They’re still so young, yet their track record is already quite impressive: ground-breaking productions and collaborations, a highly successful tour that will see them play the Bell Centre for a second time, the 2008 Félix award for Rock Album of the Year, for Dangereuse Attraction, countless projects in the pipeline, and it’s not even spring yet.

Marie-Mai and Fred St-Gelais are doing quite well, thank you. And not just professionally. When they look into each other’s eyes in a bistro where we meet on Saint-Denis Street, in Montréal, the air is full of love, affinity and light. The young couple is engaging, enthused, bubbly, and exudes the very essence of intensity that fills their albums. They met through Marie-Mai’s record label. “We clicked immediately! It was love at first sight on a professional level, at first, and then emotions got involved,” she says with smiling eyes.

And although love is the subject of the vast majority of their songs, many more themes are on their minds. Like the reasons we lie, in one way or another (“Mentir”), how young people are very judgmental of each other (“Elle avance”), child abuse (“Encore une nuit”), and even the insecurities of a successful artist wondering how long their career will last (“Tu prendras ma place”).

And although he has, as a producer, worked on many side projects with the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, and Randy Bachman, as well as, more recently, David Usher and Annie Villeneuve, not to mention TV networks, Fred St-Gelais’ priority remains his soulmate.

Composing and writing? It’s a four-handed process. No one has a specific task; improvisation and freedom are key, as is using everyone’s influences. “It’s nice to have someone to write with,” she says. “I learn a lot. I’ve become passionate about participating this way. It came about naturally. When we’re done with a song, we have no idea who did what because it’s so much a mix of both.” “It’s very organic, Fred adds. “We don’t really have a method to which we always go back. That’s the best way to avoid repeating ourselves.”

As highly collaborative as the chemistry with Fred is, that doesn’t mean Marie-Mai is closing the door on collaborating with other songwriters. “I want good songs,” she says. “If someone offers me a song and I love it, I won’t turn it down! I want the best possible album, so I’m open to co-writes with other artists.”

What the key ingredient of their success? A lot of work. They write a lot, challenge each other, and have a hard time stopping. For them, writing, composing, arranging, playing live, and recording in the studio is a single continuum. Any preference? Each and every one of the facets of their trade.

“I made a place for myself with a sound that’s mine,” she says. “I wanted people to see me and recognize me for who I truly am. That may explain why it took a while to take off, initially. But I think that in the end, it played in my favour. Of course, the team is important too. And I’m well aware that I’m very lucky to have someone like Fred in my life.”

Why pop music? “It’s not a choice. It’s in me. I don’t even question it,” Marie-Mai says. “We look down on pop too easily,” she says, regretfully. “It can be profound! That’s what we’re trying to accomplish in each and every one of our songs: depth, colour, meaningful lyrics.” “People often ask me how I write tunes for the radio. You don’t set out to write a radio-friendly tune! If you try to write for the radio, you’re already on the wrong track,” says Fred. “The golden rule is authenticity. You can’t fake a musical style; it has to inhabit you. I find it much easier to write a complex song than a three-chord song. Simplicity within originality is the hardest thing to achieve,” he continues. “That’s the challenge that gets me going when I write music: creating something simple that will touch people.”

The couple has started working on a third album to be released next fall. What colour will it be? Marie-Mai and Fred can’t tell just yet. They’re content to be carried away by inspiration that they hope to find in the cities they plan to visit. One thing’s for sure: it will be intense. “I don’t plan on becoming tamer any time soon!” Marie-Mai says with a smirk.

With a schedule that sees him playing an average of 200 shows a year, genre-straddling musician Matt Andersen is no stranger to the road. Though he doesn’t write songs while he’s travelling, the New Brunswick native uses his time between gigs to jot down ideas, stashing them away until he’s ready to unleash them. “They get bottled up,” Andersen says with a laugh, “and then when I let them all out — well that’s how I end up with eight new tunes all at once.”

With his soulful voice, melodies that ease effortlessly from blues to roots and rock, along with a solid stage presence, Andersen, 28, has been getting his fair share of attention since he first started playing his own music in his early 20s. Along with a myriad of awards, including 2009 East Coast Music Awards for Blues Recording of the Year and Male Solo Recording of the Year, Andersen has toured and shared stages with the likes of America, Randy Bachman and the late Bo Diddley, among many others. He’s performed at jazz, blues and folk festivals across the country, most recently at the Montreal Jazz Festival, the Vancouver Folk Festival and the Ottawa Blues Festival.

Born into a musical family (“There was always music in the house”), Andersen played in bar bands until finding his own feet on stage. Now there’s no place he’d rather be than in front of an audience. “I’m more comfortable on stage than off — especially if it’s a solo show. Then I’m the only one up there I have to worry about.” Andersen describes his audiences as the reward for the gruelling travel schedule that keeps him away from his Halifax home so many days of the year. “When you do all that driving, and eating crappy gas-station sandwiches, the audience is really my pay-off.”

Andersen says he finds his songwriting inspiration everywhere. “It’s all stuff that happens to me, to friends — and every once and a while, it’s something made up,” he says with a laugh, “you know…standard blues stuff.” But ultimately, Andersen says every song has a “little bit of me in it. I have to sing them every night, so there always has to be a bit of me I can latch onto.”

