Depression digs deep. It hides. It waits. Often, it seeps in slowly, and materializes when you least expect the darkness. That’s exactly what happened to hit Canadian country singer-songwriter Tebey (a.k.a. Tebey Ottoh). Though he’s battled anxiety and depression ever since he can recall, one of those unexpected episodes came on strong a couple of years ago, and didn’t let go.

“I was getting overwhelmed by the music business,” Tebey says. “It’s a tough business, and it wears on you. The BS I have to deal with every day is tremendous. As I get older, I don’t have the tolerance sometimes for it. I just hit a wall. I wasn’t feeling very creative, and didn’t want to do music anymore.”

Tebey opened up earlier this year about these struggles with mental illness – penning a letter for Bell as part of its Let’s Talk Day campaign. “I wanted to be honest with people,” he says.

Sometimes writing songs helps artists heal. Not this time. Not for Tebey, at least initially. The support of his wife, and a sabbatical with his family, travelling throughout Asia (South Korea, Thailand, and Tokyo) provided the respite the songwriter needed to get in the right frame of mind to let the muse back in. He also admits that he was afforded the luxury to take some extra time off, without immediate financial worries, after “Somebody Else Will,” which he co-wrote for American country artist Justin Moore, was a Billboard No.1 in 2017; it was Tebey’s first No.1 single South of the border, as a songwriter.

We catch up with Tebey in Toronto on the release date for his new six-song EP Love a Girl — a collective effort between Tebey and Danick Dupelle (Emerson Drive), his co-producer and “co-captain,” who helped him push the envelope and take the songs in a new direction. It’s Tebey’s fourth recording, following a period of producing records for others, and writing, or co-writing, hit songs for a diverse range of artists, from pop to country stars – including One Direction, Cher, Fifth Harmony, and Big & Rich.

His own first single from Love a Girl, “Denim on Denim” – co-written with fellow SOCAN member Kelly Archer and American songwriter Nathan Spicer – is an infectious, country-leaning song that’s already climbing the charts at interview time. The rest of the five cuts fuse Tebey’s pop sensibilities with his love of mainstream country. “We took some chances with this record,” he says. “I think we succeeded.”

Take the title cut, “Love a Girl.” Lyrically, it’s definitely a country song, but production-wise, it’s something else entirely. “I believe that song is as far to the pop side of things as we’ve ever been,” says Tebey. “The lines today are blurred, especially with country music fans. They’re listening to Chris Stapleton one minute, and five minutes later they’re kicking the new Drake! I wander around the campgrounds at festivals like Boots and Hearts, and I hear their playlists.”

“Who’s Gonna Love You,” written for Tebey’s wife, is another song that, at interview time, was expected to garner a lot of airplay. Lyrics like the following are ones likely to resonate with listeners:

I’ve been known to steal a couple of curly fries from her side of the table on a date
I’ve been known to flip the finger to the guy driving slow over in the fast lane
And when I steal the covers on the bed, or lose a twenty on a stupid bet
She shakes her head, smiles at me and says, who’s gonna love you if I don’t?

“I talk about all the stupid things I do daily that drives her mental,” says Tebey. “I’m sure people will smile when they hear those lines and say, ‘That’s me!’”

When it comes to writing lines that linger long with listeners, he believes a memorable melody is still the key to a great song. “That’s one thing that will never change,” says Tebey. “Production, and what’s hot at the moment, will always change, but classic melodies won’t… They’ll be around forever. Think about a song like, ‘I Want it that Way’ by Backstreet Boys, or classic songs by Journey. Those are melodies that’ll never go out of style. Using the latest sounds and the hottest production is fine, and keeps things current, but melody is still king.”

Tebey admits he’s a melodic songwriter. Melodies come naturally to him, but they also come very meticulously. “Often, I have to grind them out to find them,” he says. “I also don’t settle. I need to explore every option with that melody before I can say, ‘This is the best it can be.’ It’s one of the things younger songwriters don’t do. They settle, and don’t even know they’re doing it. There is a big difference between a good melody and an undeniable melody.”

