On Live Your Truth Shred Some Gnar, their second EP, NOBRO is getting dangerously close to its goal: to be the most kick-ass all-female band of all time.

NOBROThe EP’s title is symbolic of the Montréal-based punk-rock quartet: the NOBRO girls live their truth in a raw, authentic way, through their music as much as in their daily lives. The fast, spirited way they play is the perfect embodiment of an expression used by snowy mountain boarder aficionados: “shred some gnar,” which refers to hurtling down said mountain with exceptional speed and enthusiasm, especially when the conditions are sub-optimal. And, in the rock world, shred is also used to describe the exceptional technique of guitar virtuosos.

“Playing really fast and in an impressive way is our mojo, generally speaking,” says percussionist and keyboardist Lisandre Bourdages with a smile in her voice.

And as far as sub-optimal conditions are concerned, let’s just say that being an all-female band in a predominantly male realm, NOBRO has its work cut out for it. “We’re women in the punk world – of course we had to make a place for ourselves,” says Bourdages. “It’s also a nod to all the ‘brown’ shows we did. The conditions are never optimal in the beginning.”

“Rock is a way of life,” continues singer-guitarist Karolane Charbonneau. “When you love it, you play it, no matter what the conditions are!”

Which is why the tale of NOBRO is, first and foremost, a story about determination. A seasoned musician in her own right, singer and bassist Kathryn McCaughey waited a good while before finding the perfect combination of people to achieve her dream of forming an all-female punk band. Founded in 2014, the group underwent various shuffles before settling down in its current, stable form after Karolane Charbonneau joined the already solid core of McCaughey, Bourdages and drummer Sarah Dion.

“It’s been a couple of years that I knew deep down that I wanted to be in a punk band. I wanted to let off steam, and express myself in a different way,” says Charbonneau, the newest member of the band, who also plays with Comment Debord. “You can’t lack self-confidence to play a NOBRO tune. Kathryn’s energy is unbelievable. We could ask any slightly insecure girl on stage with us and she’d feel like she fits in immediately. When we play, it’s like the world no longer exists.”

“The minute you start talking to Kathryn, she makes you feel self-confident,” confirms Bourdages who, alongside Sarah Dion, also plays in the all-female trio Les Shirley. “Even if she doesn’t know you, she’ll believe in your potential. She props up all the women around her.”

In and of itself, the music on this second EP is made to boost your confidence. Live Your Truth Shred Some Gnar considerably amplifies the ardour and intensity of 2020’s Sick Hustle through its lively mix of garage rock, irreverent punk à la Ramones, and’ 60s pop-rock.

Once again, the quartet tapped Thomas D’Arcy (July Talk, The Sheepdogs) to produce their EP. The recording sessions were held 18 months ago at D’Arcy’s Taurus Recording studio. “We gave ourselves two weeks to do everything,” says Bourdages. “We wanted to take some time to live in the moment and try out those songs. We recorded all the instruments by playing together. That’s probably what gives it this raw feeling.” “We didn’t do that for the previous EP, and I think it shows,” adds Charbonneau.

She’s also taking her first steps as the main singer-songwriter of a NOBRO song, on top of having penned the band’s first song in French (“Bye Bye Baby”). “Something happened in my life, a major breakup, and I really wasn’t doing well,” she explains. “Kathryn came by my place often. One day she said, ‘I think this is the perfect time to write a song. It’s going to be powerful!’ I was unsure at first – I’m a really shy person – but I decided to accept the challenge. But when the time came to sing the song in our rehearsal space, I just couldn’t do it! Kathryn would yell, ‘You can do it!’ to me.”

In the end, the whole exercise turned out to be therapeutic for Charbonneau. “A classic breakup song is a good way to let go of your emotions,” she says. “It really helped me to play it live, and scream it at the top of my lungs.”

All NOBRO songs have this liberating aspect, from the epic Gospel intro of “Better Each Day” to the psychedelic trip of “Life Is a Voyage,” that joyously concludes the EP. McCaughey’s frank, straight-to-the-point lyrics are a perfect fit for the project’s festive, raw, almost savage spirit. “Kathryn has lived, and that allows her to write solid lyrics. She’s been wild and done a lot of stuff,” says Bourdages. “But in the end, we’re not that wild.”

“We know how to party, though. We just don’t party every day,” adds Charbonneau. “Maybe we’re not truly a punk band, in the end.”

