When Madison Kozak was 10 years old, she won a contest to perform in front of thousands at the Havelock Country Jamboree in rural Ontario. It was a moment that changed her life, and made her realize that music was something she wanted to pursue. “I felt this unforgettable adrenalin rush connecting with the audience,” she recalls. “At that time, I was singing all cover songs, and I saw the way people sang the lyrics as if it were the soundtrack to their lives… It hit me that music is something that connects people, and I just knew that was something I wanted to be a part of.”

To do that, to dive head-first into the music industry, then-14-year-old Kozak did what many aspiring country singer-songwriters do: she moved to Nashville. Now in her second-to-last semester at Belmont University, where she’s a music business major, Kozak believes being “a small fish in a freaking ocean” helps drive her to work harder, become a better songwriter, and work her way back to performing in front of thousands – but this time, singing the words to her own songs.

A big step towards achieving that dream is her upcoming signing to a successful publishing company, which Kozak will do this year with Big Loud Shirt, home to writers like Craig Wiseman (Blake Shelton, Brooks and Dunn) and Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley. It was an opportunity that arose in one of her Belmont classes, where she presented songs to a panel of publishers, which included Hannah Wilson from Big Loud Shirt. “She immediately took me under her wing, and showered me with awesome advice and support,” says Kozak.

Forever adhering to the idea of “writing the truth,” Kozak hopes her music – which includes released singles like “Trailblazer” and “First Last Name” – can make others feel the way her idols make her feel. Idols like Loretta Lynn, Shania Twain, and Taylor Swift, who make her feel “that I’m not alone, and that I can do anything if I put my mind to it, and am nice to people.”

“Like I said, I believe music connects people, in which case I hope I can be a bridge,” she says. “God knows in this day and age, we can never have too much of that.”

Although she was born in San Francisco, Nathalie Bonin’s parents were Francophone Québécois. Although she spent her entire life in Québec, it seemed like going back to California was written in the stars. With the help of a SOCAN Foundation grant, and her mentor Michael Levine – composer, among other things, of the music for the Netflix series Sirens and the videogame Resident Evil – she got to experience the Game Developers Conference (GDC) during a one-week stay at the L.A. SOCAN House in 2016.

Nathalie Bonin“I had a three-year plan in mind, I was tired of living in the cold six months out of every year, so I took a leap of faith,” says Bonin. Serene, she couldn’t be happier with her new life. “If I was a city, I’d be Santa Monica! I think my authenticity opened doors for me. I love challenges.” Which isn’t surprising, coming from someone so eager to experiment. Bonin is a demanding artist who’s able to clearly and objectively question herself.

An acoustic and electric violinist, she‘s toured extensively with the band Tocadéo. She accompanied Stevie Wonder the last time he played Montréal. She’s been suspended from the Jumbotron at Montréal’s Bell Centre, as part of an amazing aerial number in collaboration with Cirque Éloize, during the opening ceremony of the NHL All-Star Game in 2009. She was imperial in stature during a wild performance alongside Klô Pelgag at the 2018 ADISQ Gala, followed by an intimate duet with Michel Louvain. She’s played in concert with Marc Dupré, composed two seasons worth of music for Messmer’s Hyp-Gags on Z Télé, and wrote the theme song for the show Prière de ne pas envoyer de fleurs, hosted by Patrice L’Écuyer on ICI Radio-Canada. She’s participated in 75 episodes of the show Hommage à Joe Dassin and, last November, Bonin played in a jazz concerto at the Gesù alongside New York saxophonist and composer Quinsin Nachoff. As if all that wasn’t enough, her music was selected for a Fondation du Dr Julien fundraiser.

“In L.A., I can’t rehearse eight hours a day, my life is a marathon and I like it just the way it is,” says Bonin. “Most of the people I work with aren’t from L.A., they’re from elsewhere. They’re people who followed their dreams and set challenges for themselves, like mine. We each try to help each other out through that process. I’m not there to take someone else’s place. It’s not a competition.

“I’m now at peace with my desire to do a lot of things all at once.”

“Screen composing, film scores, are mostly about communicating an emotion,” she says. “Composing for a story I see, I’m inspired when I play in real time. I’ll watch the film several times, and then talk at length with the director to make sure that the characters are well supported by the music, in terms of quantity and tone. I’m at the service of the images. But I don’t play over the images; if people don’t realize that music has entered a scene, you’ve done a good job. I become a creator, but at the service of a work of art.”

Nathalie Bonin, Brandon Garmon

Nathalie Bonin and Devil’s Hour director Brandon Garmon

She’s a member of the Grammy and Emmy academies, of the Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL), of the Malibu Composers Club, which convenes once a week, and she won the highest distinction at the Live Score Film Festival for her work on The Devil’s Hour, a horror movie.

“Ten composers were paired with ten directors,” she says. “We didn’t know which horror film we were going to work on. It was no small feat, because I hate horror movies! I was grossed out by images of blood. I range from fully enthusiastic to completely panicked. That anxiety is always there: ‘Can I pull it off?’ I’m reassured to know that the big-name composers I work with feel the same uncertainty, even after working on hundreds of movies. You get there by impregnating yourself with a film’s atmosphere. At some point gridlock is broken, an idea pops out, there’s a click and everything falls into place. You need to trust yourself.”

