Fontarabie (not to be confused with the Spanish commune of Fontarrabie, spelled with two r’s in French) is the name of an ambitious music project undertaken by Malajube leader Julien Mineau between two album releases by his highly popular band. Part film soundtrack and part classical or pops orchestra music, Fontarabie’s recently released first self named album stemmed from Mineau’s desire to take a break from Malajube’s brazenly diverse music style and try something different in the privacy of his own Ste-Ursule, Québec, home.

“I’ve changed since I started out. I wrote Trompe-l’œil when I was 22. Now I’m 33, and a completely different person. There’s very little left over from that earlier period.”

“I’d been working on personal projects and learning new techniques alone in my house for quite some time,” Mineau explains, “but I always lost interest before I could complete anything. It was either too complicated, or I was too busy playing with Malajube. Solo projects always ended up being dropped. This last project required a certain level of creative maturity, and I also wanted to be relaxed and without any stress. I wanted to create something meaningful that didn’t feel like work. I turned my house into a training lab. I bought mics, set up a small studio and leaned a few trades, such as those of arranger, mixer and sound technician. I quite enjoy doing stuff on my own without having to wait for a grant.”

Spread over a two-year period (2012-14), the creation of Fontarabie progressed slowly in an appropriately serene environment. “It’s been an extended studio session,” says Mineau. “I hardly went out to take in live music. I isolated to some extent, but I was comfortable at home with my girlfriend and my dogs. I’m a bit of a hermit anyway, more of a homebody.”

The 14 pieces on the album are only a fraction of the material Mineau accumulated for his impressive solo project. In making his final selection from some 50 songs, his chief consideration was the unity of the finished product. “I didn’t want to spread myself too thin,” he says. “I wanted something coherent with meaning and an overall thrust. Initially, it was all over the place, but I sorted things out, and that was quite a long process. I went about building the album instinctively, but I re-did some pieces dozens of times before I could finally say I was pleased with the result. That’s always been my attitude with music – I do it for myself first and foremost. I have to admit that I ended up putting pressure on myself toward the end, though. I fine-tuned many of the songs. I’d call myself a perfectionist, but not a maniac – that would be too dangerous,” he deadpans.

Sometimes reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s film compositions, Fontarabie’s music (performed by six musicians including Timber Timbre’s Simon Trottier) can also be likened to Hammer Productions or David Lynch film soundtracks. “I’m not a great listener to film music,” Mineau admits,“but that was certainly in my subconscious. I wanted to create evocations of early motion pictures, kitschy stuff, Columbo, violin glissandos. It was an exercise, really. Plus, I don’t like blending the colour of my voice into the music I make. I often think that this could alter the mood by providing too much information. That’s why half of the album pieces are instrumental.”

Even for film-like or mysterious instrumental selections such as “Morula” or “Cosmogonie,” Mineau invariably turned to the piano to compose his pieces (although he plays some ten instruments on the album). The writing of the lyrics, however, was his greatest creative challenge. “Had I decided to go without voices altogether, the album would have been able to come out last year,” he says. “All the music was ready. I must say, writing lyrics is not my idea of fun. It’s time-consuming, and much less instinctive. And more painful, too. I can come up with the music for three songs in a single day, but when it comes to lyrics, I’m always a bit stuck. I refuse to write meaningless sentences or bad puns. I’ve changed since I started out. I wrote Trompe-l’œil when I was 22. Now I’m 33, a completely different person. There’s very little left over from that earlier period,” he stresses.

After performing a memorable show last summer at the Montreal FrancoFolies festival (with 17 musicians onstage), spending some time in the New Brunswick countryside and taking part in the Festival de musique émergente en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (FMEAT), Mineau’s future plans are simple: “Writing and performing music on a daily basis, that’s what I want to do right now. Also, we never know where Malajube is going to go next, but I already have one or two Fontarabie albums in the bank. I’m on a roll in the studio, and I’d rather play stand-alone shows that go on tour at this stage in my life. Plus,” Mineau prudently adds, “I’ve made a copy of my hard drive. So, if my house burns down, I won’t lose all that work.” And neither will we.

“I try not to think,” xSDTRK says of songwriting.  But the Montreal songwriter-producer-artist, whose credits include Jennifer Lopez, Jessie J, Karl Wolf, Ricky J and Jessie Labelle, puts a lot of thought into making progress.

“A few years ago, I stopped producing to song-write, to understand the concept of the song and really sit in the songwriter’s chair,” he says, “and then I slowly found myself [going] into producing again.”

“If I sit down to do something that doesn’t push forward then I may as well not do it.”

His production and writing credits continue to grow – including recent tracks for Jennifer Lopez – but he’s also just dropped his own EP, Canvas. He sings on a few of the songs. One cut, “PowDer,” a sultry atmospheric track featuring Thes on vocals, came out last June.

xSDTRK – whose given name is Yonatan Ayal – is not expecting radio play or an Anglophone Song of the Year Award like the one he received at the Francophone edition of the 2011 SOCAN Awards for Ricky J’s “Whatta Night.”

