You certainly can’t accuse siblings Matthew and Jill Barber of rushing into their first album as a duo. Between them, these two acclaimed singer-songwriters have a discography of 14 albums (Matthew eight and Jill six) as solo artists.

Fans catching their solo shows over the years have often been treated to guest appearances by the other Barber, and these isolated examples have proven that the pair of brother-and-sister voices can harmonize sweetly and smoothly.

The two Barbers finally decided to forge ahead on a full duo album last year. The result is The Family Album, released April 1, 2016. “We didn’t feel in any hurry to make an album together,” says Matthew. “We knew it would happen and that we had our whole lives to do it. The timing was right last year, in terms of our album cycles. Jill had just had her first child, her son Josh. She suggested the time was right, and my theory is that maybe having a baby was putting her even more in a family state of mind, perhaps wanting more family around.”

“It’s good for your creativity to write with something different in mind.” – Jill Barber

The pair decided a joint (and jointly-produced) album should be a combination of cover versions of songs that they both loved, plus new original compositions that they’d write specifically for the project. With Matthew based in Toronto and Jill in Vancouver, they grabbed chunks of time together in each city to sort out possible cover choices and share their new tunes. Three new Jill Barber tunes (“One True Love,” “Big Picture Window,” and “Today”) and two new Matthew Barber songs (“Grandpa Joe,” “Sweeter The Dawn”) made the final cut.

Jill found the challenge of writing for The Family Album creatively inspiring. “It felt a little different than writing for my own albums,” she says. “It’s good for your creativity to write with something different in mind. It puts a few interesting parameters in there. I know Matt felt the pressure to not just write another love song, as you’re going to be singing it with your sister. You can’t get too sexy with the lyrics!”

The choice of album title has a resonance beyond the simple sibling connection. “We wanted it to be like a family photo album,” says Jill, “full of nostalgia and stories, with a warm and comfortable feeling. I think we succeeded at that.” Themes of family dominate their original tunes, with “Grandpa Joe” being a tribute to the grandfather the siblings never met.

Whittling down the outside material to cover was a tricky process. “When you can choose any song in the world, it’s hard to figure out which kinds of sounds you want to focus on,” says Matthew. “It also meant that if either of us had any reservations about a song, we just moved on.”

The six cover songs comprise three written by Canadian songwriting greats (Neil Young, Gene MacLellan, and Ian Tyson), one tune popularized by Leonard Cohen (“The Partisan”), plus songs by ace Americana singer-songwriters Bobby Charles and Townes Van Zandt.

Jill Barber, Matthew Barber“We’re proud Canadians, but we didn’t want to limit ourselves to making a Canadian covers album,” says Matthew. “With the songs still on our short list, we realized that the sound that was emerging for the album was, broadly speaking, a Canadian take on Americana.”

In searching for material, Matthew fortuitously came across “Song to a Young Seagull,” a hidden gem in the catalogue of the late, great Canadian singer-songwriter Gene MacLellan. “Through the process of brainstorming songs, I spent time on YouTube scurrying down some rabbit holes and listening to things I’d never heard before,” says Matthew. “That song was on there in the form of a demo sung by Gene.” The Barbers ran the song choice by Gene’s daughter and fellow songsmith Catherine MacLellan, a friend of the pair.

Interestingly enough, the Barbers have never tried songwriting together. “I haven’t done a lot of collaborating in my songwriting at all,” says Matthew. “The closest I’ve come was in 2014, working with Justin Rutledge on songs for a theatrical adaptation of The Graduate. On this album, it worked out the way we did it, writing on our own and then polishing the songs together.”

“For some reason I’m not sure we’d be the best co-writers,” says Jill. “Sometimes it’s nice to have a little bit of distance in life from a co-writer.” Singing together is a different matter. “That does seem to come naturally to us,” says Matthew. “We’ve never really had to work hard to find a good blend together.”

Laurence Nerbonne

Photo: Kelly Jacob

A year ago, Hôtel Morphée – singer Laurence Nerbonne’s band –  announced that they were breaking up. It was a sudden end that nobody saw coming. “I was just as surprised as you were by that announcement,” says Nerbonne. “We made different life and career choices, and our goals were no longer aligned. But no matter what, Hôtel Morphée was the best of schools for me.”

