Following the release of his first, self-titled EP in 2012, Philippe Brach went on to win a slew of industry awards including the Ma Première Place des Arts competition in 2013, three Petite-Vallée festival awards (as well as the SOCAN Best Song Award for “T’aurais pas pu nous prendre à deux”) and the top honours of the 2014 Francouvertes competition.

Commenting on his achievements over such a short time-period, the young musician explains, “Music competitions are still relevant today, even though I’m through with them personally. They not only provide artists with a certain amount of visibility, they also prompt you to write more songs. I’m a determined artist, I know where I’m going, but competitions helped me meet people. And the exchanges that take place after the awards ceremonies are over are the most valuable prize you can get. Competitions are master classes being taught by artists who have reached various stages in their careers, and you learn a lot from them. They helped me hone my performing and creative skills, and I feel I am a better, more transparent artist for it.”

“I feel more at home exploring dark, grimy, negative corners of the human soul.”

“However,” Brach cautions, “music competitions are not for everybody. I’ve seen artists running out of awards ceremonies in tears and blaming themselves. The main thing with contests is to know who you are and where you’re going. Competing provides you with the ammunition you need to succeed and gain respect,” the voluble musician sums up.

Awash in music industry awards, the 25-year-old musician released his first full-length album, La foire et l’ordre (Chaos and Order) in April 2014. This wilfully untidy folk-rock opus with appealing country touches and simple, effective arrangements has brought some listeners to draw creative parallels between Brach and Bernard Adamus for lyrical irreverence, Pépé for pervasive humour, and Vincent Vallières for sonic quality.

“I had no particular outline in mind,” says the Saguenay-born, Montreal-based musician. “I wasn’t planning on a concept album, but only trying to put the songs first and build the album around them. I must say, I’m rather pleased with the result. It’s crooked in places, but that was on purpose. There are four or five years of writing in there. Some songs are not what you’d call great songs, let’s face it! But it’s OK with me. Some tunes may not be all that accomplished, but I was eager to perform them onstage, and they all contain a message. This recording paints a true picture of where I was at that particular stage in my career. I need references like that to be able to move on and try something different.”

With the help of producer Pierre-Philippe Côté (a.k.a. Pilou), who has been with him since his first recording, Brach deals with sensitive topics (such as a harsh criticism of today’s Church on “Race-pape”) on his first full-length album, and does so with just the right amount of zeal, and without insistence or complacency.

“My songs are inspired by what I see around me – love, death, drugs, religion, travelling,” he says. “But I sometimes also talk about things I know nothing about, and that’s really interesting. All human beings have their own hurts, and I like to adapt mine to song. It’s an excellent creative engine while being an exercise in trying to understand what makes human beings tick. I’ll be the first to admit that I feel more at home exploring dark, grimy, negative corners of the human soul.”

Influenced by the music of Harmonium, Fred Fortin, The Doors and Frank Zappa, Brach is also a lover of hip-hop. “I love the Wu-Tang Clan, and although there are no traces of hip-hop on my album, that attitude is there,” he says. “I’m not a textured sound guy – I’m a feelings guy. The main thing is to remain true to yourself. I’ve been called a ‘bloody sellout,’ but that doesn’t bother me. You know, I have strong opinions on a lot of things, but I always listen to other people, and I am open to the possibility of changing my mind at some point. I’m open,” he says with an amused smile.

While he’s scheduled to perform in a handful of venues before the end of 2014, Brach is basically looking forward to concentrating on writing songs for his second album. He’s planning to go into the studio in June 2015 for an October 2015 release.

“I have a feeling it’s going to be more acoustic, more sedate, maybe a bit less crazy,” he says. “I need to be in control and know exactly where I’m at. Many artists allow themselves to get distracted by things outside of music, but not in my case. I want to put my own house in order, finish the songs I haven’t yet completed, and then see what songs I still need and plan the overall creative feel of the album. Although Pilou is a close colleague, I also want to work with different people each time. It teaches me new ways of doings things, it’s creatively stimulating. What attracts me in this profession is the possibility to keep learning. Who would I like to work with? Éric Goulet, Philippe Brault, Philippe B or Louis-Jean Cormier. I admire their work.” Any takers?

MAGIC! frontman Nasri Atweh and drummer Alex Tanas remember sitting around one day in their adopted hometown of Los Angeles, looking up the publishing splits for major bands on Wikipedia. What they saw cemented their idea of how their new reggae-based pop band MAGIC! would operate.

“The ones that have all broken up, and had bad break-ups, didn’t split the publishing [songwriting credits and royalties]. Bands that all did, like Foo Fighters, Radiohead, Coldplay and U2, those guys are going strong,” says Tanas.

