Rouyn-Noranda rapper and founder of the Disques 7ième Ciel imprint Steve Jolin has proven that you can become established in the rap world, even outside of major urban centres. After all, Jolin oversees the destiny of such big names in Québec rap as Koriass, Alaclair Ensemble, Brown and Fouki. Still, is till comes as a surprise to see a promising new Anglophone rapper emerge from Abitibi-Témiscamingue. For a few months now, the Rouyn-Noranda-born, Montréal-based 19-year-old Zach Zoya is increasingly the name they mention mentioned when people talk about the next big Québec thing.

Signed to 7ième Ciel, Zoya has been slowly and patiently releasing singles that garner more than enthusiastic reactions from the rap fans. His first, “Superficial,” has been streamed more than 230,000 times on Spotify, and his second, “Who Dat,” reached more than 100,000 streams in a month. Zoya has opened shows for Loud, Bigflo & Oli, and Alaclair Ensemble, and High Klassified featured his vocals on “1919,” the first single from his latest EP, launched a few weeks ago on the American label Fool’s Gold Records. Zoya is turning a lot of heads.

“I always try to slip in a few references to my hometown in my songs,” says Zoya, when asked about the influence of his native, rural area on his urban output. “They’re well hidden sometimes, but very present. I have to say, being one of the only Anglo rappers from Abitibi has allowed me to develop a unique style.” Said style sees him alternate between his distinctive rap flow and singing, and he creatively impressive, writing lots of super-catchy hooks, all of which has earned him high marks from Noisey, Exclaim and Complex.

Zoya makes no bones about his strong ambition. “I’ve always said that my goal with music is to reach the largest possible audience,” he says. “That means I’ve always set my goals on making it in Québec, but internationally as well. I want my music to be heard everywhere.”

We’ll have the chance to catch Zoya on countless summer stages this year, like the Festival d’Été de Québec, the Montréal Jazz Fest and FRIMAT, and more singles will surely be released, undoubtedly adding to the glowing reviews he’s already received.

There’s a chance that the Good Vibes Music Group will release its own music at some point, but for the time being, the fledgling company is focused on music publishing, and especially discovering new talent. Hence the name of its first series of talent scouting sessions, the Discovery Song Camps, going on this spring in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Nashville and London, England.

Good Vibes is the brainchild of Canadian music whiz Jason Murray (of Black Box Music) and veteran, Grammy-winning writer/producer/musician Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. And while both principals have plenty of other irons in the music-business fire, talking to Murray creates the distinct impression that Good Vibes is a kind of mutual admiration society.

“I would say that Kenny is closer to a Canadian than anyone I’ve met out here,” says Murray from Los Angeles. “He’s navigated a four-decade career and managed not to burn bridges, and to be honest and kind, and to mentor people. That’s a huge part of what I get to learn, every day that I spend with him.”

International connections aside, Good Vibes is very much a Canadian company, based in Ontario, with international representation through SOCAN. And while applicants for the first Discovery Camp came from far and wide, three of the eight participants in the L.A. camp were from Toronto. “I’m definitely not abandoning where I come from,” stresses Murray. “We’re trying to create a pipeline for Canadian writers and producers.”

Murray is pumped up when we reach him in the studio during the final hours of the first four-day Discovery camp. “It’s been pretty amazing,” he enthuses. “I’ve done the SOCAN-sponsored Merge song camps for the past three years, so I learned a lot about how to do it properly, how to get the right energy.

“We had 1,000-plus applicants just for the L.A. camp. The goal is to bring people who have something very specific, and put them in an environment to test them and see whether they really have what we think they have.

“Our goal was to curate and manage each room around something we felt was commercially viable. We had someone we thought was a great concept person, somebody we thought was great with melody, somebody who was classically trained. For us it’s more about the talent and the competitiveness of what other writers and producers are doing.

“That’s what makes this a little different from other camps I’ve been involved in. The pressure is off.”

