Meg Warren was 21 and on the cusp of graduating with a degree in classical music in her home province of Newfoundland when she decided to try her hand at songwriting. Initially, the motivation was external: a newspaper in St. John’s was hosting an event called The RPM Challenge, the goal of which was to write and record and album’s worth of songs in a month. Undaunted, Warren signed up.

“I thought ‘this sounds cool’, so I tried it,” she recalls. Though formally trained as an opera singer, Warren, who now fronts the synth-pop rock band Repartee, had little experience composing and had never written her own lyrics, but she was hooked. “And for whatever reason, I looked at it as a possible career right off the bat.”

As Warren, now 28, recounts the story she laughs, mostly at her own naïveté. “Honest to God, if someone said you have to start a band [now], I don’t know if I would,” she confesses. “Because I know how much work it’s taken to get us where we are. It takes forever!”

But it’s clear she doesn’t really mean it. After all, Repartee have come a long way since releasing their first EP in 2010 to a sold-out crowd at The Ship Pub in St. John’s, the city they still call home. The band has shared stages with the likes of Tegan and Sara, LIGHTS, The Arkells and Dragonette. They’ve won five MusicNL (Newfoundland) Awards, and they’ve been nominated for, and performed at, the East Coast Music Awards.  CBC Music has already named their new album, All Lit Up, one of the best of 2016 so far.

“I like creating music for sure, and I adore music and the creative process, but I get a lot of joy out of performing.” – Meg Warren of Repartee

While they’re still proud Newfoundlanders (“100 percent,” says Warren, “We wear that as an absolute badge of honour”), she and drummer Nick Coultas-Clarke recently made the move to Toronto. Guitarist Robbie Brett and keyboardist John Banfield plan to follow in the near future.

Toronto is also home to their label, Sleepless Records, with whom the band signed last year after Warren cold e-mailed them three recent tracks. “It was a shot in the dark,” she says. A couple of months later, however, she was at a show in Toronto and crossed paths with a manager from the label who offered to set up a meeting. “The rest,” she laughs, “is history!”

But it wasn’t entirely smooth sailing. At the time, the band had just recorded a second album’s worth of songs they were feeling excited about finishing when they learned that their work would be scrapped. “That was hard at first,” Warren admits. “They said ‘the songs are strong, but it’s not what we’re looking for, production-wise.’”

Trusting their manager, Alex Bonenfant, the foursome returned to the studio and cut a new album. “I think they wanted to rein in our ‘pop-iness’ a little,” Warren says, admitting that she has appreciated having people with industry experience weighing in on the creative process, after years of figuring it out along the way. “It doesn’t feel like we’re all alone in the world now!”

While Warren and Brett, who first met in music school, have always handled the bulk of the songwriting, the last year has also seen them spending more time writing with other people in a studio setting. “That’s not really how we wrote before,” Warren says. “We would get a jam space the old fashioned way, with a guitar and some chords, and write from there.”

Warren, who jots down song ideas into an app on her phone when they come to her, says she’s particularly drawn to making music that conveys dark themes with a light, danceable sound, referencing Lily Allen as an influence. “She writes about dark, heavy shit over beautiful, bouncy pop music,” she says happily. “I want to do that.”

A natural live performer, Warren confesses that while she’s coming around to working in the studio (“there was awhile when it was just a means to an end”), she still feels most at home onstage. “What I love about performing is connecting with an audience and having that communal experience with a bunch of people,” she says with palpable enthusiasm. “I like creating music for sure, and I adore music and the creative process, but I get a lot of joy out of performing.”

That joy extends to choosing what to wear when she’s onstage: Warren is known for her elaborate costumes, all of which are still sewn by her mother. She describes finding a dress at a vintage clothing store, which her mother then whisked home to Newfoundland, transforming it in time for Repartee’s album release in St. John’s. By the time Warren saw it, she says it had “morphed into a stunning mesh sparkly thing”, then describing her mother as a “sewing ninja.” “I’m so lucky,” she sighs.

