Here’s the latest edition in our series about those happy creative meetings between two songwriters. In this edition, we meet two endearingly bonded artists: folk singer-songwriter Chantal Archambault and her man, songwriter and musician Michel-Olivier Gasse, together known as Saratoga.

SaratogaAs the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. It sometimes yields beautiful projects, as Michel-Olivier Gasse explains while we sit on the terrace at a café: “Chantal had started doing solo concerts, but didn’t quite enjoy being onstage alone,” he says. “So I started accompanying her. And the day after one of those concerts, on a very small stage, with very limited technical means…”

“Very restrictive!” insists Chantal Archambault, sitting next to her partner.

“…she sang her songs,” Gasse continues. “I was right next to her with my acoustic bass, and I sang over her shoulder, so that the only mic on stage would catch my voice, and… well, I think it was charming.”

“People came to talk to us after the show,” adds Chantal. “They were saying, ‘My God! It’s so beautiful when you two sing together like that!’”

That was less than two years ago. Last fall, Gasse and Archambault drove to New York City. “We stopped for the night in a small village,” says Gasse. “We got drunk in our motel room, and that’s when we decided that we were going to get this thing going.” That village was Saratoga. “Well, the story is a bit more complicated than that,” Archambault giggles. “We take almost 15 minutes during our concerts to explain the details.”

It’s mostly Gasse who tells the tale, because, as Archambault says, “My strength is composing the songs, writing. His strength is interacting with the audience. In that sense, Saratoga is a complete project: the combination of his stage presence and my songwriting.”

She’s gotten used to it over time. Archambault has released three solo albums, and she’s made a place for herself as a mellow and reassuring presence on Québec’s folk scene. As for Gasse, who was previously in the band Caloon Saloon, he’s better known as a writer – with two novels published by Tête première – and a bass player for the likes of Vincent Vallières and Dany Placard, to name but two.

They’ve created two distinct, established creative universes that required harmonization. And they’re the first to admit that it’s harder than it looks. “We’re still learning to compose together,” says Archambault. Their first five-song EP was recorded in a jiffy because they had gigs already booked, but nothing to sing. Only two of those five songs were recorded together; the remaining three came from their respective archives. But now, with a record contract and a first album expected in October of 2016 – scoop: It’ll be called Fleur – the duo had to get to work last January.

“Once the writing period for the album was over, we’d found our work dynamic,” explains Gasse. “First of all, it’s not split 50/50: we realized that Chantal is excellent for finding a lead, a direction, a melody – she is an outstanding melodist. As for me, I’m not totally confident in what I can accomplish on my own, with only a guitar in my hands. I have a hard time expressing everything that’s in my mind in a clear way.”

Archambault jumps in: “The melodies came easily. As for the lyrics, I would often find the spark, a rough idea, and Gasse would fine-tune it. He’s got this knack for analyzing someone’s work in an objective and critical way, to see what works and what doesn’t in a song. And he’s always right!”

Yet, for Gasse, writing a song is harder than writing a book. “It’s incredibly hard to write songs,” he admits. “I can write a fifty-page story much easier than I can write a song. I’m a raconteur, I speak very fluidly. I don’t have any difficulty writing about a flower pot for a whole page, it comes to me naturally. But when it comes to a song, it’s a space that needs to be filled, and you must respect the meter, the right rhymes. Add to that the fact that not all words can be easily sung. It has to flow, and the listener has to believe every word you sing. If, for example, you’re going to use the word bus in your song, you better make sure it’s believable. Maybe bus is a bad example, but there are worse words than that to try and fit in a song.”

The other challenge had more to do with themes: where would the boundaries be for this common musical world shared by the duo? “That was also a challenge: writing ‘we’ songs,” says Archambault. “I’ve always written in the first person. He wrote boy songs with his band, and I wrote chick songs, so we needed to find themes that wouldn’t sound corny, and we wanted to avoid writing only songs about ourselves. The goal was to make music, not talk about our relationship as a couple. Quite a challenge.”

Also sprach Saratoga.

When Linda McRae plays a show at Vancouver’s Rogue Folk Club on Sept. 4, 2016, it’ll be more than just another gig. There, the roots-based singer-songwriter will be inducted into the British Columbia Entertainment Hall of Fame as a Pioneer. “I’m very surprised, but just thrilled at the honour,” says McRae. “My daughter shrieked on the phone when she found out.”

This is well-deserved recognition for a body of work that includes stints in ‘80s Vancouver   bands, membership in Spirit of the West during that group’s commercial heyday (from 1989-1996), and a solo recording career now comprising six albums.

But this veteran is showing no signs of slowing down. McRae’s most recent album, 2015’s Shadow Trails, was her third in four years (2014’s Fifty Shades of Red was a compilation), and she continues to tour extensively in the U.S. and Canada.

McRae was creatively energized by a 2011 prison visit, she explains. “Back in October 2011, my husband James Whitmire [a published poet] and I were invited to participate in the arts and corrections program at New Folsom Prison in California. We had such an incredible experience, and were met with such respect and gratitude for just being there. We’ve gone back about eight times. We then decided we wanted to work with inmates and at-risk youth, helping them find a voice and put their thoughts into words.”

The result was a creative writing workshop called Express Yourself. McRae based these workshops on creative writing, as opposed to songwriting, in order to reach as many people as possible. “Not everybody plays an instrument, so I made it a creative writing workshop so anyone could go,” she explains. “I also do songwriting workshops, and I’ll be teaching at the Haliburton Music Camp next March. On some of those I adapt some exercises I use in the creative writing ones.”

