The truth of the matter is that Nashville has always been a songwriter’s town, attracting the cream of the crop in just about all areas of the business. However, veteran hitmaker and SOCAN Nashville rep Eddie Schwartz (“Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “Don’t Shed A Tear”) says the recent spate of international alt-rock success has brought an added influx of visiting talent.

“You have two of the largest acts in the rock or alt-rock sphere who are now based out of Nashville – The Black Keys and the Kings of Leon,” Schwartz notes. “So there’s no question that their presence in Nashville over the last few years has given increased legitimacy to the claim that Nashville is a lot more than country music. They produce a lot of people, and certainly many Canadian acts come to work with them. That means that a lot of studios around town are busy with non-country acts. So it’s an expanded circle.”

Gordie Sampson, the Cape Breton native who has enjoyed extraordinary success with Carrie Underwood (“Jesus, Take The Wheel,” “Play On”) Keith Urban (“The Hard Way”) and Bon Jovi (“Any Other Day”), among dozens of others, says that even country music is responsible for some of the change in perception regarding Music City.

“There’s quite a lot of pop in country now – Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban – these are sort of the pop end of country. As country accepts more of a pop influence, guys like myself – I’m really a pop writer at heart – are able to have more success.”

Two strong factors also attracting plenty of non-country creators and artists to the area are economics and the seemingly bottomless talent reservoir.

“As country accepts more of a pop influence, guys like myself are able to have more success.” – Gordie Sampson

“You can get ‘affordable’ housing, and it’s much less expensive to live here,” notes SOCAN’s Schwartz. “That takes the pressure off those of us who are musically inclined, since due to the nature of the business, you don’t know what next month’s income might be. So in a place like Nashville, it’s very helpful.

“Plus there are tremendous resources – the studios, the musicians, all of the infrastructure here to support music, much of which was developed here for country. There may be no other place around with such a concentration of resources for people who want to make music of all kinds.”

It certainly was a selling point for Moi, who made his first trip to Nashville in 2010 to scout and write songs for ex-Default singer and country music convert Dallas Smith.

After developing such acts as Nickelback, Default, Theory of A Deadman, Faber Drive and Hinder, Moi says he was shocked when, at the invitation of local songwriter Rodney Clawson (Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan), he co-produced his first Nashville session for Jake Owen’s “Keepin’ It Country.”

“The idea of going into a studio and recording an entire song in a three-hour period was so foreign to me,” Moi admits. “I’m so accustomed to working with bands, but I’d never hired a band full of professional musicians. On the clock, it can be very expensive.

“But these guys heard the song once, had a chart on a piece of paper, went in there and played it like they’ve been playing it for a frigging decade. It still blows my mind every time I get to witness that.

“That really changed my outlook on Nashville,” says Moi. “If I could do what I was normally doing in Vancouver with the toolbox provided by Nashville, it could be a really neat outcome.”

Sally Folk first burst onto the music scene in 2010 with an English-language album variously inspired by The Ronettes, The Supremes, Cher and 1960s retro-chic style that instantly made her a Quebec cousin of Amy Winehouse and Duffy. Here she comes for another run four years later, this time with a self-titled album in French, her first language.

“The move to French was quite natural,” the artist explains. “I already had a few songs in English, and my manager suggested I translate one, just to see. You don’t write the same way in French. The work on metaphors and word sounds is quite different. Words also often have several meanings, which makes for interesting connotations. In English, you can repeat the work baby four times in a row and people don’t mind. Writing in a new language is like switching from physics to chemistry. I’m not saying I’m never going to go back to English, but I certainly added a nice new colour to my palette.”

Sally Folk’s ease with music business matters is a thing of beauty in itself, with her good-time attitude, her uncanny ability to put herself centre stage, her curiosity, and the way she can attract the best professional support. “Earlier in my life, I was a businesswoman,” the former co-owner of Montreal’s Sofa Bar explains. “So I was already used to navigating in the music sphere, in the world of nightclubs.” Then, one day, she decided to sell her shares and take off to a place where she could satisfy her craving for writing, composing and performing songs.

“Male-female relationships are an endless topic. I find real inspiration in uncomfortable love relationships.”

She was able to finance her first album without outside help, but barely. “It cost me a fortune, I spent my last penny… But at some point, you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Do I want to make another album or buy a house?’” Then came Entourage, the production company behind the success of Annie Villeneuve, Boom Desjardins, Stéphanie Bédard and Marianna Mazza. “Getting Entourage to look after my career gave me the time I needed to concentrate on my music. When I was managing the whole thing by myself, the only break I was getting was when I could climb on the stage and let it all hang out. I’m glad I went through that because it is helping me understand the chain of support artists need. Besides, I continue to be interested in the production side of the music business, and I’m considering a move in that direction at some point. I would love to help performers blossom. It’s a project I keep on the back burner.”