Warren is just as grateful for the families of her bandmates, who she describes as “the coolest band parents in the world,” and for Repartee’s fans, particularly those in Newfoundland who make it consistently welcoming to go back.

Even with the ups and downs of being a touring musician in Canada, Warren is clearly thrilled with the path she’s chosen. “It’s a dream,” she says warmly. “My life is a dream.”

AmylieBed-ridden in a Montréal hospital, Amylie could no longer move. Surrounded by her loved ones, she “didn’t have anything to offer anymore.” Even smiling was impossible. Stricken by Lyme disease, the singer-songwriter just didn’t have the energy. As proudly displayed on the cover of her current album, Les Éclats, her body was nothing but a shipwreck back then.

“I was unable to even utter a full sentence,” she says. “I spent weeks trying to figure out what was happening to me. I was constantly exhausted, I couldn’t keep up with my friends at night. At first, they thought it was cancer, then HIV,” remembers the musician, who needed 18 months to get back on her feet. “Once I got to the hospital, surrounded by the people I love, I understood something. Something clicked in my mind. I always thought that to be loved by the people you feel close to, you need to have something to offer. At that point, I was nothing, but they were still by my side. I realized at that moment what unconditional love means.”

Some people need years of psychotherapy to reach that same conclusion. All Amylie needed was being bit by a tick carrying Lyme disease. That fateful bite occurred during a hike in Bromont, where she was taking a voice training course. That tiny bite kept her out of the scene for months; oh, the irony.

Yet, her story takes on a completely new dimension now that she’s launched Les Éclats, a magnificent and calming third album that’s the direct result of her ordeal. In contrast to the romantic, orchestral atmosphere of her previous offerings, Le Royaume, and Les filles, the new album is a locomotive of song, much more raw and minimalist; the music has space to breathe. The electric guitars of Amylie, Gabriel Gratton and Olivier Langevin – sometimes reinforced with just a tad of barely biting reverb – lull us with grace and subtlety. The sounds and atmospheres are reminiscent of Feist’s The Reminder, a reference Amylie doesn’t deny.

“I started the preproduction of this album alone in the studio,” she says. “I played the guitars, bass, drums and Pro Tools! I wanted to keep things simple and remain true to what I’m able to play and need to say. It gave me a lot of confidence. I embraced that stripped-down approach. I wanted to put the words forward.” Out went the string arrangements and electronic programming that defined Le Royaume. “I wanted an album that would be easy to take to the stage without needing a whole bunch of musicians.”

“The job, shows, records, it’s all cool. But it’s fleeting. What you have, at the end of the day, are your family and close friends.”

Her lyrics reflect this wisdom:

Ne me regardez pas comme ça/ Vous avez tout déjà/ Je suis là/ Mais je ne vous appartiens pas, she sings on “Tout” (Loosely translated: Don’t look at me that way / You already have everything / I’m here / But I don’t belong to you).

Debout sur la branche d’un chêne/ Imposante comme la plaine/ Je me fous d’être à la hauteur, she goes on singing on “La Hauteur.” (Loosely translated: Standing on an oak branch / Imposing as the plains / I couldn’t care less about not living up to it)

She hits the nail on the head once more on “Mille fois”: En chemin rager contre moi-même… / Je devais être folle pour m’éprendre de mes chaines  (Loosely translated: On my way, enraged at myself / I must’ve been crazy to be smitten with my chains).

This desire for freedom, and letting go of other people’s expectations, are everywhere on Les Éclats. Family becomes a haven on “Grand-maman” and “Système solaire.” “Because of my illness, I could no longer keep up with people,” says Amylie. “I could follow my friends on social networks, getting ready to go out while I was already in my pyjamas, exhausted. It was almost like grieving. The general grief of letting go of a constantly connected life. It takes a lot of strength to let that go. Social media feeds us from the outside, by looking at what others are doing. It becomes a type of pressure. Being in the hospital, surrounded by loved ones, made me realize that what’s most important was right there next to me. The job, shows, records, it’s all cool. But it’s fleeting. What you have, at the end of the day, are your family and close friends.”

