In an ideal world, Jay Scøtt would have carried on releasing songs on his YouTube channel and wouldn’t have thought about a first album just yet.

“Sadly, though, that’s not how the industry works. I couldn’t have gotten my foot in the door just with singles,” says the singer-songwriter, who’s responsible for two of the biggest current hits on commercial radio in Québec (“Broken” and “Copilote,” a duet with FouKi).

Jay ScottIn light of this unexpected success, the 32-year-old artist collected the best songs he’s recorded over the last two years on an album, Ses plus grands succès – which does indeed feel like a greatest hits compilation. Those folk-ish songs were recorded with the bare minimum of gear, sometimes with nothing other than a single mic in the middle of a room in his apartment in Terrebonne (a suburb Northeast of Montréal). He released them surreptitiously on the internet, without ever thinking they would one day land him on the radio. “I didn’t think of this as a bona fide album, but it’s still my first professionally released album. It truly was recorded with whatever was on hand,” he confides.

Coming from a guy who grew up in the hip-hop world, this first official release on a record label – 117 Records, the sister label of Disques 7 ième Ciel – is indeed quite surprising.

After bursting on the scene almost a decade ago under the alias PL3, Jay Scøtt also made an impression on college radio, alongside his partner in crime, Smitty Bacalley, as a member of satirical (in other words, vulgar) rap combo Les Drogues Fortes. “It’s funny, ‘cause I used to use Auto-Tune a lot, but when I noticed everyone [in Québec] was using it, I decided to stop – and that’s when my career took off!” he says, laughing.

And the fact that the guitar and the piano have taken the place of Auto-Tune and sequencers doesn’t mean that Ses plus grands succès shuns Jay Scøtt’s rap roots. Inspired as much by the hardcore emo wave of the 2000s as he is by Québec rap in the wake of Alaclair Ensemble’s 4.99 – an album that changed his way of seeing music – the singer, rapper, and multi-instrumentalist has kept his nasal, lightning-fast, melodious flow, while multiplying punchlines, multi-syllabic rhymes, and references to popular culture – the three pillars of rap writing.

“I consider what I write as rap, on a technical level. Nothing has changed when it comes to my writing technique,” says the artist, who references Limp Bizkit, Nirvana, and Sans Pression in his lyrics; three bands emblematic of his generation. “People identify to references like those. It allows them to connect with my music,” he says.

The album’s stripped-down aesthetic also allows for a greater connection with his lyrics, and renders listeners witnesses, like never before, to the depth of his vulnerability. The profound disarray of a broken heart is one of the central themes of the album, but so is a latent resilience that occasionally takes centre stage, notably on “42 Long.” The inspiration for these short stories doesn’t necessarily come from his own experience: “When I started writing these songs, I’d just started a new job where I worked nights in a mental health crisis centre. A lot of my deeper songs were inspired by stories I heard there. Stories of breakups, domestic violence… I’d get home and find myself inspired by all that.”

Another topic Scøtt touches on in his songs is his disdain for routine, and his desire for freedom. For those songs, he didn’t have to look very far for inspiration. “That’s 100% me,” he says. “Every time I got up to go to work, I couldn’t believe it… I couldn’t believe that I had to work 50 hours a week for someone else, just to get a few days off. And during that time off, you have to clean up the house, prepare meals… In other words, you never have time for yourself!” says the man who’s held a myriad of menial jobs while caressing his dream of making it in the music world. “Nowadays, my life has completely switched,” he says. “I’m my own boss. And I’ll have no one else to blame if business isn’t good.”

At the moment, Scøtt is living some of the greatest moments of his life so far, but he’s well aware that he  shouldn’t take anything for granted. “There’s no point in stressing out with that,” he says. “I don’t want to calculate my next moves. What I like is creating songs and recording them at home. The rest isn’t much fun to me,” he admits. “Over time, I’ve learned to accept that once I release a song, it doesn’t belong to me anymore. I’m not the one who decides whether it’s a hit or not. Putting that kind of pressure on yourself can only lead to disappointment.”

“Don’t let her tell you she’s not a songwriter,” keyboardist/vocalist Charlotte Command (her real last name), says of her sister Sarah, just before hanging up the phone. “She’s really good.”