Looking like a character straight out of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction with her mischievous air, black bangs and red lipstick matching her fingernails, Sally Folk is Sophia D’Aragon’s alter ego. “It’s more than just a fictional character. The stories I tell are mine. The Sally Folk femme fatale aura that I add to it with chic clothes and makeup allows me to express myself. There is a wild side to every woman. Sally is an extension of my own personality.”

Far from being superficial, Sally’s lyrics lead her listeners to troubled waters where people fall out of love, infidelity leads to happiness, women are not afraid of being seductive, and drop-dead gorgeous men patronize strip clubs. Come to the cabaret! “Male-female relationships are an endless topic,” she marvels. “I find real inspiration in uncomfortable love relationships.” She might add that, as inspiration material goes, her own fictional life and that of her girlfriends provide her with an embarrassment of riches.

Musically, her album adds touches of Americana to superb brass and string arrangements by Michel Dagenais (Jean Leloup, Marc Déry, Breastfeeders), who produced her earlier album and is featured on this one both as a producer and performer. “I told him I was looking for new sounds for this one,” she recalls. Having just completed the recording of Daniel Bélanger’s superb new country-lyrical album Chic de ville, Dagenais used similar colours in Sally Folk’s new opus, and Bélanger himself is even featured as a performer on one track (“Les hommes du quartier”). ”That’s very precious,” Sally explains. ”Another thing I learned in my previous life as a businesswoman is that you don’t tamper with a winning formula. Sally Folk is my persona, but she also means the solid partners I can build things with. I feel that this project is taking off, and it’s exciting.”

The chances are that Sally Folk’s French-language songs will open new doors for her in the large summer festivals in Montreal, across Quebec and possibly in Europe as well. “That’s what I’m really hoping for because my music is meant to be shared with as many people as possible. When I’m on the stage, I’m living life 1000 percent. That’s where it all makes sense.”

Yao, a Franco-Ontarian artist of Togolese descent, born in the Ivory Coast of Africa, found out he had a creative spirit when he took a special interest in writing and acting as a child. After moving to Ottawa with his family in 1999, he was admitted in the Centre for Artistic Excellence of the De La Salle High School, where he specialized in Theatre and Creative Writing. Encouraged to pursue his musical interests, Yaovi, as he was then known, soon hooked up with FLO, with whom he created the RenESSENCE duet and, in 2006, released the self-produced album 2 faces d’une même âme (2 Sides of One Soul), followed by dozens of live shows.

Hooked, Yao remained torn between his passion for music creation and his search for a more traditional career, ending up neglecting his creative side as he pursued undergraduate studies in Finance and Political Science. Once he had secured a comfortable job in the banking sector, music came calling again in 2009, thanks to a chance meeting with his old friend Lynx, who had his own recording studio and production company by then, and invited Yao to join him. The end result was the 2011 hip-hop album Généris, with lyrics written by Yao and music composed by Lynx.

“Sometimes we’d discuss a theme, like the day I mentioned my problem with insomnia, and Sonny later sent me a piece.”

Yao then decided to take the final jump, joined SOCAN, and started taking his destiny in his own hands. His financial background helped him set up his own company and manage his business but, more importantly for the evolution of his music style, Yao discovered slam and, in 2012, joined SlamOutaouais, a Ligue québécoise de slam (LIQS) member team. Meanwhile, the musician started cooking up his next album and looking for a high-profile collaborator, who turned out to be Sonny Black, the co-writer of numerous K-Maro, Dubmatique, Corneille and Marc Antoine hits.

How did Yao get Sonny’s attention? “I just wrote to him,” he says. “I sent him my Généris album and asked him for a personal review. He went along and, as it turned out, his comments were exactly what I’d expected they would be. That’s where it all began. Sonny accepted to re-work the album with me, and we ended up with the Généris 2.0 promotional version.”

Towards the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013, they worked on the new version, which came out last fall. Then Yao moved to Montreal for two months to build a creative bubble with Sonny that eventually produced Perles et Paraboles (Pearls and Parables), an album that was recorded practically as it was being written. How did it work? “It varied,” Yao explained. “Sometimes we’d discuss a theme, like the day I mentioned my problem with insomnia, and Sonny later sent me a piece that became “Solitude nocturne” after I wrote the lyrics to it. Sometimes it was the other way around.”