Both in Québec and worldwide, there are too few female screen composers. Louise Tremblay’s professional path stems from a unique opportunity that she grabbed with equal parts passion and determination. The very tone of her voice, rapid-fire speech, and consistently generous answers to questions are obvious indicators that this musician cherishes her chosen path.

Tremblay, who holds a Master’s degree in piano performance from McGill University, was also, for many years, a piano instructor and accompanist. She often observed and commented on the work of her life partner, James Gelfand, himself a screen composer. “I’d hear music, rhythms, an instrument over what he presented to me,” says Tremblay. “One day, while he was overloaded with work, he asked me to come and write down what I was hearing. So, in 2006, we started simply with sound editing on the software Cubase. That’s how I learned to place music, entrances and exits, cutting and re-composing small sections so that the music would fit the images better.”

Louise TremblayHer first work as a composer came a few months later for the National Geographic show Naked Science. She started composing music banks after a discussion with the show’s producer and director. “I remember we hadn’t even seen any images, but still had to come up with music. We’d been given rather vague instructions, such as the fact that it would take place in the mountains, and there would be images of planes. The pieces needed to be two to three minutes long – which is comparatively long.” The result was very much appreciated, and confirmed Tremblay’s long-standing intuition that she was an able composer, who knew how to paint images with musical colours.

This cemented the birth of the all-star team known as Tremblay-Gelfand. For more than a decade now, the duo creates about six film or documentary scores per year. This uncommon productivity is apparent when one takes a look at their impressive resumé. Their recent work on the movie Swept Under earned the SOCAN Film Music Award at the 2017 Montréal Gala.

Although they’re united in composition, each of them has preserved their own sacred, personal creative territory. At the onset of any project, Louise and James each work separately with their copy of the scenario. They each carry out their own research for musical colour, harmonies, atmospheres and instruments in their own studio. Yes, the Tremblay-Gelfand team operates two separate studios on two different floors in order to provide each of them with their own composing space.

Following this solo stage, they pool their resources in preparation of the first creative meeting with the producer and director. That’s when all the various proposals are presented. “Then, we re-unite our creative intuitions,” says Tremblay. “We present them but don’t say who wrote what. We want that to remain neutral. We want to steer clear of any bias.”

Next to reading the script, Tremblay believes those meetings are essential to any film or documentary project. That’s when a direction is determined, a vision established. “As composers, we need to understand the expectations of the director and producer who don’t necessarily have a musical vocabulary to express what they want,” she says. “Our job is to clearly understand what they liked and didn’t like, and why. One needs to be a very good listener to do that.”

Once the direction is determined, the duo pools their strengths, and work as one, in the same direction. “From that point on, it doesn’t matter who composes what, and who does what,” says Tremblay. “All that matters is delivering what was asked, and we both check our egos to achieve that.” Tremblay admits having learned a lot from Gelfand, who had a considerable head-start in the field with his 30 years of experience as a screen composer.

But she says that she’s learned the most during those meetings with producers and directors. According to her, it’s not talent alone that brings in contracts for composers. It’s also their capacity to listen to their teams; their flexibility with regards to what is asked of them; and their detachment from their compositions. “I’m a bit of a teenager and James is super adult,” says Tremblay. “I learned a lot by watching him interact with people. He’s so adaptable, such a good listener and he never takes things personally.”

Despite all of her acquired experience, Louise Tremblay is still clearly motivated by a thirst for constantly learning new things, whether on her own, or in a team, because hers is a trade where one needs to endlessly re-invent oneself.

He sounds like a proud dad boasting about his young son, but there’s a poignant story behind a sampled line that appears on Cadence Weapon’s brand new, self-titled album. “If I don’t get you, my son will,” Weapon’s father, Teddy Pemberton, says on “Own This,” the first song on the Edmonton-born, now Toronto-based rapper’s record.

The elder Pemberton was a DJ at college radio station CJSR-FM 88.5 in Edmonton, where he hosted a popular show called The Black Experience in Sound. He’s widely credited with introducing hip-hop to the western city. “When I first heard that line I couldn’t believe it,” Cadence, born Rollie Pemberton, says. “My mom had a bunch of tapes of my dad on the radio and I was going through them, and I was like, ‘Mom, why didn’t you tell me about this?’”

