“Having integrity, following instinct, expressing what we feel. The goal: creating good music that gives us extreme emotions.” Such is the answer of Montréalers Emma Beko and Gab Godon, a.k.a. Hearstreets, when asked to describe the direction of their musical project – one that’s been attracting a lot of attention, lately.
Extreme emotions are what Heartstreets served to the audience during their surprise performance in the parking lot of Rouyn-Noranda’s Paramount, last September during the Festival de Musique Émergente. It was love at first sight, between the duo’s contagious enthusiasm and the small crowd’s thirst for discovery. What they discovered is a rap, R&B and soul-tinged electro-pop offering. To wit, the reaction of the crowd seconds after the duo’s short performance:
Even though Heartstreets first appeared on YouTube five years ago, things started getting serious in 2015. After a string of singles, EPs and shows, they made a big impression at Osheaga, last summer – enough that the festival is presenting their current headlining tour dates, in Toronto, Montréal and Québec City, with Ryan Playground opening.
“We work with different producers on practically every song,” says Gab. “It’s important to us because it allows us to explore the various aspects of our style, and it stimulates our creative process by constantly introducing new sounds. Our collaboration with Kaytranada came about very organically. We worked together in a studio, and then worked on the song separately, and we all love the final result! We don’t follow a recipe when we’re working on a new track, it’s constantly evolving!”
What’s unchanging is the steep upward trajectory of their popularity, as Heartstreets witness their fanbase increasing both steadily and rapidly. Something tells us that’s not about to slow down…
The Weather Station writes, records her “most ballsy” album
Story by Meredith Dault | November 28, 2017
Long before she imagined having a career as a musician, Tamara Lindeman was a self-described rabid music fan. “I wasn’t really connected to the music scene and I didn’t know musicians,” she explains. “I was just really into the local music scene in Toronto.” Her earliest forays into making her own music began with her concocting instrumental soundscapes in her bedroom in the mid-2000s. Hoping to share them on MySpace, Lindeman realized she needed a name, and settled on The Weather Station. “I said that these were the sound recordings of a woman who lived at a weather station in the Arctic,” she recalls with a laugh.
Though Lindeman’s music quickly evolved, the name stuck. The Weather Station – now a folk-rock driven, sometimes-solo project, sometimes touring band – has put Lindeman squarely on the map as a singer-songwriter to watch. Her fourth full-length album – self-titled and self-produced – was released in October to rave reviews, including those from Pitchfork, The FADER, Exclaim! and from the U.K’s Uncut Magazine, which has listed it in fourth place in their ranking of 2017’s top albums.
But Lindeman, whose third album, Loyalty, was long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize in 2015, still largely finds herself watching her success from the fringes of the music scene. “I have this problem where I feel like I will always feel like a total outsider,” she says of her success to date. “I can’t feel like any of this is natural, and I can’t take any of it for granted.”
While she sang in choirs and learned piano as a child, Lindeman – whose voice is frequently compared with Joni Mitchell’s – is still largely self-taught. She first ventured into writing songs when she realized she needed to have something more suitable than an atmospheric soundscape in her repertoire if she was going to begin sharing her music at open mic sessions. “From the beginning, I did have an instinct to sing,” she says, describing her learning curve as “swimming blind.”
“I’ll riff on an idea, or I’ll find myself singing about something and not know why, and then I’ll try to understand what’s going on.”
Lindeman, who has also worked as an actress, began developing a continuously evolving stream-of-consciousness approach to songwriting – which sees her developing a few strong riffs and melodies, then improvising lyrics afterwards to suit. “Basically, I sing and then see what I am saying,” she says of the process. It sees her recording everything as she goes, then sifting through it in search of stuff worth keeping. “I’ll riff on an idea, or I’ll find myself singing about something and not know why, and then I’ll try to understand what’s going on,” she says. She explains that it sometimes means singing very slowly, or leaving long gaps while she works out what to say next.
A self-described perfectionist, Lindeman admits the editing process can be a lengthy one, in which she transcribes her sung musings before settling on the words that seem to best capture what she’s trying to say. “The process of deciding is the craziest part,” she laughs.
The result is lyrics that often feel personal, with the occasional poetic non sequitur, particularly on her latest album, which Lindeman describes as “a lot more crazy than my other records.” “I think it’s my most forthright album,” she explains. “It’s definitely the most ballsy. My past albums are more subtle than this one.”
According to Lindeman, this is in part due to a desire to make a more assertive, rock-oriented album with stronger rhythms more suited to her current state of mind, as well as to this time in history. “It doesn’t always feel right to play subtle music – sometimes something else is called for,” she says, of songs that tackle subjects from politics, to climate change, to her parents’ divorce. “Based on where I was at emotionally, and where the world is at right now, it felt like playing beautiful, quiet music didn’t feel right to me,” she says. “I don’t have anything really beautiful to say about what’s happening right now”.
The other change with this album was Lindeman’s decision to take the lead on its production. While she describes her very first albums as “super self-produced,” her last two were made in close collaboration with other musicians, including Afie Jurvanen (a.k.a. Bahamas) and Daniel Romano, who, Lindeman explains, had experience and reference points that she didn’t necessarily have, and helped her to overcome her self-doubt.
