Imagine staying in L.A. for next to nothing. Waking up to the California sun streaming in your window, steps from famed Sunset Boulevard. Grabbing a cup of coffee, then spending the day collaborating with other songwriters and following your muse.
Sounds too good to be true, right? Thanks to SOCAN, this isn’t just a pipe dream. Just ask Jay “The Human Kebab” Parsons, of alt-rock duo USS. He and his bandmate Ashley Buchholz experienced this recently, staying at the SOCAN House in Los Angeles – a facility that they offer to their members, free, for short-term stays.
“To stay in L.A., at minimal cost, in stunning Silver Lake, was a fantasy beyond a dream,” says Parsons. “From our humble beginnings in our parents’ basements in Stouffville, to living on the side of a mountain courtesy of SOCAN – and writing what would become the biggest single of our career – we’ve certainly come full circle.”
During their West Coast songwriting sojourn, the duo made connections with the likes of former OneRepublic member Tim Myers, and wrote the first two singles (“Work Shoes,” and “Us,”) from its current album New World Alphabet, released in January 2017. The two months the pair lived and worked in L.A. last year were so fruitful that Parsons says they hope to enjoy a similar experience this summer at the SOCAN House in Nashville. There’s also a SOCAN House in Paris, used largely by its Francophone members.
“You don’t have to concern yourself with what hotel you’re staying in, and how much you’re paying – especially important last year, when the Canadian dollar was at its weakest,” the songwriter says. “You meet other collaborators and write songs every day, then come home to a house at night. There’s even a monitor set up there, so Ash and I would often lay down some demos right before bed.
“Part of the attraction isn’t just partnering with other SOCAN members in California, but that the house is provided to artists for very little,” says Parsons. “That’s a big thing! Even a band at our level, when you go off your album cycle, you have to be careful where you spend your time and money.”
The songwriting experience with Myers was another California dream come true. Myers lives in the exclusive gated community of Calabasas, where neighbours include the likes of Brian Wilson. Parsons recalls this surreal scene: “Security had to e-mail him [Myers] so we could even get into the area. We walk into this lavish mansion in a neighborhood one over from Kayne and Drake. We played him two demos of two songs. He liked them, but said ‘Let’s go in a different direction,’ and all three songs made the record.”
On “Work Shoes,” USS collaborated with a couple from Nashville, and recorded the song in Little Armenia, using a couch standing on its end as the vocal booth. Says Parsons: “Who would have thought that that song would change our band’s path and journey?”
Jessie Reyez is another rising songwriter whose journey was altered thanks to a positive SOCAN experience. In 2015, the artist — recently named one of 10 SOCAN members to watch for in 2017 — participated in the inaugural Kenekt Song Camp, held Sept. 7-11, 2015, at Shobac Cottages in the town of Upper Kingsburg, Nova Scotia.
“It was awesome,” Toronto-based Reyez recalls. “I had a great time — especially working alongside creators that I’ve respected for years, like fellow SOCAN members Jully Black and Anjulie.”
For Reyez, it’s possible some of these collaborations might end up on her upcoming debut album – a collection of music that draws inspiration from her life’s journey to date.
“The co-writing was a rainbow,” says Reyez. “[SOCAN’s] Chad [Richardson] consistently mixed us up, sporadically, so it was interesting to see what came of each session, considering the different recipe of people each day. Funnily enough, I happened to work with Chin Injeti again, not long after the camp, because he was at one of the sessions I had with DJ Khalil last year.”
Reyez highly recommends other SOCAN artists take part in a future SOCAN song camps. She says that by participating, you’ll get an opportunity to meet a lot of like-minded creative people, sharpen your songwriting skills, and learn from others’ techniques – and learn to be “more malleable when placed beside other songwriters that have a completely different process than you do.”
The bucolic setting of Upper Kingsburg, Nova Scotia was another highlight for the songwriter. “That inspired me because it was a completely new and removed environment,” says Reyez. “The fact that it was so far away from home almost added an element of extra freedom to my creativity. Also, the local artists that were invited into our sessions every day [painters, poets, photographers] was a beautiful addition, because having an audience seems to propel me in a different way when making music – like a small dose of the excitement I get when I perform. It was almost like a mini show.”
SOCAN is also working to bring the song camp experience to as many SOCAN songwriter members as possible, with its new “Song Camp Mondays” initiative, whereby members can apply to participate in a three-person, one-day writing session at the SOCAN Toronto office. The monthly Mondays are designed to help our songwriters build their relationships, gain experience collaborating, and advance their craft.
When we connect, Doug Oliver, drummer and co-manager of Cold Creek County, is in the middle of making some new music. The JUNO-nominated band is recording and rehearsing its sophomore release in Brighton, Ont. The first single (“Our Town”) from this forthcoming album came to life in June 2016 during a co-writing session at Toronto’s SOCAN Sound Lounge.
“I wrote our first single with Gavin Slate and Travis Wood at the SOCAN lounge and that was pretty cool,” Oliver says. “I didn’t even know they had a sound lounge. It’s a little studio set-up, with monitors, where you can do your thing and make as much noise as you want. It’s a really cool and chill environment.”
Did Oliver know heading into this session that he’d walk out later that day with a single?
“Of course not,” he says. “I was just looking for a place to write, and the doors at the SOCAN lounge were wide open. I jumped at the opportunity. That’s the funny thing with writing songs. You write 100 songs to get maybe two or three cuts. We went in that day with a song idea and a title and the next thing you know it’s the lead single for our second record.”