As the pride of Grande Prairie, Alberta, begins her major label run as the next Canadian country female superstar success story, the career stats will begin to mount. But there’ll always be one number that will stick out in Tenille Townes’ mind: 140. That’s the number of local townsfolk that chartered a 737 to fly nearly 4,000 km to witness Townes make her Grand Ole Opry debut in Nashville in 2018.

“My family, friends, and community have been such a big part of this adventure from the beginning,” says Townes. “They’ve been so supportive and excited, from back when I was singing the anthem at hockey games in Grande Prairie. They joked and said someday they were going to come to Nashville and see me play the Grand Ole Opry.

“But they weren’t joking. They showed up, and 140 of them came down the escalator at the Nashville Airport. It was the most beautiful and overwhelming hometown hug I could have ever imagined – and getting to step into that circle for the very first time was so very sacred to me. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Such a gesture says as much about Townes, 25, as it does about her local community. She’s now climbing the charts with “Somebody’s Daughter,” her debut Columbia Nashville single, which boasts more than 500,000 YouTube views at press time. It’s an extraordinary song, inspired by a homeless girl that Townes and her mother saw holding a cardboard sign near an Interstate exit. But the journey to get to this point has been anything but overnight.

Known simply as  “Tenille” while she carved out a Canadian career,  Townes has been working it for awhile, her ambitious initiative resulting in a self-directed, 32-week, cross-Canada, motor-home tour called Play It Forward (to inspire kids to make a difference), that hit hundreds of high schools across most of Canada (sorry, Newfoundland!) and trekked as far North as Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

At the age of 15, Townes released “Home Now,” produced by Duane Steele, followed by two Fred Mollin-produced albums on Royalty Records – 2011’s Real (earning her a Canadian Country Music Award nomination for Female Artist of the Year) and 2013’s Light. In Grande Prairie – and this is where community again plays a crucial role – Townes established her annual Big Hearts for Big Kids benefit for a hometown homeless youth shelter, Sunrise House. Now entering its 10th year, Big Hearts has generated more than $1.5 million for the cause.

With Light and a 45-hour drive in her rear-view mirror, Townes re-located to Nashville in 2014.   On her arrival, one of the first neighbours she met was fellow Canadian David Kalmusky, who co-owns Addiction Sound Studios with Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain. After Townes spent her initial days becoming acclimatized to Nashville, Kalmusky took her under his wing.

“Tenille kept bringing me songs that were making the hair on my arms stand up.” – David Kalmusky

“David became like a big brother to me and invited me to hang at the studio,” says Townes. “I was just writing and exploring, having the time and space to just really dig into what I wanted this music to represent, who I was as a person, and what my voice is really going to feel like. David was very instrumental in the early part of developing that sound.”

As Townes’ artistry evolved over the next four years, Kalmusky was impressed by her patience and tenacity. “I remember people asking her if she felt frustrated because things weren’t happening fast enough for her,” he says. “Because they felt she was ready, and Tenille’s response was, ‘You gotta do the work.’”

David Kamulsky

David Kalmusky

And work she did, constantly setting up writer and publisher meetings, guitar pulls, and performing whenever and wherever she could.

“I’ve never met a harder, more passionate worker,” says Kalmusky, who’s worked with everyone from Journey and Vince Gill to Justin Bieber and The Road Hammers. “I’ve been working for 32 years, and there isn’t another artist [to whom] I dedicated four years of my life, and demoed 32 songs and 14 masters, or championed.  Tenille kept bringing me songs that were making the hair on my arms stand up.”

After five years of dues-paying, satisfaction struck quickly, thanks to the duo’s game plan. “The last five masters we cut together, we sent them out to publishers to really target the Nashville executives,” Kalmusky remembers.

Townes had also found an ally with ASCAP’s Creative Director at the time, Robert Filhart. “I had been meeting with Robert every few months, playing him new songs, and picking his brain about more people I could write with or meet,” says Townes. Filhart reached out to Carla Wallace, co-owner of Big Yellow Dog Music, publishing home to Meghan Trainor, Maren Morris, and Daniel Tashian, among others.

Carla Wallace

Carla Wallace

“He sent me a text saying, ‘I have a girl I want you to hear,” says Wallace. “I remember when the music was sent, it only took two lines of one song and I knew she was special.  Her phrasing, her delivery, her unique sense of lyric all captured me immediately.” Although Big Yellow Dog was one of the three publishing offers Townes entertained that week, the songwriter liked Wallace’s atmosphere the best. “I felt like they just really got it,” says Townes. “They heard me. She asked me to come back and we started working together right away.”

