior bested his father at last year’s ceremony, picking up his first LEO for the orchestral score for Believe: The True Story of Real Bearded Santas. Eli got his start in his dad’s home studio, learning how to write cues before moving to Toronto to study jazz at Humber College.

Even more than the hands-on experience, however, the 29-year-old Eli credits his father with the best advice: don’t just look to Vancouver for work, but get in touch with students at all the major film schools in North America and develop working relationships on their short films.

“A lot of people just focus on their own cities,” he says. “I thought reaching out to the North American market was a no-brainer, but it’s not necessarily a thing in Vancouver. You should cast a continental net beyond your immediate city.” Directors like to work with collaborators they know, and several of those former film students have continued to employ Bennett as they get commercial and feature work.

Sometimes, however, directors do take a chance on an unknown – though not the Hollywood directors that regularly parade through Vancouver. David Ramos, a Mexican-Canadian dual citizen, met Oscar-winning Canadian documentary filmmaker John Zaritsky (Just Another Missing Kid, 1982) at a party, which led to work on his 2012 film Do You Really Want to Know?  Likewise, a chance encounter with producer (and former SOCAN Board member) Ben Mink (k.d. lang, Barenaked Ladies) at a shop where Ramos was teaching led to them working together on film scores. Ramos has been a full-time film composer for six years, with a major U.S. feature about to be announced, as well as a documentary set in 18 different African countries.


David Ramos

David Ramos

Ramos was once an active live musician, mostly in Mexico, and also in a Vancouver prog-rock band, but now scoring takes up all his time. Eli Bennett tours frequently with Five Alarm Funk, popular favourites on the summer festival circuit, who’ve been touring America lately. “When I’ve been touring a lot, I haven’t been able to take on feature film projects that require five weeks at a time,” he says. “With commercial projects, it might take a week-and-a-half, and then I head back on the road.”

Another Vancouver film composer with an active live profile is Matt Rogers, half of award-winning blues duo The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer, who have four albums to their name, and have toured throughout North America and Europe. “The band takes up more of my time, but when composition projects come through, they require 150% of my time and energy to get them done,” he says. “I have to switch gears and ignore everything else to meet deadlines.”

Rogers studied jazz at Capilano College in Vancouver, where he started scoring student films. He soon got a job as an assistant to composer Ari Wise, who did a lot of TV work – including, like Daryl Bennett, scores for the TV spinoff of the Police Academy movies, shot in Vancouver in 1997. “Even if I wasn’t the one composing, I got to see how film composition works,” he recalls. “Ten years ago Wise quit film composing to become a film-composition agent. That was another break for me: I didn’t just have a composer ally, but I had an agent… that was a huge step for me.” He now has five LEO awards, and has scored numerous TV movies (Who Killed JonBenét?) and independent features.

Now that Rogers has two young children, film work is more appealing than the physical rigours of touring, which he’d sometimes like to dial back. So, if and when he ever comes off the road, his Plan B is already up and running.

Matt Rogers

Matt Rogers

One of his old Capilano classmates, Red Borrowman – who composes under the name Red Heartbreaker – is also thriving, with 60 films under her belt, and steady work stretching into next year. Discussing her beginnings composing for film, she says, “it’s a very male-centric industry, and there aren’t a lot of female composers anywhere. But there’s so much mentorship for people who are new, so much shop to talk, and commiseration during tough periods: people are unbelievably available. The film community in Vancouver, especially the [film] composer community, is so supportive and collaborative. I’m constantly blown away by how generous and loving my colleagues are.”

Borrowman has a lot to bring to the table: as a classically trained composer and arranger, she writes orchestral and choral pieces when there’s a budget for it. “I think of everything in three dimensions when I write,” she says. “One of the wonderful things about jazz or classical theory informing what you do, is that you’re always thinking in three dimensions. It’s not just about the hook or the sample, it’s: ‘How does this move? Is this a many-layered moment or a small-layered moment?’ The one instrument I always want to play is the orchestra. I can’t think of anything more malleable.

“‘Orchestra’ doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it does,” she says. “If you think of orchestral scoring as combining different timbres together and having themes, and variations, and leitmotif, and keys, and tones connected to character development, I still think of that as orchestral. If you’re talking about character development and emotion, and the right instrument is an 808, it’s still orchestral composing, because you’re writing linear music that moves forward with the story. It’s not just symphonies and violins. I would be okay with retiring the cello, though. I feel it’s been used so much in the way that amateur chefs use truffle oil: it just tastes like gasoline after a while.”

Borrowman has worked on projects with Rogers, and says the camaraderie of Vancouver’s community of cinematic composers should be a major selling point for the local film industry. “When you hire one Vancouver composer, you’re getting the benefit of their entire community,” she says. “Why wouldn’t you want that?”