It’s a little unusual for a songwriter who grew up on a varied diet of records from Bob Dylan to Fleetwood Mac, Metallica to Madonna, and who has co-written for artists just as diverse, to cite two of the most influential composers of, um, the 1700s as her main inspiration, but that’s what Maia Davies says.

“I come from a very classical background, and I base a lot of my melody choices on Mozart or Bach, because I think that they wrote all the best pop melodies already,” she laughs. “And then we carry that over musically for the instrumentation.

“Folk music has a lot of acoustic guitars; pop music has synths; rock music has big drums, and for the lyrics it’s always clear communication of an emotion, and a story that someone wants to tell. Then it’s really a lot about the artist, and who they are, and in what genre.”

Davies is a former member of all-female country-pop quartet Ladies of the Canyon, which was managed by Warner Music Canada’s new division at the time, and put out two albums, 2010’s Haunted Woman and 2013’s Diamond Heart. She’s co-written for Monster Truck, Jill Barber, One Bad Son, Serena Ryder, Mother Mother (whose song “The Drugs” earned a SOCAN No. 1 Song Award), Delhi 2 Dublin, Clayton Bellamy, and more.

Does the genre matter, in terms of approach? Davies puts it this way: “In Jill Barber’s songs you say the word ‘love’ a lot, and in One Bad Son you probably won’t.”  She adds, “On the face of it, any good song that nears the realm of rock, or folk, or pop music, is just a communication of emotion – so there’s two parts of it, the lyrics and the music.”

In Ladies of the Canyon, which formed in Montreal in 2005, the four members had typically contributed their own songs to their repertoire — a process Davies says was very solitary — but “halfway through the first record, we started co-writing, and it was something I really enjoyed.”

“A lot of times if they’re coming to me, they’ve figured out what they’ve already done, but they want something they’ve not already done.”

While touring with Ladies of the Canyon throughout Québec, where she has family roots dating back to her great-great-grandparents, she was inspired to make a Francophone solo album, which she appropriately titled Héritage and released under her first name, stylized as MAÏA. That project led to lyric work translating — or as she says, “re-writing” — two songs from Serena Ryder’s 2012 album, Harmony, for the Québec market.

Ryder showed her the French-language versions she already had and Davies — whose parents are both translators and editors — took another crack at it. “I think we can do better,” she says she told Ryder, explaining, “I believe you shouldn’t translate songs, but you should keep the intention and meaning of the song intact, take some liberties, and write accordingly.”

Three Tips for Novice Songwriters
1) “Every idea and every song that you have is not always the greatest, and you have to be okay with that. They become your children, but you have to let some of them go. That’s how you grow and get better.”
2) “Get a mentor, someone you really look up to. Just sit in the room next to them, and you’ll be amazed what you absorb.”
3) “Creativity and inspiration isn’t something that happens to you. It’s the culmination of being awake and looking around you: Looking at colours, going to a concert, going for walks, and all these things – synthesizing them into what you think is “accidental” inspiration. If you get writer’s block, change what you see. I like to go to a museum exhibit anytime I feel stuck, or surround myself with creative, vibrant people, and share ideas with them. That’s how you’ll never lose inspiration.”

The opportunity to launch this new phase of her career, writing and producing for and with others, came after Ladies of the Canyon started working on their third album with JUNO Award-winning producer Gavin Brown (Billy Talent, Metric, Barenaked Ladies, Mother Mother, Three Days Grace, Tragically Hip). But that album was never to be. The band went their separate ways, but Brown became Davies’ mentor, and helped open up the world of co-writing to her.

He gave her invaluable advice, especially about lyrics: Who are you saying this to, and why do you have to say it in a way that’s trying to be flowery or poetic? Have a direct conversation in the song.

“He offered me a job to stay on his team, and learn to be a producer and professional songwriter. At first, it was like bootcamp, which turned into a creative partnership,” says Davies, who now works with Brown out of Toronto’s Noble Street Studios.

Brown is also producing MAÏA’s second solo album, an alternative pop record, again en français. “I can express myself more emotionally clearly in French,” she says. “This album has a different lyrical flair to it. It’s a destination. I went through a crazy breakup, so it ended up becoming a record about love, heartbreak, and healing. There’s a lot of images and emotion in it.”

