Growing up hearing your grandfather croon classic country while working on the family farm, it’s no surprise when your life journey eventually brings you to Nashville. And, you’d surely find a home in this town – where many of those hit songs were born.

That’s the case for singer-songwriter Mackenzie Porter. The 28-year-old was raised on a cattle ranch in rural Alberta, near Medicine Hat. The sounds of Nashville spilling from the radio were a daily part of her childhood education. Her family were all musicians. At four, she began studying classical piano, violin and voice, and performed regularly with her siblings and cousins in the family’s band – which included brother Kalan, a past Canadian Idol winner.

For the past four years, Porter has called Nashville home. She’s also hung her hat for months at a time, out of every year, in Vancouver – filming the TV series Travelers, in which she acts a principal role (see sidebar). When we chat, Porter’s the process of completing her new EP, tentatively set for release March 22, 2019, on indie label Big Loud Records. The collection of six songs is Porter’s first batch of new music since 2015, when her self-titled debut won a JUNO Award for Country Album of the Year. Porter released the upcoming EP’s first two singles (“About You” and “Drive Thru”) in November of 2018. Fellow Canadian, and SOCAN Member, Joey Moi (Florida Georgia Line, Dallas Smith, Jake Owen) produced the release.

“It is a cool, pop-country blend,” says Porter. “I like to think of it as ‘country Sheryl Crow.’ I wrote half of the songs, and three are outside songs the label found. I’m of the mindset that I want to write all my songs, but if an amazing song comes in, the best song wins in the end… that’s how you get your name out there. To sing another person’s song, I need to connect with it and it needs to connect with me. It has to feel like a situation you’d been in, and words you’d say.”

Porter was set to participate in a CCMA/SOCAN songwriting camp recently, but had to cancel at the last minute; a promo video for a special Fall 2019 tour with a couple of other country stars (to be announced shortly) trumped this commitment. “I was so bummed I couldn’t go,” she says.

“If me-as-an-artist doesn’t work out, I’ll be a songwriter because I love it so much.”


Does the songwriter recall the first piece of music she created? “I can’t remember for sure, but it was some horrible thing I did in my bedroom by myself,” she laughs. “I hope nobody finds my old MacBook!”

Today, Porter still writes alone in her bedroom, but co-writing is her preferred method of penning a song. Most weekdays, you’ll find her teaming up with other songwriters, somewhere around town, for a writing session. She loves bouncing ideas off of other artists. By working with co-writers, she says, each one brings their experiences to the session, which can change the whole direction of a song.

A Traveler between music and acting
Porter started acting in high school. For a while, landing roles was her main focus. She booked her first lead on a TV series when she was 16. It wasn’t until a dry spell, when she couldn’t land a part, that she enrolled in music recording school and fell in love with the art of songwriting. “I needed another creative outlet,” she says. More recently, the songwriter starred, along with Eric McCormack, in the hit TV series Travelers — a show about time-travelling created by Brad Wright, and shot in Vancouver, which aired for three seasons. The series is set in a future where technology has developed a means of sending people back to the 21st Century to help save humanity. Porter starred as Traveler 3569, the team medic, who assumes the life of an intellectually disabled woman named Marcy Warton. “Eric is one of nicest people I’ve met,” Porter says. “He’s so positive and encouraging. He really believed in our show and all of the young actors on it. Now that the show is over, I’m definitely focusing more on my music.”

“The first part of every co-write, I always get really nervous,” she explains. “I’m scared to come in with an idea other people may or may not feel is cool. Tyler [Hubbard] from Florida Georgia Line recently took a bunch of writers out on their bus with them. I’ll never forget what he told me, ‘Nothing is cool until you make it cool.’”

Songs for Porter usually start with a hook, or a title. “That’s the Nashville way to do it – 99 per cent of the time people here do it that way,” she says. “You hear a title, and you may not think it’s cool right away, but words are a puzzle, and suddenly you wrap it up in a different way, and you’ve got something.”

Porter’s advice to other aspiring songwriters is perseverance: you need to put in the hours. “Write, write, write, and write,” she says. “No matter how good you are, you need to get all the shitty songs out of the way before you can get to the really good ones. I was writing 150 songs per year for three years before I started picking songs for this new EP. It can be discouraging, but it’s worth it. My advice: write hundreds of songs and finish them, even if they’re crappy. It’s like a muscle. You need to work it out.”

