From his first timid steps at Café Sarajevo to his recent world tours, Patrick Watson has always made sure that he preserved a freedom of thought that has enabled him to build bridges between Québec’s Franco and Anglo cultures.

The walls inside Montréal’s Café Sarajevo might have been made of stone, everyone knew they had a soul of their own. For years and years, they had vibed to the rhythm of the clientele’s bohemian lifestyle. These stone walls hosted gypsy swing bands, poetry readings and even tears of joy when Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic was ousted. But on this particular evening of the winter of 2003, it was a ball-cap-wearing kid that was serenading them while tickling the ivories.

The now-closed dive, located on Clark Street, just below Sherbrooke, was packed for an unplugged” concert by Patrick Watson – a regular there by now. Watson had just released his second album, Just Another Ordinary Day. People were barely beginning to grasp the extent of his musical talent.

Thirteen years later, he’s been around the world many times, on the heels of his four subsequent albums, the latest of which is Love Songs for Robots, launched in May of 2015. Ethereal and refined, this collection of songs rises above the melée. The piano chords, electro-tinged rhythms and Watson’s dulcet tones define the edges of an enticing musical landscape.

“You know, when you think about it, my approach to music hasn’t really changed,” according to the singer’s own analysis. “The Sarajevo was a place to go crazy and have fun. Back then I was still trying to figure out what to do with my compositions. I didn’t even know if I really wanted to sing, or if I was going to keep my stuff instrumental. It’s still true today: I still wonder what direction to give my music.”

“We don’t need to put red or blue hats on people’s heads. It’s completely stupid. Dividing Anglophones and Francophones is totally pointless.”

Just before our meeting, Watson had spent several hours composing music for a string quartet. “Am I going to use it on one of my records, or a film score? No Idea. What matters to me is that I constantly progress as a composer,” says the artist, who has consistently done one movie score per year. Last year it was for the movie The 9th Life of Louis Drax, a British/Canadian co-production that will come out in 2016. “Next week, I’m leaving for California to work on a film development project,” he says. “That’s what I love about my career. I don’t feel any kind of pressure to constantly be Patrick Watson the singer-songwriter. Just being a musician is perfect, too.”

Patrick WatsonThis aversion for labels is quite representative of Watson’s mentality. He’s neither Anglo nor Franco, but simply Québécois. Born in the United States, he rapidly built ties with the local culture through his many collaborations with Karkwa, Marie-Pierre Arthur and Lhasa, to name just a few. “When my family moved to Hudson (a small Québec town about halfway between Montréal and Ottawa), I chose to attend a Francophone primary school,” he says. “Despite the initial language barrier, I immediately identified with the joie de vivre and open-mindedness of Francophone culture, even at such a young age. As a matter of fact, all of my girlfriends were Francophones,” he says grinning. “That must be a sign!”

The political aspect of the Anglo/Franco relationship is of no interest to this man, who believes human beings are more important than any of their allegiances. “We don’t need to put red or blue hats on people’s heads,” he says. “It’s completely stupid. Dividing Anglophones and Francophones is totally pointless. The idea that you don’t belong in Québec if you don’t speak French is negative, and has nothing in common with the true nature of Francophones. I think the best way to convince Anglos to learn French is to explain to them how, if they don’t, they will miss out on some of the most beautiful women in the world and a much more vibrant and relaxed way of life! One can be proud of their culture without having to divide and put down others.”

At the same time, Watson is quick to confirm that this pride is what allowed Québec to evolve culturally. “Québécois have a special kind of love for the music produced in Québec, and all musicians here benefit from that, even those who sing in English like I do,” he says. “For Québec artists, it’s an unbelievable gift to be able to count on such popular support for their creators. Elsewhere, you always feel like you are competing against the whole wide world, but not in Québec; you don’t feel that here.”

According to him, it’s much easier for a Montréal musician to be famous in Québec than for a Toronto musician to be famous in Ontario. “Many artists in Québec manage to earn a living through their art, something that wouldn’t be true elsewhere,” says Watson. “And I don’t say that to mean that they aren’t good, but because their creations have nothing to do with current pop trends. And that, culturally, is an invaluable treasure,” explains the musician, whose 2016 winter-spring tour is still ongoing at press time.

