Jodie Ferneyhough has done a lot of growing up since assuming the managing director’s job at Universal Music Publishing Canada nine years ago. In 2001, he took his seat at his first CMPA board of directors meeting feeling every inch the impostor. “I knew who most of the players were and I looked up to them,” he recalls. “They were established business people and here I was, this punk-rock, indie guy with ripped jeans. I was completely terrified. For the next few years I’d say to my wife, ‘One of these days somebody’s going to figure out that I really don’t know what I’m doing.’”

After five years spent learning the music-publishing ropes at peermusic Canada, Ferneyhough felt he was ready to “raise my game and play with the big boys, but I had to grow up a lot, get respect on the boards, get noticed, have a positive voice.”

Today, Ferneyhough can comfortably claim to have done all of the above. He has held it together for UMPG Canada during a period when music sales have been eviscerated and radio play eroded. He sits on the boards of SOCAN, the SOCAN Foundation, the CMPA (presently in his third term as president) and CMRRA. “I took on the SOCAN Foundation board because I wanted to learn what it was, to really understand what they do. I want to have a complete picture of all the bodies I belong to,” he says.

 

“I go to Ottawa a lot for the CMPA. Right now we’re lobbying for changes to Bill C-32. It’s not what I signed up for but it’s become a big part of my job and it’s important. The climate has become so challenging for music publishers and creators and we have to fight for every crumb.”

Ferneyhough started in the music business on the distribution side (stocking shelves), before moving into artist management and then on to music publishing. He’s made a lot of friends and seen a lot of good people fall down for want of a benefit plan, something few indie enterprises are in a position to provide. So he’s throwing his weight behind a pet project called the Unison Benevolent Fund, an operation he hopes will be able to provide health insurance and emergency relief to people in the music business who find their backs against a wall.

“SOCAN was instrumental in helping us get started,” says Ferneyhough. “It’s not just for musicians — it will be for managers, booking agents, roadies, independent professionals who have dedicated themselves to the business but who don’t have access to low-cost health and dental insurance. Right now, we’re trying to build awareness and raise seed money; our goal is to come up with $1-million by 2011.” For more information, visit unisonfund.ca.


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They don’t call it Music City for nothing. Long known as the creative and commercial hub of country music, Nashville continues to grow in importance as a music centre. Artists and songwriters in a wide range of genres now call Nashville home, and their ranks include a highly impressive and successful Canadian contingent.

 

A partial list includes Gordie Sampson, Bob Ezrin, Gerald O’Brien, Liam Titcomb, Victoria Banks, John Capek, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Deric Ruttan, Fred Mollin, Eddie Schwartz, Johnny Douglas, Steve Fox, Daryl Burgess, Michelle Wright, Patricia Conroy, members of Doc Walker, Linda McRae, Jason Blaine, Johnny Reid, Colin Linden and Jason McCoy. Former residents who had fruitful sojourns there before returning north include Paul Brandt, Joan Besen (Prairie Oyster), Luke Doucet and Dean Brody. Other prominent Canadians often visit Nashville to write, record and perform, including Jann Arden (much of her 2009 CD Free was written and recorded there), Josh Finlayson, Tom Wilson, Dan Hill and Lennie Gallant.

Space doesn’t allow us to cover the careers of all Canadian songwriters and artists now living and working in Music City, but W+M interviewed three Nashville-based songwriters, two well-established, one just starting to make her mark.

Deric Ruttan is a singer/songwriter balancing a career as one of Canada’s most popular country artists with life as a successful Nashville songwriter. Achieving this enviable position has taken commitment and perseverance through tough times. ““I was just so determined to do this for a living when I moved here that I really didn’t have a two or ten year plan. I just knew I would either make a living at it or stay here trying ‘til they buried me here. Throw yourself  into it and just do it until they pry your guitar from your cold dead fingers!!”

Ruttan now says “I still feel that way. I have a wife and five kids and I’ve put roots down here. Now, at least I can say I’ve had a little bit of success.” His commitment was certainly tested during his early fruitless years in Nashville. He moved there in 1994, from Bracebridge, Ontario, and “totally roughed it” for his first year.

“I found a cabin on a farm,” he says, “that was 11 by 13 feet with no running water, but the rent was just $20 a month. After 18 months I got my first publishing deal. I was paid $12,000 a year and I thought I was in heaven. In two years I got no cuts out of that catalogue, but the important thing was I had a room that was all mine and that’s where I practised my craft and learned how to co-write.”

 

His career took off in 2003 when, after signing a publishing deal with Sony/ATV, he released his self-titled debut album. It produced five Top 10 singles in Canada and he simultaneously notched his first No. 1 U.S. hit as a songwriter by co-writing “What Was I Thinkin’,” recorded by Dierks Bentley. He has since written other hits with and for Bentley, plus such notable artists as Gary Allan, Eric Church and Aaron Pritchett.

