Chinese-born Vancouver singer-songwriter, guitarist and pianist Wanting Qu, who uses just her first name professionally, called her new sophomore album Say The Words; ironically, although the album debuted at No. 1 in Beijing, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, Singapore and Malaysia, and is also out in North America, some of those words had to be changed for release in Asia because of cultural differences.

The first single released in Asia was the Mandarin-language ballad “Love Ocean,” while in North America it was the upbeat “STHU,” which stands for “shut the hell up,” and was inspired by cyber-bullying. That track replaces the word “shit” with “trash” for release in Asia. On the funky and fun English-language “Exit This Way,” the North American version includes the line “get the fuck out,” while the Chinese version doesn’t.

“With the lyrics, it’s very disrespectful to swear [in China], so we needed to create a clean version, but [doing] that is not dissimilar to what we do in North America,” says Terry McBride, who manages Wanting and releases her music on his label, Nettwerk Records.

“In North America, being confident in your work is a good thing… you toot your own horn. But in China, people take that as not being modest.”

Says Wanting herself, “In North America, being confident in your work is a good thing… you toot your own horn. If you believe in yourself, you tell the world how great your music is. But in China, people take that as not being modest, and modest is one of the ‘good’ traits.”

The rest of the songs on her new album are more tame: “My Little Friend” about Wanting’s cat; “Say The Words,” the childlike title song, with the lyrics “I will count to three/1 and 2 and 3/I love you”;  and “Time, My Friend,” about how time allows us to heal.

Wanting – who moved to Canada from Harbin, China in 2000, when she was 16 and couldn’t speak English – saw McBride speak in 2005 at a music industry workshop. Months later, she bounded up to him at a Sarah McLachlan concert and got his business card. But she wouldn’t use it until 2009, when she had some songs recorded.

“What I heard was heart,” says McBride, who signed her that year and released the Wanting EP in 2010 in mainland China. “It was authentic – and [they were] great songs.”

On an unseasonably warm Thanksgiving, Gordon Lightfoot is in an uncharacteristically reflective mood, sipping coffee and looking back on a career that has produced every kind of song imaginable: historical epics, romantic ballads, sea shanties, country ditties, folk-style protests and bluesy “toe-tappers,” to use Lightfoot’s quaint term for his uptempo numbers. Many became hits; many more are considered iconic, as quintessentially Canadian as a Group of Seven painting or Alice Munro short story. To say that he’s been prolific is like saying the CN Tower looms over Toronto.

Sitting in the kitchen of his sprawling home in North York’s exclusive Bridle Path neighborhood, the 75-year-old legend admits that these days his focus is strictly on touring and spending time with his family (a life-threatening abdominal aneurysm in 2002 kept him out of action for two years). The songwriting well hasn’t run entirely dry – his girlfriend, Kim Hasse, recently encouraged him to complete one unfinished song, “It Doesn’t Really Matter.” There are three or four others “on the back burner,” he admits, but to pull them together at this late stage, well, he feels there just isn’t time.

“It was a great run while I was doing it,” Lightfoot says about his compositional output, which resulted in an astonishing 294 published songs. “I was under contract for 33 years to record companies,” he says by way of explanation, adding “33 years” again for emphasis. “I had a band and a family, so I had a responsibility. When it was time to make the songs, I had to do that. Sometimes the pressure causes the job to get done, to keep things moving and make the next record.”

Uncommonly humble for a star of his magnitude, Lightfoot would  rather talk about his live show and rehearsing his band for the 65 to 80 North American dates he still proudly performs each year than his songwriting gifts. He’s more at ease discussing that, and his work ethic, good timing and good luck.

“Sometimes you just have to let the imagination do the work. You draw from an old scene, or something you experienced.”

He never fails to credit Ian and Sylvia – who recorded two of his earliest songs, “Early Morning Rain” and “For Lovin’ Me,” and introduced him to their manager, Albert Grossman – with his good fortune as a composer. And he often admits that he had absolutely no idea that his masterpieces “If You Could Read My Mind” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” would become hits.

But Lightfoot is undeniably gifted. The craft and beauty of his work, dating back to 1967’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” all the way up to 1998’s autobiographical classic “A Painter Passing Through,” has inspired artists from Elvis Presley and Barbara Streisand to Bob Dylan and Judy Collins. Canadian songwriters have often covered his work, most notably on the 2003 compilation Beautiful: A Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot, which included Bruce Cockburn, Murray McLauchlan, Ron Sexsmith, Blue Rodeo, Cowboy Junkies and the Tragically Hip.