“That’s what I mean when I talk about open-mindedness,” says Watson. “You can stop in the smallest, 100% Francophone hamlet and still be welcomed with open arms and a ton of love. That, for an artist who sings in English, is amazing!”


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It’s all about connection.

When SOCAN organized its first-ever annual Kenekt song camp at the Shobac Cottages in rural Nova Scotia in September of 2015, the goal was to have the talented group of songwriters and producers assembled there connect creatively with each other – and, in the process, come up with material capable of connecting with a wide audience. That mandate was fulfilled, and the personal connections cemented amongst the attendees seem destined to pay dividends in their careers.

To get their take on the experience at the camp, and the songs that came out of it, Words & Music spoke with young singer-songwriters Sophie Rose and Levi Randall, and fast-rising production/songwriting duo Young Wolf Hatchlings.

SOPHIE ROSE

Sophie RoseA compelling singer, 16-year-old, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Sophie Rose (left) has been making songwriting her top priority since signing a joint publishing deal with Prescription Songs and noted songwriter Ester Dean two years ago. Prescription have pitched Rose’s camp songs to such artists as Rihanna, Selena Gomez, Ellie Goulding, Pia Mia, and Hailee Steinfeld. Since her publishing deal, a song Rose wrote, sang and produced by herself, “Friends Forever,” was featured in a national MasterCard Stand Up To Cancer commercial. When asked to come up with a theme song for the Awesomeness TV-produced show Guidance, Rose wrote the very well-received song, “Attention.”

For Rose, the opportunity to join the Kenekt camp came out of nowhere. “I met SOCAN’s Chad Richardson [Kenekt’s organizer] here [in L.A.], and he invited me to the camp,” she says. “My first reaction was ‘Nova Scotia is so far away, I’m not going there.’ But Chad told me, ‘If you go, this will change your life.’ I couldn’t say no to that. And yes, it has [changed my life].”

Rose had previously attended a songwriting camp in L.A., but says “that was just two days in a studio. That’s not the same as going somewhere else, to an environment like that.”

The Kenekt camp’s scenic physical setting and its collaborative approach certainly set creative juices flowing for Rose. “I didn’t bring any ideas with me to the camp but I was so inspired there,” she says. “Every night after the song we wrote was played for everybody, I’d have new ideas for the next day.”

“I feel that the best songs are written when you’re all together, and an energy is flowing through everybody. That’s how camp was every single day.” – Sophie Rose

The interactive format pleased her. “So many times in L.A., you write a song and send it to a producer and it’s not the kind of experience you hope for,” says Rose. “I feel that the best songs are written when you’re all together, and an energy is flowing through everybody. That’s how camp was every single day.”

She cites the writing of “Take My Breath” as an example. “I had the verse idea late the night before,” she says. “I recorded it into my phone and brought it. We worked off that, and the rest of the song was completely collaborative. I wrote it with Michael Bernard Fitzgerald and Dave Thomson, all sitting on the couch, brainstorming ideas and titles. When I played it that evening, Chad went, ‘This is a hit. Send it to your publisher now.’ I sent it that night and got an immediate reply that they loved it. They have sent it to lots of people for possible placement.”

Another camp-created composition for which Rose has high hopes is “Hands High.” “That was my favourite writing process of the camp,” she says. “I wrote it with Fredro and David Myles. We didn’t have anything beforehand, it all came from nothing. Fredro built this really crazy drumbeat, and we wrote the whole song over the beat, with no instruments.”

The creative chemistry between Myles and Rose has led to further writing. “A few weeks after the camp, David played a showcase show at the Capitol building here [in L.A.],” she says. “Chad and I and our moms all went, and the next day David came over and we wrote a new song together.” Since camp, Rose has also written with Fredro, Levi Randall, Heather Longstaffe, and Young Wolf Hatchlings. “When YWH visited L.A. after the camp, I started a new song with them and another writer I work with here, Jackie Young,” she says.

LEVI RANDALL (VACAY)

Levi RandallAlso attending Kenekt was Toronto-based singer-songwriter and actor Levi Randall (left), who now records and performs under the name Vacay. He previously fronted Cardinals and The Juliets, pop-rock outfits that toured nationally and gained a following.

