When T. Thomason got in trouble as a young child, his parents would send him to his room for a time out, and would then sit on the other side of the door, suppressing their laughter, as he made up sad songs about his situation.  “They would listen to me sing about how sad I was about being bad,” he laughs, recounting the tale. “I was always writing stories, and always making up songs, before I could write them down.”

T ThomasonNow 23, Thomason has never stopped using songwriting as a way of understanding himself and his world. Growing up in Nova Scotia, he put out his first album, 2009’s  Through the Static, at 14 and began travelling around the province to play shows with driving support from his mother, actress and writer Shelley Thompson, best known for playing Barb Lahey on Trailer Park Boys.

The album, which generated two Music Nova Scotia award nominations, set Thomason on course for a career in music, his upwards trajectory continuing as his songs crept up the charts and were used in television shows like Degrassi: The Next Generation. His subsequent albums, Beauty Queen (2011) and Columbus Field (2014) won him many accolades and awards, including Young Performer of the Year at the 2011 Canadian Folk Music Awards.

“Every time I picked up a guitar, I would write a complete song in one sitting, just one or two hours,” Thomason says, recalling his early songwriting style. “And I wouldn’t edit. They just came. Every single time I picked up the guitar.”

But as Thomason grew up and began grappling with the world around him, the songwriting slowed. Then working at a crisis-counseling centre for homeless youth, Thomason moved into what he has describes as “a period of self-reflection,” began undergoing testosterone hormone therapy, and moved away from the gender he had been assigned at birth.

“I wasn’t writing, and I was feeling guilty,” he recalls. “I felt so disconnected from my music career. I wouldn’t even look at my guitars because I felt so guilty.”

Most critically, he was concerned about his voice changing because of the testosterone he was taking. “Once you started testosterone, you could never sing again – or that’s the belief. It’s taken as gospel,” he says, explaining that at the time, he could find few resources to support his research.

“I felt like it I was going to have to choose between the two things, and I knew I needed both of them to continue to survive… but I felt like I could only have one,” he recalls. “It was not fun.”

“Everyone is trying to figure out how to take their inner life and have it match…  whatever outer version of yourself you have to present to the world.”

He connected with Lucas Silveira of The Cliks, who had gone through a similar transition, and also engaged vocal coach Ali Garrison, with whom he worked several times a week through the transition.

Finally, in April 2015, Thomason shared his new identity and name with his fans in a candid Facebook post, and began making sense of it all through his music.

“There are quite a few songs that come from different points during that time,” he says. “It’s an attempt to make sense of something that happened. That’s the only way I knew how to try to do that. You can feel very out of control of yourself and your future in that situation… Uncertain about what’s going to happen to you, and what it’s going to mean for your career.”

He released Sweet Baby, his first EP under his new name, independently in 2016 – and again in 2017, through Rae Spoon’s label, Coax Records. Thomason is currently working on a full-length album he expects to release in early 2019. The first single, “Bliss,” dropped earlier this month

Thomason, who counts everyone from Joan Jett and Bob Dylan to Carly Rae Jepsen among his musical influences, worked with producer Dave Henriques at Toronto’s Coalition Music on the album, describing the process as “collaborative in a way that my stuff hasn’t been in the past.” He credits Henriques, who also gets co-writing credits, for pushing him out of his comfort zone and into unknown territory, as he finds a new musical identity.

“We didn’t sit down and write the songs together, but Dave helped me explode them and re-arrange them,” says Thomason. “I learned so much from him about relaxing, and letting things go where they’re going to take you. It was amazing to learn those lessons, both personally and musically. There have been a lot of crossovers.”

Thomason says that his experiences in the last few years have given him an enhanced appreciation for the pursuit of honesty, both in life and music.

“I want to be part of a group of musicians who brings an indie attitude of ‘we still have to be honest here,’” he says. “We aren’t going to package and sell a consumable, easily digestible product. We are challenging our audiences to face themselves when they hear our music.”

At the same time, Thomason is quick to add that, while he’s proud to be part of the LGBTQ community, he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as making music for any one sort of audience: “I don’t want to alienate anyone who might take something from my music, even if they don’t have a queer or trans experience.”