Cadence explained that the sentiment he sampled speaks to a recurring theme in his dad’s life. “He had opportunities to be on more mainstream stations,” says Weapon, “but he wasn’t willing to make any compromises – whether it was the music he wanted to play, or how he talked on the air. I get the sense he didn’t achieve his promise in his lifetime, and I feel I’m doing that for him.

The rapper says his dad’s refusal to compromise and “go against who you really are” made a huge impact on him. And he’s been keeping that legacy alive ever since he dropped his debut album, Breaking Kayfabe, in 2006. The album was critically acclaimed and earned Weapon props for his smart, witty rhymes and experimental sounds.

Those elements are in full effect on Cadence Weapon, his first album since 2012’s Hope in Dirt City. You’ll hear phenomenal flows and colossal beats, from left field, on every one of the album’s 12 tracks. Explaining his six-year absence from the recording studio, Weapon says he’s never felt the urgency to constantly release music. Besides, he spent time writing a book of poetry (Magnetic Days), hosting weekly and monthly poetry events, and estimates that he deejayed 15 times a month in Montréal (where he lived in between his times in Edmonton and in Toronto).

Oh, and he also wrote about 100 songs in the space of four years. “It’s, like, a very cathartic thing for me,” he says, describing the process. “I just have to record a certain number of songs each month to make myself happy. I like to get the ideas out and I just follow the music.”

  “Basically, with Cadence Weapon, expect the unexpected.”

Over the length of the album, Edmonton’s former poet laureate waxes poetic on rampant consumerism, living as a black man in Canada, Toronto’s crazy real estate market, and micro-aggressions. Heavy topics, to be sure, but Weapon gets that folks don’t want to be beat down with rhetoric and polemic. He says he’s found a way to make the medicine go down.

“When you want to write about a social issue, the best way to approach it is not with blunt force, it’s with subtlety and humour,” he says. “And that’s what makes these songs work.”

Standing apart from his time
The potpourri of sounds on Cadence Weapon differs starkly from current commercial hip-hop. “It definitely feels like people found a sound that’s working and it became the sound of rap all over the world,” Weapon says. “But that’s never been a concern for me. I just like making the music I make, and I feel my approach benefits me at a time like today, because it really lets me stand out. It’s tempting to just rap about a bunch of cool stuff, but I feel that’s not what people come to a Cadence Weapon album for. Few people rap about these subjects or think about them the way that I do. That’s my strength, I focus on that, and that’s what I’ve done with this album.”

Songs like “The Afterparty.” “I wanted to do an extended metaphor,” says Weapon, “and I wanted to do something that was a recurring theme in my music: the ideas of after-parties. I jammed out on a few different themes, and figured out the flows. Once I started getting some stuff that actually sounded good, I’d replace the random sounds with words, and I’d start formulating them into rhymes and ideas.”

He says the song is about existentialism, and the after-life, and says it refers to “the big after-party in the sky. It’s me taking inventory of all the good and bad things I’ve done, and thinking about how important it’s been for me to be on the guest list for different events. But the question I ask is, ‘What about that final list? Will I be on St. Peter’s list?’”

Cadence says the jam is meant to be playful, “but it’s also serious, because I’m wondering whether I’m gonna get in or not, and whether all these concepts we have on earth even matter. I look at the All Lives Matter and the white supremacist movements, and it seems like everyone feels the world’s gonna end.”

He agrees when we suggest that Cadence Weapon is an album for our times: “Definitely. I wanted to make something that’s contemporary, but musically forward-looking. I didn’t want something that sounded stagnant, or tied to a specific trend. Basically, with Cadence Weapon, expect the unexpected.”

Which was the unwritten mantra of his dad’s radio show, The Black Experience in Sound. The name of the show captures the essence of what Cadence does, and he agrees it would make a great title for his next album.

“His show was similar to the record,” says Weapon. “You might hear some old-school funk, some Nas, the 2001: A Space Odyssey movie theme, some Jimi Hendrix. He was such a rule-breaker.”

Like father, like son.

Sometimes the cosmos provides a signpost of what road to take next. When it comes to Amy Eligh’s career journey, that’s the case. A combination of divine intervention, a health issue, and an inspirational lecture added up to her chosen vocation as a music publisher.

