Red Brick Songs may be a newish player among Canada’s indie music publishers, but the company is stacked with administrative and A&R talent and is well positioned to compete in the international market.

Red Brick is an offshoot of Casablanca Media Publishing; the custom imprint was formed in 2011 following the death of Casablanca co-founder Ed Glinert. “Red Brick has a different strategic focus,” explains company President Jennifer Mitchell, “and more actively signs songwriters directly to worldwide deals than was the case with Casablanca.”

In five short years, Red Brick has built up an impressive roster of emerging talents, including artists PS I Love You, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Andy Shauf, Cuff The Duke, Library Voices and You Say Party, among others.

“We love working with songwriters that are willing to take risks and to work out of their comfort zone for the right opportunities.” – Jennifer Mitchell of Red Brick Songs

“We sign songwriters based on a combination of talent, ambition, and attitude,” explains Mitchell. “First and foremost they need to be talented, but they also need to be motivated to continue to grow as a songwriter and to push their creative boundaries. We love working with songwriters that are willing to take risks and to work out of their comfort zone for the right opportunities. Our A&R team consists of Jana Cleland (Vice President), Amy Eligh (Creative Director), and Chris Robinson (Creative Manager), each of whom brings a different perspective to our discussions.

“We’ve made it our goal to help songwriters achieve new levels of success through multi-media song placement, royalty administration and career/creative development,” continues Mitchell. “From landing national and international placements, to creating opportunities for songwriters to collaborate, to promoting songs to the world, our dedicated staff are here to support our songwriters through mentorship, networking and promotion. We help songwriters fully realize their potential and connect them to the industry in a way that ensures their future growth and creative integrity”

And how is the strategy paying off? “We worked closely with Joshua Robinson, a young songwriter/artist from the U.S., to market his independently released singles, including in-house promotion to blogs,” says Mitchell. “This resulted in a No. 1 on the Hype Machine charts. Not long after, he had offers from all the major labels and large indies, and ultimately signed to Republic Records in the U.S.

“We also worked with another songwriter, Jeen O’Brien, to help her break into another market. We thought she had the talent to write outside of her usual style and take on the lucrative Japanese market. We found the right partner in Japan and gave some key input into her writing style that allowed her to write a single that’s been cut by a new Japanese girl band being released on Avex.”

And while it’s a long way from Toronto to Tokyo, Mitchell says the Red Brick team believes “our relationships with other publishers, labels, music supervisors, and other creative partners around the world are the key to our success, and allow us to foster meaningful connections between songwriters within the global creative community.”

According to the United Nations, 2016 is the international year of… legumes. As yummy as they can be, they aren’t exactly exciting, artistically. That’s why we thought it best to remind you that 2016 will also be the second half of the “Jean Derome Year,” as proclaimed by the man himself. The saxophonist, flutist, composer and seasoned improviser decided to celebrate his 60th birthday by revisiting four decades of daring music – after being awarded a career grant by the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ).

The idea was quite simple: showcase a small sample of his massive repertoire in a series of concerts spread over a period of 12 months; concerts featuring small and large orchestras that will teeter between improv and interpretation, originals and covers. The “Derome Year” will also be marked by a documentary titled Derome ou les Turbulences Musicales (Derome, or Musical Turbulence), a photo exhibit, and an album, Musiques de Chambre 1992–2012.

“In my musical genre, a world première is, most of the time, also a world last!”

“I sometimes feel like I went straight from up-and-coming to a career grant,” jokes the musician, who started his professional career in the early ‘70s. “I thought it would be interesting to take a step back and look at how my music has evolved throughout the years. What I knew for sure is that I didn’t want to do your classic retrospective; I liked the idea that if you didn’t specify it, the listeners would have no clue as to whether a piece was new or old.”

Jean Derome

Photo: Martin Morissette

That’s one appropriate way to describe the so-called “contemporary music” with which Jean Derome has practically always been associated. That musical style can tap into any musical genre or era, and its boldness and lack of precise parameters make it timeless and elusive. “It’s the perfect music for me, because it’s a grey area in and of itself,” says Derome. “It’s a music that’s flexible, mobile; one can borrow from jazz, folk, rock and contemporary music.”

It comes as no surprise that the Derome Year began in May 2015 in Victoriaville. The creator and artistic director of the Festival de Musique Actuelle, Michel Levasseur, invited Derome to perform Résistances, an electrifying new creation re-uniting 20 musicians, most of whom are friends and colleagues from the Ambiances Magnétiques imprint – a label he co-founded about 30 years ago alongside Joane Hétu and René Lussier. Résistances is part composition and part improvisation, but directed by the maestro. Inspired by Canot Camping, which is another piece for large orchestra, this show seemed doomed to be a one-time affair despite – or maybe because of – its scope, as is so often the case for contemporary music works.

“In my musical genre, a world premiere is, most of the time, also a world last!” says Derome with a mirthless smile. “But that’s the other advantage of spreading the celebrations over a period of one year: we can play stuff again that was played only once before, and re-visit pieces that weren’t quite done saying what they have to!”