 

Ruttan’s recent hit single, “Up All Night,” was actually written at the SOCAN House in Nashville (see sidebar). “Jimmy Rankin was in town for a week, staying there, and that’s where we co-wrote that song,” says Ruttan, who remains popular in Canada and recently toured here, supporting his third album, Sunshine. “Songwriting puts the most food on the table, but touring is great fun and I find it helps my songwriting,” he says.

 

Nashville-based Canadian recording artist and songwriter Victoria Banks is a close friend of Ruttan. Like him, she also hails from Bracebridge, Ont., and when she moved to Nashville in 1997, she stayed on his couch for a time. Banks also credits Carolyn Dawn Johnson with aiding her transition. “Carolyn and Deric helped me and so now I’ve tried to continue to pass on help and advice to the newer Canadian writers coming down. There are a lot more of them now, and it’s neat seeing that come to fruition.” She cites Lisa McCallum as a young Canadian writer who “picked my brain and is now writing full time here.”

 

Banks also paid serious dues before breaking through as a songwriter via the penning of No. 1 songs for Jessica Simpson and hits for the likes of Sara Evans and Johnny Reid. She also says persistence is a must. “Sometimes it seems whoever gives up last is the one who gets the hit. You take your lumps and move and grow, as opposed to letting them crush you.”

 

For Banks, “Nashville is the place to be to learn about songwriting, how to structure a song, how to make your lyrics count. I see artists coming here from all over the world to write songs. There are pop and rock musicians who understand their music could be even more powerful if it has an incredible lyric as well, and Nashville is the king of that.” Says Banks. “I’ve been writing more and more with artists outside country, coming here to write for their albums. I enjoy stretching my boundaries.”

 

Eddie Schwartz is something of an elder statesman of Canadian songwriting. A former SOCAN board member, this veteran has been based in Nashville for the past 13 years, and is quick to extol its benefits. “It is such a great environment for songwriting, with so many resources here. I’d never experienced songwriter-friendly banks before! They actually see it as a legitimate profession. Then there is such a community of musicians and studios, plus the publishing opportunities. It blew my mind to see the depth and variety of opportunity and support for songwriters here.”

 

One Nashville newbie is young singer/songwriter Morgan Tobias. “I moved here last December, though I’ve been coming back and forth since 2008,” she says. The catalyst for her relocation was fellow Canadian country singer/songwriter Jason Blaine (the 2009 CCMA Artist of the Year). “Jason found me on MySpace and wanted us to write together. He brought me down to Nashville, invited me into his songwriters circle and set up writing appointments. Once you’ve met a few writers, they can set you up with their songwriting friends and you get to write in different songwriter circles.”

 

Tobias appreciates that spirit of camaraderie. “Generally people want to help people out since everyone benefits.” In her case, she has made impressive progress in a short time, and has recently recorded a five-song EP with top Nashville producer/songwriter Josh Leo (LeAnn Rimes, Reba McEntire), featuring songs co-written by the pair. Other notable Nashville writers with whom Tobias has collaborated include Bonnie Baker, Gary Byrd and Amy Mayo, and she’s optimistic her songs will attract the attention of a publisher and/or record label soon.

 

She acknowledges that moving to Nashville has affected her sound. “I used to do more pop writing but since living here, it has definitely become more country,” she says. To Tobias, “Nashville feels like home. I’m going to make this work out, but even if it doesn’t, I’d love to stay here.”

 

Victoria Banks says, “When you think of the hit songs contributed by the likes of Deric, Carolyn Dawn and Gordie, you see Canadians are contributing substantially to the Nashville sound. I think we bring something a little different to the plate because we were raised on a more open concept of country music. Most of the Canadian songwriters making waves here are greatly respected within the industry for thinking outside the box.”

 


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Translations prior to Fall 2010 are currently unavailable. 

Animés par le même amour inconditionnel de la langue française, Biz et Batlamfondent Loco Locass en 1995. À la suite d’une rencontre déterminante avec DJ Chafiik, le trio fait paraître une poignée de maquettes bricolées à la maison, puis un premier album complet voit le jour en 2000 (Manifestif). Suivent le projet musical interactif In Vivo en 2002 et, deux ans plus tard, le populaire Amour Oral.