Flash back more than 12 years. Eligh, then a Humber College student majoring in jazz performance, dreamed of a professional music-making career. Her chosen instrument: the trombone. After graduating, she discovered she had TMJ Syndrome – a disorder that causes pain in the jaw joint, and in the muscles that control jaw movement. Her dream of a performing career no longer an option, she wanted to stay in the field of music. While she struggled with what path to choose next, she enrolled in the Music industry Arts Program at Fanshawe College.

“My first week at Fanshawe, Professor Terry McManus talked about publishing, telling me that it was all about the song; he explained that it’s the first step in a long career for an artist,” says Eligh. “I found that extremely attractive, because I get to be there right at the beginning – when it’s just an idea – and work closely with a songwriter to create something amazing.”

Following this epiphany, the second sign occurred when Fanshawe alumnus Angela Fex (now Manager, Client Services, at FACTOR) lectured at the college between Eligh’s first and second year. Says Eligh: “After this lecture I said to her, ‘I want to get into publishing, and want an internship. What do I need to do?’”

Fex suggested Eligh contact Ed Glinert at Casablanca Media Publishing. An internship followed, along with a full-time job after graduation in 2005. “Casablanca gave me a job offer in September,” says Eligh. “Right after my internship finished, and just as I was starting second year. But they said I could start in May, when I graduated. I felt fortunate that I had work in the field that I wanted to be in.”

About 12 years after graduating, Eligh has carved out a successful career in music publishing. She spent almost all of those years with Casablanca Media/Red Brick Songs, where she rose from working in copyright/royalties as a co-ordinator — handling data entry and dispute resolution — to the Director of Synch & Creative Services. Six months ago, she moved to the Arts & Crafts music label to head up their publishing and licensing. FACTOR also recently appointed Eligh to sit on its Board of Directors.

The move from Casablanca to Arts & Crafts was the hardest decision she’s had to make in her career to date, but the time felt right to move on. While at Casablanca, she learned the profession from Jana Cleland and owner Jennifer Mitchell (who currently sits on SOCAN’s Board of Directors).

“Jana and Jennifer were integral to mentoring me all the way up,” says Eligh. “I was fortunate to be in a company where I had a lot of freedom to challenge myself, and move freely… I didn’t have a lot of restrictions. There was a lot of fostering of new ideas and they allowed for a lot of growth.

“I got into this business to help artists grow and succeed, and to grow with them.”

“Switching jobs was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made in my life,” she adds. “Red Brick raised me, all my friends are there, and I love their roster, which I had a hand in growing. After 12 years with an amazing company, though, it was time to shift gears.”

While at Casablanca/Red Brick Songs, Eligh was involved in many rewarding TV synch placements. Highlights include an ad for Canadian Tire, one for Interac featuring AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” and a synch for the Boats song “Advice on Bears,” on the Cameron Crowe comedy-drama series Roadies.

Over the years, the music-publishing executive has also helped arrange showcases for artists in Los Angeles and New York, and hosted songwriting camps for her roster of stars.

An Amy Eligh success story
One of Eligh’s first signings while at Red Brick Songs was Dan Davidson. The former-rocker-turned-country-star found huge success in 2017 with the single “Found.” He shared this success with Eligh, since the pair had worked together for many years.  “Right before Christmas, Dan and his producer Jeff Dalziel chipped in and sent me a Certified Gold Single plaque with my name on it,” she says. “To see his success and growth was so exciting. That [a gold record] was something I never thought would happen. The plaque is now hanging at home over my fireplace.”

Part of the allure of Arts & Crafts was the unique opportunity it presented to see how the label and management sides of the industry work. One of the successful synchs she’s arranged in the first six months at her new workplace was for Lowell (“War Face” in Episode 1401 of Grey’s Anatomy). This past November, she also put on a private showcase in L.A. for Taylor Knox and Cold Specks for music supervisors, film directors, and movie editors.

As she reflects on her growing career, the reasons that Eligh became a music publisher following her graduation from Fanshawe haven’t changed. And she still loves every minute of it.

“I got into this business to help artists grow and succeed, and to grow with them,” she says. “Every time I work with a new songwriter I learn something new. My dad always said, the minute you stop learning in a job, or a field, is when you need to leave – because you never know everything about your job.

“I bounce out of bed every day at 6:30 for my one-and-a-half hour commute, and it doesn’t feel like work. I mean, we’re in the music industry. How much better can it get?”