On Turbo’s Instagram account, you’ll find photos of the Calgary-born and -raised artist in cowboy boots, camo trucker hats, and shiny belt buckles, posing with a goofy grin. “I want to be the face of country hip-hop,” says Turbo. “I haven’t broken any records yet, but I’m on my way.”

Turbo’s music is a confluence of country twang and hip-hop beats, a sound that’s broken out into the mainstream thanks to Lil Nas X and other genre-blurring artists. Although Turbo’s country cred predates “Old Town Road” – his dad’s a bluegrass guitarist, and he grew up surrounded by that music – Turbo started getting into it after an old manager introduced him to outlaw country, and artists like fellow Canadian, Colter Wall. At the same time, Turbo was making his own beats in his bedroom, and decided to merge the seemingly disparate genres. He’s since signed to the Los Angeles based independent label 10K/Internet Money Records.

“I have songs that are super-country and songs that are more hip-hop,” says Turbo. “But then once in awhile I land on a good blend, and that’s the stuff I try to push.” He points to “Heart Stop” as a single that hits the right balance. Pairing acoustic guitar and personal songwriting with bouncy drums, Turbo says the song was inspired by his struggles with mental health, and learning to accept himself the way he is.

His current single, “Summer’s End,” has “guitar that sounds like Johnny Cash,” and was written right after a camping trip. “In Canada, we only have four months of the year to enjoy life to the fullest. We go out in the woods, go camping and party hard.” says Turbo. “It’s awesome, but by the time summer ends, you’re almost glad it’s over, because damn, we went crazy.”

Brothers Simon and Henri Kinkead consider all forms of Migration on their first album. Released last October, its title is directly inspired by said action of leaving a place. With the help of Simon Kearney on production duties, the duo offers ten songs about questioning, life changes that we choose (or are imposed upon us), and the necessary evolution from childhood to adulthood – the kind of concerns that go as well with being in one’s mid-20s as coffee goes with Monday morning.

KinkeadBirds leave for the winter, but they always come home. The Kinkead twins try to look to the future, mourning what they leave behind. “COVID is putting us through an existential crisis in a context where everyone in experiencing a crisis. It’s become hard to distinguish between the stress that comes from within and the stress generated by the pandemic,” says Henri. The confusion is absolute.

“We’re surrounded by anxiety and our society is constantly evolving, not always in the right direction, and it’s OK to question oneself – even though we have to manage a crisis that’s bigger than ourselves,” Simon adds. “It’s not hard to lose oneself, and finding the right balance is hard.”

Today’s young adults grew up with social media, and they defined themselves that way, which exposes them to suffering from overexposure, even in a context of isolation. “For us, then, it’s only normal to sing about what we go through and write very personal songs,” says Simon. Directly addressing other identity issues such as sexual orientation and belonging, they don’t formalize their speech, but say things as they are.

“We’re not trying to provoke,” says Simon. “We don’t pretend to be Hubert Lenoir, but we also know we represent another model of difference. We’re another vector of that message which can only benefit from being shared as much as possible. The more models there are, the better people who don’t feel represented will feel.”

According to Henri, producer Simon Kearney solidified Kinkead’s tenets by providing them with the groovy foundation for their album. “He brought us a stylistic cohesion,” says Henri. “We’re songwriters, we work with voice and guitars. Once we got into the studio, we told him about our inspirations, and he found our sonic identity.”

Although some believe the twins have a sixth sense that allows them to communicate without saying a word, maybe it’s just that they have a somewhat esoteric gift for cohesion. “Our telepathy is simply that we know each other’s limits. We don’t put a spanner in each other’s works because we’re in total symbiosis,” says Henri.

And although the key to their success resides in their common vision, they’re still able to recognize the strengths that distinguish each sibling. “Henri has a better instinct for pop hooks than I do,” Simon readily admits. “I’m more into words, the ways of saying things, and making a text work. Let’s just say I’m more vulnerable and sensitive.” “Simon is the emo half of the band,” Henri adds with a giggle. “We do love bouncing off each other’s ideas, and letting inspiration take us wherever it wants. Like for the song ‘Atomic Suzie,’ I had this idea of a woman in a trance who goes to a karaoke bar and just slays. The idea came to me after jamming on drums and bass.”

Behind the concept of migration lies a notion of the evolution of humans towards an ideal version of themselves, while believing in the necessity to grow in an environment where life is good. “The climate crisis is one thing, but actively participating in the transition towards a political and economic system that will allow us to survive, while avoiding profit flowing only to an infinitesimal portion of the population, has become an absolute necessity,” says Henri. “Instead of allowing only 10 percent of people to go live on Mars, maybe we should strive to provide everyone with drinking water without devolving into a civil war.” “A revolution is something really hard to do,” his brother adds. “We must find a balance between all the things that are important to us, and the things that are necessary for others to live, too.”