McRae describes some of the writing by inmates and at-risk youth as phenomenal. “They’re often very surprised by what they end up writing, as many have never really written anything before,” she says. “It’s an interesting journey, to structure the workshops so you don’t leave everyone depressed at the end. You want to leave them with food for thought, but also feeling good about themselves.”

Tim Miller, Assistant Warden of the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women, testifies to the success of these workshops. He’s written,I can’t explain how two people come into a prison, meet people for the first time, and instantly bond with them. I can’t explain how James and Linda can unlock a heart that has been shut for so long and make it put life, goals and dreams on paper and back into the forefront of the mind. I can’t explain it, but I have seen it happen.”

Such notable Canadian festivals as South Country Fair, Coldsnap Festival, and the Vancouver Island Music Fest, as well as Folk Alliance International, have partnered with McRae to present her workshop as part of their community outreach programs.

These experiences helped fuel the muse for McRae’s Shadow Trails. One song, “Flowers of Appalachia,” features music she wrote as a setting for a poem from New Folsom Prison inmate Ken Blackburn. “It came out of that prison workshop,” says McRae. “It was a poem Ken had written that I loved so much, an incredible poem talking about a life missed. A lot of the stories in the songs on the record are inspired by some of the writing and stories we’ve heard.”

Other songs were inspired by the American South, a region that has had a deep impact on McRae since she and Whitmire moved to Nashville nine years ago.

Much admired by her musical peers, McRae has consistently worked with the cream of the crop of roots players on her records. Shadow Trails is no exception, featuring the rhythm section of John Dymond and Gary Craig (Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Bruce Cockburn), keyboardist Steve O’Connor, and guitarist Steve Dawson, who also produced and mixed.

McRae has a history with these players. “It felt like a reunion,” she says. “Gary and John played on my first solo album, Flying Jenny [produced by Colin Linden], and Steve Dawson and Jesse Zubot were in my touring band for that record. Tim Vesely of Rheostatics engineered, and in Spirit of the West I loved playing shows with Tim’s band.”

Notable guests on Shadow Trails include Ray Bonneville, Fats Kaplin, Gurf Morlix (who produced earlier McRae album Cryin’ Out Loud), and former Spirit Of The West comrade Geoffrey Kelly.

“Making the album [at Blue Rodeo’s Toronto studio, The Woodshed] was so much fun,” McRae says. “The studio is so comfortable and it just oozes a vibe. We recorded everything live off the floor over four days there.”

Over the course of her solo career, McRae’s work has been met with near-unanimous critical praise. “It blows me away that I haven’t had a scathing review yet,” says McRae. “As can be typical for singer-songwriters, you don’t always have the self-confidence you should, and you get down on yourself. If that happens, James says ‘Just read your reviews!’”

Canadian-based global music publisher ole landed a very big fish in the Spring of 2016, when it announced a global administration deal with Entertainment One (eOne), a leading movie and TV producer and distributor whose properties now include Toronto’s Last Gang Records, Management and Music Publishing. ole now administers the rights to eOne’s more than 40,000 film and television titles and 45,000 music tracks.

“Entertainment One is really the perfect storm in terms of being an ideal client,” says ole CEO Robert Ott. “Serving audio-visual creators has always been a mainstay of our administrative services model, and we’ve administered the Last Gang Records catalogue for a number of years. There’s a long-term relationship between myself and [eOne President] Chris Taylor in terms of having an independent viewpoint on the business.”

Toronto music lawyer and entrepreneur Chris Taylor was a principal of Last Gang before selling to eOne in March. As part of the deal, Taylor was named President of eOne Music Global. He’s gone from managing a busy domestic company to leading a global operation with offices in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the Benelux countries, Spain, France, Germany, Scandinavia and South Africa.

We reached Taylor by phone in New York City, where he was continuing his global “getting to know you” tour of eOne’s international branches. “It’s kind of like drinking from a fire hose,” he jokes, “but I’m really enjoying it.”

“Our catalogue has a huge amount of audio-visual repertoire, and I know ole is particularly focused on that.” – Chris Taylor of eOne

“I was practicing law for almost 20 years and I loved it,” he says. “This had to be an incredible opportunity for me to transition away from that, and focus on what I’m doing now. I wanted to take Last Gang to its next logical step, and I wasn’t going to be able to do that with the way my life was configured running a law firm with 10 lawyers and 500 clients. I wanted to give more focus to Last Gang, and I can do that at eOne in addition to tapping into the resources that are there.”

Entertainment One is big enough that it could have taken its admin business to any of the major music publishers.

“We had discussions, and have been working with a number of majors, and I’m sure all of them could do a great job,” says Taylor. “Deal-wise, I think that all the potential publishers might have been in the same ballpark, ultimately. But we like ole, the technology is strong, and we thought it would be the best place for us – particularly in light of the fact that our catalogue has a huge amount of audio-visual repertoire, and I know ole is particularly focused on that.”

Taylor also points to the strength of ole’s proprietary rights-management software.

“We’ve been developing software called Conductor since 2011, when we realized that the data set in music and audio visual was exploding,” says Ott. “The challenge is to conform disparate data sets from around the world. Conductor lets us do data analysis, and matching, and cleaning in complete privacy between companies and/or collectives. It gives us more access to data and information that’s subject to non-disclosure agreements. We’re going to be able to bring this technology to bear for eOne, as they’re a global client and a global actor in the industry.”

Both Ott and Taylor are optimistic about the future of music rights, after a period of contraction.

“Last year, income generated from music was up for the first time in a long time,” says Taylor. “The adoption of streaming platforms has made great gains: between Spotify and Apple, over 50 million subscribers are now paying $10 per month to listen to music. I’m bullish about that.”