When Laura Roy played her first small show in London, England, in March 2017, she had a hunch it was where she needed to be. Returning to Toronto, where she was based at the time, Roy packed up her car and drove home to her native Nova Scotia. Landing a bartending job, the singer-songwriter saved every penny she could, focused on her goal of getting back to the U.K.

“London gave me a feeling that I hadn’t felt yet,” says Roy. “The excitement I felt there and the music I wanted to create… It’s just such an incredible music scene.” Six months later, led by a gut feeling, she bought a one-way ticket to London and didn’t look back.

In the five years since, Roy, now 30, has established herself as an up-and-coming voice in the alternative R&B space. She has two EPs under her belt, along with an East Coast Music Award (her 2018 EP Forte was named best R&B/Soul Recording of the Year in 2020) and has performed as a backing vocalist with pop superstars Anne-Marie and Camila Cabello. Then last year, the American rapper and songwriter Doja Cat used one of Roy’s co-writes (with her partner, producer Geo Jordan, and friend, Linden Jay) on her 2021 album, Planet Her, which has since earned two Grammy nominations.

“It’s been a bit surreal,” says Roy, who’s been invited to attend the awards ceremony in April of 2022, in Las Vegas. “Not only are our names on the credits, but they kept my vocals on the track.”

But as much as she’s thriving in London, Roy’s latest EP, Tides, produced with Jordan and Grammy-nominated artist Lianne La Havas, is an homage to the place where she grew up. Born and raised in the village of Canning, N.S., Roy spent her early years singing along to artists like Carole King and James Taylor. “I was a little diva performer from the age of four,” she laughs.

When she started studying guitar at 13, however, things fell into place. When her teacher encouraged her to write her first song, Roy says she found her spark. “My whole world opened up to the idea of actually learning how to play and accompany myself,” she says. Roy began performing at coffee shops and in talent shows, eventually studying music at college in Dartmouth, N.S.

“It’s been a bit surreal”

Then at 19, Roy was invited to attend the Gordie Sampson Songcamp, where she learned to write with other people. “That was really eye-opening for me,” she recalls. But after participating for four years straight, Roy admits that her home province was “starting to feel a little small.” After decamping to Toronto, she began participating in songwriting camps in other parts of the country, through the Songwriters Association of Canada, as well as in New York and Nashville.

Though she tends to let melodies move her when she’s writing her own music, freestyling until she finds a nugget she can shape into a song, Roy also loves the challenge of co-writing.

“I think so much is about connecting with the other person, and just seeing what kind of space they’re in, and what they’ve been shaped by, and what they want to create,” she says. “When you get a good session with someone and you’re connecting, it’s like you’re looking in their soul. It’s really exciting.”

Roy, who’s self-managed, continues to push herself to try new things. Most recently, she’s been doing more producing, and is also directing her own music videos. She says she’s proud of what she’s been able to achieve on her own.

Though she doesn’t see herself staying in London forever, Roy is continuing to enjoy her time in the city, with plans to re-evaluate in a few years. She’s even open to the idea of one day returning to Nova Scotia, and the ocean where she spent her youth.

“I think the dream for me would be to buy a beautiful beach house and have my own studio,” she laughs. “I’d like to be producing and writing for other people.”

For now, Roy says she’ll keep listening to her gut as she charts a course forward. “I just want to tour the world,” she says happily. “I want to travel and perform, and to continue creating music that excites me.”

Visual content presented on-screen would never be complete without finely-tuned, complementary music that fits like a perfect piece of the puzzle. Whether conceived specifically for a film scene, a TV series, an ad, or even without any ulterior motive, music enhances images in all spheres of our lives. These three Québec screen composers to watch are dedicated to doing that, each in their own way.

Anaïs Larocque

“When I was a child, all my toys were musical instruments,” says Anaïs Larocque as an introduction. An admirer of Michel Corriveau’s body of work, the 35-year-old has been composing for the screen for about six years. After studying jazz in Cégep and university, she switched to digital music classes, and those lessons stuck with her.

“After my Bachelor’s degree, I decided to enroll in a DESS (specialized graduate diploma) in film music,” she says. “I was a contestant in the Montréal international film scoring competition, and finished in second place. The following year, they asked me to be part of the pre-selection jury. I said no, and applied to be a contestant again. I finished in first place [this time], and that opened the door to my first opportunities.”

