Following two pop-rock albums launched by Warner – Flou in 1998 and an eponymous album in 2001 – Catherine Durand found herself on her own, without a contract or a manager.

“The packaging was too slick on those albums, she says right away. I recorded in big studios with huge budgets, but I did not feel comfortable about it. I asked myself what I really wanted to do. I took things into my own hands, gathered money, built a team and self-produced the album I really wanted to make. I didn’t really care about being radio friendly. It was no longer a priority for me. All I cared about was making songs that thrill me.”

The result was an album titled Diaporama (2005), a luxurious and ethereal affair with folk and country overtones that was applauded by the critic and the audience alike. She followed that up with Cœurs migratoires, three years later. Then, last fall, Catherine launched Les murs blancs du Nord, the result of a trip to Iceland.

Clearly the heir of its two predecessors, that record adds a slightly more refined, mildly psychedelic and soaring atmosphere to Catherine’s songs, thanks in part to Jocelyn Tellier (co-producer) and the many keyboards of Karkwa’s François Lafontaine.

“I found myself in Reykjavik on January 1st, 2010. There was no one. Not a single tourist, no trees. Barely any light. I was alone in this immensity, feeling minuscule compared to the nature surrounding me. It was quite a peculiar sensation. The light was dusk-like throughout the day. That brings about a state of complete contemplative abandon, of silent solitude. That’s exactly what I needed, too. That trip did me a lot of good and I managed to totally relax. Yet, it also put me in a very strange mood. When I came back home, I started working on new songs and everything flowed naturally. Now, in hindsight, I realize how much that trip influenced the overall atmosphere of the album. Mind’s eye images of Iceland are all over the place on that album,” she reminisces.

The privilege of being an artist

Even though Catherine grew up with the music of Harmonium, Beau Dommage and The Police – she’s a “huge fan” –, it is artists like Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega, Edie Brickell and Sheryl Crow that had a deep impact and inspired her to start writing songs.

Now that she has grown into one of our more accomplished songwriters, the 41 year-old artist forges on and is still trying to find her way in the jungle of Québec’s music scene.

“Despite it all, I could never imagine doing something else than creating music. I love it so much. Picking up my guitar, coming up with a melody and a beautiful sentence: to this day, it still fills me with joy. Writing a new song and the satisfaction of being proud of it is priceless to me. Nothing compares to that. Besides, there are such wonderful moments one can experience thanks to a career in the arts, I could never give that up. Obviously, there are doldrums to contend with, but I fully aware of how luck I am to still be around as an artist. Getting fan mail telling you how deeply you’ve touched people is quite a privilege,” she confides.

With the turmoil the industry has been going through over the past few years, Catherine firmly believes that only passion and nothing else now determines how long an artist will last in the business.

“Nowadays, making music has to be a deep uncontrollable urge you have, otherwise you’ll disappear from the scene as fast as you broke onto it. I’ve seen so many artists make it on the scene, be successful and then disappear. You need to be hands on and know all the aspects of the trade because, whether we like it or not, we are increasingly on our own as artists. You need to be attuned to your environment, explore the milieu. Mostly, you need to think in terms of concerts rather than records, now. I make a decent living because I self-publish my songs. As soon as I started in this business, I knew what I had to do. The beginning of your career is crucial, because everything that’ll follow will depend on it,” she says passionately.

Happily inspired

While concerts will remain a major part of her agenda, she has already started working on new songs. And even though she doesn’t know yet when the next album will come out, she promises the wait won’t be as long – 4 years – as the previous one.

What about France?

“Ever since I started, I’ve concentrated my efforts on Québec, but I would really love a deal with a label in France or Belgium. I’ve played in France a few times. It’s a huge market and it requires that you be there, with a big team and corresponding budgets. Many artists have tried, few have succeeded. I’m crossing my fingers that it will happen one day, but I’m happy where I am. That’s all that matters to me.”

For Adam Messinger and Nasri Atweh, success has come from having the right songs at the right time.

Within a month of relocating to Los Angeles from Toronto in 2007, the songwriting-producing duo known as The Messengers had met singer-actor Donnie Wahlberg, then searching for songs for a New Kids on the Block record. Atweh, who once performed as a solo artist, wound up co-writing four songs while he and Messinger co-wrote another. It proved to be the group’s comeback album.
A few months later, Atweh and Messinger provided songs for a Michael Bolton album. The Canadians’ contributions were praised for adding a seductive, calm air to what critics called Bolton’s most confident release in years.

