RymzRymz rarely has any downtime, lately. On top of his ongoing tour of Québec and his job as an educator in a children’s group home, the 28-year-old rapper is working on his third album.

When we meet the Montrealer at home on his only day off of the week, we expect to find him chilling on the couch, relaxing before leaving for Woodstock en Beauce for the weekend. Lo and behold, he’s hands-deep in paint, directing a major worksite alongside his roommates. “I’m not someone who likes being idle,” he says, smiling, after putting his paint brush down. “It’s always been that way.”

Ever since he launched Petit prince in the spring of 2016, time hasn’t stopped flying by. Already well established in the Québec rap scene, Rymz has become one of its most notable ambassadors over the past few months. This second solo album went well beyond his own expectations, and attracted a lot of attention from the media and festival programmers, notably M for Montréal, the FrancoFolies and Festival d’été de Québec. “People kinda discovered me,” he observes, not knowing to exactly what this success might be attributed.

It certainly isn’t because he’s toned down his music, or suddenly gone somewhat pop. Although Petit prince has a resolutely more modern musical backdrop than the rest of his catalogue – thanks to the collective contributions of producers Gary Wide, Shash’U, Farfadet, NeoMaestro, and Ruffsound – it still features the same carefree and vulnerable Rymz who’s always more than willing to succumb to his vices, burdensome though they may be.

“I told myself than before long, all that would be left of me would be my songs. I was convinced I was going to die at 27…”

At the core of his preferred themes, a good-versus-evil duality is highlighted by a score of contradictions. “Some fans try to corner me by asking me, for example, why I say I want a ton of cash on one song, and on the next I say money is the root of all evil,” says Rymz. “I simply tell them that my lyrics don’t pretend to have answers, they just raise questions. And it’s typical of who I am. I’m filled with contradictions: I work with children during the day, and at night I’m on stage and doing shots. I’ve got a lot of love to give, but also a lot of violence to get out…  It’s actually quite surprising that I turned out OK.”

Born in Saint-Hyacinthe (a town of about 56,000 people, an hour’s drive east of Montréal), Rymz had a troubled youth. Now well behind him, that era of delinquency has, to this day, left deep marks on his personal life, and his music. “Toi, t’as regardé La Haine, moi j’ai grandi avec,” he raps on “Ma Zone,” from his latest album. (La Haine is a classic movie in the realm of French hip-hop, its title literally meaning “the hatred,” hence the word play that translates freely as “You watched The Hatred, I grew up with it”.)

His whole output with Mauvais Acte, a duo he co-founded in the mid-2000s with his fellow rapper O-Lit, bears witness to a troubled era, where his outlook on the world was much more fatalistic. “I was very productive during that period, because in my mind I was recording a posthumous album,” says Rymz. “I told myself than before long, all that would be left of me would be my songs. I was convinced I was going to die at 27…

“It truly is my career path that changed me,” he says. “The further I progressed in my studies, the less attracted I was to playing the fool. In hindsight, I can see that not a single larceny I’ve committed brought me as much as the well-paid work I’ve done for kids.”

With that career well underway, music now becomes an essential outlet for the rapper, who’s signed with Joyride Records. However, the newfound interest in his work also comes with a certain level of nervousness. “There’s a lot of pressure right now. It’s exhausting,” says Rymz, talking about the creation of his third album, the release of which is planned for later this year. “I’m apprehensive of people’s reactions, even though I don’t think about that when I’m writing.”

Far from aiming for a “mature album,” Rymz still says it will be a less melancholy and less aggressive album. “It’ll be an album to chill to, and turn up while smoking huge spliffs,” he adds. “You’ll get that my life is much better now just by listening to it. Themes such as travelling and escapism are also recurrent. It’s as if, now that I’ve made it past 27, I’m trying to figure out what the future holds for me.”

This is a big year for The Middle Coast.

Not just because they finally put out their debut album, The Making of: The Middle Coast, after years of hard work, but because the band’s last underage member, Roman Clarke, turned 21 in May. “It marked the official end of worrying about being kicked out of the bar before getting onstage,” says singer/guitarist Dylan MacDonald.

That, of course, hasn’t stopped the Manitoba indie-rock trio from playing as many shows across North America as possible over the past few years. MacDonald explains, “We’ve always been relentless about trying to play as much as we can… We’d book ourselves into any terrible – or nice – bar we could, and any small-town event we could find on the internet, or by calling the town office, simply so that we could get better at our craft.”

“We’re really curious and excited to figure out what we’re going to sound like.” – Liam Duncan of The Middle Coast

That determination to improve and grow extends beyond shows. The band is also known for recording every set they play, and reviewing them afterwards. It’s a dedicated work ethic that has led them to some notable breakthroughs, including an opening slot on tour for Calgary singer-songwriter Michael Bernard Fitzgerald. And when they weren’t opening for him, they were also performing as his backing band.

There’s still a ways to go for the Middle Coast, though. While they’ve successfully released their first full-length album, the band admits that they’re still working on refining their sound, which may or may not veer away from their self-described “yacht-rock” label. With new demos in the works, keyboardist Liam Duncan says some songs lean further into that ‘70s sound, but some sound nothing like it.

Either way, Duncan says one thing is clear: “We’re really curious and excited to figure out what we’re going to sound like.” Just another task for these diligent musicians.