The first single was “Echos,” and the follow-up, “‘Laisse-moi libre,” is out Aug. 17, 2018. The album, still untitled, will be out Oct. 12, via Brown’s Inside Pocket label (the company also manages Davies), distributed by Warner Music Canada. Meanwhile, Davies continues to co-write and produce, with releases on the horizon from Monster Truck, League of Wolves, Delhi 2 Dublin, and Clayton Bellamy.

“A lot of times if they’re coming to me, they’ve figured out what they’ve already done, but they want something they’ve not already done. So I try to envision where music is going; where it is right now; where I think it will be tomorrow; where that artist can sit in that landscape; and how I can help bring them there.”

ElisapiePlanting one’s roots only to uproot oneself over and over again. Feeling truly at home only inside oneself. Revealing one’s concept of the world to someone else only as a path to freedom. All that and much more inhabits the thoughts of Elisapie, who recently offered us her story of running away: The Ballad of the Runaway Girl.

“In the Great North, we appreciate more quickly,” says Elisapie serenely. Six years after her Travelling Love, album, she’s back with a new one that sounds like an immense cry of love that reaches those who most deserve it, as best it can. “I had new experiences that needed to be expressed,” she says. “They’re not big adventures, just my inner life.” After 20 years spent in the “South,” going back North only occasionally, Elisapie feels she’s become one with her environment. And although a sense of belonging to a place informs us, she felt a deep-seated desire to re-acquaint herself with the territory that welcomed her into this world. “When I go back up North to play shows, I feel like a baby being cradled by her mom,” says Elisapie.

Her music is at home everywhere, and can be understood any way one wants, but one thing is certain: it’s marked by a constant sense of place. “Up North, our notion of time, and of our bodies, are different” says Elisapie. “There’s this vastness. I just got back from there, and it was late-summer tundra: yellow, with just one kind of green. And now in Montréal, all I see are lines, partitions. Streets, major arteries, buildings, and all those shades of green. It’s impossible to find the meditative aspect of such immensity. I went back often, recently, because it’s much more powerful than the words of a shrink.”

The runaway girl traces her album back, on the road that led to it, while saluting those who were there along the way, and those who should’ve been there. “I’ve always run away from problems, so that I could paint something beautiful elsewhere,” she says. “I always felt I needed to protect my little world, and it hasn’t been that long since I’ve allowed myself to move on.”

The Challenges We Face Together

Now that the First Nations are finally at the heart of Canadian politics, Elisapie says it loud and clear: it cannot stop. Born of a Native mother and Newfoundlander dad, she was given up for adoption to relatives in the North. “We did go through extremely difficult times, and people always think Natives are victims, but go and see them in 2018,” she says. “What you’ll see is a people of incredibly hard workers. The territory, the language, all the stakes are still the same, but the drums are coming back. The younger generation is learning how to use them in a ceremonial way. It’s going to be a very powerful healing process. We increasingly get the impression that we’re being heard, and I felt I had to speak to my people in a language they know. I needed to make music, still.”

On the opening track, “Arnaq,” Elisapie pays homage to the Inigenous women and girls that are missing or murdered in Canada. The words immediately hit us, and leave us shivering until the end of the album. You’re a man, you’re a young boy / You’re a father, you’re a grandfather / No, don’t do it / You’re the protector. Through her words, Elisapie wished to remind men that they are extraordinary. “I’m telling them they are the balance in women’s cause,” she says. “In our history, women have always been close to their families, to care for them, while men had the duty to hunt and understand the territory while respecting our rites. Ultimately, at the end of this role that was central to who they were, men lost a part of themselves. I want them to know that it’s possible to have both that strength, and the kindness of modern men.”

The music composed by one of her uncles started to resonate loudly in he, so she covered his song “Quanniugum,” from the 1970s. “At one point, I was in such bad shape that I couldn’t tolerate any kind of pressure, everything scared me, tears ran down on his music,” says Elisapie. “I purged myself. “Wolves Don’t Live by the Rules,” an iconic song of Inuit culture written by Willie Trasher, one of Elisapie’s main influences, is another cover. “The sound of this album is as close as possible to this notion of foundation,” she says. “Almost everything was recorded live, together. That’s essential, this togetherness.”