Instead, he stresses how much his own journey – to find himself and his voice as a musician – has helped him to realize that everyone is searching to find their place in the world in a similar way.

“Everyone is trying to figure out how to take their inner life and have it match… whatever outer version of yourself you have to present to the world,” he says. “Everybody struggles with that.”

There are no problems, only solutions. “Our goal is to make life easier for brands to have access to good, existing music,” says Philippe-Aubert Messier, President and co-founder of Apollo Music Store, a Montréal-based start-up that offers advertising agencies a catalogue of music for promotional uses. The trick? Making it so easy to discover music and manage copyrights that these recordings can be accessed and usable in an ad in less than five minutes. “Ten if it’s my mom filling out the online form,” Messier jokes.

Philippe-Aubert Messier

Philippe-Aubert Messier

“Our position in the market couldn’t be any clearer: we don’t do videogame music, we don’t do music for TV or films, all stuff I’ve done in the past,” he says. The repertoire of more than 100 catalogues contains music by more than 1,000 artists. The Apollo platform targets them to advertisers “for TV, radio and, mostly, nowadays, for all online formats – such as promotional videos that are increasingly produced by major brands.” Among those that have used the Apollo Music Store catalogue are Ford, Adidas, and Absolut Vodka.

It couldn’t be easier: once on the site, one creates an account and proceeds to peruse the music repertoire using expressive categories like “rhythmic,” “catchy,” “organic,” “groovy,” “moody,” and the like. If an advertiser likes a song – let’s say “Her,” a lively electro-pop ditty by British duo Seawaves, which they listen to from beginning to end – then it’s “Click!” Into the shopping cart. Then she chooses the way and duration that the music will be used – let’s say a six-month TV and online campaign. She then indicates the number of spots the song will be used in, as well as the territory – local or international. A price is then established and it’s time to pay. It’s that easy.

Messier is a musician and entrepreneur who co-founded – and used to co-own, for about 15 years  – the Apollo sound and music production studios in Montréal and Toronto. He stood “in the middle [of the whole composition transaction] because I made and sold music for [audiovisual] productions and, on top of that, I was in charge of obtaining the usage rights,” he says. “The basic observation was that the access isn’t simple.”

Another observation is that major brands that develop advertising campaigns, and the ad agencies that work on them, often have tight deadlines. That forces them to use royalty-free music libraries, often called stock music, library music, or production music. “Yet, no one wakes up in the morning thinking: for my ad, I want cheap, badly-produced music,” he jokes. “All agencies and all brands want good music!”

When Messier and his then-partners sold Studios Apollo in 2016, he kept the online platform, “because I thought there was still work to be done with that business,” he says, and adds that he still considers the project a work in progress. “My associates and I have been thinking about granting musical licences through an online platform for a while now,” says Messier. “We first launched a very simple version, a micro-site with 25 songs, and we evolved that from one version to the next, all the while validating that there was indeed a demand for such a service.”

And there is a demand, but not for any kind of music; it’s a demand for good music, Messier insists, before adding that his work and that of the start-up’s employees is to “curate” their catalogues.

“One of the elements that adds a lot of value in our clients’ eyes is our ability to find music that’s relevant to them,” he says. “Obviously, there are musical styles that are relatively timeless, and others that are more fads, but it all evolves very rapidly. I often say that it’s a moving target. There’s no way, for example, that I could make a list of the music that will be relevant over the next two years. What I do know, however, is that there are types of music that will never work. It’s too bad for those who make that music, but it does make our lives easier! And it’s got nothing to do with the quality of that music, it’s just that there’s no demand for it in this very specific market.”

Creators take note: the Apollo Music Store is open to submissions, “but as a general rule, we deal directly with publishers,” says Messier. “Some artists are self-published, but we generally deal with the publisher and the record label through them. We often only represent one or two songs per artist. We don’t try to work on their entire catalogue, we target the songs that we know will resonate with advertising agencies.”

They can be reached via their website https://app.apollomusicstore.com/discover or on their Facebook page.

