Not many people get to sit at the foot of a master to learn their trade, but musician, composer, and producer Mikel Hurwitz has experienced that golden opportunity twice.

Now, he might not characterize it that way himself, but having chosen film scoring as his profession, being able to observe two giants in the field, at work – John Welsman and Danny Elfman – altered his early life plan, moving him from the world of Latin American politics to a universe of sound. An award-winning composer in his own right (for Ron Taylor: Dr Baseball, a documentary about the World Series-winning pitcher who became team doctor for the Toronto Blue Jays), Toronto-born Hurwitz now lives in Los Angeles and works as the “technical score assistant” for Elfman, on films including Justice League, Fifty Shades Darker, and re-boots of The Grinch and Dumbo.

Serendipity has played a large role in Hurwitz’s life. Although he always had interest and ability in music, at 19 he left Toronto for the University of British Columbia, eventually earning a BA Honors in Political Geography and Latin American Studies. While studying in Vancouver Hurwitz had a regular gig on Saturday nights with a jazz trio. “I could have taken a minor in music,” he says, “but the School of Music at UBC was very conservatory-ish, and felt really dry.” His studies led him to become a human rights observer during 2006 social upheavals in Oaxaca, Mexico. “It was a time of pretty intense political unrest,” he says. “I was working for an Indigenous human rights group. It was the early days of YouTube and they were making all these little documentaries. I helped them put together the videos, but they also needed some music.”

This is where the first instance of serendipity came into play. It just so happened that John Welsman, currently the president of the Screen Composers Guild of Canada, but then merely the country’s premier, award-winning master of the craft, was a close family friend and had earlier noticed 15-year-old Hurwitz’s musical talents.

“He invited me to one of his orchestral sessions. It was the first time I saw that whole process,” says Hurwitz. The memory sat dormant in his mind for years, until the scoring opportunity arose at Oaxaca. It was after this second episode of serendipity that he realized, as he says, “Hey, this music thing can go well with my philosophical/political [endeavors].” The experience was so life-changing that, four years after his UBC graduation, Hurwitz traded coasts and careers, moving to Boston to attend the Berklee School of Music, where he’d earn a Music BA in Film Scoring. Since then, he’s worked on national advertising campaigns, feature films and music for television and theatre, as well as collaborations with other highly regarded composers and producers.

The Lessons of Elfman

Hurwitz has been working with Danny Elfman – who’s earned two Emmy Awards, one Grammy and four Academy Award nominations – for three years and seven films now. Asked what lessons he’s learned that he’s applied to his own work, he comes up with three.

“The first big lesson,” he says, “is kinda boring. It’s file organization.  He’s had a career that spans so many different incarnations of technology. He started out in the early days of orchestral demos, where you would take a sampler, and there are millions of wires, and there’s lots of outboard gear ,and you’d put together an orchestral demo on a four-track or eight-track recorder, [using] the early Macintoshes.” Hurwitz’s first job for Elfman was compiling the sound library from has decades-long career. “I learned a lot from that, because it allows me to organize myself so that, 20 years, 30 years down the line, if I’m lucky enough to have a career that long, I’ll be able to go back and be organized, look at my earliest projects and say, ‘Oh hey, that’s where this thing is.’

The second lesson? “We’re living in a self-scoring world now, that’s dominated by the Hans Zimmer model of very, very, very light on melody and very heavy on rhythm and sound design,” says Hurwitz. “The melodic score is still there, but it’s not the trend. Yet Danny has maintained an ability to write a melodic score for big superhero movies and make it work, make it relevant to modern audiences. There’s a certain genius to that, and it’s really interesting for me to see how that plays out.

