Canada may just be the world’s foremost producer of anthemic indie rock, and Regina’s Rah Rah happen to be one of the best purveyors around.

Last October this seven-piece band dropped their third full-length album, The Poet’s Dead, to widespread critical acclaim from media outlets like Exclaim, Fader, and Nylon Magazine. Their single “Prairie Girl” even graced Starbucks counters nationwide as a “Pick of the Week.”
Rah Rah are no strangers to touring, having taken their powerful live show on the road all across North America and Europe last year.

“Touring with a large band, there was definitely less room in the van and we had to sleep on floors more often than not,” says singer Marshall Burns, “but I don’t think that was ever a real deterrent for us. We were very driven back when we first started out.”

This spring the bustling indie-rock collective will undertake a continent-spanning North American tour with fellow rockers Two Hours Traffic and Minus The Bear, which includes stops at Canadian Music Week and the South by Southwest festival.

To say 2012 was a whirlwind year for Claire Boucher would be putting it mildly.
Better known to the world as Grimes, Boucher blindsided the blogosphere as well as the mainstream with her crowning achievement, the album Visions. Shortly after its release, Grimes left a solid dent in the Billboard charts, became the toast of 2012’s SXSW festival, and found gushing accolades flooding in from media outlets worldwide. With her unique and invigorating take on dance pop, industrial, noise, and ethereal music, Grimes delivered on all counts.

The 24-year-old singer-songwriter originally left her home of Vancouver at the age of 18 to attend Montreal’s McGill University, studying neuroscience and psychology. After feeling the lure of the vibrant local music scene at the age of 20, Boucher left her academic pursuits and dove headlong into the artistic abyss of isolation and poverty to dedicate herself to the songwriting craft.

“When she’s working on her art, nothing else really matters to her, and she focuses all of her being into it.” – Sebastian Cowan

The simple method that Grimes uses to write songs has changed very little over the past five years, and begins with a basic framework, before she begins the arduous task of laying down her dense layers of sound. As Boucher humbly told The Guardian in 2012, “It’s usually about finding the perfect beat. I play around until I get a tempo I like and then it’s just a matter of filling in the blanks.”

It wasn’t long until Montreal-based independent label Arbutus Records snatched up Grimes in 2010 to release her debut album Geidi Primes. In keeping with her true independent spirit, Arbutus label founder and owner Sebastian Cowan was a high school friend of Boucher’s, and was drawn to working with her solely based on her drive as a visual artist, her voice, and her unique character.

“Both Claire and I are workaholics,” says Cowan, who also serves as Grimes’ mixing engineer and manager. “I think that’s what initially drew us together in a professional sense. When she’s working on her art, nothing else really matters to her, and she focuses all of her being into it. I always had an admiration for her character. When I realized she had an incredible voice, I figured the two might come together in a beautiful way and immediately started encouraging her to make music.”

With the limelight beckoning and pressure mounting, Boucher would lock the door to her bedroom for nine days of isolation that included a lack of food, sleep and light while making Visions. Though this challenging time was marked with self-doubt and reluctant soul-searching, her path was finally forged. “The main thing is really that I need to be alone,” Boucher said in a 2012 interview with Ion magazine. “I need to forget about my existence as it is perceived by others, otherwise I get self-conscious and scared.”

As of this writing, Boucher has once again gone into self-styled exile, and granted no media access as she readies herself for what promises to be a career-defining fourth effort. Grimes’ musical confidant and cohort Cowan sheds some light on what has become one of the most anticipated albums of 2013.

“The biggest difference [since Visions],” he says, “would be her self-confidence. Once she started to play live, listening to music in a more critical way, she then incorporated all those experiences back into her music. I think Visions represents a really amazing point where everything came together: innocence, ambition, humility, sheer talent, accident and strong will. Her future records will invariably be more tailored and savvy. This isn’t better, or worse, it’s just different.”

If it weren’t for a growth spurt in his early teens, folksinger-songwriter Dave Gunning may never have found the guitar.

“Mom and dad ‘forgot’ to enroll me in hockey one year,” Gunning says with a sheepish laugh. “I think it’s because I needed new gear.” Looking for something to do in his hometown of Pictou, Nova Scotia, he picked up a guitar his father had brought home from a local flea market, learning a few chords from a neighbour. That’s when his parents told him that if he could learn and perform two songs, they would spring for lessons. He never thought it would lead to a career.
With eleven albums now under his belt, along with a substantial handful of prizes from the East Coast Music Awards, the Canadian Folk Music Awards and Music Nova Scotia, among others, Gunning says he still feels fortunate to be able to make music for a living.

“I’m not really built to do this,” he says, acknowledging an introverted nature and an early tendency for getting “nerved up.” (He was first encouraged onto the stage by his childhood friend JD Fortune, who went on to front INXS.) But Gunning is more than comfortable onstage these days, having logged hundreds of hours playing covers on the Maritime pub circuit until he was ready to take his own show on the road.

“I don’t think it’s uncommon in the folk world to have thousands of little moments, rather than one big one,”- Dave Gunning

Gunning, who affectionately describes his approach to songwriting as “blue collar,” says he’s drawn to the idea of telling stories and preserving history through his music. His most recent album, No More Pennies, made international headlines when the Canadian Mint wanted him to pay royalties for depicting the recently discontinued coins on his album cover. It relented, but not before Gunning amassed $6,200 through a penny drive, later donating the money to a Halifax children’s hospital.
While some have suggested he’s due for a big break, Gunning likes how things have unfolded so far. “I don’t think it’s uncommon in the folk world to have thousands of little moments, rather than one big one,” he says happily. “That’s definitely how it’s been for me.”