Bonin has also composed 20 pieces for eight different albums of library music on Michael Levine’s label, MPATH. She often works at home, alone, tinkering with sounds and experimenting with the music software Logic. She also recently launched an album, Emotional Violin, chock full of dark tunes, under label CrimeSonics distributed by BMG Production Music.

On March 1st, she will fly to New York at the DIY Music Festival to give a workshop about the art of combining her business and artistic side to succeed in her career. And, after having realized a project of music for 3D phones, she plans on the composition of a musical work intended for virtual reality. In other words, 24 hours is hardly enough for a day in Bonin’s life. And she does all of it without an agent or manager.

“I battled with myself for a long time, wondering if I was too scattered with my countless projects,” she says. “But the truth is, as a musician, you can’t just be good at one thing. I’m now at peace with my desire to do a lot of things all at once.”

On La Musica Popular de Verdun, Montréal’s Clay and Friends have managed to combine their stage antics with devil-may-care studio experimentation.

Clay and FriendsAt the crossroads of hip-hop, soul, funk, reggae, pop and folk, the band’s EP is remarkably varied. As a matter of fact, its creators fully embrace its eclecticism. “I don’t think anyone will ever say that Clay and Friends is a coherent and homogenous band,” says singer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Clay with a smirk. “I respect people who are able to develop and fine-tune a specific style, like D’Angelo on Voodoo, for example, but that’s not what we’re after.”

To find the guiding thread of what could very easily have become a big mess of influences, the quintet found inspiration in the creative groundswell that gave birth to música popular brasileira, a Brazilian musical genre that was popularized in TV shows during the ’60s. First perceived as the heir to the bossa nova throne, the genre took several twists and turns that, as the years went by, made it more akin to a hybrid musical movement that married traditional and modern, rather than a well-defined genre. “It mixed bossa and samba to funk and pop,” says Clay. “I watched a lot of videos from that era and, I have to say, they are unbelievable musicians, very inspiring. And they inspired me to do a kind of ‘best of’ of our influences: La Musica Popular de Verdun.”

Recorded in the brand new Verdun studio of the band’s beatboxer Adel Kazi, this second official EP (the band considers its 2013 and 2014 releases as mere demos) was created as a reaction to its predecessor, Conformopolis, released two years ago. In hindsight, the now-independent band realized that project was a compromise between its artistic vision and that of its then-label.

“To be totally transparent,” says Clay, “we wanted to regain the confidence of people who listen to our stuff and who, just as we did, couldn’t find any correlation between the Clay and Friends they see in concert and the Clay and Friends whom they heard on that first album. We wanted to be as good as our songs are.”

To do so, the singer-songwriter took advantage of his creative trips abroad to write the core of Clay and Friends’ new songs. Clay – who earns a living as a ghostwriter for several Canadian and American artists (whom he can’t name) – then called his good friends Clément Langlois-Légaré (guitar), Pascal Boisseau (bass), Émile Désilets (keyboards), and his partner in crime since day one, Adel Kazi.

After five years of fine-tuning, the quintet’s modus operandi is well honed. “I take my tunes to Clément and he comes up with crazy arrangements for my very basic three-chord compositions,” says Clay. “Then it’s on to Adel, he’s the chemist, the one who fine-tunes and transmogrifies the sounds. Then it’s on to Émile and Pascal, who bring their organic touch, and a live feel. They played a big role on this EP.”

The band’s fans are the sixth member. Thanks to the audio recordings of some of their shows, the musicians know exactly what songs galvanize their audience. To wit, “OMG,” which came about after a particularly inebriated fan yelled “Oh My God!” during one of the band’s shows in Trois-Rivières, as well as “Going Up The Coast,” where one can hear the crowd singing in unison with Mike Clay.

That song, an endearing travelogue of the band’s tour of 300 shows in two years, has a special meaning for its creator. “It’s the story of our tour, a collection of moments that we lived together,” says Clay. “Nights spent in rental cars, and relationships that ended because of our prolonged absence. It’s a very exhausting way of life, but I’m slowly learning to draw a line. Back in 2016, I was the tour manager of our first European tour. It was totally absurd, like 35 shows in 40 days. I recall playing on a beach in Italy for about 100 people and I was not enjoying the moment at all…

“Now I’m more attuned to the signs that reveal themselves to me when we leave for a long period of time. I exercise, I eat well, I don’t drink every night, and most important of all, I sleep. Some of the guys in the band get away with just two hours of sleep, but not me. I need to break the image I used to have of the invincible artist. The documentary on Avicii really opened my eyes about this. Seriously, his team literally killed him from exhaustion.”

In short, after the record launch at a sold-out Ministère, the band is taking time to breathe. They’ll tour high schools in the spring, and Europe next summer. As for the rest, Clay and his friends are waiting to check the audience response before filling up their day-planners. “I used to be a compulsive player,” he says. “I had this old-school mentality that if we don’t get offered gigs in venues, we’ll just go play in the street, or at a party, it doesn’t matter. Now, we have a booking agency [Rubis Varia] that’s helping re-frame all that. Instead of diluting our value by playing 15 times a month, we’re going to wait for the right opportunities.”