Their success is also about being in the right place at the right time – like when Atweh bumped into R&B star Chris Brown at a Los Angeles gym. Recalls Atweh: “After playing basketball, I told him ‘I’m a songwriter and I think I could kill it for you.’ He gave me an e-mail address and I sent him a song we’d done. He goes ‘I want this.’ That really got the ball rolling for us.”

“After playing basketball, I told Chris Brown, ‘I’m a songwriter and I think I could kill it for you.’” – Nasri Atweh

Good fortune next struck when Atweh spotted Justin Bieber and his manager Scooter Braun in a hotel lobby. “Nasri just went for it and introduced himself,” recalls Messinger. “They were open to hearing material and not long after, Scooter got back to us saying that our compositions were Justin’s favorites.” Those songs, including “Pray,” appeared on Bieber’s My Worlds Acoustic. The Messengers also contributed to other Bieber recordings, which earned them a SOCAN No. 1 Song Award for his holiday hit “Mistletoe.”

Little did they know, but Atweh and Messinger’s next project also wound up featuring Bieber, and became their biggest success: “Next to You,” a duet between Bieber and Brown. Featured on Brown’s F.A.M.E. album, it won them their first Grammy Award.

The Messengers are now one of pop’s hottest properties. Admits Atweh, “Our track record, in such a short time, has been insane.” Messinger, a graduate of York University’s jazz program, thinks their partnership has just the right balance: “I’m the guy who knows harmony and arrangements, but Nasri’s more the free spirit who pulls ideas and inspiration out of the sky.”

Corb Lund has never been one to turn out cookie-cutter country songs. Instead, the Alberta-born singer-songwriter always explores a range of styles and subject matter on record. His latest, Cabin Fever, is no exception.

Partly, that’s a product of his approach to songwriting; one informed by his “country boy” work ethic and the DIY method employed by his old band, 90’s loud alt.rockers The Smalls. “I have more in common with indie rock bands in terms of process,” Lund explains. “That’s a scene where you’re encouraged to find your own unique sound – the weirder the better.”

 “I have more in common with indie rock bands in terms of process. That’s a scene where you’re encouraged to find your own unique sound.”- Corb Lund

Lund definitely has a sound all his own, and a talent for telling offbeat tales that’s garnered him critical acclaim, the CCMA Award for Roots Artist or Group of the Year for seven years straight (2004-2010) and a growing audience in Canada, Australia, the U.K., Ireland and Europe. With the release of both 2009’s Losin’ Lately Gambler and now Cabin Fever in 2012 on the American-based label New West Records, he’s also experiencing a groundswell of support in the U.S.

Much of Cabin Fever was written following the death of his uncle and the failure of a long-term relationship, while Lund was holed up in a remote cabin he’d built in the foothills of the Rockies. While he maintains those events didn’t specifically inform the themes and ideas he explores on Cabin Fever, he admits they may have contributed to the “general darkness” of some tracks. They also may have had something to do with the record taking him longer to write, he adds.

When he began working on songs for Cabin Fever three years ago, initially, it was slow going. The closer he came to recording, however, the more material began to flow, including lead single “September.” As for why that happened, he says, “No reason really, I think it was just random. There’s a cycle, right? I try to write, write, write all the time, and sometimes it doesn’t work. Some songs I write are just better than others. I throw out all kinds of stuff.”

“I try to write, write, write all the time, and sometimes it doesn’t work.”- Corb Lund

While Lund spent weeks at a time alone in his mountain retreat, that environment was only partially responsible for the record’s darker offerings, like “Gettin’ Down on the Mountain” and “Dig Gravedigger Dig.” “It would be romantic to say that,” he says, “but honestly, all I need to get writing done – assuming the juices are flowing – is to be by myself. It could be an apartment in the city or somewhere in the woods, but the isolation did have a little bit of an effect.”

All that said, Cabin Fever definitely treads the line between light and dark. Even the compact murder ballad, “Priceless Antique Pistol Shoots Startled Owner,” has elements of Lund’s wry sense of humour. “I’ve always been a fan of records that have a wide range, not just stylistically, but in mood,” he says. “It’s as important to have dark songs as fun ones. I’ve always been an album guy. That’s why I spend a lot of time on sequencing. The flow is really important.”

So, too, were the contributions of Lund’s long-time band The Hurtin’ Albertans (guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Grant Siemens, upright bass player Kurt Ciesla and drummer Brady Valgardson), and the approach they took to the recording process with producer Steve Christensen.
“Half the time I have a pretty good idea what a song going to sound like when I bring it to the band,” says Lund, “but the other half of the time they surprise me and put a whole different spin on things. And Cabin Fever is almost all live, even the vocals – no click track, no black magic at all.”