“Yeah, it was really interesting,” echoes Atweh. “The bands that split everything stayed together and the bands that didn’t fell apart. People want to feel like they’re worth something.”

So on MAGIC!’s debut album, Don’t Kill The Magic – which includes their worldwide smash hit, “Rude,” a No. 1 hit in Canada and the U.S. that spent six weeks on top of the Billboard singles chart, with sales of more than 3 million units in America, 270,000 in Canada, and a video with more than 186 million views on YouTube – Tanas and guitarist Mark Pellizzer each have songwriting credits on eight of the 11 songs; and bassist Ben Spivak (who joined the band in May 2013, when most of the songs were already written) has three.

“The bands that split everything stayed together and the bands that didn’t fell apart.” – Nasri Atweh of MAGIC!

Atweh is on every track and “fifth member” Adam Messinger, his production/writing partner of 16 years, is on nine. Together, as The Messengers, the pair has written songs for Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, New Kids On The Block, Christina Aguilera, Michael Bolton, and Shakira, whose latest album contains “Cut Me Deep,” featuring MAGIC!.

Atweh – who writes “99 percent” of the lyrics – could shoulder all the writing if he wanted to, and take all of the publishing for the songs, or just write comfortably with Messinger, but instead encourages his bandmates to contribute and then give them a piece. He’s not simply being nice; he knows their value.

“The way our band works is they understand that I have to do a lot more work on the writing side than they do, so instead of us splitting it, I’ll take a tiny bit more,” says Atweh. “But you just get what you put in. When all of us write, then everybody gets their piece, but at the end of the day I don’t do this for the money so I was just fine with whatever.”

Says Tanas, “The cool thing about Nasri is he’s open to other musicians, but that’s necessary for the success that he’s had. All the big cuts that he’s had with Justin Bieber and all these other artists have been collaborative – like with Adam Messinger, or Rodney Jerkins, or us… I think he realizes that there’s a lot to be learned and a lot to explore when you’re working with other musicians… I feel it wouldn’t be MAGIC! if it wasn’t the four of us and Adam Messinger all coming together. I feel like this sound is the five of our voices together.”

Talking with each of the members separately by phone from Las Vegas, where they were playing a show, every one of them says how generous Atweh is and open to their input. They praise each other’s talent and Atweh does the same. Everyone says they learn from each another. It’s a team built on friendship and respect.

All four members of MAGIC!, and Messinger, are Toronto transplants. Atweh moved to L.A. with Messinger in 2007 to further their production/songwriting career.  A few years ago, Pellizzer went down to L.A. to see what doors he could open. He was staying at Atweh’s two-bedroom apartment when they started writing together. One of the early results was “Don’t Judge Me,” which grew out of an acoustic jam, and later became a single for American rapper Chris Brown.

Pellizzer is a schooled musician, a classically-trained pianist who boasts degrees from The Royal Conservatory of Toronto and the Jazz Studies program (in guitar) at the University of Toronto. He cut his teeth in soul/R&B bands and started producing and writing. He has co-written with Justin Nozuka, Vita Chambers, and has eight tracks on rapper Classified’s self-titled album, including the SOCAN No. 1 Song Award-winning single, “Inner Ninja.”

Pellizzer says it did take a shift in thought and approach when he began working in pop. “Studying complex theories and very difficult things to play at school and then suddenly finding yourself in a pop music situation, a lot of what you end up doing is reductionist, ‘Okay, let’s not do this there. Let’s keep it very simple,’” he says.

Atweh broached the topic of forming a band together when he heard Pellizzer playing a reggae groove: “I said, ‘Dude, I’ve always had this idea of starting a band that was almost like a modern-day Police. I think me and you can do it.’  And that was the start. We just went at it.” That riff eventually became “Stupid Me,” which is on Don’t Kill The Magic. Pellizzer brought in his bandmates from Nozuka’s band, Tanas and bass player Anthony Lavdanski.

Cousins are Aaron Mangle and Leigh Dotey, a guitar/drums duo from Halifax who might be Canada’s hardest-working band. They’ve been relentlessly touring for the past four years, bringing their unique brand of raw, joyful garage-pop across the country, playing countless shows on their own terms.

“We made the plan,” says singer-songwriter and guitarist Mangle. “In our story of the music industry, we mostly have done everything on our own. It hasn’t necessarily been a choice so much as the only option…  We’re in charge of where we play, how people see us and how we develop our reputation as performers, businesspeople, and friends to folks we work with… We know what it has taken to get here, and we’re responsible for it.”

Their current album, The Halls Of Wickwire, was produced by Graham Walsh (of Holy Fuck) and was longlisted for the 2014 Polaris Music Prize. This fall they head on tour again, this time to Europe and the U.K. with Chad Vangaalen and back to Canada for the Halifax Pop Explosion before they settle down to work on another record.