It happened when John met Paul. It happened when Bryan Adams met Jim Vallance, and when Drake met 40. It happened when someone’s chocolate fell into someone else’s peanut butter. It’s the classic story of the sum being more than the individual parts.

And it happened when SOCAN members Breagh Mackinnon, Carleton Stone and Dylan Guthro ­– three Nova Scotia-based, solo singer-songwriters – got together at a SOCAN-sponsored Gordie Sampson Song Camp in the summer of 2011 in Cape Breton.

“That was the first time that we had all played music together and collaborated,” says Mackinnon. “Carleton and I are both from Sydney, so we kind of knew of each other before and had played some shows, but that was the first time that we all came together creatively.”

Between them, Mackinnon, Stone and Guthro (son of musician and SOCAN member Bruce Guthro) have made six solo albums and worked with some of the brightest lights in Canadian music, including JUNO Award-winning duo Classified and David Myles, producers such as Howie Beck (Feist, Hayden), Hawksley Workman (Serena Ryder, Tegan and Sara) and Broken Social Scenester Jason Collett.

“We were making music together so much, we decided to make it official and just start one band.” — Breagh Mackinnon of Port Cities

But when the three combined their musical and songwriting talents at the song camp, it was the start of something bigger – although at first they didn’t know it. For the next three or four years, they continued writing songs together, contributing to each other’s albums, sharing bills and playing in each other’s bands.

“And then, just a couple of years ago, we were making music together so much, we decided to make it official and just start one band,” Mackinnon says. That musical penny dropped in 2015 when they officially formed Port Cities. They were soon signed to Warner Music Canada, and in early 2017 they released their eponymous debut album, which they recorded in Nashville.

To produce the album, they prevailed upon the good graces of their Song Camp host once again. Fellow Nova Scotian Gordie Sampson has carved out a space for himself in Nashville as one of Music City’s most sought-out songwriters and producers, having worked with the likes of Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert, Florida Georgia Line and many others.

“We’d been there a number of times to write songs,” says Guthro, “but to go down and work on our own music was really cool. We were very lucky that Gordie is so well-connected down there, and he has his go-to guys; he knows all of the players, the musicians and engineers, and whoever we needed. We were constantly blown away by how fast and how incredible they were. One chord chart, listen through the song once, make a note or two, and go in and, first or second take, just kill it.”

While in Nashville, they also made sure to take advantage of the wealth of songwriting talent there. In fact, a few of the songs on the album were written in Nashville with songwriters they’d met through Sampson.

“Every trip that we go down there, we try to do some sessions with the writers there,” says Mackinnon, “because, obviously, some of the world’s best songwriters live in Nashville. We would always be writing on our own, but we wouldn’t want to pass up the opportunity to write with some of those incredible writers down there as well.”

But when the trio started to choose which songs they were going to record as Port Cities, they initially dug into their respective individual back catalogues for songs that hadn’t yet found a home.

“So we kind of started from there,” Stone says, “but then as we were finishing the album, we figured out a really good work flow, just between our three creative minds. So I think that’s become more the reality as of late.”

The collaborative writing process they hit upon capitalizes on their different musical strengths and diverse musical backgrounds.

“I feel like I can be more of the lyric-title-concept guy, and one of my weaknesses would be melodies,” Stone says, “where Dylan is amazing at melodies, and Breagh’s a jazz prodigy, so she has all these musical tools in her toolbox, that I have no idea [how to use]. I think that’s why the collaboration works really well. Our skills complement each other when we’re in the co-writing situation, which is one of the reasons why we kept working together after we met. And that’s only gotten stronger as we’ve evolved as writers and friends, really.”

So far, the fruits of their collaboration appear to be catching on with listeners. Their song “Back to The Bottom” topped Spotify’s Viral Hits Chart, attracting more than 340,000 streams to date.

After having recently toured as an opening act for fellow East Coaster Rose Cousins, the trio is revving up for some album release shows on their home turf. Then Port Cities will set out for a U.K. tour in May, before returning to Canada for the summer festival season. By the fall, they’re back in Europe for more shows, finally returning home for more dates in Canada.

The flow they’ve found by combining their unique voices and talents has begun to carry them far from their home ports, but you won’t hear a sour note from Port Cities.

“We’re pretty much booked till Christmas, it seems like,” Stone says, “so we’re not complaining.”

On Bonheurs partagés, Patrick Norman was very careful not to fall into “the obvious.” Instead of your run-of-the-mill duets album, the peerless guitarist chose to re-visit a different, but equally time-tested formula, by updating lesser-known songs from his vast repertoire. Here’s an overview of those 12 “forgotten” songs the singer-songwriter hadn’t dusted off in a long, long while.