Whether her acting or music career ever become too challenging to sustain, one thing is certain in Porter’s mind: she’ll never stop writing songs.

“I’m a songwriter at heart,” she concludes. “I hope it never happens, but if me-as-an-artist doesn’t work out, I’ll be a songwriter because I love it so much. Sometimes I think I’m running out of ideas. That happens when you’re writing five times a week. You start to think, ‘What else can I write about?’ But the songs always come. Different co-writers inspire you. And, there are always different ways to say the same story.”


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Aldo NovaThirty-six years after he exploded on the music scene, in 1982, Montréal-born guitarist, composer and producer Aldo Caporuscio, a.k.a. Aldo Nova, has decided to re-record six of the 10 songs from his eponymous debut album. It was a classic arena-rock record that featured “Fantasy,+ one of his two biggest commercial hits – the other being Céline Dion’s “A New Day Has Come” (2002) which he co-wrote, arranged, and produced alongside Stephan Moccio.

“That song launched my career!” he says about “Fantasy.” A day-and-a-half in the studio and it was done. Done in a demo form, as the other nine songs. And it’s based on a true story. “I was walking in Manhattan,” says Nova, “and stopped at the corner of Broadway and 40th Street, and the sensation I felt at that moment was that everything I was bombarded with was just a fantasy. The lyrics were written before the music, which was rare for me back then.”

The album would go spend two months on the Billboard charts where it peaked at No. 8.

The  storyline of the video is quite over-the-top: three machine-gun-toting men gun down guards near a warehouse at night. As soon as the guns have quieted, a chopper comes throbbing down from the sky and lands on the crime scene. Out of it comes Nova, wearing a skin-tight, leopard-print body suit and, with the help of his accomplices (his musicians, as it turns out), he breaks into said warehouse with his laser-spewing guitar. Cut to the next scene: the band is playing “Fantasy” in that industrial setting. So ‘80s!

City nights / Summer breezes make you feel all right / Neon lights / Shining brightly make your brain ignite
See the girls with the dresses so tight / Give you love, if the price is right / Black or white / In the streets there’s no wrong and no right….

And a few verses later, the coup de grâce:
So forget all you see/It’s not reality, it’s just a fantasy

“Back in 1981, I was playing with a covers band in clubs in Montréal and surrounding areas,” says Nova. “I worked in a music store during the day, then from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., four nights a week, I would play clubs, four sets a night: two disco sets, one rockabilly set, and the last set dressed as a Beatle. Then, I would go to the studio from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. to work on my own songs and after a couple of hours of sleep, I would start all over again.

“‘Fantasy’ wasn’t my favourite song on the album, but seeing the reaction of people around me, it became the single. Writing that song wasn’t hard, but arranging it was a different story. I had to give life to all those sounds I was hearing in my mind. I started with a repetitive drum loop, tagged three guitar chords onto it, and that was the foundation. I used ‘Fantasy’ and nine other songs to build a demo. They ended up being the album, as is.”

“I love SOCAN, they’ve always supported my projects!”

All that was left to do was the mixing, which was handled by New York-based producer and engineer Tony Bongiovi, and the mastering, handled by the legendary Bob Ludwig (Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Queen, Jimi Hendrix, Radiohead, The Police, etc.) – the same guy who, at 74, mastered the tracks on Aldo Nova 2.0.

The new album was launched on Oct. 19, 2018, on MRI. The re-visited songs are heftier, more rock-oriented: “turbo-charged,” as the artist himself puts it. Apart from the six reprised songs – “Fantasy,” “Ball and Chain,” “Heart to Heart,” “Foolin’ Yourself,” “It’s Too Late” and “Can’t Stop Loving You” – Nova offers a new one: “I’m a Survivor,” the video for which is currently under production, although the song is already available on YouTube.

“I’m thrilled by the end result, it sounds much better,” says Nova. “The sound is beefed up, futuristic, it sounds like a production from the 23rd Century! I wanted to preserve the innocence of the songs, but add experience to them. I sing better at 62 than I did at 40. I recorded the album with the same analog technology, but I no longer mix directly on the console; I prefer my computer, which allows me more leeway.”

