When she debuted in 2012 with her album Aware, alt-pop indie artist Nuela Charles did most of it herself: she wrote it, recorded it, released it. Six years later, a Songwriters Association of Canada ProWorks song camp in Edmonton was the moment it all changed for the Kenya-born singer… Well, at least during the second day. She purposefully skipped the first.

“I actually called in sick the first day, because I was terrified,” says Charles, a three-time JUNO Award nominee and the recent co-winner of the SOCAN Foundation’s 2022 Her Music Award. “I thought, ‘I’m not going to contribute to anything. I’ve never done this before. What if my idea sucks?’

“Then, the second day I went in, I was partnered up with Rob Wells, and we wrote the song ‘Melt.’ It was the best song I’d ever written to that point; vocally, it was my best performance ever. It just opened my eyes to the world of co-writing, and I haven’t looked back since.

“That totally changed my trajectory, in terms of who I am as a songwriter. I just love sitting in a room and trying to create something from nothing, with people who’ve probably never met before, in most cases. It just allows me to soak it all in.

“Now,  I have this mindset of just going in, no ego, not really expecting anything, and just being open and willing to receive and share. And not being afraid of sharing stupid ideas, because no idea is stupid – it just either works or doesn’t work. It’s definitely been a huge part of my development as a writer.”

Now she’s ready to enter a new chapter, as indicated by her recent single “Awakening,” and the next one, “Worthy” – and the Her Award certainly brings new confidence with which to move forward.

“For me, after doing it for so long, I kind of feel like I’m still at the beginning of my career, in a way,” says Charles. “It feels good to be recognized and know that what you’re doing is resonating with people. Since I’m an independent, doing it all alone, basically, it’s just such a boost. You get that outside validation of, ‘Hey, you’re actually doing well.’”

That validation has been extremely important to Charles during this time of introspection, documented in part by “The Awakening.” “I’m in a period of digging into… who am I as a person. I feel like I kind of lost myself the last 10 years trying to do Nuela Charles. Like, ‘Who am I without the music?’

“So I started going through more affirmations, and really giving myself the space to breathe, grow, and just sit, without trying to actively do something to further my career. ‘Awakening’ was just this thing that came in – and I was kind of looking at myself and how I started as a musician. I was very eager, I wanted to conquer everything, but fast-forward 10 years, and I wasn’t excited about anything

“I felt like I kind of sat back and dimmed myself for the benefit of others. And at some point it became, ‘No, you’re worth it: stand up and stand in your light!’ ‘The Awakening’ was initially very down-tempo and chill, more of an Afrobeat vibe, until my L.A. producer [Matt Parad] said, ‘Let’s push the envelope and not settle for the first demo you came up with.’ When he created the chorus, I thought, ‘This sounds like an awakening’: She’s trying to be a flower/who found her super power/ this is an awakening.

These days, Charles starts writing by jotting down ideas before passing them through Parad, who she also met through a songwriting camp.

“For most of the newer stuff, I start it myself in my little home studio, where I’ll have either a lyrical idea, a melody, or a sample,” Charles explains. “‘Worthy’ is one I started on the piano, and I really wanted to capture the feeling of not being loved, or not being worthy, but realizing  you’ve got to believe that you’re worthy –  that’s the gist of it.

“I produced it in Logic, and was able to capture all the parts, arrangements, and then pass it to my producer, who fleshed it all out, and built it back towards the song it’s going to be. Matt’s really great, because he didn’t touch the lyrics. He said, ‘These are your stories to tell… if you need help, I’m here.’ Which was awesome, because he gave me the freedom to sit there and think, ‘What do I want to say that’s going to resonate?’”

Currently dividing her time between Edmonton and Toronto, Charles is readying her self-titled album for a September release.

“It’s 10 songs, and I’m really excited,” she says. “All the lyrics are mine, I’m really proud of what they are and what I’m saying, and it’s probably the most personal, yet universal, record that I’ve made to date. I feel like I’ve finally arrived.”

That synch-ing feeling

Nuela Charles has successfully placed her songs with a number of TV shows –  Jane The Virgin and Tiny Pretty Things among them – and says writers should explore similar placement opportunities if they can.