The stylish duo – professionally known as Command Sisters, and signed with Chris Smith’s 21 Entertainment/Universal – have been performing together since they were kids in Edmonton, but it was Charlotte who became obsessed with songwriting. She calls Sarah, the guitarist in the band, “the curator of ideas.”

“What’s great about Charlotte and I is we’re very much yin and yang, in every sense of our band and our career. Our strengths are the complete opposite, so they complement each other,” says Sarah during a separate interview with SOCAN about Command Sisters’ new major-label debut EP, Rouge.

“When it came to song creation, and writing our EP,” says Sarah, “my sister would have a song or a riff, and after she’d written the chorus, we have this joke in the band: Sarah’s the one that writes all the oohs, so all the ‘ooh’ hooks. I’m like, ‘Hey, Charlotte, you should make that the chorus, or you should add this here.’ It’s that collaboration after she’s come up with a brilliant idea.”

Sarah, three years younger than Charlotte, remembers her sister writing many of the songs for the album at home in Toronto, “late at night, streetcars flying by, hearing sirens outside, very much natural, organic, just her by herself. I have to give my sister props to have that creativity to be able to do that alone in her house,” she says. “It’s so cool seeing how they came together, and how we all collaborated to make them how they came out on the record.”

The “we all” is mainly Charlotte, Sarah, and producer/songwriter Tim Pagnotta (Weezer, Blink-182, Ellie King), plus some earlier outside collaborations: “Trust Myself,” from 2019, co-written with Simon Wilcox and Brian Phillips, and “Lonely Lullaby,” from 2016, co-written with Ian Smith and Fraser TJ McGregor.

“Most of the songs on the record were actually ones that I had written like three, four years ago in our condo in Toronto,” says Charlotte, “So it was really exciting that the label and our team were so supportive, and loved the music we had.

“Tim basically added his magic, his production on top of that.  It was amazing to see what he did with it. Tim has co-written some of the biggest alternative songs of the past decade — like ‘It Started With A Whisper’ [“Everybody Talks (It Started With A Whisper)” by Neon Trees]. So it was really great to work with him, and I totally want to write more with him down the road.”

Six of the eight songs on Rouge – a cool, fun, alternative mix of dark, indie pop-rock – were recorded in the summer of 2019 in Los Angeles with Pagnotta, but when Command Sisters returned to L.A. at the beginning of 2020 for some Oscar parties, they went into the studio with producer/co-writer Michael MacAllister to add “Feel Good,” a last-minute creation quickly written for a synch placement. Then, during lockdown, they added the funny, grim rhyme “Rain On My Parade,” poking fun at the pandemic, produced and co-written by Andrew Martino.

“It took us a while to find our sound over the years” – Charlotte Command

Many of the songs were released over the lockdown, starting with “I Like It” in July of 2020. The latest singles are the uncharacteristically positive rocker “Feel Good” – their first song at radio, says Charlotte – and “Trust Myself,” with its Billie Eilish-inspired vibe, for which they recently shot a music video.

“It took us a while to find our sound over the years, coming from country and then falling far, far the other way, going really pop, and settling into the middle ground of alt-pop with real instrumentation nestled in there,” says Charlotte. “I think it really clicked for us when we learned to embrace our country roots, and combine them with the sonic elements of pop music that we love so much.”

Charlotte was creative as early as she can remember, drawing and writing short stories and poems, and then picking up the guitar. “Prior to that, Sarah and I, when we were nine and 12 years old, were singing karaoke country songs at little country festivals.” Charlotte recalls. “My mom was like, ‘You guys can’t sing something that’s too grown up.’

“But then I wanted to put my poems to music, and once I learned guitar, and I started getting more comfortable with piano, and it wasn’t just classical [music], I was like, ‘Oh, I can just make chords and accompany myself.’ That’s when it really became this obsession for me. I was like, ‘Wow, this is a new way for me to express myself.’ Sarah was like, ‘Oh cool, Charlotte writes songs; I can learn harmonize to them, and we’ll make this a thing,’” Charlotte says.

