The past few months have left many feeling helpless. During the first half of 2020 it was the Coronavirus, COVID-19, dominating news coverage, as it kept various parts of the world’s population in some state of sheltering-in-place. Then came the U.S Memorial Day murder of African American George Floyd, who suffocated under the knee of a white police officer. By the next morning, the U.S. had erupted in Black Lives Matter protests, a sustained effort that’s now affecting everything from laws to media, sports, and controversial monuments.

To the amazement of many, the protests spread beyond America’s borders around the world, creating a fast-moving reckoning that’s still in its infancy. That reckoning is also affecting Canada, where we, too, are looking at how everything from racialized policing to non-diverse media rooms reflect our own inequality. Producer/Songwriters Nahum, Waves, ILLNGHT, Kory Adams, Jacob Wilkinson-Smith (aka mybestfriendJACOB), and Teddi Jones knew right away that they had to contribute to this movement by doing what they do best: music.

The sextet formed the core of music-makers that created the Stronger Together Sample Pack. (A sample pack is a set of original music files, or “stems,” that are purchased by beat-makers and producers, who then use them to create their own music. Like a miniature music-library package.) And 100% of the proceeds are going to 70-plus community bail funds, mutual aid funds, and racial justice organizers.



“It was a team effort,” explains mybestfriendJACOB. “I initially put the idea out to the group, but several of the members were feeling the same way. I think as a community, we were wondering how we could all contribute, how we could all participate in the protests from abroad. We are spread across the world [ILLNGHT: Paris, France. Teddi Jones: Vancouver. Nahum: Markham, ON. Waves and Kory Adams: Toronto. mybestfriendJACOB: Nova Scotia.]. The sample pack felt natural. Something we all knew how to get done, and if we just switched our energies slightly, we could have a real impact.”

The process varied from producer to producer, but all felt an emotional investment in bringing their best work to the table. “What I really love most about the pack is that it gave us a chance to express our emotions in a positive, and musical, way,” says mybestfriendJACOB. “We were able to take those emotions out in the songwriting process. We all felt frustrated and angry, and the music created reflects those feelings. For me personally the image of George Floyd with a knee on his neck is burned into my memory. It’s an image that makes me feel extremely angry and sad. So, my writing process was therapeutic, and allowed me to express those emotions while also helping in the fight for equality.”

The team got to work immediately, says Teddi Jones, producing and compiling music samples for the pack – the proceeds from which go directly to organizations fighting for justice and equality.  Aside from making the music, the process included researching which “causes would benefit best from these donations,” says Jones. It also meant engaging visual designer Dave Phenix, who created the powerful cover art.  Adams shares that they later learned Phenix had drawn the image in mere hours. It was a cathartic experience, allowing him to release his own grief.

Teddi Jones

Teddi Jones

The group chose the U.S. organization, Secure ActBlue, to dispense earnings from the sample pack. “We felt that the secure ActBlue would help split the donations among 70 different organizations,” says Adams. “It gave us a way to spread the money around to multiple organizations that need the funds. We didn’t want to play favourites. We weren’t looking for any sort of thank you. Just doing our small part. So we didn’t feel the need to reach out to any organizations in advance of the donations.”

As of late June, the sample pack sales have exceeded the team’s expectations. “It’s honestly been amazing,” says mybestfriendJACOB. “In my mind, we were going to make maybe $1,000. To do over 18 times that amount, and still counting, is just an amazing feeling. Coming together allowed us to share this sample pack around the world. People from all over purchased the sample pack – some who purchased weren’t even producers. They had no way of using the samples, so they donated them to their friends who were musicians. It was a really amazing feeling,”

ILLNGHT is just as surprised at the pack’s current success: “It was amazing to see, and such a great feeling. I think that having producers from different countries in the pack helped us to reach more people. I hope that this will inspire our peers to do the same. Using our art to do some good in the world is a blessing. I believe that we can change things little by little.”

mybestfriendJACOB agrees: “The idea of using my art to help fight for causes I believe in is exciting. Eventually, I would like to see my art become a part of my philanthropic work. This small project really opened my mind to the ways I can continue to give back for years to come.

Stronger Together

Stronger Together Cover Art

“It was an incredible experience seeing so many individuals buying the sample pack with their main intention to give back to the organizations we listed,” says Jones. “At the end of the day, it took us doing what we love and our like-minded goals to make a difference – I’m really honored to be a part of such a great project.”