But even though the transition was sudden, it was also smooth. “Everyone has their job in a band,” says Nerbonne. “Now, it feels like there’s no longer any distance between my songs and myself, between the audience and me. It feels even more authentic now. I am what I am, and it’s something I hadn’t had a chance to do before.”

Just as Marie-Ève Roy, Fanny Bloom and even Beyoncé (!) before her, Laurence Nerbonne is taking the solo leap of faith. She launched her first eponymous album on March 18, 2016. On “Montréal XO,” the album’s first single, she joyfully announces her comeback (loosely translated):

Je reviens, je reviens chez moi (I’m back, I’m back home)
Je reviens, cette fois fais-moi entrer (I’m back, this time let me in)
Je reviens, cette fois je vais rester (I’m back, this time I’m stayin’)
I’m back, the energy will flow

It’s a comeback, but it looks more like an arrival, and Nerbonne even calls it a “birth.” “There’s something dizzying about it, but I can also say I’ve never been more ready,” she says. “I totally assume everything.”

Who’s Afraid of Pop Music?

XO is a 10-song album produced in collaboration with Philippe Brault. Both sweet and sour moods are wrapped sonically elaborate music reminiscent of Scandinavian pop. The set of songs is like a breath of fresh, springtime air. A classically-trained violinist, Norbonne says music has moved her deeply since her youngest age. Nowadays, she feels inspired by the current crop of pop producers like Diplo, Skrillex, The Weeknd and Christine & The Queens. She devours Laurence Nerbonneeverything currently popular in that realm. “Lately, I’ve noticed that we’re looking for a lot of things in music, and that it occupies an ever-important place in our lives,” she says. “We all work alone sitting at a computer… It comes naturally that people accompany their daily lives with soundtracks that soothe and move them. People need music.”

Is music so ever-present now because it’s so readily available? In the realm of royalties, not everything is so rosy; there are many irritants for music creators. “I recently talked about it with my friend Stefie (Shock) who knew the Golden Era of record sales,” says Nerbonne. “I’m not really affected by it, since I’m not part of the generation that sold albums… I think we’re going through a transition phase with regards to streaming and the new ways to disseminate music. We can’t just sit back and complain about it. It ‘s become unavoidable.”

Nerbonne is a fan of Lykke Li and Lorde, and harbours an immense respect for the latter’s work. “This woman asserted herself and made a place for herself in the studio,” she says, “turning down arrangements to use hers instead, and she uses her voice a lot, which is something I do, too. When I can choose between a synth or my voice, I often choose to pitch-shift (enhancing the high or low frequencies of) my voice.”

A Free Woman

Laurence’s lyrics are a snapshot of the issues that concern the new generation. “Tinder Love” takes a look at the precipitous love affairs born in cyberspace, and the disillusion that they bring to human relations. Does the “XO” in the album title – typographic metaphors for a kiss and a hug – relate to the way we express love through a screen? “Yes, on the first degree, but it also means ‘totally free human being’ in Web-speak,” says Nerbonne. “It’s not a code known by most, but kids use it to express appreciation beyond sexual preference, gender and nationality. Kids nowadays are much more open and they avoid stereotypes. Maybe it’s because they’re less influenced by the Catholic church? Whatever it is, I find them very inspiring. They’re more accepting and don’t glorify barriers and boundaries.”

There’s definitely something fresh in Nerbonne’s brand of scintillating pop, like a wind of change is sweeping throughout her entire album. “I want to do empowering stuff,” she says. “On Montréal XO, I wanted to re-create that feeling you get when you’re in a club and you hear a song you love and everyone starts dancing and we’re all sharing an experience together.” Laurence wanted that euphoric feeling on all of the album’s songs. And she got it, now that she can do everything she wants uncompromisingly.

“It’s a leap of faith and I’m thrilled about it.”

After 15 years and a business that in 2012 enjoyed $20 million in revenues, multi-faceted MapleMusic has entered a new phase of evolution. At a lavish bash held at Toronto’s Velvet Underground on March 1, 2016, MapleMusic was re-christened the Cadence Music Group and a promising future was set in motion.

