No matter how many times Brad and MaryLynne Stella made the drive from Oshawa, Ontario to Nashville, Tennessee – and there were many – the road ahead always seemed clear.

Beginning in 2008, the husband-and-wife duo and aspiring songwriters had begun making trips down to Music City with one thing in mind: to make it in the music biz. For a year, they “commuted” back and forth with their young daughters, Lennon, 8, and Maisy, 4, in the backseat (more on them later).

While at home (MaryLynne is from Oshawa; Brad from neighbouring Whitby), they made ends meet as janitors for the Durham District School Board and they worked together on landscaping jobs, all while playing in bands, hosting open mic nights every Wednesday in Whitby, and even starting a music school. But any seeds they could sow in Nashville never seemed to take root.

“Every time we would be down in Nashville, we would just get stuff going, and then we’d have to leave and go back [to Canada].” – MaryLynne Stella

“Every time we would be down here, we would just get stuff going, and then we’d have to leave and go back [to Canada],” MaryLynne says on the phone from their home in Nashville. “And things change here so quickly; it almost felt like we were starting over every time we came here.”

Finally, after several forays, things started to happen for The Stellas in Nashville. A publisher caught one of their gigs and offered them a deal right there on the spot. Then, through a “fluke incident” they found themselves making a splash on the hit CMT talent show Can You Duet?, eventually earning fourth place in the competition.

So they packed up the girls and took that drive one more time – this time, hopefully for good. Before long they signed a record deal with EMI Canada, and released their self-titled debut album in 2011. Several songs from the album hit the charts, and their star was truly on the rise in Canada.

Over the next two years, The Stellas were honoured with more than 10 country music award nominations. They were named the CCMA Duo of the Year in 2013 and their songs graced two volumes of the Canadian Now Country album series, all while continuing to be sought-after songwriters for hire.

In Nashville, some very big names in the songwriting community took the Canadian couple under their wings, including John Scott Sherrill (who’s written songs for Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson), Chris Lindsey, Aimee Mayo, Matt Reed and Fred Wilhelm. “We would just write with people that we connected with as humans, and artistically, says Brad. “For some reason they just accepted us in this really, really cool way.”

They were also embraced as artists, making connections with heavy hitters like Vince Gill and Zac Brown, and being invited to tour with the likes of Johnny Reid and Terri Clark.

Now, their second album, It Wouldn’t Be This, is set for an early May release. It’s their first album to be released internationally. Both of the songs released as singles so far – the title track and “Gravy” – reflect on their current family life, though both were written years apart. “It wasn’t really intentional to have the two singles be like that,” says Brad. “It just worked out that way.”

“With the second album, there are songs that you feel sad that [they] didn’t make the first album,” MaryLynne says, “because they’re ones that you’re truly connected to. It Wouldn’t Be This is just a real jumble of us over the past 20 years.”

Montréal’s new electro-pop sensation, Foxtrott, is poised to conquer the world with their excellent first album, A Taller Us, that will be released later this year on London, England’s One Little Indian imprint.

It’s a rare breed of musical talent that has a knack for grabbing your attention within the first few bars of a song, taking you by surprise, almost mystically. The sounds just take all of your senses hostage, as if nothing else mattered but the notes bouncing around your inner ear. Call it an auditory love at first sight – or first hear, as it were. Euphoria.

“I wanted to take a chance and break big with an international label right away. It was a longer process, but I made it.”

It’s not the first time Marie Hélène Delorme has pulled such a trick on our unsuspecting selves, but both previous times were under a different moniker. And that’s no coincidence. The first was in 2009. It was as MHMHMH that she remixed Bernard Adamus’ song “Rue Ontario,” transposing his voice into a low-frequency electronic realm. The contrast between the singer’s blues roots she thus created was remarkable.

Then, in 2012, she struck again by presenting the first three-track EP as Foxtrott, her new project, on her Bandcamp page. Some listeners succumbed to the track “Shields,” an enticing electro number that seemed created for a good run. Many fell in love with “Colors,” a slower, sublimely hypnotic, sensual affair. More adventurous listeners were wooed by the experimental approach of “Heads Under Water,” a piece that confirmed Delorme’s impressive versatility. Although it’s always tricky to play the comparison game, one might say that Foxtrott cavorts in a minimalist electro-pop playground where the energy of La Roux, the sonic explorations of Braids, and the pop sensibility of Lorde are her playmates.

As soon as she released her songs online, her inbox was immediately flooded by messages from both local and international luminaries of the electronic universe. She was immediately snatched up by management outfit Sofa King Raw who, after several months of negotiations, got her under contract with London, England-based label One Little Indian (the home of Björk, Cody Chesnutt, Sneaker Pimps and Sigur Rós) – a deal that was officially inked on April 15, 2015.

“We’ve been in talks with One Little Indian for a year. It was complicated, but I’m happy. It’s a done deal now,” says Foxtrott, who could have easily signed with a Québec label. “The reactions to the Bandcamp-released EP were such that I wanted to take a chance and break big with an international label right away. It was a longer process, but I made it.”

The 29 year-old musician does everything her way, including producing her first album. Raised in a family where classical music was first and foremost, she broke free of the classical training mold as a teen. “My grandmother was a piano and organ teacher at Vincent d’Indy,” she recalls. “I was about four or five when she started giving me piano lessons. I moved on to violin, but I got bored real fast because of the lack of freedom. I was constantly trying to change music pieces, to modify the melodies, which, obviously, drove my teachers crazy.  ‘Bach composed this 250 years ago, you can’t just change notes here and there because you think it’s prettier that way,’ I was told.”