Selective mutism
Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder in which a person who’s normally capable of speech doesn’t speak in specific situations or to specific people. Selective mutism usually co-exists with shyness. or social anxiety. “I used to be selectively mute,” says Dowling. “I’d be thinking about it all the time. I was like… I don’t want attention on me, so I just won’t say anything. But then sometimes, even if I wanted to talk physically, I couldn’t.”

When sought-after string player and solo artist Kinley Dowling was a child, her parents took her to see a concert. Struck by what she’d seen onstage, Dowling remembers asking them whether being a musician was something she could do for a living. “Yes,” she recalls them answering, “but it will be a lot of work.”

Undeterred, Dowling set her sights on a life in music. Unlike many aspiring artists, however, she knew from the beginning that she wasn’t interested in seeking the spotlight – instead, she dreamed of playing in the background. “Even when I was young, I didn’t want to be the centre of attention,” says Dowling, who was so shy as a child she became selectively mute (see sidebar).

Honing her skills, first at the piano, and later on the violin and viola, the Charlottetown native soon landed at Dalhousie University in Halifax to study under esteemed violinist Phillipe Djokic. “It was hard, but he gave me skills,” she says. “Suddenly, I could play any style of music I wanted.”

The day she graduated in 2007, she got a call from a member of the St. John’s-based, Newfoundland indie rock band Hey Rosetta! asking her to join them as a string player and back-up vocalist. A decade later, she continues to record and tour with the band. She also quickly became a popular session artist and has since performed as a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist on more than 50 albums by everyone from Buck 65 to Anne Murray (see sidebar).

A real studio pro
Dowling is one of the most sought-after string players when a group decides to make an album. A real studio pro, she’s played on more than 50 recordings over the span of her career, and her album credits include Matt Mays, Jenn Grant, Two Hours Traffic, Molly Rankin, In-Flight Safety, Buck 65, Classified, Rita McNeil, Dennis Ellsworth, and many more. She’s also seen multiple appearances with Anne Murray. “I really like playing all different kinds of music,” says Dowling.” So every time anyone asked me to play a show, I would say yes, let’s play… I’ve been lucky. I’ve had some sweet opportunities to play with awesome people.”

Steadfastly committed to supporting other artists, Dowling says the idea of writing or performing her own music wasn’t even on her radar until her cousin, musician Liam Corcoran (Two Hours Traffic) suggested it. “He said, ‘You should write songs, anyone can do it, and you have lots of things to say,’” Dowling recalls.

At the time, Dowling was living with singer-songwriter Jenn Grant and producer Daniel Ledwell in Halifax. “They were writing songs around the house all the time,” she says with a laugh, “so I was inspired to make art, too.”

Taking the lead from her roommates, she began secretly writing songs in her bedroom. Still uncomfortable in the spotlight, Dowling remembers asking Grant to close her eyes and look away the first time she performed one of them for her.

It was Corcoran and a musician friend, Mark Geddes, who first insisted that Dowling try recording the few songs she’d been quietly penning.  Refusing to give her the option of saying no, the pair informed her that they’d booked some recording time at Charlottetown’s Back Alley Music and that Dowling was to show up the next day. Stretching herself well outside of her comfort zone, she stepped up to the microphone and recorded a couple of demos – surprising herself by enjoying the experience. “It was fun,” she admits. “It actually worked out really well.”

Dowling then pushed aside her fears and began working on her own album, Letters Never Sent, which was released in October 2016 under the name KINLEY. Produced in P.E.I. by Colin Buchanan of Paper Lions, it finds Dowling on lead vocals, violin and guitar. Each of the album’s seven songs takes the shape of a letter or diary entry– from “Wild Horse,” penned for a lover, to “Golden Days,” inspired by Dowling’s favourite beach on the island.

“I love writing. It’s new for me, but I really like the creativity.”

But it’s “Microphone,” in which she describes the experience of being sexually assaulted on the night of her high school prom, and addresses the perpetrator, where Dowling is at her most vulnerable. “It’s the fastest song I’ve ever written,” she says of the song, which took her a cathartic 15 minutes to write after rolling it around in her mind for a number of years. “It felt like the most spiritual thing I had ever done.” The song, which has resonated with many, may soon be incorporated into the school curriculum in P.E.I. to help students discuss the issue of consent.

While Dowling, who was named SOCAN Songwriter of the Year at the Music PEI Awards (where she also won the prizes for New Artist and Female Solo Recording of the Year), is thrilled by the positive response to her first album, she says she still isn’t ready to perform her own songs for a live audience.

“It’s too weird for me to play my own songs, like ‘here’s my soul for everyone to see,’” she laughs. Instead, she’s focusing her attention on creating a series of music videos to accompany the album, (she’s created three to date, with filmmaker Jenna MacMillan), describing the process as “easier to control.”

She’s also exploring the co-writing process, most recently with longtime collaborator Dennis Ellsworth, with whom she recently released an album, Everyone Needs to Chill Out. The pair is now touring together.

“I love writing,” says Dowling. “It’s new for me, but I really like the creativity. You make something and it’s your own. And if it’s no good, you work on it some more and make it better.”

While she’s hardly ready to seize the spotlight, Dowling clearly seems to be inching her way towards it. Even as she admits her frustration with the fiscal reality of being a musician, she has no doubts about the path she’s chosen.

“I love making music, and it’s what I want to do, for sure,” she says warmly. “Life is good; life is really good.”