It’ll soon be 2:00 p.m., and the crowd is slowly gathering in front of Osheaga’s Valley Stage, under a glorious sun and sweltering heat. A surprise show is about to begin, offered by someone whose name is  on everyone’s lips lately: Kallitechnis. Despite a few technical hurdles, she’s about to play her biggest gig so far. “Half of my band wasn’t there, and we had to rehearse that very day,” she says. “It was quite stressful, but in hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing; all of those hurdles were great learning experiences,” she says a few days later, on her way to her gig at Manifesto, in Toronto, a cultural festival organized in collaboration with Moonshine.

KallitechnisBut exactly how, in merely a few months, did Kallitechnis manage to climb to the top of the list of emerging Canadian artists who are working with some of the best international producers?

Born Cassandra Kouremenos in Montréal, Kallitechnis was born to Greek parents. Her artistic life began when she was four years old and took ballet lessons. Fascinated by all art forms, she also oversees the visual aspect of her productions. And as with many of her contemporaries, her career was launched in large part with the help of social media networks. Powered by “an undeniable urge to create,” she started sharing her creations online, as an outlet to express herself, including experiments and her “deep self.” Her stage name came from this artistic process. Kallitechnis is a Greek word that means “master of his art” and harks back to her origins, but also to her personality and passion for the arts.

In 2015, producer Rami Bizzle (Planet Giza) discovered her on SoundCloud. “That was my first real composition and writing experience,” she says. A few months later, Lou Phelps offered to work on her first single, “Average,” produced by none other than Montréal’s own international star, Kaytranada. “I just couldn’t believe it,” she says. “Kaytranada is someone I’ve always wanted to work with, so hearing my voice on one of his productions was an accomplishment.”

Kallitechnis found herself faced with a tough decision, typical for many young artists: should she pursue her burgeoning career, or stay in school, to eventually land a stable, well-paying job? Thinking about her future, she chose to graduate in psychology at McGill University and embark on a Master’s degree in Music Therapy at Concordia University. But before she started that, she had to complete one year in the Arts program at l’Université de Québec à Montréal. That year would prove to be pivotal. Surrounded by like-minded, talented people, she discovered sculpting and other art forms that only solidified her passion. In March 2017, her Master’s project fell through when her application was turned down. It would prove to be the turning point of her young life. And far from feeling discouraged by that rejection, she felt relieved. She took it as a sign from The Universe and decided to devote herself entirely to music.

Wet Paint, her first EP, came out a few months later, in October of 2017. At the crossroads of R&B and soul, she was inspired by luminaries like Sadé, Anderson .Paak, and Kendrick Lamar. “If I had to qualify the music I do, I would describe it as soul searching,” she says. “I write about what I know, about what I’ve gone through and – after thorough introspection – about who I am and what I feel. I love passionate people who deeply love their art form, people who are in touch with their artistic soul.”

Nowadays literally indispensable, social media networks have completely changed the music landscape by turning it into a sort of playground where explorations and unlikely collaborations happen. A true child of the online generation, Kallitechnis uses that resource to collaborate with foreign producers like Intellect (U.K.), Andrew Void (L.A.), and Evil Needle (France). As a matter of fact, it’s the one piece of advice she has for emerging artists: “Don’t wait until it falls on your lap. Be pro-active, use the resources at your disposal, and above all, be patient. One thing at a time.”

Far from wanting to give lessons to her audience, Kallitechnis sings about her perspective on life, her love of humankind, and about the strength of being vulnerable. She defines herself as a feminist in her daily actions, and doesn’t hesitate to talk about her experience as a woman, of the hurdles she faces on a daily basis, but she doesn’t associate herself with the common definition of feminism – which she believes has taken on a negative connotation.

We’re eagerly anticipating the release of Chromatic, her upcoming seven-song EP, set for release at the end of September 2018. In the meantime, she’ll put out a two-song release, Complementary, produced by fellow Montréalers Chase Wave and Jay Century. She’s also working on a surprise, a single to be released in a few weeks where she worked with one of the planet’s biggest rappers. Kallitechnis doesn’t do half-measures.

“I’m ambitious, but realistic,” she says. “I’d love to collaborate with producers like Timbaland or Pharrell, or even BadBadNotGood, for their jazzy touch.” The invitation has been extended…