The best pop stars in the world are also some of the greatest actors, oftentimes inhabiting different roles to tell specific stories. Madonna, The Spice Girls, and Britney Spears all embody this idea, inspiring artists like the Toronto-born, Métis Indigo to not only take up music, but also acting and dance as a teenager.

“That was probably the smartest thing I could have done for myself,” she says, looking back at her decision to pursue multiple disciplines. “Because now, in my music, I use all three when performing. I love dance, and I insist on having it be a part of my videos and performance. And acting is key when delivering the message behind your song.” For Indigo, the performative aspect of music doesn’t feign authenticity – it enhances it.

Indigo understands pop structure, and is very matter-of-fact when describing a successful hook: “Simplicity is everything in pop writing. Less is more.”

This may sound reductive, but Indigo’s music treats choruses with care, giving its melodies the space to shine while still building interesting layers of production around it. For example, her latest single, “The Light,” couches a punchy hook in an equally assertive beat and sparkling synths.

Her current songs are bolstered by a hip-hop sound thanks to producer Lantz (Jazz Cartier) whose “instincts are dead-on,” as Indigo says. “There’s definitely an influence of hip-hop on my music,” she adds, especially on “The Light” and a couple of upcoming tracks. After all, hip-hop’s prominence in the mainstream has dictated the direction of pop in recent years.

But Indigo says the advantage of working within the pop sphere is the ability to “add little twists of inspiration from different genres and cultures… the fluidity of pop keeps the doors open for endless possibilities.”

Much like the idols she grew up watching and listening to, Indigo’s burgeoning career is bound to go through some transformation, and we can’t wait to see what role she takes on next.

“The thing is, it’s not texts or e-mails,” says Les Hay Babies’ Viviane Roy about the rich source material that inspired their third album, Boîte aux lettres. It’s the correspondence between a mother and her daughter, a young woman who moved from New Brunswick to Montréal in the mid-‘60s. “You know, a telephone line was way too expensive, back then. That means those letters are rich and super-detailed. Jackie tries to make her mom live what she’s living in Montréal.”

 Les Hay BabiesThis story, however – before being about letters or about music – is a story about clothes. A few years ago, bandmate Julie Aubé inherited a bunch of clothes found by Claudette, a long-time Hay Babies fan who’d been tasked with emptying a Moncton house abandoned by its owner. You see, besides her creative work, Aubé also manages an online second-hand clothing store call OK My Dear. As such, she owns one of the most stunning wardrobes in Atlantic Canada. Although her bandmate and friend Katrine Noël is a fierce competitor for the title.

Among the clothes Claudette gave her were a bunch of letters that she initially set aside, “because the cool clothes were just so cool,” says Aubé. “I’m talking gorgeous flared jeans that would cost, like, $300 today.” Once the initial clothing-induced high subsided, the musician quickly realized what the true gem of Claudette’s gift was. “As soon as we started reading those letters, we were on the edge of our seats.”

The necessity of creating a concept album based on this correspondence quickly became self-evident, because of the vivid portrait painted by Jacqueline of her professional, social, and sentimental life as a single woman in Montréal between 1965 and 1969.

“No one could remain unmoved after reading those letters,” says Noël. “It’s like a soap opera. Oh my God, she’s auditioning to be a top model! Oh my God, she’s dating that guy! But Jackie is writing with her ego. She tries to come across as way more high-class than anyone else in Moncton. Maybe her mom didn’t want her to move to Montréal at 24, maybe she told her, ‘You’ll never realize your dreams, you should get married instead.’ And maybe that’s why Jackie lays it on so thick. It was super-interesting to guess what’s true, and what’s not.”

One happy side effect of this six-handed extrapolation, is that whereas the songs on Mon Homesick Heart (2014) and La 4ième dimension (version longue) (2016) could easily be identified by the respective style of each of the Hay Babies’ three songwriters, every second of Boîte aux lettres is clearly the result of a team effort.

“An album is not a single, it has to stand on its own.” — Viviane Roy, Les Hay Babies

And whereas La 4ième dimension (version longue) was a celebration of ‘70s soft rock, Boîte aux lettres is filled to the brim with ‘60s sounds, from the pastoral folk of “Entre deux montagnes” to the garage rock of “Almost minuit” and the psychedelic stylings of “Limonade.”

“We were also obsessed by the music grandpa and grandma played when they were making babies,” jokes Roy, definitely the most loquacious of the trio, about the obvious easy-listening references that imbue a lascivious song like “Jacqueline.”

Reading the letters was also a lesson that allowed Les Hay Babies to take the full measure of how much the liberties taken for granted by women today had to be fought for, and won, back then. “Jackie was quite the feminist for the time,” says Roy. “She had the independence to refuse to settle down and get married at 18 like she could have. She was very open-minded. It made us check our privilege. There’s a lot of stuff that’s completely mundane for us, that required a lot of courage for her. There’s such a huge contrast between what she had to go through, between her own thoughts and how she had to behave to please men, and where we’re at today. All those examples of how we’ve come a long way jumped out of her letters.”