Patrick Norman“Alors la vie” (with Martin Deschamps) —from the album Comment le dire (2007)
“With this as an opener, the album sets out to be one helluva party album! First off, we hear my old Harmony 1953 guitar, which gave a vintage feel to all of the arrangements. The lyrics were written by Roger Magnan, a friend of my good pal Mario Lirette. He gave me those words after one of my gigs, and I immediately loved the peaceful message it conveys. It truly is a hymn to life, and I can’t think of anyone better to sing this with than Martin Deschamps. I love that guy. His lust for life and joie de vivre are contagious.”

Juste toi et moi (with Nathalie Lord) – from the album Comment le dire (2007)
“There’s something very warm and sensual in this song, it makes you totally daydream about palm trees gently swaying in the breeze. That’s partly why I initially wanted to sing it with Gerry Boulet, but that didn’t pan out [laughs]. So I tapped Nathalie Lord, my life partner for quite awhile now. Seriously, she’s an extraordinary woman and I want people to discover her talent, because she deserves to be known and recognized.”

Quand l’amour te tend la main (with Jean-François Breau) – from the album Comment le dire (2007)
“I wrote the music in 1983. The original working title was ‘My Gunfighter Ballad,’ and it was an instrumental. Then, one day, I sent it to Jérôme Lemay Jr., and he got back to me with this wonderful love song. Having the opportunity to sing it again with Jean-François Breau made me really happy. I know that he and his family have been fans of mine for a very long time, and it’s a real pleasure to know that I played a role throughout his musical evolution.”

Comment le dire (with Marie-Ève Janvier) – from the album Comment le dire (2007)
“This is an exceptional song by Danny Boudreau and Roger Tabra, whose very simple goal is to say ‘I love you.’ I guess that’s the never-ending quest of all singers. Constantly finding new ways to express our love as if it was the very first time. I’m proud to carry such a message alongside Marie-Ève Janvier. She sings so divinely.”

S’aimer pour la vie (with Guylaine Tanguay) – from the album Quand on est en amour (1984)
“Originally, this song was much less rhythmic and I’d never sung it in concert. I decided to fix that by giving it more swing. The result is much more luminous and bouncy. Now I just can’t wait to play it live, especially alongside Guylaine Tanguay. She’s a magnificent woman that I’ve known for many years, incredibly talented. ”

Le temps (with François Léveillée) – from the album Soyons heureux (1988)
“It’s quite rare that I write both music and lyrics for a song, but that was the case for ‘Le temps.’ Back then, I was concerned with world peace, and that lead me to ponder the eternal circle of life. It’s only once I was done that I realized all the verses finish with the word ‘aimer’ [‘to love’]. Once again, I was guided by a quest for a better world. As for François, I just had an epiphany while listening to the song. We rarely think of him as a musician and singer, because he’s mostly known as a stand-up comedian, but don’t forget he started his artistic career in the ‘boîtes à chanson’. I gave him a call and everything went super-well. He brings a lot of emotion and credibility to that song.”

Chanter pour rien (with Pierre Bertrand) – from the album Patrick Norman (2000)
“I was in Montego Bay when I got the idea to give this song a reggae twist. I was by the pool and I could hear this groovy bassline from a cover band playing nearby. I started humming some of my songs over their sound, notably ‘Chanter pour rien,’ which worked really well. When I got back home, I called Pierre and he immediately agreed to come out of his lair and sing it with me. It’s somewhat of an homage to his huge hit ‘Ma blonde m’aime.’”

Patrick Norman“Dueling Banjos” (with Jean-Guy Grenier)—from the album Guitare (1997)
“I’ve always been attracted to instrumentals, and that’s why there’s always one or two of them on my albums. Instrumentals move me more because they allow me to write my own story. Jean-Guy Grenier has that same sensibility. I’ve worked with him since 2005; he’s extraordinarily talented. He’s a master of guitar, steel guitar and banjo, and we decided to treat ourselves.”

Les rois de Bourbon Street (with Manuel Tadros) – from the album Passion Vaudou (1990)
“Manuel and I wrote that song together as an homage to the French Quarter, the French neighbourhood of New Orleans. As a matter of fact, the whole original album from which that song comes was recorded in that amazing area of Louisiana. I swear it’s true, but that damn place changed who I am! So, I wanted to re-live that bustling atmosphere and asked Manuel to have at it with me. He’s a great friend of mine, we share a very deep bond.”

