Notifi is no different than a five-star chef who’s picky about their ingredients, and what they serve their discriminating guests. Listening to the North Toronto-based rapper and singer talking about beats, it becomes abundantly clear that he doesn’t just place a premium on them. He speaks about them with such passion and relish that we sense he considers beats sacred.

Not any beat, mind you. “When I hear a beat that really moves me, I’m in a state of bliss, or euphoria,” the 24-year-old says. “I feel like, ‘I can’t let this thing go to waste.’ And sometimes, I don’t want to do anything with it, ‘cause I feel I won’t do it justice,” he adds. “I feel like it needs to be left alone for a while before I get to it.”

Kinda like letting chicken pieces marinate in Jamaican jerk seasoning overnight before chucking them on the grill? “Exactly!” he says, laughing. “The beat is everything, the beat is king! When I hear a beat, it dictates what I write, and how the song will turn out. The beat always comes first, and the better the beat, the easier the song comes.”

Notifi received a huge confidence boost three years back when he won Slaight Music’s It’s Your Shot competition, the national songwriting and artist development contest launched in 2000.

“I don’t usually enter contests,” he says. “But I did, and two months later, I got a call saying, ‘You won!’ Winning that contest really let me know that the work you put in and the talent you have is being acknowledged.” After that, world-renowned, Toronto-based DJ Charlie B – the official DJ for Drake’s annual OVO Fest – began managing him. The wordsmith has also been tagged as a “soon-to-be rap star” and “Toronto’s next supernova,” and been written about favourably on tastemaker blogs like Complex and Noisey/VICE.

Cue up his latest track, “Won’t Get Lonely,” and you’ll hear Notifi – sounding very much like a young Drake – spitting rhymes and singing over a stark, eerie beat. To date, the video has been viewed nearly 100,000 times on YouTube, and streamed more than two million times across all platforms. It epitomizes what’s known as the Toronto Sound, that nocturnal, emotional sound that sits somewhere between R&B and rap. The video, equally moody and dark, was shot by Zac Facts, a Toronto-based director who’s made videos for Tory Lanez, Jessie Reyez, and U.S. heavies like Future and Wiz Khalifa.

“When I hear a beat that really moves me, I’m in a state of bliss, or euphoria.”

It’s no surprise that Notifi lists Torontonians Drake, Tory Lanez, and The Weeknd as influences. “My connection to the 6ix God got tighter when Charlie started managing me,” he says. “[But] the Toronto Sound is up for debate. It’s like half the rappers in the city are on that [Philadelphia-based] Lil Uzi Vert-trap-autotune vibe, and the other half are on a more clean, mainstream tip. Like your Drakes and Weeknds. I have bigger aspirations,” he says confidently. “I want to go global.”

Writing “Won’t Get Lonely”
“Won’t Get Lonely” will appear on an EP he’s planning to drop this summer. We ask Notifi if “Won’t Get Lonely” was inspired by recent newspaper reports that loneliness is growing in our country, and that one in five Canadians identify as being lonely. “I wasn’t aware of those statistics, but it’s not hard to believe,” he says. “It was just another day in the studio, and when I heard the beat, it made me remember the feeling I got from relationships I’d been in, the feeling that you don’t have to feel lonely,” he says. “We’ve all been in relationships where either you or the other person felt excluded or taken for granted. You don’t see it at that moment. You have to get out of [that situation] to recognize it.”

In an interview with Complex magazine, Charlie B raved about his young charge: “He’s multi-faceted in terms of songwriting, producing, as well as performance. His music is universally appealing, whereby he can easily cross over to various genres all the while, but remain true to himself. I’ve been in the industry for a while, and around A-listers at that, and I’ve identified musical qualities that Notifi has that nobody else has.”

Does the critical acclaim offer a fair bit of pressure to deal with? “I don’t feel any pressure,” says Notifi. “I love making music. And I feel blessed to be surrounded by all this amazing energy – whether it’s from my team, who believe in me, and my music, or from people like Charlie B, who’s been around Drake and The Weeknd and has played in clubs around the world.”

Notifi’s family moved to Toronto from Montréal when he was a few months old, and played drums in the church that they attended. He says a few high school friends suggested they “lay down some tracks” in their home studios, and Notifi obliged. He realized he had a gift for rapping and singing, and hasn’t looked back.

“You can’t block inspiration,” he replies when asked where he finds material for his songs. “I mean, I could be inspired by birds chirping. It’s how you take it in and put it into words.”

Clearly, he’s striking a nerve with listeners and putting us on notice. “I think one of the reasons my music goes over well,” he says, “is because people can relate to what I’m saying.”

It may have been the sweetest migraine Aaron Goodvin ever endured.

True, migraine headaches generally aren’t positive experiences, but Goodvin was laying in agony on the couch of his Nashville home in 2012, when his co-writers Cole Swindell and Adam Sanders burst through the door with some exciting news: country superstar Luke Bryan had cut their song “Out Like That.”