Après avoir rudement mis à l’épreuve la patience des amateurs en repoussant la date de parution de leur troisième album à plusieurs reprises, les gars franchiront bientôt (enfin !) la ligne d’arrivée. Mais qu’on se donne le mot : il faudra sans doute patienter encore jusqu’en 2011 pour se mettre le nouvel opus du groupe dans les oreilles. « L’album n’est pas encore prêt, » lance d’emblée Chafiik. On est à deux ou trois chansons d’avoir un disque complet, mais il manque un certain équilibre dans les textes. » Biz poursuit : « On n’a pas toujours le contrôle sur ces choses-là. Personnellement, j’aurais été prêt avant, mais Batlam, en tant que comédien, a été très occupé avec le film Dédé à travers les brumes. Inévitablement, ça nous a retardés, mais ça l’a enrichi en tant qu’être humain. Il s’est immergé dans la musique des Colocs et a trouvé une grande force mélodique. Ça lui a donné de nouvelles idées. Ainsi, le nouveau compact sera teinté de ces expériences. »

 

ET C’EST LE BUT !

Derrière la console de ce très attend disque (toujours sans titre), Chafiik balance quelques titres qui se retrouveront sur cette nouvelle production du trio : « Les géants », « Un conte social de Kevin et

Gaétan », « La trahison des marchands », « M’accrocher ? » et… « Le but ». Complétée au printemps 2008, la chanson s’est sournoisement glissée sur les ondes d’une station AM avant d’être entendue

lors des séries éliminatoires de 2009. Mais le succès fut tout sauf instantané. « L’an dernier, on a sorti la chanson, mais les séries n’ont duré que quatre matchs et la pièce a tourné pendant trois jours ! C’est un morceau qui a beaucoup d’ambition. On a voulu écrire l’ultime chanson sur le Canadien de Montréal. Rien de moins.

 

On connait l’histoire du club et on connait aussi l’importance du hockey en tant que peuple. La structure même de la chanson est reliée à l’histoire du club, à une saison de hockey, à la vie d’un joueur, » affirme Chafiik.

 

Il reprend son souffle et enchaîne : « La récompense ultime ? Que les gens finissent par oublier que Loco Locass l’a composée et qu’elle devienne un chant de ralliement. Qu’elle appartienne au peuple. » Biz renchérit : « C’est la chanson qui nous a pris le plus de temps à compléter : deux ans et demi ! Ce fut un travail colossal au niveau de la structure car c’est une chanson remplie de symboles. On peut l’interpréter de plusieurs façons, » estime-t-il.

 

MUSICIENS POPULAIRES

Ironiquement, c’est au cours des dernières années, alors que le groupe n’avait aucun album à défendre, qu’il s’est le plus souvent retrouvé sous les projecteurs. En plus d’avoir travaillé avec un orchestre symphonique (pour le film Symphonie Locass ainsi que lors de leur prestation aux FrancoFolies 2007), la bande a signé le thème de la série Montréal/Québec (« Hymne à Québec »). Puis, le tandem Biz/Batlam s’est fait remarquer avec le projet du Moulin à paroles, présenté sur les Plaines d’Abraham. Toutes ces experiences ont contribué à modifier quelque peu l’approche musicale du trio. Biz : « Je pense qu’on a goûté au Plaisir d’être entendus par le plus grand nombre. On est de meilleurs constructeurs de chansons qu’avant. On comprend comment une chanson est bâtie.

 

Aujourd’hui, on est capables de faire de la musique populaire, dans le bon sens du terme, appréciée et destinée au plus grand nombre d’individus, mais tenant compte de notre pensée et de nos

convictions. On a appris que dans un discours, moins c’est plus. » S’occupant des charpentes musicales ainsi que des rythmes, Chafiik signe également une certaine portion (approximativement 20 %) des textes, parfois personnels, souvent à portée politique et sociale, du trio.

Habiles manipulateurs de mots, Batlam et Biz se partagent l’écriture de la majorité des titres. « S’ils contribuent un peu moins à la musique que moi, ils ont des idées précises. Parfois, ils arrivent avec le souffle premier d’une chanson et je n’ai qu’à ajouter un beat. Ils savent très bien ce qu’ils veulent et c’est une joie de travailler de la sorte, » précise Chafiik.

Alors que ce dernier vient de completer la réalisation d’un album pour sa soeur (Alecka), nouvellement signée avec l’Équipe Spectra, Biz poursuit pour sa part un projet de livre, encore au stade embryonnaire. De plus, un jeune comédien local vient de l’approcher pour adapter son premier bouquin (Dérives) au théâtre. Sinon, pour les prochains mois, les activités des membres du trio convergeront vers un seul et même objectif : Loco Locass. « On veut terminer l’album et partir sur la route l’an prochain. On est rendus à un stade de notoriété où l’on reçoit beaucoup de propositions. Il faut savoir dire non. On ne veut pas aller trop vite, brusquer les choses. On met la barre haute à chaque fois et on veut se surpasser. » Gageons que l’amateur est febrile d’entendre le résultat.


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