Simultaneously, David Kalmusky also reached out to Jim Catino, Sony Music Nashville’s Executive Vice-President. “When it came to Sony, I wanted to get him out of the office and avoid the traditional drop-by,” says Kalmusky. “I wanted to bring him into our world, to meet and hear Tenille in a space where she was comfortable, and where we created music. And by the time Jim was sitting on our couch, she already had a major publishing deal with Big Yellow Dog.”

Catino was instantly smitten. The day I met her was the day I knew I wanted to sign her,” says Catino. “Her songwriting comes from such a unique place, and the songs are identifiable – they match up with her personality. And her identity as a singer as well. Her voice is so unique and different. She’s very prolific, and the depth of her lyrics is incredible. That’s a huge part of our format in the country world – that storytelling, singer-songwriter gist.”

Jim Catino

Jim Catino

On Friday they met; on Monday she played for the company, and Columbia Records Nashville proffered a deal. “Jim literally called me that weekend and said there was a deal on the table,” says Kalmusky.

Townes says her family has a tradition; whenever there’s good news to share, she buys ice cream in Nashville and her parents buy it in Grande Prairie, and they celebrate long-distance over the phone. “We had a lot of ice cream that week,” she laughs.

With Townes working on her Jay Joyce-produced, as-yet-untitled 12-song album, she snagged an opening acoustic slot on the 2018 Miranda Lambert/Little Big Town tour. Columbia moved quickly, issuing the four-song  Living Room Worktapes. We wanted to have something to share with fans in the marketplace,” says Catino. “We used the Miranda tour as the radio set-up for ‘Somebody’s Daughter.’”

Catino thinks the sky’s the limit for Tenille Townes. “She’s going to be a big superstar,” he says. “I think she can be as big as any female we’ve ever had in the format. She’s got the personality. She’s got the work ethic. She’s got the identity.  The songs, the powerful voice, the powerful delivery – she’s got all the tools to be an incredible star.”

While Townes awaits the album’s release, she’s occupying her time opening for Dierks Bentley in North America, and at least one show for her idol Patty Griffin, as well a few dates in Australia… and pinching herself in the process.

“It’s been so much fun,” she says. “I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a little kid, and it’s so surreal to see all these things come to life: ‘Someday it ‘ll be so cool to live in Nashville,’ and ‘Someday it’ll be  so cool to write songs,’ and ‘Someday it’ll be so cool to get played on the radio.’ It’s been a wild season of these things becoming real life – and I’m so very grateful.”

He often books his own performances, he teaches slam poetry to school children, and is a member of four bands, on two continents. This isn’t someone who wastes time doing needlepoint, but if he was into that, he’d find time to create art with multi-coloured yarn, too. So here’s an idea of what you’d need to do in order to accomplish as much as 28-year-old Noé Talbot, a guy with six careers and a few side-gigs.

Noé Talbot Self-taught, he first went on tour at the age of 17. Ever heard of Fortune Cookie Club? Col Rouge? Super Punk? He was there.

Although all of those projects were part of punk’s murky waters, it would be a mistake to pigeonhole Talbot. Launched last June, his second full-length album, Laisser le poste ouvert, is completely devoid of any of standard punk’s codification.

“When I write a song, I know right away which project it’s for,” says Talbot. “I have three punk bands. One that’s more poetic, with emo melancholy tunes. Super Punk is four chords and jokes. In Fortune Cookie Club, I try to give others a lot more space. Then there’s my solo acoustic project, that’s hyper-personal, and that writing process is really different.”

Because he knows the identity of each project so well, Talbot doesn’t feel like he’s scattered. “I write so much music, I could release three or four albums a year,” he says. Obviously, the creative framework varies from one band to the next. “Paul Valéry said that constraints increase creativity,” says the songwriter. “I really agree with that.

Taking An Unexplored Path

“I’m putting the finishing touches on a rap album,” he says, with the same tone as if he announced he’d just finished doing his laundry. While he was playing guitar for a D-Track show in Gatineau, he indulged in a slam alongside the rapper. Horg, of Seba & Horg, was there, and suggested putting it over a rap track.

“I studied the rap ‘code’ for seven or eight hours every day, I wanted to understand, and I find it fascinating,” Talbot explains. “I like conscious rap like Orelsan, Stromae, Romeo Elvis. I’ve always loved Manu Militari and Koriass. I like rap a lot when it’s more melodic, with a sung chorus.”

He’s captivated by everything rap has brought him, and everything he had yet to explore. “I’ve been writing music for 15 years, and I can see the chords in my mind,” he says. “When I play a C, an A minor, a D… I see them. With rap, I see nothing at all. It’s amazing.” Talbot’s first rap singles will come out on Slam Disques’s new sub-label, Hell for Breakfast, this Spring.

Since just after the holidays, Talbot isn’t scattered, and says with utmost confidence that he can now “live from his music.” “It’s all I can think of. I know where I’m going,” he adds. To him, projects are always creatively stimulating. “Tomorrow it might be a punk rock opportunity, a festival, or solo showcases in Europe. Whatever the case may be, I’ll be there,” he says.

