Drunken late nights with friends often result in nasty hangovers. For indie singer-songwriter Ruby Waters, however, they lead to irresistibly catchy songs.

Waters lives in the West end of Toronto with musicians as roommates, including her longtime collaborator, producer, and best friend, Sam Willows. Many of the songs from her upcoming sophomore EP If It Comes Down To It, due this summer, were born out of laid-back, late-night jam sessions at the house after drinking a few beers. They were then recorded in Willows’s basement home studio.

“The songs were all written pretty quickly,” she says. “It was all about catching that vibe. They’re a little more raw, and a little more cut-back.”

Waters, of Métis heritage, grew up in Shelburne, Ont., a small town around an hour Northwest of Toronto. She grew up surrounded by music – both her parents were musicians and toured across Canada – and eventually moved to Toronto to start her own career.

“Sometimes it feels like you’ll never succeed, but you have to push through no matter what”

Last year was a big one for her: Waters released her debut EP Almost Naked, was hand-picked to tour as an opening act for City and Colour, and headlined the venerable Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto.  Building from that momentum, she immediately started working on her follow-up EP, a soulful collection of songs revealing her moody, raspy voice and knack for catchy choruses.

On the single “Rabbit Hole,” Waters sings about the struggles of substance abuse over arpeggiating fingerpicking, while on slow-burner “Fox Song,” she sings “the way that my insides move every time I get to close you” as her acoustic guitar weaves around pulsating drums. “It’s about someone that I used to serve at my old bar,” laughs Waters. “It grew into this epic track.” “Quantum Physics,” the first song she wrote on classical guitar, is full of her own haunting harmonies echoing in the background.

Like so musicians across Canada, Waters’ plans for touring are currently on hold. But she doesn’t shy away from confronting challenges in life. In fact, it’s a theme that courses through the album. “I feel like everybody has something that they’re working on, or going through,” says Waters. “Sometimes it feels like you’ll never succeed, but you have to push through no matter what.”

After winning the SOCAN Foundation Indigenous Songwriter of the Year Award at the Indigenous Music Awards in 2019, Anachnid released her debut album, Dreamweaver, in February of 2020. She’s at the very beginning of her musical journey, which started in the summer of 2018 –  thanks to a handful of songs online – but that journey will be on hiatus during the current health crisis. “I was supposed to attend a SOCAN Song Camp…” says the musician with resignation.

AnachnidLuckily, self-isolation doesn’t worry Kiki Harper, safe in her apartment in Montréal’s Latin Quarter. “Being in isolation, like everyone else right now, is quite easy for me,” she says. “When I recorded my album, I didn’t move two-and-a-half months!” That’s because of stupid accident that happened in Finland: wanting to hurry and catch up with a friend, she slipped on the edge of a sidewalk and broke her ankle in three places. “I actually had to learn to crawl before I could re-learn to walk,” she explains with a giggle. “You should never hurry for anyone.”

The accident left its mark on Dreamweaver, an album built around introspective songs, with subdued synthetic hues, where Anachnid’s voice is sometimes menacing, sometimes hushed and hyper-sensitive. This stems from the feminine and masculine energies brewing inside the artist since those fractures. “The climax of all that comes on the song ‘Anachnid,’ right in the middle of the album,” she says, about the song that references her many weeks of immobility.

Harper claims her “urban Indigenous” identity through singing and rapping over house music, break-beats, dance-pop, and trap, a well-defined musical universe, despite very eclectic rhythms. “Working with just two composer-producers [Ashlan Phoenix Grey and Emmanuel Alias] allowed me to produce something cohesive… The release of my first album has spurred me on to do even more. This album allowed me to prove that I’m able to do several styles of music while remaining true to my spirit.”

Her musical approach is in the image of her album: modern and spontaneous. “I write my lyrics on the spot, in the studio, by digging into my emotions,” she says. “I’ll have an idea of the sound I want, and this gives me ideas for the lyrics; if I feel like dancing, I’ll imagine a house beat, and then I hear notes. I call it ‘downloading’ a song, from my head to a piece of paper, live in the studio. Then we create our samples and integrate them in the tracks,” says the musician, who’s taking advantage of self-isolation to learn to write on her own, via her computer.