Some would call that going back to your roots, others a renewed maturity. Let’s just call it life.

Carol Ryan, the 2016 winner of the Christopher J. Reed Award, presented by the PMPA (Professional Music Publishers’ Association), seems a little surprised by the news. “I operate in an environment that doesn’t quite resemble that of my colleagues,” she says apologetically. Yet Ryan, now in charge of managing Cirque du Soleil’s music rights, has a most impressive track record. She began her career at Polygram in the late ‘70s, and was introduced to the world of music publishing by working in the Membership Department of PROCAN, a pre-cursor organization of SOCAN. “That experience was decisive for me,” she says. “I learned a lot. That knowledge, all that theory, gave me the tools I needed to work at Cirque later on.”

Ryan arrived at Cirque du Soleil in the late ‘90s, and was met with several challenges, notably setting up Créations Méandres, a music rights management team and structure. This work, carried out in an atypical environment, highlights Carol Ryan’s singular career path. “Working with music rights within an organization is so different than what Québec’s independent publishers – who have chosen me for this award – do. It means even more to me because of that. We have very different realities. I don’t work with stars, and music is not one of Cirque’s core activities. We’re an important element of the organization, but we’re far from the centre of it all.”

“How do we earn a living when the commercial side of things is being completely transformed? Where will revenues come from?”

Ryan needs only show you the list of stakeholders she deals with on a daily basis to reveal the complexity of an organization like Cirque du Soleil, one as creative as it is sprawling. “I work with sponsors, media outlets, and bookers on projects that are presented on many continents,” she says. “So beyond maintaining a relationship with the composer of the show’s music, I must also serve the rest of the company, which is busy deploying additional content and promotional tools, whether it’s a “making-of,” a video of a show, an album or a DVD. It goes way beyond maintaining a relationship with an artist and getting acquainted with new repertoire.”

Ryan, who manages more than 2,000 active works, stresses how important it is to be in problem-solving mode, and having the capacity to adapt to change. This is especially true since several cultures are involved. Cirque du Soleil’s culture is deployed differently in Europe than it is in China, for example. And Ryan is in a constant dialogue with a corporate culture that puts creativity first.

Carol Ryan, David Murphy, Daniel Lafrance, Jehan V. Valiquet

Carol Ryan and previous winners of the Christopher-J.-Reed Award: David Murphy (left), Daniel Lafrance (to the right of Ryan) and Jehan V. Valiquet (right).

Throughout the last 20 years, she’s also had to adapt to the various shapes and sizes of the company. During Cirque du Soleil’s expansion years, Ryan handled rights licences for three simultaneous shows: Ô, La Numba and Dralion. These multi-territory projects created as much pressure as they did contentment. “At the end of the day, we’re really proud to have gone through all that,” she says. At that time, Créations Méandres doubled in size, going from three to six employees. But lately, new changes have rocked the company. In 2015, Cirque du Soleil was sold to American and Chinese interests, which cast a wave of uncertainty over the business. Ryan, however, confirmed that the heart of the company remained intact, and the show creation schedules are well under way. “The priority is always the shows, and that’s a good thing,” she says.

True to her disposition for forging ahead, Ryan sees the many challenges facing music publishing in a positive light. “The Cirque recently won a prize for a virtual reality experience,” she says. “We’re constantly becoming familiar with new realities, and the naysayers are long gone by now. I can’t wait to see how things will evolve for this generation that throws everything online for free. How do we earn a living when the commercial side of things is being completely transformed? Where will revenues come from? Publishers found a solution in music placement. But there are more solutions waiting to be found. I’m not worried. When that question is resolved, another one will show up. Movement is the very essence of life.”