Randall is now forging a solo path, and he, too, terms the Kenekt experience “life-changing” in this pursuit. “That was one of the best weeks of my life, and one of my strongest learning experiences,” he says. “I can’t thank SOCAN and Chad enough for taking a chance on me.”

Two songs he co-wrote at the camp are definitely set to appear on an upcoming solo EP due by the summer of 2016. “Shaky Hands” is a co-write with David Thomson and David Myles, while “The Other Side” was written with Carole Facal (Caracol) and Drew Scott. “Both songs fit the direction in which I’m going,” says Randall. “I’ve already recorded both, and I’m getting Drew and Carole to add background vocals to ‘The Other Side.’”

The other three songs on the Vacay EP will be solo originals. “On your own you can really think long and hard on a song,” says Randall, “but I also like co-writing, for bringing another perspective to the music and lyrics.”

“The Kenekt Song Camp was one of the best weeks of my life, and one of my strongest learning experiences.” – Levi Randall


Randall’s growing profile as a TV actor will help bring his music attention. He appeared on the hit TV show The Next Step and has landed a lead acting role on the music-themed series Lost & Found Music Studios. Having premiered on Canada’s Family Channel in January, it goes worldwide via Netflix in May of 2016. “That’ll be great exposure,” says Randall. “I hope it means fans of the show will stick around for my music. I’m proud of the show, but think there needs to be separation from my acting and my music, and that’s why I came up with the Vacay name.”

Since Kenekt, Randall has written again with Drew Scott and also Ash Koley. “I learned so many things at camp,” he says. “When writing with Anjulie [Persaud], I learned about having vulnerability in your lyrics. We can get caught up in trying to sound cool, but I learned it’s cool to be vulnerable. Music is not about being cool, it’s about connecting with people.”

Randall stresses that “I definitely feel more like a musician than an actor. I love acting, but not with the same amount of passion. I see it as a stepping stone for my ultimate goal, writing songs that move people.” If those are songs performed by other artists, that’d be fine by him. “Most of the songs I co-wrote at camp don’t fit what I’m doing, so it’d be great if other people picked them up,” he says.

YOUNG WOLF HATCHLINGS

Young Wolf Hatchlings, Jarrel Young, YWHYoung Wolf Hatchlings had also achieved a measure of success before the camp. The Toronto-based production and writing duo of Jarrel Young (left) and Waqaas Hashmi had a huge crossover success in 2015, when American rockers Fall Out Boy scored a double-platinum hit single with “Uma Thurman,” a track YWH co-wrote with the band. Young Wolf Hatchlings also scored a 2015 MuchMusic Video Award nomination for “You Lovely You,” a single they released on Universal Canada.

But for YWH, Kenekt was nonetheless their first song camp, and Young now describes it as one of the greatest musical experiences of his life. “It’s an extremely friendly but also a semi-competitive environment,” says Young. “Each night, everyone got together and played what they came up with that day. I’d consider us the least experienced of the producers there, and we wanted to do well in front of those people. Every day we pushed to do our best.”

Young cites the beautiful physical setting as an inspiration, along with the fact that “all you had to think about was the music, from the time you woke up ‘til bed… The greatest take-away was the confidence of knowing we can push ourselves past what we thought we were capable of.” The truly collaborative process appealed to Young and Hashmi. “I personally like working in the room with artists, getting things together,” says Young. “That’s where we’ve had the most success and we’ve tried to reproduce that after the camp.”

“All you had to think about was the music, from the time you woke up ‘til bed.” – Jarrel Young of Young Wolf Hatchlings

On the tangible side, YWH emerged with three strong cuts. “Where Ever You Are” is a co-write with Caracol and Sophie Rose. “We’ve been shopping it around for placements,” says Young. “We have faith it can be used somewhere, as it’s a great song with a great message.” “91 Days” is a co-write with Myles and Anjulie Persaud that Young says “will likely be on the EP following the one we release in the Spring of 2016. The song has such an energy.” A collaboration with Fitzgerald and Koley, “Stay True,” will be released as a single on Ultra. “That one came so naturally,” says Young. “You have Michael rapping on the song, yet he’s primarily a folk singer.”