Another aspect of Boîte aux lettres that stands out – in this era of playlists and streaming platforms that break down an album into single units – is that it presents itself as an album that has to be listened to from A to Z, flipping the bird to our constant zap-based culture.

“I’ve always believed in concept albums,” says Roy. “All albums should be concept albums, to a degree. An album is not a single, it has to stand on its own. When you invest yourself in listening to an album, it’s like being in an art gallery. When you become aware of the underlying theme, every single piece of art makes more sense. Frankly, I think there are way too many artists that are, like, ‘I have enough songs for an album.’ Well, guess what? I’ll never listen to those albums. There are so many albums that are released by artists unable to back them up with ideas.”

But have Jacqueline’s letters, from a New Bruswicker exiled in Montréal, made Aubé and Noël, who still live in their native province, want to move? Noël grimaces. “It made me want to see Montréal as it was in the ’60s, big-time,” she says. “It made me want to visit Expo 67. But moving to Montréal to go to hipster restaurants that all look the same? Not so much.”

On one side you’ve got your Kanye-types, artists who think they’re the best thing since sliced bread, or Prince; on the other, there’s someone like Jeff Hazin – who wonders why anyone is even interested in his career, or wants to work with him.  It’s refreshing, and funny.

“I still don’t even know if I have a skill,” quips the self-deprecating producer-songwriter, who’s recently watched two artists he’s developed land big record deals — alt-pop act Ren with Interscope/Geffen, and indie-pop singer Anna Sofia with Republic.  “I’m, like, why are these people coming to me?”

Another, the intriguing genre-merger j. ember has been called “one to watch,” and urban artist Yoko Gold was selected to play the VIP reception prior to Barack Obama’s January appearance at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

“The biggest thing is that I just do it. I have a need to be creative. That’s a part of who I am and what continues to push me forward,” explains Hazin, 28, who co-writes with all the artists he produces.  “I think a lot of artists have that same feeling, because there’s nothing logical about being in the arts, and finding a stable career in the arts. That’s not what you’re after at first.”

Born and raised in Toronto, Hazin is the only musician in his family. He picked up the guitar at age 11, and “it was game over,” he says. A year or two later, he put bands together with his friends and started writing music he, of course, calls “terrible.”

Did he sing? “I tried, but no. People wouldn’t listen,” he deadpans. “I sing to myself, like in the shower and to the artists I work with, but you’re not going to really hear me on a lead vocal anytime soon.”

Hazin basically fell into producing and songwriting after getting simple recording software, Cakewalk Home Studio, and experimenting, and working away on GarageBand on one of the computers at his high school (“instead of doing real work”). He then learned how to use Ableton Live.

 “I always stress, to every artist I work with, to be yourself”

“I started as an artist doing my own produced music, very weird conceptual-based experimental electronic music,” he says. “It was under my last name. Don’t go looking for it though ‘cause it’s not very good.”

A voracious learner, he explains, “I’m very obsessive in arts, in general. I love poetry, and art, and museums, and sculptures, and movies, and music, just the whole culture. So those projects, I was taking spoken poetry and chopping it up, and doing weird stuff. It was fun.”

At Ryerson University, he enrolled in the Radio and Television Arts (RTA) program. “I wanted to be surrounded by the academic environment,” says Hazin, “but I learned halfway through university that a lot of that is outside of school, so I just started doing a lot of learning on my own.”

The first artist he worked with was in 2014, a schoolmate, Maccie, creating music in an alt-pop vein.  “From there, my community started to grow more and more, and I started to work a whole bunch of different artists — I still do work with them.”

If he has an approach as a producer or co-writer, it’s this: “I always stress, to every artist I work with, to be yourself.

“There might be some other producers and writers that are always looking for something, and they might not be looking at the artist in front of them,” says Hazin. “But to me, the best stuff comes from being honest and truthful to who the person and that character is. I think when you tell that to an artist, it gives them the confidence that they’re enough.”

With Ren and Anna Sofia, Hazin co-wrote with them, but their respective sounds were arrived at after years of trying things out “until it feels right,” he says. “Sometimes it takes a journey until the artists find where they’re most comfortable being, and I’ve been a part of their journey. Where it goes from here, who knows?”

As for his personal career goals, unsurprisingly, he wants to continuing learning, and would like to continue working with rock bands, pop acts, indie-folk, or hip-hop production styles.

“I definitely think my strong suit is that I’ve recorded and produced live bands like After Funk,” says Hazin, “that’s more in a traditional, old-school sense of producing – where we’re writing and arranging songs, and then producing the sounds, as opposed to more of a beat-maker or modern-day producer approach. That’s something years ago that I wanted, to have both, of because a lot of the producers that I look up to – like Pharrell, Rick Rubin, and Frank Dukes – have best of both worlds.”