“This camp is not really about having hit records come out of the sessions. It wouldn’t be fair to expect that from the writers we picked. It’s more about learning about them, them learning about us. And about us challenging them to really do some heavy lifting as songwriters. If a great song comes out of it, fantastic. We’ve had some great ideas; are any of them going to be hit songs? I don’t know. But it’s a discovery for them, learning about themselves and each other, and that’s the goal. That’s what makes this a little different from other camps I’ve been involved in. The pressure is off.”

The first Discovery Song Camp was a creative hot house, and probably a “pinch me” moment for most of the participants. In addition to Murray and Babyface, guest producers/collaborators included artist/producer James Fauntleroy, and hit-making production duo Monsters & Strangerz.

The only criteria for winning a place at one of the Discovery camps was talent, and that the writer or producer be a free agent, that is unsigned. And when each camp wraps, the work created still belongs to the writers in the rooms.

“We own nothing,” says Murray. “Everybody who wrote on a song takes that piece of the song with them when they leave, whether it was written with Babyface, or Fauntleroy, whatever. Good Vibes has no stake in it. We’re just doing the right thing. Karma is like a boomerang, you throw it out there and it comes back to you when you least expect it.

“If we can find two or three phenomenal writers and/or producers from these camps, we’ll be thrilled. We’ve got Nashville and Atlanta next month, then London after that. Then we’ll assess things, and decide what we’ve got, who will work well with each other in our system. This is just a first date. It would be amazing if we find three or four writers who have a special niche that we can use at the end of it all.”

How do Murray and Edmonds assess a song’s commercial potential when the pop climate might be completely different in a year or two, when the material actually gets released?

“One of Kenny’s biggest songs, a track that went to Bobby Brown, was written six years before Bobby Brown cut it,” explains Murray. “I’ve got a song I wrote 14 months ago that’s going to be a single on a record that’s coming out in five months. From our perspective, the commercial viability is about how you dress up the song, but that’s not the composition. The composition is something that doesn’t have a shelf life. I truly believe that.

“James Fauntleroy was telling us about ‘Mirrors,’ a song he did with Justin Timberlake, that was written more than six years before it came out. I’m sure the production would have changed had it been recorded at another time during that window, but the composition is the foundation.

“At the end of the day, great songs make for a healthy industry, and making good investments in artists and writers is absolutely crucial to our ecosystem. If five years from now, we haven’t signed any of these artists, but they’re in the charts, then they can come back and do the same for somebody else.”

A full-length album has been years in the making for Toronto post-punk band FRIGS. The five-year-old act, who once went by the name Dirty Frigs, spent their early years brewing up a storm of noise in small venues like the recently-closed Silver Dollar. (The band credits the venue’s booker Dan Burke with helping to launch their career when they first moved to Toronto from Montréal.) With a couple of EPs under their belt, time finally came for a proper album last year, but the band was faced with a conundrum: How do they fuse their raucous past with a newer, more refined sound?

“While we were confident in the material we had, there was some concern about whether the songs produced from these two separate sessions could come together to form a unified work,” says guitarist Duncan Hay Jennings. He’s talking about piecing together songs recorded at their home studio in 2015-2016, and those captured in their time with producer Ian Gomes (Greys, Odonis Odonis) at Union Sound Company.

When FRIGS first started, they were buzzing with an untamed fervour for sludgy reverb and experimental sounds that drew comparisons to early Sonic Youth. But Jennings admits that the band began to expand their sonic interests, especially “exploring the use of tension a lot more than our previous records. It’s a big part of our live show – dissonance, drastic dynamic shifts – so naturally, it worked its way into the overall vibe of the album.”

That album, Basic Behaviour, found its balance through Holy F__k’s Graham Walsh, who mixed all the tracks. Says Jennings, “He did a wonderful job, providing the right amount of glue to piece it all together.”

Now that FRIGS can tick an album off their checklist, they’re already setting their sights on the next record, aiming to head back into the studio this summer. “We’ve already got roughly five or six songs finished for the next record,” says Jennings. “Almost all of them have been played regularly on tour, if not every night, so we’re feeling comfortable with them. We’re excited about the material and getting it down to tape.”