Mostly tapped to create music for TV ads, it was a 2019 documentary, Odyssée sous les glaces (Under Thin Ice), that was her professional launchpad. “I also worked on The Nature of Things on CBC, and I was very busy during the pandemic while I worked on the documentary The Walrus and the Whistleblower. I love working on documentaries, because I learn things while I compose.”

Larocque has a strong interest in composers who, musically, have to stick to stories that are as sensitive as they are themselves. She’s fine-tuning her art by taking  classes online from the Berklee School of Music, in Boston. “I dream of working on a fiction movie, and recording a symphony orchestra,” she says. “I feel like I may have thought about this career late; yet, when I was a kid, I watched movies for their music, so I’m convinced that this is where I belong now.”

 Evan MacDonald

“My uncle gave me a guitar when I turned 10, and the rest is history,” says Evan MacDonald, laughing. On the eve of his thirties, the composer can already boast an enviable portfolio of screen compositions. “My parents gave me the opportunity to try all the instruments because I was not the sporty type,” he says. “I studied at Vanier College and McGill, and up until I was 22, the only thing I had in mind was to become a guitarist. I had an epiphany when I was 22.”

That epiphany was an online summer course in screen composition from Berklee. That’s when he decided to enroll – and was admitted with a scholarship – in the actual master’s degree program, that was taught in Spain. That prompted him to complete two more years of education at McGill in a few months, to make sure he didn’t miss that opportunity.

“After a year in Spain, I came back to Montréal. and by then I knew that screen composing was going to be my trade,” says MacDonald confidently. “I sent hundreds of e-mails to film directors every day to offer my services as a composer. I barely got any responses, but when I did, I used the entire budget to record orchestras of several musicians. I was trying to build a portfolio.”

In the wake of his first major project – a documentary, That Never Happened (2017) – he turned to advertising. Now highly sought-after, he’s composed for Google, Pepsi, BMW, Toyota, and many more. “I even wrote music for Joe Biden’s television campaign during the U.S. elections,” he says, a little astonished.

His current modus operandi is to offer his compositions through a library music website called PremiumBeat, the audio branch of Shutterstock. He went to Abbey Road studios to record some of his library tracks and is planning to go back this spring. “I’m always trying to push my own limits to supply a library,” he explains. “I watch a lot of ads to get a feel for what’s ‘in’ lately. I feel like I’m competing with the best in the world when I make library music, because anyone can submit their tracks, and you have to produce the best possible track for the client to decide to purchase your music. Some people on that sound bank have actually won Grammys. I like that kind of competition, because it motivates me to always try and do better.”

Asked what he’d like to do in the future, MacDonald replies, with a laugh, “I feel like I’ve already reached the pinnacle of my career! I just want to carry on doing what I do with creative people.”

Benoit Groulx

Even though he didn’t start with music studies, Benoit Groulx has always had an intrinsic appreciation of this trade. “I played music, but in a very undisciplined way, when I was young,” he confesses. “I ended up realizing that I had a knack for spotting structures in music.”

After finishing his university studies in music writing, he became an assistant to composer François Dompierre. “I had my mid-life crisis at 30,” he says, amused. “I was having a rough time, so I left and spent the winter in India. When I came back, a lot of people wanted to work with me. I did arrangements for Daniel Lavoie and Louise Forestier, among others, and those were more serious contracts that gave a certain lustre to my career.”

In 2000, he orchestrated The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne, a British-Canadian series of 22 episodes, each one 60 minutes long. “British composer Nick Glennie-Smith was heading that project,” says Groulx. “He composed and I orchestrated.” A well-oiled machine, they decided to keep working together, which happened several times. “We’ve worked on films in Los Angeles, in England, and in Eastern Europe,” adds Groulx.

His biggest recent project was a series for the BBC, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2015), on which he worked with Benoit Charest. “We had to compose seven hours of music in two months, for directors that were highly educated musically,” he says. “It was incredibly rewarding.”

After completing a Master’s degree in composition, Groulx decided to write concert music, and now teaches at the Université de Sherbrooke. “I’m in my early fifties. I teach young people who want to follow in my footsteps, and there’s a lot of talent out there,” Groulx says, while still hoping to hear his music played by orchestras.

“Nothing compares to hearing your composition played by an orchestra. I’m not from the synthesizer generation, and I want to continue working with musicians for the rest of my career,” he says. “I’m one of those people who prefer to write more soberly, and let the magic happen with humans in the room.”