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.”

Ariane Mahrÿke Lemire launched her third album, Wrecked Tangles and Love Knots, on October 11th, 2013. The almost entirely English album playfully oscillates between French and English, folk and jazz, poetry and ballads. Raised by her francophone mother and anglophone stepfather, the Edmontonian singer-songwriter got her inspiration from many, varied sources.

“My dad was a musician, a professional classical guitarist, and my mother, Gisele Lemire, also played guitar and wrote songs. Let’s just say I grew up surrounded by music. But above all, I wanted to become a novelist. That’s what I wanted to do since I was 10. Québec writer Manon Beaudoin lived in Edmonton and was my mentor during my teens. She would critique my texts and I learned a lot from her advice.”

Music came later. The bright-voiced singer continues: “I’ve always sung, but because I’m deaf in one ear, my 3rd grade teacher told me I was out of tune and sang badly…” Ariane took piano lessons but it’s only at about 21 that she got her first guitar and mastered the instrument. That is when she decided to get into songwriting. “I listened to a lot of Brel, Cabrel, Ferré, Thomas Fersen and I read poets like Prévert. So, at the time, my main sources of inspiration were the great francophone songwriters and poets.”

 Having learned English only at the age of 7, she is very attached to her Franco-Albertan and Franco-Saskatchewanian (through her mother’s side of the family) identities. She only had three songs in her repertoire when the organizers of the Gala albertain de la chanson invited her to participate in the contest, which she won in 1999. She soon participated in Chant’Ouest and Festival international de la chanson de Granby. Despite her budding career, Ariane decidced to take a break from music. “I wasn’t ready. I barely had four or five songs and I couldn’t accompany myself since I didn’t know how to play guitar. Ma father was supposed to help me with the arrangements, but I prefered to stop and study.”

She studied theater as well as media and digital arts, both of which are helpful to her ongoing career. “On top if my concerts, I can also give songwriting and theater workshops in schools. I’m proficient at graphic design and viedo editing. I’ve learned a ton of stuff having to do with music and it allowed me to keep the creative control.” She art directed the magnificent sleeve of her latest album, yet, as she says: “Here, out west, there are very few infrastructures, management companies, publishers. Most singer-songwiters are independant, but there is a tremendous amount of mutual help and solidarity. Whenever there is a concert, almost all the other artists are there to support…”

In 2005, following the completion of her studies, Ariane Lemire once again began giving concerts. Her first album, Double entendre, is a half-French, half-English affair that mirrors the reality of her own life straddling both cultures. “Nowadays, I never feel totally French or totally English and I get the impression I make mistakes in both languages,” she says.

Just as her career began taking off, in the wake of the launch of her second album entitled Décousue, in 2009, Ariane was involved in a bad car accident and she sustained injuries to the back and wrist. “It slowed down my career, obviously, because I was convalescing for quite a while. When you tour, you need a good back to lift the gear, and a good wrist is essential to play guitar. I get by OK now, I can be on stage for a couple of hours, but back then it was impossible.”

Wrecked Tangles and Love Knots is in essence a series of vignettes about the 32 year-old singer’s life, her love life, her environment, fears and hopes. Her luminous folk and melodic voice have cerried her all the way to France and will grace some of our country’s concert halls beginning in May. She hopes to break into other markets such as Australia and even Dubai, with the help of her many contacts.

Such is the reality of of Canada’s Francophonie: mutual help is the key. Two of her albums were financed by Rawlco Radios, a network of stations in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the third by Musicaction, and she received the help of many talented producers and musicians for her arrangements. Inspired by the recent artistic boom in Edmonton, Ariane is already working on her 4th album whose working title is Déjà rapiécée (already patched up, loosely translated). “Following up Décousue (unstitched) and in the wake of my car accident, there is a good chance that Déjà rapiécée will stick as the album’s title. I’m recording two of the songs in January and most of the album is written. It will be a French album.”

Feeling well-established in her current environment, she doesn’t plan on leaving her Edmonton appartment, despite the fact that she lives part of her life out of her suitcase. “Edmonton is inspiring creatively, but the people are not braggards. We do compete with the Internet and all those screens that keep people in their homes rather than coming out to hear us play. But the younger generation here is rebelling against that lifestyle. It’s a very vibrant environment that’s grown a lot in the last few years. The music scene is totally abuzz,” she concludes enthusiastically.

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.