The roots of his craft can be traced to the Westlake School of Modern Music in Los Angeles, where, at 18, the Orillia, Ont. native studied orchestration and music theory. Returning to Canada with composition and sight-reading skills, Lightfoot launched his music career in Toronto – but took day jobs as a bank teller and a backup singer, dancer and drummer (under the pseudonym Charles Sullivan) to make ends meet.

Lightfoot’s first commercially recorded and released composition, “This is My Song,” appeared on 1962’s Two Tones at the Village Corner, a live duo recording made with his then singing partner Terry Whelan, a high school friend. But within months he’d released a single of another original song, “(Remember Me) I’m the One,” credited to simply Gord Lightfoot. A pre-folk, middle-of-the-road pop recording, it reached No. 3 on Toronto’s CHUM radio station chart. “We were aiming in a different direction at the time,” he recalls.

Ariane Brunet may only be 22, but she knows exactly where her future career path is going to take her. A determined, smiling and lively singer-songwriter, she answered our questions straightforwardly without taking herself too seriously. After Le pied dans ma bulle, her refined, introspective pop debut album, she released her second opus, Fusée, a collection of upbeat, catchy tunes, this past August.

“I have become more self-assured, that’s for certain,” Brunet stresses. Three years after her first album, the young musician is making giant strides in her understanding of what’s happening in her life and around her. While the lyrics of Le pied dans ma bulle were written when she was in her late teens, she is now a more mature woman casting a thoughtful look on universal themes such as love and loss, the importance of finding one’s place in life, the urgency to live, and more.

Brunet already had an album in mind, and knew how to surround herself with musicians who could help her take her ideas further. Involved in every step of the creative and recording processes, her personal touch is visible everywhere on the finished product, as she freely voiced her opinion on each and every aspect of the album’s production to her manager, and producer Toby Gendron. “I learn everything from him,” she says. “He provides me with great freedom, and I am welcome to tell him exactly what I want my music to sound like. I am also able to tell him what bothers me. I’m open with him – he’ll help me get the sound I have in mind.” 

“You need talent, but I think there’s more to it than just that. Plenty of other factors come into play.”

As demonstrated on Fusée, Brunet’s palette can be quite extensive, with styles ranging from pop to groove to ballad, with nods to the bossa nova (“Que des amants”) and jazz (“Le temps de vivre”). Asked whether she believes that her considerable talent was the cause of her precocious success, she humbly acknowledges that “Yes, I think it played a part. You need talent, but I think there’s more to it than just that. Plenty of other factors come into play. Talent is helpful, but it can never replace hard work.”

In spite of her obvious gift for lyric writing, Brunet is more prone to call herself a melodist than an author, feeling like an “imposter” in the latter role. “The fact that I am a musician does not make me an author,” she cautions. “I couldn’t write verses that are not meant to be part of a song, but I can write musical pieces without words. The first thing that comes to me is the tune: that’s what I focus on. Later on, when I get to the lyrics, I look for pleasant sonorities and rhymes. I try to pick words that suit my melodies.”

When Nadja fell under her spell and asked her to contribute pieces to her upcoming album Des réponses, Ariane accepted in spite of the fact that she had no idea how she was going to go about honouring that request. She ended up adapting a couple of lyrics she had lying around, and was delighted with what happened. “When I heard the result,” she beams, “I was thrilled. Nadja also asked me to help her solve some melody problems she was dealing with, and I couldn’t believe it – it was such an achievement for me!”

Brunet is now planning to tour Fusée throughout Quebec over the next few months, including songs from her previous album and two covers, Isabelle Pierre’s “Le temps est bon” and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” on a suggestion from her show’s stage director, actor and Mes Aïeux member Stéphane Archambault. “I am gearing up for an action packed show where each song will portray a different situation with its own emotional palette. I want to be performing on percussion, guitar and piano, and I want a variety of styles,” the musician said excitedly a few weeks before the start of her tour.

In spite of her two album releases and several radio hits, Ariane Brunet, far from resting on her laurels, is actively planning her third album, which will deal with new themes such as anxiety and the difficulties of existence.  Originally from Montreal’s West Island, she is now also considering the release of an English-language album under a pseudonym.

Any other future plans? “I’m quite pleased with what I have done up to this point. I can see a progression between my first and second albums. It’s a work in progress. I feel that the third one will be even better. I enjoy climbing the ladder one step at a time, slowly but surely.”