Jonathan Simkin isn’t just the “Nickelback guy” anymore.

The Vancouver music business maverick, who first rose to prominence as the lawyer for Chad Kroeger and co., is now the head of two successful independent labels (604 Records, Light Organ Records) and his own Simkin Artist Management, with dozens of artists under at least one of his many wings.

His biggest success story of late is undoubtedly the incredible breakthrough of “Call Me Maybe” (which Amazon recently announced is its best-selling digital single of all time) by Carly Rae Jespen, co-written by Josh Ramsay of Marianas Trench, an act on 604. And while Simkin admits scoring another “Call Me Maybe” would be like “hitting the lotto jackpot six times in a row,” that doesn’t mean he won’t be trying.

Since Jepsen is busy starring in a Broadway production of Cinderella, Simkin says it might be unrealistic to expect another album from the singer this year. Meanwhile, he’s excited about Marianas Trench, which has signed with Cherry Tree/Interscope for outside of Canada and is currently in the studio.

“When the bottom fell out of the business, that was the best time to start signing bands.”

“Josh just continues to amazes me,” says Simkin. “We’ve really worked hard to build the band’s name up all over the world. It feels like this could be their year.” In addition, 604’s country division is getting stronger, with singer-songwriter Dallas Smith (ex-Default) recently being signed to Republic Nashville in the U.S., part of the Big Machine group.

Simkin also continues to grow Light Organ, an alternative label launched in 2010 that’s home to acts like The Zolas, who recently toured with Hollerado; Polaris Prize nominee Louise Burns; and The Mounties, a new project from Hawksley Workman, ex-Hot Hot Heat singer Steve Bays, and Ryan Dahle of Limblifter.

“When the bottom kind of fell out of the business, to me that was the best time to start signing bands,” says Simkin. “I’m not competing against other Canadian labels!” He’s particularly excited about gathering his acts all under one physical roof this year. Simkin recently purchased a building in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighourhood that will become his headquarters, complete with recording studio and soundstage for music videos and live performances.

“It’s a dream I’ve had for a while,” he says. “To have our own production suites will enable us to make great music on a reasonable budget. It also creates a cross-pollination that has been a big part of our success. Look at Carly’s ‘Call Me Maybe.’ Why did Josh Ramsay produce that? I was working with both, and I put them together. I love creating an environment where people meet and work together.

“We’ll have a space in our building where people can write. We’ll also be able to have pay-per-view shows live streaming from the building. It’s about facilitating the creation of art, but also to record it, and disseminate it.

“Nobody knows 100% where the business is going, but I’m trying to create an establishment so that I’ll be able to monetize it wherever it goes. Plus it’s going to be fun. We’re going to experiment.”


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Singer-songwriter Alejandra Ribera, a new Montrealer with a deep warm voice, is reaching out to scores of music lovers through La Boca (The Mouth), a collection of evocative and haunting original melodies performed in English, Spanish and French.

To produce this second album, released in February 2014, Ribera brought together a dream team that included producer Jean Massicotte, who has worked with such major Quebec artists as Pierre Lapointe, Lhasa de Sela and Jean Leloup, and the seasoned musicians Yves Desrosiers and Mario Légaré. She also called on the French-born singer Arthur H, with whom she delivers a scorching performance of Un cygne la nuit (A Swan in the Night), a move that has helped add to the buzz about this fascinating new artist.

Born in Toronto to an Argentinian father and a Scottish mother, Ribera studied violin and cello at a young age. In 2009,  she released NavigatorNavigateher, an album that was recorded over a mere five days and brought unhoped-for attention to the young performer, who had only been trying to raise money to pay her stage musicians, and suddenly heard her songs being played on CBC Radio. She later toured extensively across Canada and Quebec, where she was a repeat guest on Télé-Québec’s popular Belle et Bum weekly program.

“My songs are not about everyday life. I don’t see myself as a storyteller.”

In an incredible stroke of luck, Ribera was presented with opportunities to pay tribute not once, but twice, to the great Lhasa de Sela following the artist’s untimely death in 2010, first at the Rialto Theatre in Montreal, and later as part of a touring multi-disciplinary production called Danse Lhasa Danse.

Comparisons have been drawn between the two passionate performers with unique signatures. Ribera gratefully accepts this, if with a tinge of embarrassment. “Lhasa had a special place in my life,” she says. “There is a connection, that’s for sure. I have so much respect for her!”

Alejandra also had the good fortune of meeting a member of Lhasa’s inner circle, producer Jean Massicotte, whom she calls the reason she moved to Montreal. “Jean is a true artist. Your songs are his babies. As a songwriter, you’re attached to each of them like children, and entrusting them to someone like Jean is like sending them to the best university.” Massicotte, in her mind, has been a mentor and teacher who was able to take her much farther along her creative path than she ever thought possible.

In spite of industry pressure, Ribera took her time preparing her new album, if for no other reason than she finds it impossible to write on cue, calling herself a dilettante who finds nothing wrong with taking three years to come back to a song idea scribbled on an old scrap of paper. “When everything else is telling you to go one way, and your inner voice is telling you something else, that’s what you should be doing,” the instinctive songwriter suggests.

Ribera finds inspiration in images, myths, historical figures and the like. La Boca’s title song was inspired by an article she read on Lake Vostok, an Antarctic wonder discovered by Russian scientists. “It got me thinking about underwater creatures, bioluminescence and the unreal light that filters down to the bottom of the sea.