Andersen’s most recent album, Piggyback, was recorded with Sarnia, Ont.-based harmonica virtuoso Mike Stevens. “He’s a pretty heavy player,” says Andersen, “so it was quite an opportunity to get to do an album with him.” In typical Andersen style, the album’s 12 original songs were co-written over the course of an inspired week, and recorded in three days live off the floor at The Cottage in Guelph, Ont.

For Andersen, the new album means he’ll be spending a lot more time on the road, including tour dates in the United States and in the U.K., but that’s the way he wants it right now. “The more I play, the more people will hear me, so I’m always up for shows. That’s why I keep the schedule I keep.”

Track Record

  • In 2009, Andersen won the Dutch Mason Award at the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival in Frederiction, N.B.
  • He will be touring with Jill Barber as part of the 2009 Vinyl Café Christmas Tour, with host Stuart McLean.
  • In January, Andersen will be competing in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn., the world’s largest gathering of blues acts.

When it comes to music listening, curated streams are “the new black.”

As the public’s hunger for music – and the potential of exposing one’s melodic and lyrical art to masses of people on a global scale – has never been higher, the desire of music listeners to hear their favourite songs whenever, wherever, and however they want has led to a demand for curated streams.

That includes a new market for music streams curated by listeners themselves, which is the idea behind a promising new Canadian start-up Milq – a service designed to let participants collectively curate, and thereby organize, the world’s culture.

“The intention is to allow people to collectively curate, and by doing that, to organize the world of culture.” – Jordan Jacobs of Milq

Milq is the Canadian-American brainchild of three people: Torontonians Jordan Jacobs and Tomi Poutanen and New York-based Don MacKinnon. As a service, Milq is a curator of all things cultural, of which music is simply one component. Milq has been available online since November 2014, headquartered in Toronto with a staff of 12, with an additional office in New York.

“The idea behind Milq is simply is that we’ve reached this amazing place: all the world’s cultural content is available on demand to anyone on any device, which should be a fantastic experience,” says Jacobs, a former entertainment lawyer with Toronto firm Cassels, Brock & Blackwell LLP and his own Jacobs Entertainment & Media Law. “But we feel like it’s completely overwhelming, just based on cacophony.”

Jacobs describes Milq, which he calls “sort of a playable Wikipedia,” as a platform of engagement and community that “enables a niche audience to co-exist in a wider world. What we tried to build is cross-cultural, and it allows people to indulge their really super-niche interests, but in a wider context where you’re connected to the rest of it,” he explains. “That’s an experience that doesn’t really exist elsewhere.”

How does it work?

“Anything I search produces an automatic playlist,” Jacobs explains. “Everything is deeply tagged and indexed. We have much more metadata about every single piece of content and the tastes of the users, so we’re able to present people stuff that they like but is generally outside of their frame of knowledge; and when you click a tag, it produces immediately, in real time, a playlist.

“So whether it’s ‘New York Punk’ or the year ‘1985,’ whatever it happens to be, we type it and produce an immediate playlist for you and also show you every existing playlist where that tag has been used. Because of that, you see connections to things that you can’t find anywhere else. You get every frame of reference for an artist or a song, so that part I think is fascinating for people.

“Anyone can ask any question – whether it’s as simple as favourite cover songs, as niche as Polish jazz, or as obscure as you want to get – and then everyone can answer that question using media from Soundcloud, YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram or Vine, and play it back using Rdio or Spotify.

“We basically pull content from everywhere so those playlists operate seamlessly. And those answers, when they come in, get organized on the back end by algorithms that are deeply tagged and indexed and really are meant to determine the best quality and most personalized taste for you.

“So the intention is to allow people to collectively curate, and by doing that, to organize the world of culture.”

Jacobs says hundreds of thousands of listeners/curators are currently using Milq, with partners ranging from The New York Times to the NBA to various record labels.

“Because the content is being curated by a person standing behind it and writing about it, it’s much more thoughtful and you end up with a much richer, deeper experience, and a community behind it,” says Jacobs. “So if you like something, you can connect with the person who happened to put it there, and you start to see these relationships forming from people across the world.”

Jacobs developed and produced the Elvis Costello songwriter performance/interview series Spectacle, and his co-founding partners have similarly illustrious histories, working in fields that prepared them well for Milq. Don MacKinnon founded Hear Music, later sold to Starbucks, and known for such titles as Bob Dylan’s Live At The Gaslight 1962, Joni Mitchell’s Shine and the multiple-Grammy winning Ray Charles album of duets, Genius Loves Company. Tomi Poutanen, the company’s Chief Technical Officer, ran Yahoo Search International and created Yahoo Answers.

As far as who Milq appeals to, Jacobs says the simple answer is everyone, from “kids up to great-grandparents.” He says classical music skews “older,” as do people using Milq on their computers; the younger generation uses it on their cellphones, and EDM lovers usually skew “younger.”

Jacobs says Milq has not yet begun to monetize its company, but hopes to eventually obtain sponsors for their playlists, and will be announcing partnerships “with lots of different cultural organizations and creators” within the next six months.