Young Wolf Hatchlings also enjoyed the post-camp collaboration with Sophie Rose. “We’re really excited about the material,” says Young. “Sophie is such a mature talent, and it was great to be in a different environment and see how she does her stuff.

“In my opinion those songs [from the camp] have helped jump-start our career, in the sense of having songs that can cross over,” says Young.For EDM producers such as ourselves, they’ve opened a lot of doors. Not just for our career, but for ourselves – as it shows we can be freer, making music that can cross over to mainstream.”

The songs and creative bonds forged at SOCAN’s Kenekt Song Camp promise to yield all sorts of significant results in the years to come. Stay tuned!


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The least we can say about Simon Kingsbury’s creative process is that it’s slow.

Simon KingsburyHe started out busy, first appearing on the scene as a member of the indie-folk-prog band Lac Estion, which produced three recordings – EP (2008), Affranchi (2009) and XXIe siècle (2010). He then followed up with a solo solo EP, released in 2011, and played at the 2012 Francouvertes. In short, he made his mark on the local indie scene.

But over the past two-plus years, news from him has been few and far between. “In 2013, I recorded tracks that sounded way too much like those on the 2011 EP,” he explains, “so I scrapped all of them and decided to take a year off!”

Only during the course of the last year did Kingsbury start feeling like he was ready to get cracking again. He was already signed to a publishing deal with Ad Litteram (since 2013), so the company’s boss, Guillaume Lombart, offered Kingsbury a production deal for his new songs. “Luckily for me, he gave me carte blanche creatively,” says Kingsbury. “They took care of the financing, and all the paperwork, that can easily bog down an artist… They took care of that whole side of things, but kept me in the loop, which was quite helpful.”

The result was Pêcher rien, a slick affair launched in early February 2016, and whose first single, “Comédien,” sets the tone.

When asked about his protégé, Guillaume Lombart is quick to answer that he himself is “a lucky publisher and producer, right now.” Birds of a feather, as the saying goes…

The Constant Gardner

It goes without saying that it all started as love at first sight – or hearing, as it were: “There was the voice, I truly believe that an artist’s signature is their voice,” says Lombart. “It’s the very personality of any project.”

Lombart enjoys working with singer-songwriters. “I like when I deal with only one person, especially if that person is aware of what it means to make music nowadays,” says Lombart. “On top of that, I also believe that songwriters are people who constantly question themselves and best grasp what it means to be human, starting with themselves. I think they are less susceptible to fall prey to the whole ‘star ego’ thing.”

Lombart and Kinsgbury also share the same vision of their collaboration: teamwork first. “Everybody on this boat works very hard, and we’re all in sync when it comes to the activities involved in this project,” says the publisher-producer.

Things really got underway when all 10 songs were committed to tape. “We produced the album and sought a licencing deal with a record label,” says Lombart. “But the licence never came, so we looked for financing on our own. And things fell into place.”

Clearly, when this man gets involved in a project, his publishing feelers extend very far. “As a publisher, my goal is to take a project as far as I can by getting the right people involved to make sure it does,” says Lombart. “CDs have become a promotional tool for publishers. And I’m also the producer of the live show. And, through Livetoune (an Ad Litteram subsidiary), I also produce the audio-visual aspect of it all. In the end, the goal is to integrate all of these elements in order to prop up the songs themselves… I love the idea of a musical-visual publisher. I created that model in reaction to a specific situation. I often compare it to gardening, how one needs to sow the seeds and ensure his produce thrives and grows.”

You Reap What You Sow

Simon KingsburyQuébec radio stations have clearly confirmed the publisher-producer’s flair: At the time of this writing, Kingsbury’s “Comédien” was named buzz ÉNERGIE for the month of February, thus ensuring the song quite a heavy rotation over most of the network’s stations.

And if the artist’s ambitions are any indication of what’s to come, things are looking good. “Guillaume and I are on the same wavelength most of the time,” says Kingsbury. Ultimately, what I want is for my songs to be as widely heard as possible.” Add that to the positive critical reception of Pêcher rien, and what you have is a duo that thoroughly enjoys reaping what it has slowly and carefully sown.

 

 

 


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