“My songs are not about everyday life. I don’t see myself as a storyteller,” she admits. “I couldn’t be talking about a love affair that turns sour after a few years. Others are better equipped than I am to write those kinds of stories. I prefer hinting at things and allowing listeners to use their own imaginations.”

Besides its inherent beauty and sound, the use of the Spanish language for some songs affords Ribera a modicum of protection when dealing with subjects she considers too personal. “I still don’t feel as comfortable writing in Spanish as I do in English,” she explains, “but it gives me more space when the topic is hard to address.”

Alejandra Ribera now hopes to take La Boca to the rest of the world. She performed some of her new pieces in New York City recently as part of an industry event, and is eager to present them to Quebec audiences and as part of a European tour. And, while she’s there, why not consider a billing at Barcelona’s Palau de la Música, her ultimate dream? La Boca is certainly a step in the right direction.


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Having decided to become a singer-songwriter, the film producer, scriptwriter and actor Émile Proulx-Cloutier entered the 2011 Festival en chanson de Petite-Vallée, Quebec’s premier pop music competition, and came out with a whopping seven prizes. In November 2013, after honing his songs on a number of stages, he released Aimer les monsters (Loving Monsters), an album produced by Philippe Brault (Pierre Lapointe, Random Recipe) that tells the kind of vivid, troubling stories that a creator steeped in the worlds of film and theatre was especially well-equipped to tell.

“Exploring emotional environments other than my own is exciting to me,” Proulx-Cloutier explains. “I love being able to walk in the shoes of someone with a totally different background with whom I can still empathize at some level. Deep down, all humans are related. At the same time, I can express myself by sharing personal experiences that give a feel of authenticity to my fictional characters. There is also the need to put the story first whatever happens – I’ve seen my characters have a change of mind in the middle a song! That happened with ‘Votre cochon se couche,’[‘Your Pig Lies Down’] for instance. My experience as a screenwriter and actor is helpful in setting up the framework for a song,” the highly voluble artist explains.

“I try to plan my life so that I always have a couple of irons in the fire at all times.”

Already well-known in Quebec’s cultural life in his other incarnations, Proulx-Cloutier was well aware that releasing a debut album at the ripe old age of 30 was a calculated risk. The pressure was real.  “I’ve already lived through a number of creative processes in a variety of areas,” he says. “I’ve seen many creators work, struggle or fall flat on their faces. I’ve received industry awards and bad critical reviews. So I’ve got experience, but my own path is unique, and I don’t necessarily feel impervious to criticism. For one thing, this is the first time I’ve come up with a deeply personal project, and this is leaving me wide open. Besides, when you release an album at my age, you can’t expect it to be taken as a youthful mistake if it’s not good enough. It’s a project I’ve been working on and refining for a long time. I felt it was a huge risk to take. Some well-known people have branched out to songwriting with not-so-good results. I didn’t want this recording to be seen as some TV actor’s whim.”

A keen observer of human behaviour, a talented pianist and a clever storyteller, Proulx-Cloutier finds it easy to weave his singer-songwriter activities into the fabric of his varied creative life: “I’m a great admirer of people like Robert Morin and Robert Lepage, who can do everything, small and large projects. The professions I’m working in all have busy and slack periods. Acting work is seasonal. At the creative level, I try to plan my life so that I always have a couple of irons in the fire at all times. Any type of project. I love meeting people from other creative backgrounds. I’ve managed to keep busy that way all my life. I’d be miserable in a one-culture environment. That’s the way I am. It’s in my nature.”

Like everyone else, Proulx-Cloutier is aware of the current troubles of the music business he has recently entered, but without worrying himself to death, he remains convinced that listeners remain as fond of great stories and poetry as ever, and that modern artists must reconnect with them from the stage going forward. “When I think of the number of recordings I’ve sold and what that could have been 20 years ago, I have to laugh! But there always will be a space for live shows and the communal experience they make possible. This is where the future lies. We’ve got to find a direct and interpersonal way to share what we create. On stage, you can create a roller coaster ride of emotions with just a few props. We must remain accessible, relevant and interesting. The audience – of “real people” – is willing to follow us much farther than we think. We can still make sense to them, take them on a ride. We are living at a time when fashions coexist, when old and new live side by side. I don’t value external forms. I value what’s true, fair and courageously made.”

Besides appearing in the new Toute la vérité television series from early March, Proulx-Cloutier is working on documentary, Choisir la terre (Chosing Earth), with his spouse Anaïs BarbeauLavalette, with whom he is also preparing a large stage show that will open in May at the Place des Arts Theatre in Montreal. As for concerts, more than a dozen were scheduled for the spring before the Outremont Theatre April series opened, all of which will be followed with what the artist calls “a real tour.” So, there will be plenty of opportunities for people to enjoy Émile Proulx-Cloutier’s special brand of movie-like music. “That’s exactly what I am planning to do!” he promises. “What matters is being able to tell believable stories and put new images in people’s minds. I always see this as some kind of film playing inside the brain. I don’t know if a song can ever produce an effect on the scale of a Michelangelo painting, but that painting is not on your wall for you to enjoy anyway! Songs, on the other hand, are accessible. And French music is magnificent. The language we learned on our mother’s knee resonates in a special place in our hearts. That’s where the beat makes real sense.”


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