“It’s super-important; that makes up 75% of my income,” Charles explains. “It’s been synch placements, and it’s fun because, for the most part, [for] a lot of my songs, I’ll always write with, like, either a storyline or a visual in my head,  where I think it would be cool as a soundtrack to a theme that doesn’t exist. But it’s also where music supervisors and directors have taken songs and placed them in their own narrative and had fun with them, which is really cool.

“It opens up a whole new world of people discovering your music,  because a lot of my online streaming and sales have been from [other] countries, and from people who’ve heard my songs through TV shows, that I would never been able to reach if it wasn’t for those placements. So, it’s huge.”

The concept of screen music is vast and varied for musician and singer-songwriter Frannie Holder. The artist we discovered as a member of Dear Criminals and Random Recipe has felt a need to step outside of her musical boundaries for several years. But what if all of her outlets are fruitful? That’s true for her.

A hard-hitting, hyper-realistic movie about sexual and physical violence in the context of juvenile prostitution, Geneviève Albert’s first film, Noémie dit oui, features a lot of songs. And rather than commissioning instrumentals for the scenes that required music, the director opted to use existing songs.

“This movie doesn’t contain actual screen compositions. She wanted to use songs,” Holder explains. “The music I actually created specifically for this project are two songs I wrote for the fictitious band that’s in the movie. It’s teen emo-punk-pop, and I grew up with a sister that listened to a lot of that, so my inspiration was quite clear.”

Alone in the studio, Holder wrote the music and the lyrics and produced the demos. Benoit Bouchard, her frequent Dear Criminals collaborator, introduced Pierre Fortin who joined the “band” on guitar. “I found inspiration in the story and what the main character was going through,” Holder remembers. “In your teens, any song is the soundtrack of your whole life. I was like that a lot at that age, like I was living in a music video.”

After easily navigating opposite musical styles with Random Recipe and Dear Criminals, Frannie is convinced that there’s she’s comfortable in any “musical zone.” “I’m not super-comfortable with musical arrangements, however,” she admits. “I played classical music when I was young, and it feels like a mountain of work to me. It’s the only part for which I would hire someone. Otherwise, whether it’s rap, grunge, reggae. . . Bring it, I’m in.”

And as someone who is accustomed to experience art as a member of a band, despite the fact that it involves making compromises, Frannie says the solitude of screen composing is what she finds the most challenging. “Screen composing is quite a solitary trade,” she believes. “You talk with authors upstream, but otherwise, it’s you and your computer alone in a studio. On the plus side, that means I did a lot of it during the pandemic when we couldn’t see anyone,” she says laughing.

Among her other recent contributions to screen music, there’s Patrick Bossé’s Territoire des Amériques, an immersive film about artist René Drouin. The art project was notably presented at Montréal’s Société des arts technologiques in November of 2021.  Frimas, a short, and Au nord d’Albany, a feature film directed by Marianne Farley, as well as season three of the comedy Trop are other projects she recently delivered.

As for Pour Toi Flora, a series by Sonia Bonspille Boileau, it will be available on Tou.TV Extra on May 26, 2022. It tells the story of an Anishinaabe brother and sister at a residential school in the ’60s. “Actress Kwena Bellemare-Boivin is also a musician and she was the inspiration for a whole world,” says Holder. “I used a melody she hums in the series as the basis for the rest of the music. The director wouldn’t have asked me if she wanted First Nations music, but it was important for both of us that we hear the roots of Indigenous music and the bridge between it and us.”

Boileau wanted to create this link between art, voices and craftspeople. “The whole point about the dialogue surrounding cultural appropriation is not to avoid working together, it’s the opposite. You just need to do things the right way,” says Holder. That’s why she enlisted the talent of Anachnid, a Montréal-based electronic music artist of Oji-Crie and Mi’kmaq origins. “I’m a fan,” admits Holder. “It was totally out of the question for me to use only my voice on a project that has nothing to do with my history. Anachnid was perfect and she came in with her voice, her flute, and her drums. All of a sudden, I felt a lot less alone.”

Never one without a story to tell, Holder humorously recounts her songwriting process for the animated documentary series Caresses magiques, a collection of five short films by Lori Malépart-Traversy about female masturbation presented by the NFB in May of 2022. “I had just moved into my home studio, and I had no idea how well it was soundproofed,” she remembers. “I work mostly at night, and I would play the same sex scenes over and over. For the longest time, I wondered what my neighbours thought of me,” she giggles.