Although tinkering with notes was already part of what made her tick at a tender 14 years old, Delorme will still waited many more years before actually writing her own songs. Once her violin was safely tucked  away at the bottom of her closet, she developed a passion for hip-hop and dancehall sounds and rhythms. “I’m from Tétreaultville, in Montréal’s East End,” she says. “Nobody listened to dancehall in my neck of the woods, but I loved it. I would devour the CD booklets to find out who had produced those songs. And that’s how I discovered Sly and Robbie were the masterminds behind a lot of the tracks that I really liked. I was quite the geek. I was incredibly curious about how those producers created such beats and sounds.”

This fascination for production took on another dimension when a friend lent her a CD-ROM with music production software such as Q-Base and Reason, which she secretly installed on the family computer. “I had created such drama in the family when I decided to give up the violin that I wanted to be very discreet about my love of beats,” says Foxtrott. “It took me quite a while before I mustered up the courage to compose my own songs and play them for others. Things fell into place when illness befell my family.”

Her brother, in his early twenties, was headed toward a brilliant career as a classical musician, but developed mental health issues. This was a source of motivation for Delorme.

“Seeing him wither away, and feeling so helpless about it, gave me a big kick in the ass,” she says. “On the one hand was this incredibly talented musician who was becoming less and less functional. On the other was me, doing everything undercover, because I was afraid of being myself. It was like electroshock therapy. I felt an urgent need to write and finish what I had started.” That’s when, around 2008, Foxtrott’s first songs were created, followed the next year by the remix for Adamus’ “Rue Ontario.”

Delorme doesn’t shy away from the very personal nature of her songs, notably “Brother,” which will be featured on her first album, A Taller Us, released later this year. Several of the songs on the album touch on the melodically-inclined songwriter’s many relationships.

“When you’re classically trained, certain notions are deeply etched into your brain. When you’re trained on the violin, melodies are everything. Nowadays, I’m constantly trying to find a balance between sounds, rhythms and the melody,” says the artist, who records her songs on her own, in her home studio.

“A lot of great beat-makers have incredible sounds, but they’re short on the melody,” she says. “At the other end of the spectrum, a lot of outstanding melodists lay their songs over really sucky beats. I have a ton of outstanding tracks on my computer, but I’ll only use them once I find the melody that works perfectly for them.”

You don’t need a crystal ball to figure out that the coming months will be quite busy for Foxtrott. She’ll hit the stage in a trio formation (alongside Erla Alexdottir on French horn and Christian Olsen on drums) in Toronto, New York and London this spring. Let’s put it this way: it’s about time One Little Indian presented their new discovery to the media. And it’s starting right now with the launch of the first single from her upcoming album, “Driven,” a track with sharp keyboards and creative beats. Grab it before the whole world does!

A father’s advice and a passion to help Western Canadian songwriters get their music to a wider audience. These were the keys to Edmonton-based, indie, country label Royalty Records’ success. Don’t forget to add a wee bit of “Scottish stubbornness,” says 75-year-old founder R. Harlan Smith.

Royalty not only celebrated 40 years in the business in 2014, but signed a new distribution deal with Sony Music Canada. They’ve been the longtime home to high-profile country star Gord Bamford, as well as Hey Romeo, Tenille and Jay Sparrow. In 40 years at Royalty, Smith claims to have written more than 200 songs, and produced more than 40 albums and 200-plus singles.

“I got up every morning wanting to do something. I couldn’t wait to see what I could do that day.” – R. Harlan Smith of Royalty Records

Flash back to 1974, when the humble entrepreneur had a vision. Smith wanted to give country musicians and songwriters from West of Manitoba a home. “There was a tremendous amount of talent not getting recognized,” he says.

When Smith founded the label, designing Royalty Records’ first logo on a beer napkin, the multinationals said he wouldn’t last two years. Forty years on, Smith is proud he proved them wrong.

As he grew up in rural Saskatchewan, Smith’s mom – a piano teacher – fostered his love of music. As a 1950s Prairie boy, there were two musts on Saturday night: listening to the Country Hit Parade on local radio and listening to the hockey game. “If you didn’t do either of these, you just weren’t living!” he laughs.

Smith’s father was also an early influence. “When I was a young teen, preparing to leave the nest, he had some words for me I’ve never forgotten,” says Smith. “He said, ‘No matter what people tell you, do what your soul tells you. If you have a passion for something, just do it.’ He also said, ‘Always do something to better the community where you live.’”

Once he left home, Smith took this fatherly advice to heart. He moved to Edmonton, which he calls “one of best music scenes I had ever encountered,” and began a career as a musician and songwriter.

But despite some early success, Smith decided to heed his dad’s other advice to give back, by starting his label. Gary Fjellgaard was one of Royalty Records’ first signings. Smith heard the B.C. songwriter – now inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame – while eating in a small-town diner.  “I heard this record in the jukebox and my jaw dropped,” Smith recalls. “First, at the song; second, at the voice.”

For Smith, his life in music has been a labour of love. For the past decade, son Rob has taken up this passion. He runs the entire Royalty Music Group of companies, which includes publishing house Helping Hand Music Ltd.

“When I was in the music business, I don’t think I worked a day in my life,” Smith concludes. “I got up every morning wanting to do something. I couldn’t wait to see what I could do that day. What a wonderful way to spend your life.”