When asked if there are any undeniable melodies on the new EP, Tebey laughs, then says, “You don’t swing and knock it out of the park every time!”

Tebey’s Top Three Tips on Co-Writing

  • “Write with people that don’t write the same style/genre that you do; the variety is good.”
  • “Collaborate with people you enjoy working with, and write with people that challenge you. That’s a big one. I love working with people who are better and bigger songwriters than me. You can always learn. I’m learning constantly.”
  • “Every session is different. The more you write with people, the more you understand their process. Still, there’s no magic formula. You need to continue to work at it, and be 10 per cent better than everyone else all the time… that’s what I strive for.”

When it comes to the craft, Nashville-based Ashley Gorley is one of his songwriting heroes, but Max Martin is Tebey’s touchstone; someone who hits more home runs than most. “To me, he’s the greatest pop songwriter of all time.” [Martin is a Swedish songwriter who’s won the ASCAP Songwriter of the Year Award a record 10 times, and has the third-most No.1 singles on the Billboard charts, behind only Paul McCartney and John Lennon. He’s written or co-written songs with the likes of Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Pink, to name a few.]

Hit singles and sales aside, for Tebey, a song’s success lies more in how deeply it resonates with listeners. “When people spend their hard-earned money to download your song, that’s when you know you’ve connected with them,” he says. “No. 1 songs may not necessarily connect with fans, even if they’re big radio hits. I want to write songs that connect with people. It’s a crapshoot, though. You never really know what’s going to hit. There’s no secret formula. You just write your best songs and use your gut instinct.”

Another key is honesty. “You can’t chase stuff,” he says. “That’s what’s important. As a writer, or for upcoming songwriters who might read this, my best advice is, it’s important to be yourself. You can’t be someone else: all the best bands, artists, songwriters, etc., do what they do best, not what someone else does best.”

Besides writing melodic songs, what Tebey also does best is help others face their demons. Born in Peterborough, and now based in Nashville, at interview time the country star was going to return home at the end of the month for an annual golf charity event he started last year, expected to raise about $25,000 for mental health projects through the Greater Peterborough Health Services, Your Family Health Team Foundation. “It’s a cause that is so close to my heart,” he says.


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A series of quirky videos and social media savvy helped Josée Caron and Lucy Niles clinch the top spot in the 13th annual English SOCAN Songwriting Prize presented by YouTube Music. “Play The Field” was written by the Atlantic Canada natives and is performed by the band they co-front, Partner.

Variety and balance were evident in the 2018 competition, in which women dominated, several genres were represented and, for the first time, a country song landed in the Top 10. Music fans made their voices heard as they voted for their favourite songs among the finalists, and in the end, Partner would prevail – receiving the $10,000 cash prize, a  Yamaha PSR-S970 Keyboard, and a  $500 gift card from Long & McQuade.

“We are so thrilled and honoured to be the recipients of the SOCAN Songwriting Prize,” said Caron and Niles. “Songwriting is one of our all-time greatest joys, and to be recognized by fellow music lovers in this capacity is a dream come true.”

The SOCAN Songwriting Prize is one of few competitions in Canada that award excellence in songwriting. Ten outstanding songs created by emerging songwriters over the past year are nominated by a panel of 15 esteemed music industry experts. The general public is then invited to vote daily for their favourite to determine the winner. SOCAN plays no role in determining the nominees or winners outside of ensuring they are members of SOCAN. A mirroring competition for songs in French, the Prix de la chanson SOCAN, is conducted separately.

“Congratulations to Josée Caron and Lucy Niles on winning the 2018 SOCAN Songwriting Prize. In a competition that celebrates songwriting, there was no shortage of great songs this year, and winning was no easy feat,” said Michael McCarty, Chief Membership & Business Development Officer at SOCAN.  “The diversity in genres, gender, and cultural influences truly showcased the breadth of not only our talent but the unique stories that Canadian songwriters have to tell. ‘Play The Field’ is a force, and we wish Josée and Lucy continued success in the early days of what is sure to be a long and successful music career.”