How a Team Is Built

After one of her gigs, Elisapie distractedly said “hello” to one Joe Grass, backstage. “When you meet someone like that, you want to know what they know how to do,” says Elisapie. “I did my research. For this new album, I wanted a guy who picks up his guitar, and that’s it. I had the same feeling with him as I had with Patrick Watson, for example. He’s very close to folk, bluegrass, and blues and there’s something vintage about his sound. He’s the one I needed.”

She called him about her album and he said yes almost immediately. “I had this idea of having two guitars dance together, complete each other,” she says. “But Joe Grass told me he wasn’t going to dance with just anyone!” she remembers, laughing. He chose Nicolas Basque. And then Robbie Kruster, one of Elisapie’s longtime collaborators, joined them on drums. Sound engineer Paul Evans added his own magic touch. “He works in Iceland, and is very strong in intellectual or classical music, and he brings a touch of modern to the mix,’ says the artist. Joe Jarmush (SUUNS) co-wrote “Darkness Bring the Light” with her. “I wanted something with a gospel feel to it and we sat down to talk about it,” she says. “An hour later, we had recorded the song on our iPhones.” Elisapie built a strong family around The Ballad of The Runaway Girl, a family that also includes Gabriel Gratton, Leif Vollebekk and Manuel Gasse.

After a journey that’s both soft and rough, we get to the end of the story with a song in French. “I think we wanted this album to be like a journey, and with ‘Ton vieux nom,’ we have a soft landing,” says Elisapie. There’s no doubt writing a song in French was no small feat for her. “My rapport to Francophones is special,” she says. “It’s a window on the rest of my life, because I live among the Francophones.” Her striking interpretation of “Moi Elsie,” written by Richard Desjardins, quickly became iconic, yet she was afraid of making a mistake by singing in French again. “I wanted to sing about the North in a poetic way that was different from ‘Moi Elsie,’” she says. “Instead of being the little girl who watched her white man leave her with her dreams, I wanted to sing about an experienced woman who talks with her Inuk man whom she left up North. People wrongly believe that Inuk men are hard, but when they’re in love, they’re the most sensitive ones.”

Chloé Lacasse and Natasha Kanapé-Fontaine helped the singer-songwriter create a finished song that lived up to her expectations. The poetry is transcendent: Dis-moi comment tu plantais la neige/ Comment nous sommes faits de pierre/ Je veux t’écrire une chanson/ Pour te rappeler ton nom/ Ton vieux nom (Tell me how you sowed the snow / How we are made of stone / I want to write a song for you / To remind you of your name / Your old name).

The album comes out on Sept. 14, 2018, via Bonsound and Yontanka (Europe).
Later this month, Elisapie will undertake a nearly 50-date tour throughout Québec and Canada.

Jordan Benjamin is angry, and he wants you to hear that in his music. The artist, known as grandson, isn’t afraid to describe his sound – which blends electronic production with more aggressive rock and hip-hop elements – as “angry, urgent and, for me, very cathartic.”

Its urgency, which can be heard all over his latest EP, a modern tragedy, vol. 1, is a result of the politically divisive landscape in which we currently live these days. It’s reactionary and in-your-face, but grandson isn’t trying to push listeners away; in fact, he wants to do the opposite.

“In a society where we’re being force-fed ignorance and apathy, stuffed with cultural Big Macs with no nutritional value, having even one voice enter the conversation can change a kid’s life,” he says. “It can make them okay with who they are, encourage them to think differently than their neighbour, or family member, or pastor, or teacher – empower them to want to participate in the shaping of their world… That’s pretty cool to me. That’s rock ‘n’ roll.”

So far, his music has won over a lot of fans, most notably Linkin Park member and solo artist Mike Shinoda. “I still can’t believe I get to say that,” says grandson, after calling Shinoda his good friend and mentor. What started as an Instagram follow (“I thought it was a fake account”) quickly turned into an invitation to the studio, where grandson says he begged to be on one of Shinoda’s songs. The result is not only a guest spot on Shinoda’s song “Running From My Shadow,” but also much public praise from the music veteran who said grandson has a lot of potential.

At the root of it all, whether it’s in his music, or his newly-formed relationships with other artists, grandson has one goal in mind: continue connecting with people and, as he says passionately, “empower the grandkids in their communities.”