Hip-hop artist Shad likes the different energies that collaboration brings.  The two-time Polaris nominee and JUNO Award winner’s fourth full-length album, Flying Colours, includes guest spots from Lights, k-os,  Saukrates, Eternia and numerous co-writes with producer-songwriters, mainly Max Zipursky, Ian Koiter, Michael Tompkins, Ric Notes and (DJ) Skratch Bastid.

The Kenyan native, who came to Canada as a child with his Rwandan-born parents, handles all the lyrics himself, fusing the topical with the personal in such songs as “Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins)” about his own immigrant experience, to “He Say She Say,” about a relationship, to “Long Jawn,” more of a freestyle. But when it comes to the tracks, he collaborates.

“On this album, I wanted to push myself, just be more inventive, more imaginative,” says Shad, 31, whose full name is Shadrach Kabango.  “That’s the hard stuff to try to communicate because I don’t ever know what I’m trying to do, but with these guys and this album in particular I was at least able to communicate ‘This is what’s inspiring me right now; this is the general mood,’ and we would just try and figure ourselves out.”

“It’s a fun and cool experience just to be in the studio with some of these people.”

Shad describes longtime co-writer Koiter, a trained musician who comes up with parts quickly, as taking a “mathematical approach,” while Skratch Bastid is “full of infectious energy” in terms of positivity and vibe. Shad calls him a “music historian” with “this library of drum breaks and references.”

Zipursky is a “wizard on the piano,” who can turn a simple chord progression “into something colourful and great,” while Shad’s childhood friend Tompkins has “a neat process” because he beat-boxes all his melodies and parts and loops them. And Notes “messes with sounds” and will e-mail him tracks that have “this big bright energy.”

“There’s a few things I like about collaborating,” explains Shad, who plays guitar and rudimentary piano. “For one, there’s just so much that I’m bad at, where people can help me, whether it’s playing, performing on an instrument, or coming up with parts.

“It’s a fun and cool experience just to be in the studio with some of these people that are really good at what they do, and get to observe that,” he adds. “The energy, too, is sometimes as important to me as the contributions to the writing and the playing. That energy, to me, is very musical.”

Discography: When This Is Over (2005), La Cassette Mixée (mixtape, 2007), The Old Prince (2007), Besides (mixtape, 2011), Songs (EP with Dallas Green, 2011), TSOL (2011), Melancholy and the Infinite Shadness (mixtape, 2012), The Spring Up (EP with Skratch Bastid, 2012), Flying Colours (2013)
Visit www.shadk.com
SOCAN member since 2006

Track Record

  • Got his Masters degree in Liberal Studies from Simon Fraser University
  • Plays a lot of basketball (“It’s the only exercise I like.”)
  • Is hosting a history of hip-hop documentary

Clone, Claude Dubois’ Fall 2013 album release, is made up of two recordings whose full duration is almost exactly the same, at just over 34 minutes – a coincidence that’s not so strange when you consider that both discs contain the exact same material in two different music styles: pop and acoustic.

Few artists have ever considered such a dangerous feat, with the possible exception of Michel Rivard, who came back with a solo acoustic version of Roi de rien (King of Nothing), his most recent album, although essentially in the form of downloadable demos.

Finding two completely different versions of the same music on the same release is an unusual home-studio-era achievement that inspires curiosity. So we asked a few questions of Claude Dubois, who explained that “the original idea was to use this album as a vehicle to freely explore the musical possibilities of the pop version of each song without being afraid of alienating my original fan base by exploring more modern sounds. I felt that they would be more likely to forgive me for it if I also provided them with more sober versions of the same material in the same box. And it worked.”

Along the way, Dubois discovered another side of his project that was to strengthen him in his purpose and give it a whole new meaning. “As I was moving back and forth between the two versions of the album’s songs, the meaning of each song started shifting. Early in the process, I had been brash enough to believe that as long as I was using the same tempos and structures, I would be able to use the same vocal tracks for both versions of each song, but it didn’t work out that way.

“I have to create some distance from the music industry to be able to write new songs.”

“Different arrangements called for different vocal treatments. In a pop mode, things are lighter and more relaxed, like in a travel sketchbook. But in an acoustic mode with guitar accompaniment, things become more serious, and you get the feeling that what you’re saying is being heard in a more personal way, so your perception of the song changes.”

Dealing with subjects that are in turn modern (“Textoyable”), personal (“Tout ce que j’ai fait” [“Everything I Did”]), or seldom used in Francophone songwriting (such as the lesbian relationship in “Amoureuse d’une amoureuse”), Clone is the first album of original songs Dubois has released in 10 years. The many reasons for this include the release of duets, Christmas songs and choral albums, a French tour, numerous Quebec concerts and a stint as a judge on the La Voix reality show.

“I have to take some distance from the music industry to be able to write new songs,” he explains. “I can’t be involved in any other activity lest I become influenced by the sounds I hear around me. Bottom line, I don’t find writing easy. Contemplation wouldn’t help either. At one time, probably as an excuse to have a bit of fun in an unfamiliar setting, I used to plan writing on trips, but I find there is more value in just facing a blank page right here at home. I’d rather feel free to take it all in as it’s happening, and them come back home and write a song about it and enjoy it all over again.”