“That started changing everything,” says Goodvin. “I’d moved [from Alberta] to Nashville about nine years ago, and I was ready to move home about the time everything started happening.”

On Music Row, however, just because a song is cut, doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll make the album. Luckily for Goodvin, when Bryan eventually released his No. 1 Crash My Party in 2013 – an album that’s sold four million copies and is still in the Top 30 of the Billboard U.S. Country Album charts six years later in 2019 – “Out Like That” had made the grade.

“That was the longest eight months of my life,” jokes Goodvin, whose U.S. album song placements include “A Dozen Roses and a Six-Pack” for Cole Swindell’s gold-selling, self-titled debut album in 2014, and “Trash A Hotel Room” for Jon Pardi’s 2014 debut Write You a Song.

“After Luke cut that song, it was a lot easier to get in the door,” says Goodvin. “You meet with someone and they say, ‘Oh, you have a Luke Bryan cut.’ I ended up signing with Warner-Chappell for four years, which was a huge, transforming time for me. I was able to write songs, and learn how to get better at it.  It was a very important part of my career.”

As promising as Goodvin’s vocation is in terms of development South of the border – where he’s signed to Retriever Records, and was recently named by Billboard as one of seven country acts to watch – it’s going gangbusters here at home.  The Warner Music Canada smash hit “Lonely Drum” was the only Canadian country single certified platinum in 2017, and earned him 2018 CCMA Songwriter of the Year honours (along with co-writers Skip Black [BMI] and Catt Gravitt [SESAC]).

“Basically, we were writing this song called ‘Trying to Forget You,’ that nobody has ever heard,” Goodvin recalls. “We demoed the song, a rip-your-heart-out ‘80s hair ballad, and after we’d written it, Catt said, ‘I just love that song because it beats on that lonely drum.’ And I said, ‘What did you say? Whoa – I wanna write that!’ I kicked into the first groove that you hear on that song, and after no more than an hour – probably 45 minutes – it fell out.

“It took three years before we put ‘Lonely Drum’ out, and in that time we pitched that song everywhere. Radio had warmed up to my name so when we put out ‘Lonely Drum,’ the only word I could think of is that it begged for a reaction. I remember playing the Fort McMurray Casino in Alberta, a three-night gig – and we had to play it every set. It just changed everything.”

Now with a brand new album called V (the letter, not the Roman numeral, named after Aaron’s wife Victoria), a No. 1 Canadian chart-topper with “You Are,” and positive response to his  single “Bars & Churches,” Goodvin holds hopes to graduate to headliner status by 2020, following touring apprenticeships with Johnny Reid and Gord Bamford.

“I don’t know if the fact that I’ve had a number-one song has actually sunk in,” Goodvin admits. “I feel like I’m still the struggling musician guy, but I sent it in to Warner, and they thought it was a standout song. Warner and I have a great relationship, where I make the record, and they pick what’s going to work…”

It’s a journey that’s been working for almost a decade, although Goodvin admits he’s been dreaming about success since early family gatherings back home in Spirit River, an hour north of Grand Prairie, Alberta.

My family all plays country music recreationally,” he says. “We camped a lot, growing up in Northern Alberta. My family is always looking for an excuse to get together, pull the guitars out, and have a good time. Some of my fondest memories are being up at 2:00 a.m. and listening to my family play old country songs.”

Yet Aaron Goodvin’s first musical expressions were courtesy of an unlikely source. “When I was 11 or 12, my sister and I got a karaoke machine for Christmas,” Goodvin recalls. “The first stuff I started singing on karaoke was music from The Lion King. At 12, I started playing my grandpa’s guitar, and writing songs almost immediately after that. I think at the beginning it was to try and get girls, but after that it turned into a thing.”

He eventually won the Global Country Star Search. “There was a song that I wrote called ‘The Booster Juice Song,’ and it’s about being stood up at a Booster Juice,” says Goodvin. “That was a song where people thought, ‘Yeah, the kid can actually write songs.’ That was probably the one that made me a songwriter, I think.”

Wedding Video? Music Video!
Aaron Goodvin’s video for his Top 10 hit “Woman In Love” is actually his real-life wedding to wife Victoria. The suggestion apparently came from Warner Music Canada Vice President Steve Waxman. “They were having a meeting about doing a video for ‘Woman In Love,’ and treatments were coming in about a couple who are getting married. Waxman said, ‘Isn’t Aaron getting married in two weeks? Maybe we should do it there.’ Everyone was high-fiving over the idea until someone said, ‘Shouldn’t you ask Aaron’s wife-to-be first?’ But she was super cool about it – as long as it didn’t get in the way of the wedding. That video had everyone I loved in it, and is a really great keepsake we’ll show to our kids one day.”

Goodvin set his sights on Nashville from the beginning. “I love and I’m very proud of where I’m from,” he says, “but I had these gi-normously huge dreams – that’s where I was going to go and that’s what I was going to do.