“It’s not so song-based. It’s more production-heavy,” he says of his own material. “It’s kind of free-form. It comes back to the same thing of not thinking about it too much. Me locked in my basement, just trying to create a linear immersive experience.  Some people will define it as trippy; I think it’s just audio cinema.”

Ayal’s parents gave him until he was 25 to make a go of a music career. He made it. He’s 25.  He had studied piano with the Royal Conservatory since the age of three, and could get around playing most instruments. Then in his teens he started making beats “by necessity,” for some high school friends who were rapping.

“I picked up the DAW [digital audio workstation] and just started going at it,” he says. “It slowly evolved into what it is today.” Using Abelton and ProTools, Ayal focuses on making quirky beats that push boundaries, “because if I sit down to do something that doesn’t push forward then I may as well not do it,” he says.

His work on Karl Wolf’s “Yala Habibi” was the song that opened doors.  “That really introduced me to the Canadian industry and then I moved on to the United States a few years later,” he says. A major leg up was an invitation from Leon “Roccstar” Youngblood to participate in his songwriting camp for JLo, which yielded “Acting Like That” (feat. Iggy Azalea) and “So Good,” on her recent A.K.A. album.

“I don’t believe in luck,” Ayal says. “I just calculate what it takes to get to a certain point. The only thing I can control is my education and making sure that I keep getting better.”

Track Record

  • Earned 2011 JUNO Award  nomination for R&B/Soul Recording of the Year, for his co-write with Karl Wolf, “Nightlife”
  • xSDTRK co-writes,  Karl Wolf’s “Yalla Habibi” and Ricky J’s “Whatta Night,”  were both certified gold
  • xSDTRK’s website says he has “dreams of creating a symphony of noise that evokes influences such as Björk and dizzying tribal 808s.”

BMG Rights Management Canada, Primary Wave
Selected Discography: “Boss Bitch,” Yung Berg (2009); “Numb,” Karl Wolf (2010); “Illusions,” Millimillz feat. Avery Storm (2012); “Le Poise,” Luu Breeze (2013)
SOCAN member since 2010

At only 28 years old, Jeff Morrow has already built a very successful résumé composing for film, television, radio and commercials. But where some find success by traveling established pathways, he’s done it by following his own course.

Growing up in Toronto in a musical family, Morrow’s propensity to forge his own path emerged early on.

“I don’t know if it was just dumb luck, but I quite literally Googled ‘music production Toronto’ and dropped off a CD, and it sort of worked out.”

“I had a lot of piano teachers who were frustrated with me because I didn’t want to sit down and practice,” he says with a chuckle. “I wanted to noodle around on my own. I didn’t want to practice what some old German guy had written.”

Later, he studied jazz at McGill, composing for their chamber jazz ensemble and big band. He also played in various groups as a trombonist, until he saw the writing on the wall. “I realized I wasn’t going to be a top-tier jazz musician. I just didn’t have that in me,” he says. “I enjoyed writing music for other people to play a lot more.”

So he headed back up the highway to Toronto, and it was there – either as a result of yet again following his nose, or perhaps through sheer serendipity – that he caught a break.

“I don’t know if it was just dumb luck, but I quite literally Googled ‘music production Toronto’ and dropped off a CD, and it sort of worked out,” he says with a laugh. His demo disc impressed the Eggplant Collective production company, and Morrow spent the next five years there writing music for TV shows and advertising jingles.

In 2012, he was selected as one of two composers-in-residence for the Slaight Music Lab at the Canadian Film Centre (CFC). As a result, more film work started coming his way. Morrow’s approach to film scoring also reflects his penchant for avoiding the well-worn path.

“I’m not a huge fan of film music that sounds overtly like film music,” he says. “I prefer more quirky, unique-sounding scores that jump out at you a bit. With technology the way it is now, there are endless ways to experiment with new sounds and new ideas – there’s not much point in reverting to old ones.”

Morrow now divides his time between work in Los Angeles and Toronto. As for the road ahead, his course is predictably simple: travel back and forth and see what happens.

“It’s funny; I kind of always wanted to be a film composer, but it seemed so far-fetched,” he says. “I didn’t think I could ever attain it because I didn’t know anyone who did it, so I feel pretty lucky to have worked my way in.”

Sometimes it pays to follow your own compass.

Track Record

  • Morrow has worked with such directors as Gemini Award-winner Cory Bowles, Amar Wala (The Good Son), and the acclaimed Sam Catalfamo (Innocent Things).
  • His compositions appear in more than 30 television shows, numerous CBC radio news programs and in more than 20 advertising campaigns.

Selected Credits: Film: Anatomy of Assistance (2013), Cold Feet (2013), The Secret Trial 5 (2014). TV: Rocket Monkeys (Teletoon), WordGirl (PBS), The Bridge (CBS), Crash Canyon (MTV), The Fifth Estate (CBC), The Passionate Eye (CBC). Radio: CBC Hourly News, The World This Hour (CBC), The House (CBC).|
SOCAN member since 2010