Caron and Niles added, “‘Play the Field’ is one of our most personal songs, about an innocent time in a young person’s life. Writing it was an exciting experience. Josée made a funny demo and Lucy wrote her verse while working at Tim’s. We would like to thank all the music lovers and supporters for the huge opportunity and compliment. It is an honour to be nominated alongside so many talented songwriters.”

The winner of the Prix de la chanson SOCAN is “56k” written by Simon Trudeau Cliche, Jeff Martinez, Marc Vincent; performed by LOUD and published by Productions Silence D’Or.

The other nine songs nominated in the English category were:

  • “Dreams Tonite” – written by Alec O’Hanley, Molly Rankin; performed by Alvvays; published by Rough Trade Publishing Canada.
  • Money” – written by Leandra Earl, Eliza Enman-McDaniel, Jordan Miller, Kylie Miller, Garrett Lee; performed by The Beaches; published by Done with Dolls Inc., Besme, administered by Kobalt Music Group Ltd.
  • “Main Girl” – written by Charlotte Cardin; performed by Charlotte Cardin; published by Red Brick c/o Corico Arts.
  • “Cotton Candy” – written by Jessie Reyez; performed by Jessie Reyez; published by BMG Rights Management Canada.
  • “Chills” – written by James Barker, Gavin Slate, Travis Wood, Donovan Woods; performed by James Barker Band; published by Warner Chappell Music Canada, Ole Media Management LP II.
  • “Walkaway” – written by Jasmyn Burke, Morgan Waters; performed by Weaves.
  • “Magic”– written by Eoin Killeen, Timothy Law, Patrisha Sanna Campbell; performed by Birthday Boy and Trish.
  • “Healers” – written by Benjamin McCarthy, Iskwé, Ryan Somerville; performed by Iskwé.
  • “Lingua Franca” – written by Neil Bednis, Christopher Laurignano, Fraser McClean, Melanie St. Pierre; performed by Casper Skulls.

The 2017 winner of the SOCAN Songwriting Prize was PUP for “DVP” written by band members Stefan Babcock, Nestor Chumak, Zachary Mykula, and Steven Sladkowski. Additional winners are available to view on the SOCAN Songwriting Prize website.


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TiKA the Creator (a.k.a. TiKA Simone) admits that talking about her feelings can be difficult at times. So instead, she chooses to sing about them.

The Toronto R&B artist first began writing music when she was 14, and even though it wasn’t encouraged – a middle-school talent show judge once told her that she “didn’t think singing was for me” – it remained an integral part of her life. Throughout the years, Simone has been an avid supporter of the city’s thriving music scene, working as a curator and promoter. But, when a bout of depression hit her, her love of music took a different form.

“Music was the vehicle for learning how to describe my trauma, dissociation, depression and overall mental illness,” she explains. “I find it less embarrassing to sing about my pain in a language that everyone can understand, versus being misunderstood in regular conversation.”

That cathartic process is “free-flow” for Simone, who also meditates when she records. As a result, her melodies often manifest as airy and light, emanating a positive sensibility. She doesn’t shy away from her heavy experience, but delivers it with levity, soothing listeners like a much-needed balm in a sometimes overwhelming world. So far, it’s earned fans, and opening slots for the likes of John Legend, Ne-Yo and SonReal. Soon, she’ll be heading out on tour in Europe.

“Music is powerful,” says Simone. “As a person, I strive to live in the light because there have been far too many instances where I could have died and didn’t… While it’s important to be real, it’s also important to elevate past what I know, and my childhood pathologies. I hope listeners find peace within themselves.”

In addition to the tour, Simone is looking forward to releasing a debut full-length album with an accompanying short film this year. She excitedly adds, “There are many firsts I’ve never done, that I’m about to do.”


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