A decade ago, the teenagers travelled to Nashville to work with David Malloy, co-writer of the classic Eddie Rabbit hit, “I Love A Rainy Night,” and many other No. 1 songs, who signed them to a publishing/production deal (which has long since lapsed). “He was very much a mentor to me. It’s surreal now, him telling me ‘Charlotte, you’re a great songwriter,’” she says. “He would give me a suggestion, and then he’d go away and let me do my thing. He was definitely the person that first taught me a lot about songwriting, and gave me the confidence to even pursue songwriting.”

In 2016, when they when first moved to Toronto, Command Sisters started co-writing with a lot of people, but Charlotte admits her natural state is writing on her own. “I feel so comfortable and free when it’s just me and my own thoughts in my room,” she says. “But I love co-writing. There’s so much more experience and inspiration to pull from when there’s multiple people with their own stories and different talents in the room. And I find co-writes can definitely speed things up because I usually take my time with a song.”

Says Sarah, “When it comes to writing an instrumental guitar solo, that’s how I express emotions and my feelings. Taking the words that my sister has written, and putting that out musically, is what really inspires me when it comes to writing music. Again, what’s really cool is Charlotte and I have these two different passions, and I feel they very much complement each other – which is why it’s so great to be in a duo with my sister, and all of her incredible songwriter ideas. And when it comes to live, whipping out a guitar solo here and there is pretty fun, too.”

Travelling to another city, especially a storied musical hotspot, to work on songs with different people, or record at a legendary studio, can be incredibly inspiring for an artist. Maybe something of the distinctive flavour of those places can even work its way into the music, giving it an indescribable quality that can only come from actually being there and breathing the air.

Unfortunately, staying in those storied locales can be ruinously expensive for an artist, especially with the costs of flights, equipment, production, and studio time. So the free accommodation SOCAN offers at its SOCAN Houses in Los Angeles and Nashville is a pretty sweet perk for its members. We talked to two who booked time in SOCAN Houses about the financial and other benefits they enjoyed.

The Washboard Union, a Vancouver-based country music group, booked the SOCAN House in Nashville in the Winter of 2019 to work on their award-winning album Everbound. “It’s a great little house in East Nashville,” says singer and banjo player Chris Duncombe. “Perfect for us. We rehearsed and finished the writing there, and it was our crash pad every night when we got home from the studio.”

Duncombe says free accommodation made a “huge difference” to the recording budget. “It’s expensive to travel and be in a place for awhile when you’re writing and recording and not playing shows. So it helped a lot. It gave us a place to call home while we were in the throes of recording the album.”

Since the band was there during the Country Radio Seminar, it also gave them an opportunity to perform in front of radio programmers from across the U.S., a huge bonus for a Canadian group.

The band, which also includes Aaron Grain and David Roberts, insisted that being in Nashville  had an impact. “I can’t help thinking that Nashville did affect the record somehow,” he says. “David and I are country music history buffs, and in the past we’ve recorded at RCA studio A and Waylon [Jennings]’s old studio Legends, and this time, to be at Sound Emporium, Cowboy Jack Clement’s studio, was incredible. You get to see and touch country music history there, and that’s important for us.”

Neon Dreams, the JUNO-winning alt-pop duo from Halifax, have visited the L.A. SOCAN House several times, including in December of 2019. “We used it for writing, recording and meeting with people,” says singer Frank Kadilllac, “and not having to pay thousands of dollars to stay there was great. I mean, we’re from the East Coast, so the flight alone is expensive. It’s a big investment to be there, so that helped a lot.”

For Kadillac and drummer Adrian Morris, networking and co-writing were crucial, and so having a place to meet and work was, too. “If we met someone who didn’t have a space, we could say we had a space to work in,” says Kadillac. “If we couldn’t book a bigger studio, we had a space to record, and if we wanted to write songs acoustically and go to the studio after, we could do that, too.

“It’s where we wrote ‘Sick of Feeling Useless,’ which [was] on the radio in America, and that’s pretty crazy. We’re new to America, so it was a great way to get our foot in the door. Without the House, it’d be a different situation for us.”

Kadillac says the L.A. vibe has had an impact: “There are so many talented artistic people there, and it kind of infects you. And when you go somewhere different, it can alter your reality. You might find something you never would have found in your hometown, that inspires you.”

To apply for a stay at the SOCAN House in Nashville or L.A., click here.