On part au soleil (with Virginie Cummins) – from the album Simplement (2004)
“Virginie is an exceptional woman with a magnificent voice and an impressive musical scope. I’d hired her to do backing vocals, but I ended up giving her a chance to sing this song with me. It was written by my super-pal Christian Simard, who passed away last December. I wanted to pay tribute to him by including this song on the album. Without him, I probably would never have had the courage to come out of my bubble back in the day. It’s partly thanks to him that I’ve made it this far.”

Plus fort que le vent (with Paul Daraîche) – from the album Comment le dire (2007)
“Now that’s a magnificent love song by Danny Boudreau. It’s very profound and noble. It wasn’t planned initially, but the song is so intense that we hired a string quartet to complement it, and we ended up using those guys on four songs. Paul graciously and generously agreed to join me for this song. He’s an old pal, and we’ve painted the town red many a time!”

Crois en l’amour (with Laurence Jalbert) – from the album Hommage à Kenny Rogers (1982)
“This Kenny Rogers song has an incredible message. To do it justice, I asked all of the album’s guest singers to sing the last verse with me. I wanted everyone to sing really, really softly, so that no one voice would stand out of the lot. The result was something really soft, yet powerful and very moving. And to top it all off, there’s Laurence Jalbert’s incredible voice. That woman has such a big heart that it’s impossible to not be moved when she sings. There was no one better to round off the album.”

“When I was younger, I constantly questioned my style; nowadays, I’ve understood that it’s when I don’t overthink it that I’m truly myself…” Leif Vollebekk is lucky: he only needed three albums to arrive at this fundamental revelation. Not that his previous albums were banal, for from it: Inland and North Americana, two ambient folk gems, earned him rave reviews here and in Europe, where he was when we reached him for this interview. Following a gig in Paris, he had just arrived in Brighton for more concerts, part of a tour alongside American singer-songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov—“an amazing guy in the vein of Leonard Cohen”, says Vollebekk. Based on the reactions to Twin Solitude, his latest album released at the end of February, Vollebekk could easily headline his own tour, to which he says, “could be, but I like the idea of reaching an audience that’s not mine, plus being an opening act is a humbling experience.”

“The first take is always the best, because when I do a second one, it’s like I become the spectator of my own song.”

With his calm and delicate spoken voice, Vollebekk’s singing voice – often compared to that of Jeff Buckley – is surprisingly intense, with an elegant tremolo. His voice is agile and spontaneous, and its beauty is enhanced by a rough touch that he doesn’t try to polish off. “To me, the first take is always the best, because when I do a second one, it’s like I become the spectator of my own song,” says Vollebekk. “As a matter of fact, I end up kinda listening to my memory of that first take in my head. That’s when I start over-analyzing the song, and thinking about how to improve this part or that part of it: there was a nice crescendo here or a nice decrescendo there… Then you start copying yourself, and the original imperfect beauty of it fades away.”

Clearly, Vollebekk likes spontaneity. Indeed, the vast majority of Twin Solitude was recorded live with the whole band – and yes, indeed, almost entirely in one take. “I showed the chords to my musicians and we dove in,” he says. “Except for the strings, which were overdubbed – as well as “Vancouver Town” and “Elegy,” the sound of which I wasn’t satisfied with, and re-recorded in one quick session – I’ve always kept the free spirit of the first version.”

Vollebekk also uses this highly instinctive approach for his lyrics, which are much more impressionist than narrative. “The great Russian film director Andreï Tarkovsky once said something that made a big impression on me: my movies will never be symbolic, but always metaphoric,” says Vollebekk. “OK, I know it sounds pedantic to quote Tarkovsky, but it’s a way to express the fact that I want to create images and feelings, not messages. Words can have many meanings, and I don’t want to set their meaning.”

Although Vollebekk’s songs often seem to be floating in ether – and indeed, one of his songs is titled “Into the Ether” – they’re also often anchored in a specific territory: Telluride, Big Sky Country, Michigan, Vancouver… all places that can easily be located on the map of the mythical North Americana. “I don’t know where that’s from,” he says. “There were a lot on the first album and I tried to avoid that on the second, but it just came back on its own! It’s strange in a way, because I prefer songs about fleeting moments, yet moments that I can re-live every time I sing about them.”

Multiple meanings and evanescent sentiments are all well and good, but what about the album’s title, which – coming from a young man who sings in English, is from Montréal, but was raised in Ottawa by an Anglophone father and a Francophone mother – inevitably reminds us of the “two solitudes”? “I actually hadn’t thought about it at first, even though it’s part of who I am,” says Vollebekk. “In the rest of Canada, I feel really Francophone, and the reverse is also true. I’m very comfortable with my double identity.”

But no matter on what side of the linguistic fence he finds himself, Vollebekk has less chance of ending up alone.