Tatiana Zagorac grew up surrounded by pop music. Whether she was sitting in a car listening to the radio, or taking in the latest music videos on TV, she says “the structure of a pop song is something that has just always been clear to me.”

That ingrained understanding of pop arrangement now plays multiple roles in Zagorac’s life. As a songwriter for CYMBA Music Publishing, the Edmonton native gets to exercise her songwriting skills for artists all over Asia – although she often has to re-work her North American aesthetics to fit a more J-Pop or K-Pop mould. “I think writing there has changed and developed my skill set in a huge way,” she explains. “I’d been a lyric person all my life, and suddenly the lyrics were the least important part. It forced me to develop my melody writing quickly.”

Satisfying her urge to churn out Top 40-style hits through her work with CYMBA has allowed her personal project, Talltale, to skew in a more electronic direction. To Zagorac, experimenting with electronic music gives her the opportunity to “completely shape the sonic landscape that your songs live in.”

Her latest album as Talltale, A Japanese Fever Dream, draws inspiration from her years of working abroad. Opening track “Tokyo,” feels like a stroll through the city’s neon-soaked anime centre, Akihabara, while “Shed My Skin” sums up the surreal state of drifting through a foreign place, in the lines, “Already feels like a memory/ already feels like a fever dream.” It’s a lush, cinematic record that’s an ode to a country, but also celebrates a wanderlust spirit that’s always seeking new perspectives.

Back at home, Talltale is also finding success. Zagorac was named an “Artist to Watch” at the 2018 Edmonton Music Awards, and she took home the Electronic Song of the Year Award at the 2018 Canadian Songwriting Competition. While Zagorac says Talltale may lay low for the rest of 2019, save for a few upcoming music videos, she has her eyes set for new music in 2020: “It’ll be a big year for me!”

Jerome 50

Photo: Rosalie Beaucage

Jérôme 50 believes we ask for permission too often. He believes what we need to do is move forward and see what happens. After an acclaimed album – La hiérarchill, released at the end of 2018 – Jérôme gives a voice to children, and re-invents the codes of nursery rhymes on Le camp de vacances de Jérôme 49, an album with no holds barred.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands; but if you’re not happy, that’s OK too. Such are the types of suggestions the singer-songwriter – who hails from the suburbs of Québec City – offers on his latest surprise album.

“I don’t know if camp songs left a mark on me, but when I have an idea that I want to carry out, I carry it out,” says Jérôme, in all simplicity. “People have ideas but they don’t see them through.”

The idea of including actual children’s voices on his songs was non-negotiable. He wasn’t going to a half-assed job on this. His songs express his immense desire for freedom, rooted in a youth “very poor in actual freedom, and fraught with a lot of false freedoms.” “MØ launched a demo in 2009 that she titled A Piece of Music to Fuck to,” he says. “She talks about the degeneration of today’s youth, and she does it absolutely free of restraint, without fear of the right words. That’s kind of what I wanted to do with this project.”

There are indeed no limits here, especially when he has anonymous children say some very harsh things, or things based on strong political views.

Le trafic rend hystérique en banlieue de Québec (Traffic is driving people insane in the Québec City ‘burbs). Oh hé ! Hé oh ! En banlieue de Québec. (In the Québec City ’burbs) Les plus wacks votent pour la CAQ en banlieue de Québec. (Wacky people vote for CAQ in the Québec City ’burbs. [Editor’s Note: CAQ, or Coalition avenir Québec, is a right-leaning political party elected to power during the 2018 provincial election] Oh hé ! Hé oh ! En banlieue de Québec. (In the Québec City ’burbs) Les p’tits bums se tirent des bongs en banlieue de Québec. (Troublemakers smoke bongs in the Québec City ’burbs) Oh hé ! Hé oh ! En banlieue de Québec. (In the Québec City ’burbs)

That’s but a sample of the lyrics to “En banlieue de Québec.” “The parents were super-cool, and the choir we chose was too,” Jérôme explains. “I believe our system, and planet Earth, are both unwell. Québec as a province is aging, and needs to be shaken up a bit. Young people don’t have enough of a voice. Electing CAQ to power is not the way to go. I gave myself the right, simple as that.”

Like many of his friends, Jérôme is a suburbanite, and feels oppressed, or at the very least indoctrinated, by that status. He believes it’s time we stopped imposing ideas that, he says, aren’t good for youth, or the human race. “Thirty-five hours a week with a condo and a retirement fund, that’s not real,” he says. “One needs to go to CEGEP and get a university diploma? Why? We were force-fed this alternative reality. You see ads for Université Laval in the toilets at the mall. It says, ‘Our students have a better future.’ I say no to that.”

By building his own universe through the de-construction of nursery rhymes from his days at summer camp, he’s advocating for simplicity. “I’m not re-inventing them because I think they lied to us,” he says. “I believe children’s songs are neglected and don’t occupy their rightful place in the realm of intellectuals. It’s very important to me to uplift them.”

La hiérarchill was more about taking a stance on social trends. “Technology helps us make fewer efforts,” says Jérôme. “We’re increasingly immobile and inactive. The human race is heading for a fall. We have a chance to save ourselves, and that will happen if we take it easy.”

Whereas certain artists can’t see beyond what they’re holding, Jérôme 50 makes no bones about wanting to write some of the biggest hits in human history. “I want to write for Céline Dion and Éric Lapointe,” he says, dead serious. “Ten years from now, they’ll stumble on my camp album and they won’t believe their ears.”