Then, after the revolution, or the non-end-of-the-world, the end of the pandemic, one desire will continue: they’ll be playing this music that wants to be a vector for change. “Music exists through exchanging,” Henri believes. “We were lucky enough to be favourably received even without an actual physical record launch. Let’s hope it bodes well for what’s to come. We’re lucky enough to be young, and full of the energy required to carry on. We’re optimistic. We’ll be in full swing when the time comes.” “We’ll just go work at Normandin’s [a family-oriented chain of restaurants in the greater Québec City area] while we feed ourselves artistically,” Simon goes on. “Nothing can stop us now.”

On any given day you’re likely to find songwriter Luca Fogale sitting at his 1974 Yamaha upright piano in his Burnaby, BC, basement, eyes closed, waiting for the muse. He bought the instrument, which he calls “my little old friend,” 10 years ago.

“I sit there without fail every day,” says Fogale. The piano is the anchor of the songwriter’s home studio, where he goes to create and collaborate. This small space below ground is also where the song sketches, and half the recordings, for the dozen songs on Nothing is Lost – his most recent record, released in September 2020 – were written.

“I’ve lived here for eight years,” explains the SOCAN member, nominated for a 2020 Western Canadian Music Award for Pop Artist of the Year. “Pre-COVID, a lot of other songwriters would come over, and we would write songs together in this space. It’s quiet and cozy and there aren’t many windows. It’s a really safe place that allows me to be free and dig deep into myself. I shut my eyes and just stay down there as long as I need to. It’s nice to know this space is here for me at all times.”

Likely owing to the honesty and cathartic nature of Fogale’s songs, more people are enjoying – and discovering – his music. Born and raised in British Columbia, the songwriter has toured Canada, the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Japan. He’s shared the stage with Half Moon Run, Serena Ryder, and Josh Ritter, to name a few. In 2020, Fogale’s music has been streamed more than 30 million times, cumulatively across all platforms; he’s been featured on the cover of several major playlists; and he’s earned more than 85,000 Shazam searches.

“If not for the pandemic, I might not have connected with these co-writers”

Nothing is Lost was written over the past three years, as the record just kept evolving. Songwriting, for Fogale, is a slow, steady exercise. Sometimes it’s hard to let go and know when a composition is finished. “My process is quite meticulous,” he says. “I spend a lot of time writing, and on the recordings. I don’t work very fast. I tend to sit, think, evaluate, and re-evaluate the value of a song, its production, and all of its parts.”

When the pandemic hit Fogale had an album worth of songs ready, but the output didn’t feel important enough to release at a time when there was so much movement toward various social justice initiatives. He used the time to write more songs, trying to better capture the zeitgeist, and his own truth. The result of this deeper reflection is the pair of songs that bookend the album: “Nothing is Lost” and “You Tried” – a hopeful song that ends the record on a note of optimism.

Like most artists during COVID-19, with no touring or live shows, Fogale has kept busy writing away the days, both on his own, and virtually – with songwriters from around the world. For the artist, that’s one of the pandemic’s silver linings.

“I’ve found it really rewarding to do sessions with other songwriters over Zoom,” he says. “If not for the pandemic and having to shift these collaborations online, I might not have connected with these people.”

A “Surviving” synch – his third on Grey’s Anatomy

Fogale’s “Surviving” was featured in the premiere of the 17th season of Grey’s Anatomy. This isn’t the first time one of his songs has been featured in the popular prime-time TV drama. The artist’s Shazam exploded in real-time during the episode, with 20,000 people asking, ‘Hey Siri (or Alexa), what song is this?’ Fogale says anytime he hears one of his compositions in a new medium like this, it’s special.

“I have a wonderful small team working hard to make sure my songs can get the places they can,” he says. “That was the third time I’ve had a song on that show. I loved seeing people’s reactions when they announced this on social media. It means a lot to listeners and to viewers when things they know interact… when two art mediums collide, it’s so exciting.

“To see your song chosen to best represent the emotions of a scene when so many songs – millions in the genre I write – could have been chosen, that is humbling,” he says. “The scene where ‘Surviving’ played was beautiful and intense — an emotional intervention happening for one of the characters, encompassing the issues and the stigmas surrounding mental health. These are things I think about a lot, so to have it in a scene that I really connected with was profoundly special. To hear my little piano in that show and see all the Instagram stories of people sharing it was incredible. I can feel my house in that song.”