What advice would the 62-year-old Nova give to the 1982 Nova? “Never trust an agent, manager, or producer.”

“Fantasy”
Written by: Aldo Nova
Published by: Sony/ATV Music Publishing
Album: Aldo Nova (1982)
Label: Portrait Records (FR37498)

 


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In the four years since Ása Berezny (vocalist/guitarist/primary songwriter), and drummer Sam Heggum-Truscott began playing together, Kingdom of Birds have released an EP and three full-length albums. They’re currently working on their next recording, scheduled for release later in 2019. “Our self-titled EP was released in 2017, and I’d say that was our first professional recording,” says Berezny. “The first two albums were early, kind of demo-y stuff.”

When you hear that old music industry saw, “You have your whole life to write your first record, and six months to write your second,” you might assume “your whole life” means somewhere between 18 and 25 years. Kingdom of Birds didn’t take nearly that long to sort out what they wanted to say musically, how to say it, and ultimately, how to put it out there. Both the EP and Kingdom of Birds’ third full record, Pretty, came out in 2017, which is a significant amount of work and output for any band. But, given that Ása and Sam are 16 and 11 years old, respectively, it’s pretty remarkable.

Granted, Heggum-Truscott, Berezny, and 16-year-old bassist Ewan Fotheringham (who joined the band in February of 2018) have had ample support for their musical endeavours. They all have supportive families, who encouraged them to take up music early on, and Sam and Ása studied at Toronto’s Red House Music Academy. “We both took lessons, and Ása and I were in a band together there,” says Sam. “Then we just took it out of school and started doing our own thing.”

Onstage and on record, that’s something they do with a degree of self-possession that belies their age. “A lot of that came from going to Red House,” says Berezny. “My teacher was tough… but he made me a more confident musician.” That confidence is evident in their compact, no-nonsense arrangements and tight performances. So much so that people are often surprised at their age. “There’s a little bit of that,” Ewan admits. “Yeah,” Sam adds, “but we’re getting older.”

Over time the band has evolved substantially, experimenting with a more heavily layered sound on one record, and adding Moscow Apartment‘s Brighid Fry on keyboards and violin for a time, before settling on their current lineup. Original bassist Zeul Mordasiewicz, Ása explains, also left to focus on a songwriting project of his own. “But he helped us get Ewan to replace him, so it wasn’t that hard. And Ewan’s a fast learner – he had two weeks in the band, I think, before playing our first show. So this, in my opinion, is the best-fitting lineup we’ve had. I think it takes awhile to find people you really work well with.

Ása’s tips for beginners 

  • “Stick with it until you get to a point where you can play a song and it sounds like a song. That’s when it really gets satisfying.”
  • “Remember that you don’t have to be amazing at your instrument to be able to make good music.”
  • “You have to be really motivated, especially when you start out. You can’t wait around for someone to give you a show. You have to actively seek them.”

“We also take more time now to discuss how songs should develop,” she continues. “Before we’d say, ‘These are the chords’ to Ewan, then Sam would start playing along, and that would be the end of the discussion. Now we start like that, then talk about everything we liked and didn’t like; to make it better and make it flow properly.”

As a songwriter, Ása cites Radiohead and Nick Cave as two of her primary influences. “I saw a documentary about Nick Cave, One More Time with Feeling, where he talks about never wanting to throw away any lines, so I’m taking a lot more time with songwriting now. I try to get to a point where I’m happy with all of the stuff lyrically. When I started, my songs were very simple. I’d sit down and write one in half an hour, just like verse-chorus-verse-chorus. Now I experiment more with dissonant sounds, and making up chord shapes. So it’s grown a lot.”

Each member is equally dedicated to honing their chops and progressing as a unit, and can’t foresee a time when they’d leave music behind. Sam, however, does offer one caveat: “I’d never give up on music, but I started playing baseball and drums pretty young, so I’m really into baseball, too.” He has major-league aspirations when it comes to the sport, but right now there’s room for the two pursuits. And his dual focus allows him to develop qualities that foster excellence in both: “Being focused and being dedicated,” he says.

 


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