To achieve this goal, he’s adopted a very simple strategy: he listens to the same hits over and over, for days at a time. “Lately, it’s been Eiffel 65’s “I’m Blue.” Before that, it was “What a Wonderful World.” Writing good songs means keeping things simple. Minimalism is in. The Beatles knew that when they wrote ‘Let It Be.’”

Writing Tips
“On my first album, I wrote in a very spontaneous way, I left it aside during three months, rewrite a verse, etc. On Le camp de vacances, I used a lot of SQDC products. (NdT: SQDC, Société québécoise du cannabis, the state-run organization that sells marijuana products since its legalization in Québec. ) The words to my version of “Trois petits chats” took me 48 hours, and I was stoned solid. Some say drugs are useless, but that’s the use they have for me. I like it when verses support the chorus, using mind games embedded in the rhymes. In a verse with ABAB rhymes, I like the last B to be a nod to the chorus, like in ‘Wéke n’ béke,’ (‘Wake ‘n’ Bake’), where I say the future belongs to those who wake up stoned. I like taking rules, re-creating them, and then setting them on fire right in the middle of the song. I think one thing that’s really obvious is my one-liners, like “prendre une douche, je t’aime tellement que je vomirais” (“take a shower, I love you so much I could vomit”), etc. All I’m doing is using a sentence like that and repeating it. I build my songs that way, because it’s a habit I picked up from the work of Angus and Julia Stone.”

Rosalie Vaillancourt’s web fiction Avant d’être morte was part of the inspiration for Jérôme 50’s “La chaise musicale,” hence her presence onstage, and in the video for the song. “In the first part, she plays musical chairs with a young girl,” he says. “The night before, my friends and I were playing musical chairs at a party, and somebody pulled the chair from under me. I jotted down ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour.’ The stars were aligned for me to write that, the next day, exactly for Rosalie. I remember borrowing an atlas to stock up on the names of cities and towns.”

Jérôme’s denunciations have not all been spoken; his truth has not been entirely revealed. “I said everything I was thinking, but Céline was wrong when she sang ‘on ne change pas’ (‘we don’t change’). My take on things might change. But regardless, now I feel like talking about communication. We live in a time where communication has never been more important. We’re communicating, you and I, but when it comes to love, we’re so fraught with problems. There are unsaid things, and interactions that lack meaning.”

Jérôme is also writing a book, and has eight songs ready for his next album, but his main project for the coming weeks is going to be the “transcription of the dialogue in the movie Mommy, so that I can recite them on demand.”

Let’s face it; if not for the sounds of saws cutting bones, crows cawing, or doors creaking, horror movies wouldn’t freak us out as much as they do.

But thanks to brilliant screen composers who have an arsenal of tools, techniques, and tricks at their disposal, these savage soundscapes can make us either shudder in our seats, or jump right out of them.

Toronto’s Mark Korven, who’s been scoring for horror films since the late ‘90s, has developed a way to create those responses without relying on studio technology. Along with Toronto luthier Tony Duggan-Smith, he’s created The Apprehension Engine, a Canadian invention that crashed into our consciousness two years back when a video of Korven playing it and explaining what it does was posted on YouTube.

It has since racked up more than seven million views, and Korven says Duggan-Smith “has received a stream of requests to build it, including some from a few fairly big names I’m not at liberty to discuss.” He says the unique instrument, which famed musician Brian Eno has called “the most terrifying musical instrument of all time,” costs $10,000 (USD), and about 10 have been bought so far.

“The idea was to create something that would enable me to create horror soundscapes,” Korven says. “I wanted to get away from sampling and using sound effects, and I wanted something that was acoustic. But once I got it, I couldn’t resist plugging it in and using pedals to get more effects,” he says, chuckling.

Korven says after conceptualizing The Apprehension Engine, he drew up a diagram and asked Duggan-Smith to build it in two weeks. “I told him I wanted a spring reverb, a hurdy gurdy, and an e-bow [the hand-held electronic bow for guitar], since I love using it. He loved the idea. He was, like, ‘This will give me a break from the endless stream of building guitars.’”

Korven says he never scares himself with the sinister sounds the “steampunk”-looking instrument produces. “I’ve been scoring a lot of horror films, and it’s become a relaxing thing, a cathartic thing,” he says. “It’s like having some internal tension, and you can express it in a musical way and expel it.”

“I want to be outrageous in the sounds I come up with.”

Korven has a response for purists who might question whether The Apprehension Engine is an instrument or not, and even if it makes actual “music.” “My definition of music is sound that has some kind of emotional impact,” he says. “On the other hand, something that is unbelievably bland like muzak, I don’t consider that music.”

Korven concedes that The Apprehension Engine is not an instrument in the traditional sense, since “it’s hard to do anything melodic or harmonic in a conventional way [on it],” but adds that “its restrictions make it creatively freeing. It’s like a foley box, it’s not a cohesive whole, and the possibilities are endless.”

Korven says that when he’s commissioned to make a soundtrack for a horror film, he “just experiments. When I sit down with it [The Apprehension Engine], I’m not thinking notes and harmonies. I’m thinking, ‘How can I hold the e-bow in a different way,’ or, ‘How can I touch something to create a sound I’ve never created before?’”

Korven describes his sound as “my brand of sonic lunacy, that’s funky and dirty.” He says that as a screen composer, “you can spend your entire career doing what directors ask of you, but I have all the freedom in the world to do what I want to do. And what I want to do is to be free sonically, and outrageous in the sounds I come up with.”