These days, Holder is working on the music for Sophie Deraspe and Stéphane Hogue’s Motel Paradis, a six-episode series that will air on Club illico later this year.  “Sophie wanted the music beforehand to work on the scenes with the existing sound, which is quite peculiar,” says Holder. “I gave her music that I wrote according to the guidelines she gave me, and then I replaced my music while adjusting what had been used.”

Imagery is a living art form, and Holder frequently contributes, including for stage plays and choreography. She sees her role as an essential external component that envelops an existing project. Think of it as a bespoke shirt. She considers it a highly technical trade that allows her to be of service of what someone else has to say. “It’s comforting to work for someone else,” she says. “You see an image, you magnify it, you soothe it, you create a shift, you destroy it, you duplicate it, you make it bigger, or more intimate. It’s the final detail that makes the scene you’re looking at complete.”



Claudia Bouvette Who would refuse being admitted to Paradise Club? After all, it’s a space of freedom, empowerment, and free speech. Over the course of the last few years, we’ve gotten acquainted with Claudia Bouvette as a musician, singer, and actress. She’s even detoured into reality TV, but the version of herself that always re-surfaces, stronger than the others, is the music-making one. The young woman’s true love takes centre stage with the release of her first full-length album The Paradise Club.

Beyond being an album of orary heartbreak, Claudia Bouvette’s first full-length is also a major statement. “It’s such a personal project,” she says, to open. “I want to share with the world this state of relief that came with my songs and my album.” Through each story and verse, what stands out most, for her, is that “it’s really going to be okay, no matter what shitty situation you find yourself in.” Musically, she took great care to emphasize the rhythm: “The themes and topics are on the sad side, but the music is upbeat. I’ll never be able to hide from my recurring theme: decrying the behaviour of the ‘uglies.’ Yet, I try to do it with a somewhat positive vibe,” she says, giggling.

Aware of the constant pressure on women, and the performance they’re expected to deliver, she remains a proponent of genuinely letting go, and taking a moment to choose what’s best for us. “We’re told we’re supposed to be able to do everything at once, as women and as musicians,” she says. “What ends up happening is, we get confused, and don’t know where to start. It gets depressing, because there’s a good chance you can’t manage having the weight of the whole world on your shoulders.”

Not one to hide her ambition, she knows what she’s worth, and her lyrics reflect a desire to point toward the less-than-perfect road that nonetheless leads to self-accomplishment. “You can’t go very far when you don’t know where to start,” she says. “It’s happened to me. I wasn’t doing well at all, but it’s amazing how time will fix everything, and how taking a break allows you to move faster afterwards.”

For her, songwriting begins with synth chords and a few onomatopoeiac phrases, which allow the phonetics to dominate. “What’s crazy is that words and phrases create themselves this way, thanks to words that don’t really exist,” Bouvette explains. “I build around that. I always write the lyrics las,t and I fine-tune the phrasing with Connor, since he’s Anglophone.”

He whose name is on everyone’s lips lately, Connor Seidel, co-wrote and co-produced The Paradise Club with Bouvette. Chosen by many artists to assist in the production of their work, Seidel knows how to deploy his talent where it’s needed, allowing the full grandeur of the artist’s skill to unfold before him. Bouvette is thus captain of her Club, in full control of her words and sound. “I’ve known Connor for many years,” she says. “We did my first EP together. He gave me the space I needed to express myself, and believe in myself. I’m very instinctive, but that implies a certain level of insecurity. His humility opens creative doors for me.”

Once the songs were written, the work was long and meticulous, both in the studio and at home. ‘I did a lot of work alone in my bedroom,” says Bouvette. “Then we created universes together. There’s something very organic in our approach. I can be very picky, but very easygoing, too. I like being surprised by sounds I’d never think of pursuing. The end result is totally uninhibited.”

While happily mixing French and English, she still feels stronger in the latter, although what drives her even more is the range of possibilities when you can play with both. “The sounds roll around in my mouth easier in English, but I think it’s really enriching to be able to have both co-exist,” she says.

Bouvette is increasingly able to recognize the tools that push her creativity further: listening to music, analyzing texts, reading books, or poetry. “I also put my phone down!” she exclaims. “The second I spend too much time on my phone, I lose all my creativity. In the end, though, it’s really my suffering that motivates me. Even when I feel fine, I’m inclined to go reach for darker feelings that I experience in everyday life. Maybe I write songs to liberate myself from something.”