Nahum is deeply inspired by how collaboration and community can contribute to change, in the smallest to biggest ways. “I hope that this shows most creatives the power they have when simply utilizing the people around them,” he says. “I feel like people at times can underestimate the resources they have, and the synergy that [that] can create. What was a simple thought [and] question one day turned into tangible results in a super-short time, because of a group chat of like-minded people – results that benefit the creatives, the consumers, and most importantly, the task at hand that inspired the project.”

Deploying their art as advocacy has energized all the members, and this initiative is just the beginning. “As people of colour and allies, we’re engaged in anti-racist activities every day in our daily lives,” says Waves. “We will continue to stay vigilant, mobilize quickly and use our art to combat any injustice that we can.”

Pierre Blondo and John-Adam Howard know the codes of pop music like few others in Québec. Operating under the name House of Wolf, the two independent musicians have set their sights on the international market and their ambitions are well measured.

Their catalogue of productions includes R&B, hip-hop, country, and soul, and reflects the innate versatility and ease of its creators. “The common thread in all our influences is our love of pop music,” says Pierre Blondo, the duo’s official spokesperson. “And nowadays, pop has morphed into a melting pot that can include a lot of different things. Initially, we’re guided by our feelings, and then we embark on a quest to find that unknown algorithm that may help us reaches the masses.”

Far from getting lost in an illogical, overloaded mish-mash of genres, House of Wolf has a signature sound that’s in synch with the times. Their aesthetics might appear simple, but they devote countless hours to crafting and fine-tuning their work. “We try to be spontaneous and err towards removing layers rather than multiplying them,” says Blondo. “We want the vocals to take all the space they need. It’s a lot of work, however, to arrive to the right amount of guitars and pads. We start our sessions with a discussion, and as soon as we feel we’re drifting away, we re-centre ourselves on the initial feeling. It’s a fine line to find the right emotion, and each time is almost like torture. It’s as if we forget how to produce!”

The two Québec City musicians know how to find the through line in their human and artistic chemistry. A businessman at heart, Blondo is the more analytical half of the duo while John-Adam Howard is the more creative one. “His only focus is creation,” says Blondo. “Every morning he looks at new plug-ins and the latest tutorials… He has a hardcore love of music, whereas I’m unable to think about music without thinking about the business side of it. So when he drifts too far in that direction, I can reel him back, and he does the same for me when I become too robot-like. Our opposites match.”

Blondo started producing music after his studies at L.A.’s Musicians Institute, and he’s always dreamt of living from his passion. In 2016, A&R businessman and consultant Mike Goldfarb tapped him to set up a creative branch for his production company Talent Nation. “He wanted me to compose three songs for like eight artists,” says Blondo. “There’s no way I could do that on my own! I started looking locally for people to collaborate with, and that’s when I found John-Adam and Vincent Carrier (a producer who left the group a few months later). My goal was to set up a songwriting mini-camp for three in an Airbnb in Toronto, and take charge of all the expenses so that we could keep whatever profits would materialize down the line from those songs. But four months in an Airbnb in Toronto is incredibly expensive, so it turns out I didn’t make any money at all,” he remembers, laughing.

During that time Blondo discovered a young singer from Wisconsin. Revealed through a contest organized by iHeartRadio that involved sending a video of yourself singing a Zayne Malik song in order to win tickets for his show, Carlie Hanson was spotted by Mike Goldfarb on Instagram. “She was like this young, female Bieber with the perfect American dream story,” he says. “She’s from Wisconsin, she works at a McDonald’s, her mom has three jobs, she’s super-humble… We asked her mom if she could come to Toronto. The meeting was very cool and we rented another Airbnb in L.A. in the fall of 2016 so we could work on a few songs.”

With the help of American lyricist Dale Anthoni, House of Wolf produced the song “Only One,” which launched Hanson’s career in March of 2018, most notably through its inclusion on a list of Taylor Swift’s favourite songs. The duo is still reaping the benefits of meeting Hanson, and their relationship has solidified with the production of the single “Daze Inn” last spring. “It’s obviously good to produce for established artists, but developing the career of a specific artist is very helpful to gain a reputation within the industry,” says Blondo. “It shows you can develop a specific sound.”

Last June, the duo added another feather in its cap wth a placement for California trio Cheat Codes. Co-written with the popular songwriting collective The Six and Dan Smith, of British indie pop group Bastille, “Heaven” racked up more than a million plays within a week. “Initially, we didn’t even know it was Bastille’s singer who penned the melodies!” says Blondo. “As a matter of fact, we also didn’t know that we were competing with other producers, and in the end, we turned the song around so much that the label flipped.”