Apart from the first beats of his rap project, Talbot is preparing an EP with Col Rouge, a collaboration with a French band, the release of Super Punk’s new album, and the release of a Fortune Cookie Club compilation album. He’ll also produce an album for Québec City’s Distance Critique, and an EP of acoustic covers alongside Caravane’s Dominic Pelletier. Oh, and he’s also writing a children’s book, and already has enough material for another solo album, and shows planned for next summer.

“I’m pretty clear about where I’m going, and have been for about a year,” says Talbot. “I’ve always known that music would be part of my life, but I didn’t think it would be the central element around which everything gravitates,” he says, adding that all the new opportunities will take him to the next level. “As I age, I hope I never feel like I’ve seen it all.”

Aldo NovaThirty-six years after he exploded on the music scene, in 1982, Montréal-born guitarist, composer and producer Aldo Caporuscio, a.k.a. Aldo Nova, has decided to re-record six of the 10 songs from his eponymous debut album. It was a classic arena-rock record that featured “Fantasy,+ one of his two biggest commercial hits – the other being Céline Dion’s “A New Day Has Come” (2002) which he co-wrote, arranged, and produced alongside Stephan Moccio.

“That song launched my career!” he says about “Fantasy.” A day-and-a-half in the studio and it was done. Done in a demo form, as the other nine songs. And it’s based on a true story. “I was walking in Manhattan,” says Nova, “and stopped at the corner of Broadway and 40th Street, and the sensation I felt at that moment was that everything I was bombarded with was just a fantasy. The lyrics were written before the music, which was rare for me back then.”

The album would go spend two months on the Billboard charts where it peaked at No. 8.

The  storyline of the video is quite over-the-top: three machine-gun-toting men gun down guards near a warehouse at night. As soon as the guns have quieted, a chopper comes throbbing down from the sky and lands on the crime scene. Out of it comes Nova, wearing a skin-tight, leopard-print body suit and, with the help of his accomplices (his musicians, as it turns out), he breaks into said warehouse with his laser-spewing guitar. Cut to the next scene: the band is playing “Fantasy” in that industrial setting. So ‘80s!

City nights / Summer breezes make you feel all right / Neon lights / Shining brightly make your brain ignite
See the girls with the dresses so tight / Give you love, if the price is right / Black or white / In the streets there’s no wrong and no right….

And a few verses later, the coup de grâce:
So forget all you see/It’s not reality, it’s just a fantasy

“Back in 1981, I was playing with a covers band in clubs in Montréal and surrounding areas,” says Nova. “I worked in a music store during the day, then from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., four nights a week, I would play clubs, four sets a night: two disco sets, one rockabilly set, and the last set dressed as a Beatle. Then, I would go to the studio from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. to work on my own songs and after a couple of hours of sleep, I would start all over again.

“‘Fantasy’ wasn’t my favourite song on the album, but seeing the reaction of people around me, it became the single. Writing that song wasn’t hard, but arranging it was a different story. I had to give life to all those sounds I was hearing in my mind. I started with a repetitive drum loop, tagged three guitar chords onto it, and that was the foundation. I used ‘Fantasy’ and nine other songs to build a demo. They ended up being the album, as is.”

“I love SOCAN, they’ve always supported my projects!”

All that was left to do was the mixing, which was handled by New York-based producer and engineer Tony Bongiovi, and the mastering, handled by the legendary Bob Ludwig (Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Queen, Jimi Hendrix, Radiohead, The Police, etc.) – the same guy who, at 74, mastered the tracks on Aldo Nova 2.0.

The new album was launched on Oct. 19, 2018, on MRI. The re-visited songs are heftier, more rock-oriented: “turbo-charged,” as the artist himself puts it. Apart from the six reprised songs – “Fantasy,” “Ball and Chain,” “Heart to Heart,” “Foolin’ Yourself,” “It’s Too Late” and “Can’t Stop Loving You” – Nova offers a new one: “I’m a Survivor,” the video for which is currently under production, although the song is already available on YouTube.

“I’m thrilled by the end result, it sounds much better,” says Nova. “The sound is beefed up, futuristic, it sounds like a production from the 23rd Century! I wanted to preserve the innocence of the songs, but add experience to them. I sing better at 62 than I did at 40. I recorded the album with the same analog technology, but I no longer mix directly on the console; I prefer my computer, which allows me more leeway.”

What advice would the 62-year-old Nova give to the 1982 Nova? “Never trust an agent, manager, or producer.”

Written by: Aldo Nova
Published by: Sony/ATV Music Publishing
Album: Aldo Nova (1982)
Label: Portrait Records (FR37498)