Although he‘s a multi-instrumentalist, Derome is mainly associated with the saxophone, his main and favourite instrument for many, many years. “I spent the first half of my career playing mainly the flute and the second playing mainly the sax,” he says. “When people ask me what I do, I simply say I’m a musician or a saxophonist.”

Even though the saxophone is like an extension of his own body, Derome often uses other instruments. In concert, it is not a rare thing to seem him reach for one of the many bird calls he’s been collecting for years, a toy instrument or any other object whose sound he enjoys. He’s been known to play a potato chip bag solo during a dance recital… “When I discovered bird callers and whistles, it extended my musical vocabulary,” says Delorme. “I’m totally aware that it seems almost comical to watch me play these weird objects, but to me they are simply a way to express the sounds I hear in my mind.”

Despite the fact that he earns a living composing for the movies, theatre, dance recitals or TV – he has no reservations in calling himself a working musician – Derome is, at heart, an explorer who’s not one bit afraid of rushing head-first into the unknown. He’s a staunch practitioner of a very demanding and resolutely anti-commercial art form destined to an audience that expects to be surprised. The artist has described his trade as a bona fide priesthood. So from this perspective, has his career been nothing but one long struggle?

“Maybe, but I’ve never had to fight people,” he says. “I’ve had to fight myself to avoid the temptation of becoming a sourpuss, or blasé. Sometimes I think I could retire, but that never lasts for very long because of new projects, and I’m incapable of saying no. An apple tree gives apples. A musician plays music. That’s all there is to it!”

Safia Nolin broke onto the scene in no time flat, last fall, with a debut album that didn’t go unnoticed. Limoilou landed on many a year-end “Best of 2015” list and was even rated 4.5 out of 5 stars by the influential French music mag Les Inrockuptibles French chanteuse Lou Doillon so fell in love with the “young, fragile and deeply moving songwritrice” — as Les Inrocks called Nolin — that she invited her to open for her for 10 dates on her December 2015 tour. “It was always packed and we had a few sold-out dates,” says Nolin. “We played on big-ass stages, as well as small bars and a few showcases. It was nice all around and Lou is f__king cool.”

Safia NolinA whole ocean separates Montréal’s Le Lion d’Or and the Casino de Paris, an ocean that Nolin courageously flew over for the first time flanked by her cosmic twin, guitarist Joseph Marchand, and soundman Francis Beaulieu. “The first time I played in a big venue was at the Paloma, in Nîmes, a brand new magnificent and impressive venue; I was floored,” says Nolin. “That’s when I realized it was a major gig. But once you’ve played a couple of those, it’s OK. Whether there are 800 or 2,000 people, it doesn’t change much.”

It was also Nolin’s first time on a plane. “I was scared, the whole city knew about it, but in the end it was fine!,” she says. “The takeoff is even one of my fondest memories. I slept a whole five minutes on the plane. Joseph woke me up because the sun was coming up. I played that Beach House track, PPP, and I wept. When we took off to fly back home, I was listening to Gila Now, when I hear those songs again, I relive super-intense emotions.”

It was, obviously, her first visit to the continent. Was it a shock? “I didn’t expect it to be so different and yet so similar!,” says Nolin. “We could learn a ton of stuff from them, but they could also learn a ton of stuff from us. I don’t eat meat… I had a f__king hard time! I didn’t eat any vegetables for three weeks.” What did you eat? “Brie and f__kin’ bread!”

On Dec. 21, a few days after she returned from Europe, the following post appeared on Nolin’s Facebook page:

“Playing “Igloo,” that mother__kin’ sad song that saved my life, in front of 1,200 people on another continent, thousands of kilometres from that goddam end-of-time black hole that inhabited me, that was the biggest emotion I’ve ever felt.”

Nolin poured all of her mal de vivre into her debut album, and especially into that song, her most powerful emotional and melodic statement. “When I wrote that song, I was really deeply in my shit, my life sucked, big-time,” says Nolin. “It’s different now: my life sucks, but differently. I have problems, but they’re not the same anymore. It’s always very special when I play it. It’s bizarre and fun at the same time.”

Her songs are pure and very melancholy, her voice is pristine, and her guts on the table. It could easily become unbearable, but Nolin’s dazzling charisma and sense of humour balance everything out. She can’t even begin to imagine writing anything but “sad songs. But you never know, maybe if I smoke a big fat spliff… I’m just starting to like music that is not extra-down. That’s a huge step for me.”

Safia NolinThis contrast between the melancholy songs and the fun girl with an endearing persona, is exactly how Nolin immediately and unfailingly got everyone in her back pocket. She’s all too aware of this paradox, “but it’s not done consciously.” Live, she addresses her crowd with uncanny ease. “At first, I wondered what the hell I was going to tell the crowd — it happened to me in France, too —, but I just stayed true to who I am, I said the same stupid stuff I say here, and it f__king worked,” she says. “They laughed a lot… Now, I have no idea if it was because of my accent or because my jokes were funny. We’ll never know, I guess.”

Nolin began 2016 pedal to the metal: Her schedule is booked solid until May, either opening for Louis-Jean Cormier, or doing solo gigs. And what about France again? Any offers on the table, yet? “No idea,” she says, “but I’m pretty sure I’ll go back.”