“The third lesson, also a musical thing, [came from hearing] some of his demos, his basic sketches for either his concert music, or his film scores. It’s invigorating, from the standpoint of my own compositions because you realize that, ‘Wow! Everything has to start somewhere.’ We’re often used to hearing a composer’s final product. It’s for full orchestra, it’s mixed, it has tons of different, really interesting orchestration elements. You don’t really think about how it started out as a piano sketch, a really simple idea. I’m lucky enough to hear those germs of ideas. I think what that allows me to do is respect the germs of my own ideas. Before I was working for him, I would have this little seed of an idea, and then I’d take ‘X’ amount of distance, and think, ‘That’s crap,’ and move on to something else. Now I never think of a piece of music that I write as insignificant, because there’s always a way to take it to the next level from a production, orchestration, mixing, and compositional standpoint. It’s enabled me to learn about and respect my process.”


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Benny AdamBENNY ADAM
Signed to the Universal Music Publishing Group, Montréal singer-songwriter Benny Adam now finds his name on the lips of every record label and music publisher in Paris. His debut album, due in 2019, is being handled by Valéry Zeitoun, a renowned music executive in France, who was the distributor there for U2 and Amy Winehouse. Managed by Sebastien Catillon (Diam’s, Ben l’oncle soul…), the album is expected early in 2019.
Watch the video for the Benny Adam-produced “Mon Lit,”  by Leila Lanova featuring Fababy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MorMorMORMOR
MorMor (born Seth Nyquist) writes, plays, and produces almost everything on his songs, an eclectic mix of psychedelic, soul, shoegaze, and R&B. “Heaven’s Only Wishful” has earned him almost three million YouTube views, and a signing to September Management (alongside Adele, Rick Rubin, King Krule and Rex Orange County), and critical acclaim from Pitchfork, NPR, and The Fader. He’s expected to tour in 2019.
Watch the video for “Heaven’s Only Wishful.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peach PitPEACH PIT
Indie band Peach Pit went from regional obscurity to international sensation when their song “Peach Pit” went viral on YouTube (currently at more than 20 million views). Now they’ve toured North America, Europe, India, Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia; signed a worldwide deal with Columbia Records; and continued to expand their stylistic range all the while.
Watch the video for “Peach Pit.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Savannah ReSAVANNAH RÉ
One of Toronto’s hottest emerging R&B artists, Savannah Ré is working closely with renowned beat-maker/producer Boi-1da and went on a fall 2018 North American tour alongside Jessie Reyez. She’s also caught the attention of producers Jordon Manswell and Babyface. According to The Fader, “she blends… casual confessional writing with a more traditional approach to melody and delivery — a real treat.”
Hear “The Best is Yet to Come.”

 

 

 

 

SORANSORAN
A self-taught multi-instrumentalist, SORAN has earned 102,000 Instagram followers, and more than 10 million streams. Making music that blends dance, reggae, funk, and soul, he was busking in Montréal’s subway when someone from La Voix [the Québec franchise of The Voice] walked by and convinced him to sign up. He didn’t win, but gained massive TV exposure, and a record deal followed.
Watch the video for “Emma.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexandra StreliskiALEXANDRA STRÉLISKI
Alexandra Stréliski has a million monthly listeners on Spotify, over 30 million streams across all platforms, and her music has been used in filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée’s last four projects, from Dallas Buyers Club to Sharp Objects. She’s just started her live-concert career, and is signed to Secret City Records, a home for high-quality, exportable music. Billboard magazine calls her “one of the foremost new stars in modern classical.”
Watch the video for “Changing Winds.”

 

 

 

 

Tenille TownesTENILLE TOWNES
As a young prodigy, a teenaged Tenille Townes toured throughout Canada, and made frequent visits to Nashville to co-write. Now living there, she’s signed a publishing deal with Big Yellow Dog Music and a record deal with Columbia Nashville, both U.S.-based. In 2018, she toured with Miranda Lambert and Little Big Town, and she’ll open a 2019 tour for Dierks Bentley.
Watch the video for “Somebody’s Daughter.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zach Zoya

Photo: Thomas Dufresne-Morin

ZACH ZOYA
An Anglophone rapper who emerged from rural Abitibi-Témiscamingue in Québec, Zach Zoya saw his first single, “Superficial,” streamed more than 325,000 times on Spotify, and his second, “Who Dat,” reaching more than 100,000 in one month. Zoya has opened shows for Loud and Alaclair Ensemble, and has already performed at the Festival d’Été de Québec and the Montréal International Jazz Festival.
Watch the video for “Who Dat.”