By contrast, Lindeman says that when it came to producing The Weather Station, which features Ben Whiteley on bass and Don Kerr (The Rheostatics) on drums (both also make up the heart of her touring band), along with many others, she had a clear sense of how she wanted the album to sound. “I thought I could explain it, but realized quickly that nobody can tell what’s inside my head other than me,” she says. “So I had to learn how to take control and make decisions and be the guiding force of it.”
For Lindeman, it was an empowering experience, and one that continues to build her confidence as a musician. She admits she still has moments, oftentimes at her own shows, when she marvels not only that she’s performing for a full house, but that she’s found a career in music at all. “Music is so hard. It’s hard to succeed emotionally, or artistically, or at all, business-wise,” she says. “So to have all three happen is basically the best feeling in the world.”
Photo by Paul Steward
Pro songwriter Emma-Lee had her own recording to do
Story by Kerry Doole | November 23, 2017
After establishing herself as a popular member of the Toronto singer-songwriter community, Emma-Lee packed up her pen and guitar and re-located to Nashville in February of 2017 to pursue her songwriting career.
She has no regrets about the move. “The city has exceeded my expectations,” she says. “I’ve definitely written more songs this year than any other year, as the city feeds that hunger.”
Living in Music City has actually opened up more opportunities for work with other Canadian artists and songwriters. “In Toronto, I would write with country artists but it’d just be a select few going there to write for their record,” she says. “Pretty much all the Canadian country music scene comes to Nashville, though, so I get to write with more of them, and that’s awesome.”
“I’m still a self-published writer,” says Emma-Lee, “but working with a publisher is something I’d like to do in the future. I do think the more you can do on your own, before that happens, puts you in a better position.”
She’s amassed an impressive discography of co-written songs recorded and performed by Canadian artists, with that list including Madeline Merlo, Michelle Treacy, Kira Isabella, Nice Pony, Victoria Duffield, Alee, Leah Daniels, SATE, Tia Brazda, and more. She’s excited that a song she co-wrote with longtime collaborator Karen Kosowski and Phil Barton will be on Brett Kissel’s new album, with other recent co-writes placed with Sam Drysdale and Stacey Kay.
“Seeing my name mentioned in Rolling Stone by Tom Petty was one of the coolest things ever!”
Along the songwriting road, Emma-Lee has had the opportunity to co-write with some of Canada’s premier songwriters, including Ron Sexsmith, Todd Clark, Donovan Woods and Gavin Slate. She has eagerly learned from all these experiences, and cites a session this year in Los Angeles with Brian West (Nelly Furtado, Maroon 5) as inspirational.
She’s a pro photographer as well As well as her thriving musical career, Emma-Lee has been a professional photographer for the past decade, specializing in musicians and actors. “I was shooting all the time in Toronto, but I’m starting from the beginning again here in Nashville,” she explains. “Because I take pictures of musicians, the fact that I’m working with songwriters and artists all the time here is helping get the word out. I’m doing a shoot with [top Canadian songwriter] Tebey [Ottoh] here next week. What I love about doing my photography here is that I’m open to a whole new world of photo locations. I live in East Nashville, and there’s an old-time vibe on the streets that I love. That has reignited that spark of inspiration.”
“I left it thinking about things a little differently in how I approach writing,” she says. “You just never know when that will happen. A great thing about living in Nashville is constantly meeting someone new, and watching how they work. Gleaning from that, and bringing it to your own music, strengthens you as a writer.”
Emma-Lee first made a mark as a solo artist, earning critical acclaim for her earlier albums, Never Just a Dream (2009) and Backseat Heroine (2012). A 2014 single she recorded in honour of a musical hero brought her a career highlight.
The song “What Would Tom Petty Do?” actually came to Petty’s attention, and he responded in Rolling Stone that “I don’t know what he would do. But thanks for asking.” To Emma-Lee, “seeing my name mentioned in there by Tom Petty was one of the coolest things ever!”
Her new record, Fantasies, is being released as two five-song EPs. Fantasies Vol.1came out in October 2017, with Vol. 2 set for release in late January 2018. “Releasing smaller bodies of work will do you favours in the long run,” she says. “It gives people a chance to digest a small amount of what you are trying to say. I’m a music creator, and even I can barely listen to an entire album by somebody. If I admit that to myself then I have to be honest in the way I put out music.”
Featuring songs written in Toronto, Los Angeles, and Nashville, Fantasies is produced by Kosowski, who also co-wrote most of the material. Todd Clark co-wrote “Not Giving Up On You” with the pair, and a dance remix of that cut is faring well. “It has a half million plays on Spotify, so I guess people really love to dance,” says Emma-Lee. A co-write with Kosowski and Ron Sexsmith, “No Photographs,” will be on the second EP.
Emma-Lee is eclectic in her tastes as a singer and songwriter, but she calls Fantasies a pure pop record. “I’d say that this one is the most cohesive album I’ve put out,” she says. “Karen and I were definitely digging some ‘80s and ‘90s pop production at the time, and wanted to take a crack at some of that.
“Writing songs with and for other people, I realized I could indulge some of my stylistic tendencies there. I love working in different styles of music, but when you try to do that as an artist, it can be confusing for people to understand who you are.”
She began writing all her material alone, but Emma-Lee is now firmly wedded to the co-writing approach. “In my experience, bringing an idea to someone else I trust, and who I think has incredible ideas, then, without fail, every time that idea has gotten better,” she says. “Plus, I also just really like working with other people. It’s not as much fun to do it alone, to be completely honest.”