Music has been part of her life since childhood, as are stone-carving and painting, passions she inherited from her mother, an artist and entrepreneur. “As for my dad, he has a natural talent for playing guitar,” says Anachnid, of Ojib-Cree Nation heritage, who sings about identity, cultural differences, integration (listen to the powerful “Windigo” and “America”) and ostracism (“Braids”).

“I’ve been writing songs since my childhood; my mother used to push me to enroll in arts camps where they made films and I wrote the music,” says Anachnid. “I’ve been playing music for a long time, but I’m quite introverted. Singing in front of an audience was a challenge for me. I had a hard time making my voice heard and communicating with people; now, I increasingly understand what I do and why I’m here.”

“I learned to sing with wolves,” she says, referring to her tight bond with her godfather and godmother, with whom she “grew up in the woods. They would watch over me when my mom would go to work; they’re the ones who taught me that if you answer back to a wolf who cries in the forest, he’ll answer back to evaluate how far away you are. If you cry and it answers back, you know it will not come closer than two kilometers from you to respect your hunting ground. It’s the music of nature.”

Jason SharpIn this time of crisis, all conversations seemingly begin and end with Covid-19 as the topic, and our conversation with Montréal-based saxophonist and composer Jason Sharp was no exception. “All my shows have been cancelled until October, and I would normally have been in the studio to record my third album,” he explains. “The best I can do, under these circumstances, is to take a step back and think about my work to improve my technique, while I wait to get back to work.”

Ironically, it’s an epidemic of respiratory disease that has put a halt to the activity of this musician whose breath is at the very centre of his art. Obviously, there’s noting surprising about the fact that a saxophonist would be interested in respiration, but Sharp has developed a practice that transcends the traditional use of wind instruments. On his 2016 debut album, A Boat Upon Its Blood, Sharp used an ingenious electro-acoustic system that transformed his breath and cardiac pulses into the basic sonic material, thus turning his whole body into an unpredictable metronome. With the help of a few collaborators, including violinist Jesse Zubot and guitarist Joe Grass, he created an incredibly rich sonic universe. At once radically experimental and profoundly evocative, he propels his saxophone into uncharted territory by tapping into his varied experiences in jazz improv, musique actuelle, and film scoring.

Two years later, on Stand Above the Streams, he dove deeper in his adventure alongside Adam Basanta, an audio installation specialist, and the pair developed more sonic textures related to the human body. “What I like in this approach is that the tempos and dynamics vary constantly,” says Sharp. “It totally orients the composition process, because if I want to do something with a rapid tempo, I have to play something that requires a certain physical effort, whereas if I want to create a meditative atmosphere, I have to relax my body. During rehearsals, my heart rate is generally around 110 bpm, but when I go on stage, it climbs up to 145 bpm even before I play a single note. Each interpretation is necessarily different, and that keeps things interesting for me.”

Born in Edmonton, Sharp has lived in Vancouver, Toronto, New York, and Amsterdam, but it’s in Montréal that he found the perfect breeding ground for his eclectic  music. Besides operating Nada Yoga, a studio where he and his wife teach sound-based meditation, he surfs from project to project with obvious delight.

“What’s really amazing about the music scene in Montréal is that I can play with giants of musique actuelle like Jean Derome or Lori Freedman, while also collaborating with rock artists like Joe Grass, Plants and Animals or Elisapie,” says Sharp. “I even played on Leonard Cohen’s last album, imagine that! People are very open-minded about differences, and mixing genres and personalities is greatly encouraged.”

That open-mindedness – which he believes is unique to the cultural environment in Montréal – lead Sharp to create film music. After working with film experimentalist Daïchi Saïto, he’s just finished scoring the feature film The Decline, directed by Pascal Demers for Netflix. This first foray into the realm of commercial films was a surprise for him.

“I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical when they contacted me, especially since the director had never seen me play,” says Sharp. “But he did his homework nonetheless, he knew my work, and he wanted the bass saxophone to be the crux of the sonic aesthetic of the movie. It opened me up to a completely different way of working, and I believe my experience with experimental music prepared me well for screen composing. And, since we were talking about a pandemic, I think it’s a funny coincidence that I ended up working on a film about survivalists and the end of the world!”