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Carole Facal’s atypical journey once again captivates listeners with the release of her fourth, electro pop-tinged album. It’s obvious even on the first listen: Symbolism sees Caracol elegantly and masterfully treading new artistic paths.

CaracolWorking with Los Angeles producer Joey Waronker (Beck) and husband and producer Seb Ruban (ex-DJ Champion guitarist, who’s also worked with Radio Radio), singer-songwriter Carole Facal, aka Caracol, presents us with a new batch of English songs, served over a bed of synths and beats.

Five years after her latest effort, in a solo career that started in 2008, the ex-member of Dobacaracol has previously released three albums – L’arbre aux parfums, Blanc mercredi and Shiver – as well as an EP, Les yeux transparents, released earlier this year.

During that hiatus, the mother of three wrote lyrics for Valérie Carpentier and Ludovic Bourgeois, winners of the talent contest La Voix [the Québec franchise of The Voice TV singing copetition], and, more recently, for New Brunswick singer David Myles (over half of the songs on his most recent Francophone album). “That’s how I earn a living: copyrights,” he says. That’s why she set up her own publishing company, Lady, which handles all her other projects besides Caracol.

And don’t expect her to bore us to tears with any pretensions her album might contain. “Give me a pen and a piece of paper and I’ll write you a song,” she says. “My life ain’t boring, I’ve got plenty of subjects to write about. I’m constantly inspired, constantly writing,” she told us recently, in the offices of her record label, Indica.

“Song camps have set off a creative explosion in my brain.”

Symbolism is a kind of rebellious spirit,” she says, “like when I used to snowboard (100 days a year, including several competitions), the return to a more savage birth. When I was a teen in Sherbrooke, I was into punk rock, and my favourite band was Grimskunk.” It’s no coincidence that Franz Schuller, Grimskunk’s frontman and Indica label boss, was also her manager for 13 years.

“My inspiration comes from one event to another,” says Caracol. “[That’s been the case] since 2015, when I was lucky enough to spend two weeks at the SOCAN House in Los Angeles, and to participate in the Kenekt Song Camp. I didn’t have a specific plan, I was going on intuition, and it turns out I was inspired by the symbolism of those encounters, and 75% of the album was written there. Since then, I’ve been doing a lot more co-writes, like American songwriters do. These song camps have set off a creative explosion in my brain, and helped me get out of my usual patterns.”

The most immediately striking thing about Symbolism – aside from Caracol’s unique voice – is a feeling of musical maturity. There’s a lot going on, instrumentally speaking. “I’ve re-connected with percussion and beats, more tribal, more pop, but I wasn’t sure if my audience would get it,” she says. “I had this history that I wasn’t banking on enough, and my music is a hybridization of genres, my strength is being able to gather a wide variety of things.

“Instead of being negative about the rather morose situation of the record industry, I decided to work with less, while being more creative. When I was in L.A., Waronker and I played keyboards. I’d never played keys before. I can play many instruments, but I’m not a virtuoso on any of them. Seb Ruban is the one who put in the most work on this album, and Toast Dawg put his touch on two of the songs. It definitely is a production album!”

Her productions already possessed heart and soul, but she can now boast greater depth, thanks to another SOCAN Kenekt Song Camp in Nova Scotia; performances at Canadian Music Week and South by Southwest; and a writing workshop at Gilles Vigneault’s place in St. Placide in 2017. Caracol is constantly improving her talent. “I’ve acquired a lot of precision in my writing, which is important to communicate,” she says.

“I’m a very bohemian woman, but I’m also very hard-working,” she adds. “I come from a family where everyone has a doctorate, which means I’ve spent my entire life following my instincts, and staying away from the family path.”

Symbolism will quite likely unite all of her fans, dating back to the Dobacaracol era, as well as those who are more into modern, high-tech productions.

 

 


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