“It’s a re-focus,” says Iain Taylor, Cadence Music Group President and CEO, a few days later at his office, adjacent to Universal Music Canada headquarters. “We call it a re-invention of our legacy – that’s what the party was, but we’re proud of the fact that [we’ve had] 15 years of success. It’s something to be celebrated.”

Taylor also said the re-branding is a rallying cry to announce to the world “that we’re going to be doing business on a global scale, in the most effective way possible, for our artists.”

“It’s about getting with artists and helping them.” – Cadence Music President and CEO Iain Taylor

Moving forward, the new umbrella includes Cadence Music (their domestic roster includes Vancouver’s The Pack A.D. and Toronto-based Ferraro, Megan Bonnell and Royal Wood); Open Road Recordings (Dean Brody, Tim Hicks, The Road Hammers, Doc Walker, more); Pheromone Recordings (Joel Plaskett, The Dears, Steph Cameron, Alejandra Ribera, more); label distribution company Fontana North (Justin Time, Shout! Factory, Downtown, more); Cadence Management (Royal Tusk, Zaki Ibrahim, Poor Young Things, more); music publishing company Cadence Songs; and fan engagement company Fan Experience (Sarah McLachlan, Hedley, Frank Turner, Classified).

Cadence Music Group

At the Cadence launch party. Left to right: Iain Taylor, Toronto Mayor John Tory, and The Honourable Michael Coteau, Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport. (Photo: Andrew Schwab)

No longer part of the Cadence fold: online ticketing agency TicketBreak, sold for an undisclosed amount in January to San Francisco-based Ticketfly. “It just became harder to compete in that space while competing in the music space,” says Taylor, who assumed his position in April of 2015. “We looked at our core competencies and what we really wanted to do both for our artists and our customers.

“To be competitive in this world, you have to look at the music from all angles. That’s not just the recorded masters and their exploitation, but also how you’re going to get involved with artists on the publishing side, the management side and in the V.I.P. engagement business: things we do really well. It became an exercise of getting back to what we were really good at.”

Taylor said the re-branding of the business – which was co-founded in 1999 by the Skydiggers’ Andy Maize and his brother Jeff, and IT entrepreneurs Mike Alkier, Evan Hu and Grant Dexter, as an e-commerce site, on an initial $60,000 investment (according to a 2012 Globe & Mail interview with Dexter) – was necessary.

“When I first got here, there were a number of suggestions internally that [a name change] might be a good idea,” Taylor said. “Talking to stakeholders of the business, it became fairly clear, fairly quickly, that the perception of MapleMusic was a name that was so Canadian. Internationally, there was a concept of, ‘if you were to present yourself a little more as an international entity, it might be advantageous.’”

Cadence Music has already bolstered its imprint label with several international signings – former Evanescence frontwoman Amy Lee, Escondido and Victoria+Jean. Not to mention Alabama Shakes, who the Cadence Music label supported all the way to a Canadian gold record (their first and only one so far), for their four-time Grammy-winning album Sound & Color.

Jim Bryson, Kathleen Edwards

Jim Bryson and Kathleen Edwards perform at the Cadence launch party. (Photo: Andrew Schwab)

Taylor reveals that many more signings will be unveiled in the not-too-distant-future. “We’ve got over a dozen new ones in the last three months,” he says. “We’ve also brought on eight labels in the last little while. We’ve got a couple of bigger ones, in the sense of announcements, to come as well.”

As far as music publishing is concerned, Taylor admits that Cadence Songs is still a work in progress. “That’s the one piece of the puzzle that’s still in the formative stage,” he says. “We control a number of works and we certainly are interested. When we get into management or signing acts, we’re seeking the publishing as well. There are a number of ways we can approach it – we certainly have partners globally and domestically that work on our behalf, but we haven’t finalized how we’re proceeding. We’re definitely getting more active in that space.”

With a newly unified office and staff of 25, over 100 distributed labels, and the unwavering support of such stakeholders as Universal Music Canada and Slaight Music – as well as a distribution partner in Canada in Universal, and for both the U.S. and the rest of the world in San Francisco’s INgrooves –Taylor says his company is open for worldwide business.

“It’s about getting with artists and helping them,” he says. “Artists are much more business-minded than ever. So for us, it’s about engaging and becoming business partners, and being able to execute effectively on their behalf, and help them sustain and flourish.”