Spurred on by this unexpected opportunity, which led them to produce for R&B singer Jeremih and singer Anna Clendening, the two acolytes are thinking about moving back to the American West Coast. “We’ve done a lot of long-distance songwriting, and now we want to spend some time in L.A. so we can fully benefit from our contacts,” says Blondo. “Our strategy is still to remain independent, because we want to avoid signing a bad deal with a publisher who doesn’t give a fuck about us. We want to make sure we fully show what we’re capable of before signing any kind of deal. We believe in the long game.”

The TD Musiparc tour where artists such as France d’Amour, 2Frères, Marc Hervieux, and Laurence Jalbert have sung in front of a limited number of people in their cars, has been a resounding success.

Guylaine Tanguay “I’ve never enjoyed being honked at so much,”, Guylaine Tanguay recently joked about her shows in Gatineau, Bromont, Mercier, and the bay of Beauport. Chances are high that such will be the case again on July 19, during the latest iteration of this exceptional series, in Mirabel. “And from now on, if I get honked at when I’m driving, I’ll blow them kisses!”

Whatever the case may be, it’s not a straightforward experience for all musicians. “We were worried, I was afraid it would be over-regulated and procedural – so much so that the whole fun side of music would be lost,” says Tanguay. “Normally, we adapt to our audience and find our energy in there. If the audience members step out of their car, they won’t hear a thing. There’s no amplification onstage, you have to tune in a radio frequency to hear the music, so you have to stay in your car. It’s the whole point of the exercise. The musicians hear themselves through their in-ear monitors; otherwise it’s completely silent onstage.”

Tanguay, whose new album is simply titled Country, has returned to the top of the charts with a cover of Zachary Richard’s “L’arbre est dans ses feuilles” (“The Tree is in Its Leaves”), as well as several lyrics of her own – a first for her – and she’s adamant about the importance of her shows. “There are no down times,” she says. “There are even songs that we play only partially, we play medleys that last up to 12 minutes, and I try to talk as little as possible. I’m not comfortable with lengthy song introductions, I’m more of a show-off, even when I’m singing a ballad.”

“I’m an intense one”

That’s something Tanguay does with a lot of assurance on Country. If you need some convincing, just listen to “Je m’envolerai” or “L’incontournable,” which talks about mourning, and was mostly written by Tanguay. She’s slowly developing a strong repertoire of softer songs that create a nice counterbalance to her Dolly Parton-esque “working nine to five” brand of energy. “I’m an intense one,” says the 48-yeal-old musician.

Made in Québec but completed in Nashville, Country reveals the strength of a songwriter who’s worked with Jonathan Godin, himself no stranger to country music. “Initially, I asked him to write a country line-dance song, but not specifically with me in mind,” says Tanguay. “I told him to write for a guy, because I have a more masculine attitude onstage in the way I sing and act. I’m in heels and wearing makeup, but I’ll tell you for sure: I forget I’m a woman when I’m onstage. I’m one of the boys, and I stomp my feet hard enough to break my ankles!”

“On “Allez venez danser” (“Come Dancing”), I wanted a Lac St-Jean family party vibe, the kind of party where you expect to be 15 people but you end up with 75 guests.” On “La chasse” (“The Hunt,” a recurring theme for male country singers), she expresses a completely different opinion. “I hate hunting!” she says. “I was born in September and my village [Girardville, Lac St-Jean] would be empty for my birthday! I’ve wanted to write my own songs all my life, but I was afraid they would be too sad or first-degree. I like songs that are easily understandable.”

Tanguay forged a creative partnership with her guitarist, Sébastien Dufour. “He knows what I want and how things work in my mind,” she says. “I wanted more refined country, with several nuances in the textures that would remain the same onstage. I want to ‘de-tacky-fy’ country music.”

Dufour is far from a one-armed guitarist. His solo on “Mon Yodeling” is in a category of its own, and has the twang and the panache of a Junior Brown or a Bobby Hachey! The man could work in Nashville tomorrow morning.

Is Tanguay comfortable with her moniker as Québec’s Queen of Country? Knowing that Renée Martel is the Queen ex officio, have the two queens met? “I’m not the Queen, I’m not comfortable with that moniker,” she says. “I’ve told her, as a joke, that the crown is hers and I’m not interested in the throne!”