Written between the four walls of a prison cell after being convicted of heroin possession and trafficking at the turn of the 1980s, Sortie Dubois (a wordplay also meaning “Out of the Woods”) is probably the best example of that mental process. “With Sortie Dubois, I was going back to my memories to escape my jail-bird mediocrity. With Clone, I had to make good on my claim that I was finally able to release a new album after so many years,” the musician explains half-jokingly.

In the end, it only took a matter of weeks for Dubois to produce the entire recording on his own label, through a fast-lane self-production process facilitated by the performing right societies and music associations credited on the album jacket, namely SOCAN, SODRAC, SOPROQ and SPACQ.

“I wanted to pay tribute to these organizations as copyright advocates, first of all, but also for an even more selfish reason: they made my life so much easier through the album production process. Any self-producing artist will tell you that you sometimes come up against legal issues that, in connection with Clone, in my own case, went way over my head. So instead of hiring a lawyer or reading hard-to-understand law books, it occurred to me that could call these associations up and get answers. I’m not one to suck up to anyone, but I would advise musicians to take advantage of these resources. They’ve proven invaluable to me.”

Deric Ruttan rarely listens to his own advice. His recent, fifth solo album is entitled Take The Week Off, but the Nashville-based hit songwriter and recording artist has done little of that since moving to Music City 20 years ago.

Ruttan is eloquent proof that plugging away and honing your craft can pay rich dividends. He has now graduated to the A-list of country songwriters, with the No. 1 hits and major awards to prove it. This January, the Bracebridge, Ontario, native earned his first Grammy nomination, as co-writer of “Mine Would Be You,” a huge No. 1 charted hit by U.S. superstar Blake Shelton (which Ruttan also recorded himself  on Take The Week Off).

Ruttan has certainly paid those proverbial dues, as he explains. “I was here in Nashville for 18 months before I got my first publishing deal,” he says. “I’d dig through the couch for coins so I could gas up the truck to get into town to write. No fabrication! I later signed with Sony/Tree Publishing, but it took nine years before I heard my first song on the radio.”

That song, “What Was I Thinking,” became a U.S. No. 1 in 2003 for Dierks Bentley, who scored a Top Five hit as well in 2005 with another Ruttan co-write, “Lot of Leavin’ Left To Do.” His career as both a songwriter and solo artist then took off.

Ruttan insists his primary motivation has remained constant. “From the beginning, my desire was not to be rich or famous,” he says. “If I can make a living doing what I love to do, writing and/or singing songs, that is my barometer of success. So far I have been able to do that.”

“I’d dig through the couch for coins so I could gas up the truck to get into town to write. No fabrication!”

No resting on hard-won laurels for Ruttan. “I’ve been accused by friends and colleagues of not taking the time to celebrate my successes,” he admits. “I tend to keep focused on the work and keep my head down. I have a little office on Music Row and I treat it like a job, working there for six hours or more, four or five days a week. That keeps the songwriting machinery oiled. I feel that is what I need to do to keep on top of my game and be productive.”

In between writing hits for others, Ruttan releases solo albums that have found Canadian radio and fan support. “I’ve never been happier with the balance in my career,” he says. “I tour about as much as I’d ever want to. Jason Blaine, Chad Brownlee and I recently did 25 shows across Canada in the Your Town Throwdown tour, and I played festivals in the summer. That lets me get my performance ya -yas out, and I’m in Nashville writing the rest of the time. Considering I haven’t lived there in 20 years, I feel really embraced by Canada.”

Rusty Gaston, head of Ruttan’s publishing company, THiS Music Publishing, sees this parallel career as a real plus. “I think part of being a successful songwriter is the ability to put yourself in the mindset of an artist,” says Gaston.”

Ruttan regularly co-writes with and for Canadian artists. “People are always coming over to write,” he says. “Chad and I wrote on Monday, then went shooting tin cans off tree stumps on my property!” Ruttan and Blaine co-wrote the 2012 Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) Single of the Year “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like That Anymore” and another big hit, “Cool” (both recorded by Blaine).

Other collaborations have been with Jimmy Rankin (their co-writes “First Time In A Long Time” and “Up All Night” won SOCAN Country Music Awards in 2009 and 2011, respectively), Aaron Pritchett (“Hold My Beer,” a Ruttan/Pritchett/Mitch Merrett song, won the SOCAN Songwriter of the Year award at the 2007 CCMA awards), Michelle Wright, Terri Clark, Jason McCoy, Doc Walker, and Paul Brandt.

American country stars who’ve recorded Ruttan co-writes include Shelton, Bentley, Eric Church (“Hell on the Heart,” a Top 10 hit in 2010), and Gary Allan, but there still won’t be many weeks Deric Ruttan takes off.

“If I have a new cut or a No. 1 song,” says Ruttan, “I go back to my office the next day and try to get another one.”

: THiS Music Publishing, Doc’s Cabin Songs
: Deric Ruttan (2003), First Time in a Long Time (2008), Sunshine (2010), Up All Night – Deric Ruttan Live (2011), Take the Week Off (2013)
SOCAN Member since 1989
Visit www.dericruttan.net