“I was really lucky, because I started making trips to Nashville when I was 18. I had a pretty good idea on how the industry worked by the time I moved there. I met one guy – Miles Wilkinson (Anne Murray, Emmylou Harris, Guy Clark producer/engineer, born in Toronto) – really early on. I was playing a little pub in Edmonton, and he’d seen me there, and said I needed to be writing songs in Nashville.  I had co-writes with published writers from the time I showed up there. So, I feel really, really lucky to experience that part of Nashville before I really had to work for it.”

As a writer, Goodvin says he’s a melody guy, first and foremost. “That’s my knack,” he explains. “When I got the Luke cut, it was me playing guitar and contributing the melody most on that song. Throughout the years, I’ve learned to be a much better lyric writer than I used to be.”

Goodvin, who suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder as a youth, also prefers the collaborative process than writing solo. “It’s very hard for me to sit in a room by myself, and put up with myself for three hours,” he chuckles. “I’ve written songs by myself in the past, but I think co-writing is where I’m able to sit still long enough, and I love having reassurance from somebody else that really helps me finish a song.

“With a collaboration, you also get more energy in a song. So for me, I’m pro co-writer, man. What makes a great co-writer is somebody who gets you, and understands what you like. Literally, the best times I have is when I go into a room, I laugh all day, have fun with my friends, and walk out with a song.”

And that’s the way Aaron Goodvin likes his songwriting: no headaches.

“Admittedly, the timing of this release isn’t optimal, because I’ve always considered this music to be best suited to cold weather,” says cellist and composer Justin Wright. This seasonal mishap can easily be forgiven, because with warm weather being fashionably late, his Music for Staying Warm doesn’t seem all that off-season.

Following experiments in amalgamating analogue synths and strings – both with the band Sweet Mother Logic and his solo EP Pattern Seeker – the Montréal artist is now exploring new avenues on his first album recorded as a quartet. The music falls somewhere between contemporary music and post-rock – fans of Godspeed You! Black Emperor should totally dig it. Falling, also, between the strictest codes of composition, and improv, Wright’s sound is part of an instrumental music movement that’s gathering more and more momentum.

“Early on, I knew I’d most likely never be the best cellist or the best composer in the world, so I knew I had to find a new angle, a very personal way of being creative with my instrument,” he says. “That’s why I like to give myself limits and challenges. For this album, I wanted every sound to come from a stringed instrument. People would be amazed at the strange sounds we can extract from these instruments.”

“With this project, I’m really putting myself out there, and it’s making me nervous!”

Inspired in part by Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, Wright also chose a utilitarian title that refers to the project’s initial spark. At the invitation of an art gallery that wanted a soundscape for the 2016 edition of Nuit Blanche, he composed a few melodies that would act as a sonic tapestry for people who would literally walk in to warm up during the event, which takes place in the middle of winter. Lo and behold, passers-by stayed longer, and paid attention to his work.

Those initial compositions later evolved into a dense and complex body of work that’s simultaneously cerebral and sensitive. The album comprises four “drones,” minimalist pieces built around sustained, trance-inducing notes. “I listened to a lot of tizita music from Ethiopia,” says Wright, “which usually only uses two chords, and I was fascinated by these pieces that seem to have no beginning or end… As an instrumentalist, there’s something fascinating and hypnotic about playing minimalist music. The number of variations you can apply to a single note is amazing.”

The album was recorded at the Banff Centre for the Arts, where Wright went for a third stay. If you close tour eyes while you listen, you can easily imagine being at the heart of this idyllic environment. “It’s hard to not be impressed and inspired when you work there,” he says. “The studio has windows on all sides, and no matter where you look, you see those majestic Rocky Mountains. Sometimes, it’s mind-blowing, but creatively, it’s good to be reminded how small we are in comparison to the universe.”

Maybe the fact that he studied molecular biology in university taught him to pay close attention to nature, but one supposes that this modesty also comes from being a serial accompanist. If you follow the Québecois underground scene, you’ve probably seen him play alongside artists such as Common Holly, Krief, Raveen, and many more. His talent as an instrumentalist and arranger can also be heard on recent albums by Jeremy Dutcher, winner of the Polaris Prize, and Mich Kota, two unique artists that are redefining contemporary First Nations culture.

“I honestly think I don’t have a grand message to champion through my music,” says Wright. “I try to touch upon universal themes, because I don’t believe that the story of this white dude who grew up in a posh environment is that interesting,” he says with a chuckle. “For First Nations artists, however, it’s different: their voices were repressed for so long that it’s crucial that they be heard today, and I’m happy to lend my talent to artists who have so much to say.”

And no matter what its creator thinks, Music for Staying Warm has a lot to say, even without words. One can definitely hear the personality of an artist we hope to follow throughout his whole career. “I admit that being an accompanist is somewhat comfortable,” he says. “You don’t need to make big decisions, you just put yourself at the service of someone. With this project, I’m really putting myself out there, and, honestly, it’s making me nervous! I didn’t expect all this to be so big, but as the project moved forward, I learned to appreciate my own work.”