Name any gigantic country hit of the last two decades or so and there’s a better-than-average chance that it was generated from Nashville, Tennessee.

Sure, Texas factors into the mix, and maybe there’s a touch of Bakersfield in there, too. But for the most part it’s a 30-block-or-so chunk Southwest of downtown Nashville, nicknamed Music Row, that has served as the country music capital of the world since the 1940s. It houses record companies, music publishers, booking agencies, recording studios, management offices, session musicians, and everything else you’d need to make it as an artist or a songwriter. It’s the country music business Mecca of the modern world.

But over the past handful of years or so, Music City, Tennessee, has grown beyond churning out the latest Taylor Swift or Luke Bryan or Lady Antebellum and expanded its horizons to include multi-million-dollar rock ‘n’ roll success stories like Kings of Leon, The Black Keys, Paramore and a relocated Jack White (and his bands The Raconteurs and Dead Weather); platinum rap artist Young Buck; and teen idol pop group Hot Chelle Rae – genres that are giving the town a more musically cosmopolitan reputation.

“The lines are getting blurred,“ agrees Joey Moi, the Tumbler Ridge, BC, native songwriter /producer best known for co-producing several of Nickelback’s million-selling albums, and co-writing the band’s chart-toppers “Gotta Be Somebody” and “Something in Your Mouth.”

“There are literally thousands of talented people just sitting around chomping at the bit to work on anything.” – Joey Moi

Moi has been living in Nashville for the past two years as a partner in Big Loud Mountain, a management/label/artist development firm that has delivered six No.1 singles in a row for country artists Jake Owen and Florida Georgia Line. That includes FGL’s “Cruise,” a song Moi co-wrote, which recently established itself as the top-selling country digital single of all time at six million copies. For Moi, it’s been an eye-opening experience.

“What I’m discovering is that Nashville is so rich in talent, and not just country,” he says. “When I first came to town, it was so overwhelming to see how many talented people there are in one place. There are literally thousands just sitting around chomping at the bit to work on anything. And the word is just starting to get out.”

It’s up for debate whether or not this change in perception surrounding Nashville is a new phenomenon.

“I would say it’s happening more,” notes Espanola, Ontario’s Terry Sawchuk, a Nashville-based songwriter and producer who topped the charts with Jake Owen’s “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” and has worked with JUNO-award winning jazz singer Matt Dusk on the majority of his albums.

“When I talk to the old-school people – the Roger Cooks [“I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing,” “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress”] of the world, the guys in their 70s who have been here forever – they say that things have always gone in waves. The L.A. writers would all move here every couple of years because there was more going on here. So there’s always been a history of transient movement, in all styles.

“If you look at most session musicians, songwriters and artists, traditionally, they are not from Nashville. They come here for the great talent pool, steady work, and low cost of living. With them, they bring their diverse influences, which then play a big role in the musical make-up of the community. It’s safe to say now that Nashville is the Silicon Valley of music.”

Sawchuk strengthens the argument that Nashville’s stature as strictly a one-trick country music pony is changing.

“Because there’s an infrastructure, genres that I’ve always written have more acceptance now, more avenues,” he explains. “For instance, the publisher that I’ve hooked up with – Kobalt Music Publishing – is very much an international company, so they’re getting me pop cuts in Germany, Poland and film and TV in Los Angeles.”

Sally Folk first burst onto the music scene in 2010 with an English-language album variously inspired by The Ronettes, The Supremes, Cher and 1960s retro-chic style that instantly made her a Quebec cousin of Amy Winehouse and Duffy. Here she comes for another run four years later, this time with a self-titled album in French, her first language.

“The move to French was quite natural,” the artist explains. “I already had a few songs in English, and my manager suggested I translate one, just to see. You don’t write the same way in French. The work on metaphors and word sounds is quite different. Words also often have several meanings, which makes for interesting connotations. In English, you can repeat the work baby four times in a row and people don’t mind. Writing in a new language is like switching from physics to chemistry. I’m not saying I’m never going to go back to English, but I certainly added a nice new colour to my palette.”

Sally Folk’s ease with music business matters is a thing of beauty in itself, with her good-time attitude, her uncanny ability to put herself centre stage, her curiosity, and the way she can attract the best professional support. “Earlier in my life, I was a businesswoman,” the former co-owner of Montreal’s Sofa Bar explains. “So I was already used to navigating in the music sphere, in the world of nightclubs.” Then, one day, she decided to sell her shares and take off to a place where she could satisfy her craving for writing, composing and performing songs.

“Male-female relationships are an endless topic. I find real inspiration in uncomfortable love relationships.”

She was able to finance her first album without outside help, but barely. “It cost me a fortune, I spent my last penny… But at some point, you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Do I want to make another album or buy a house?’” Then came Entourage, the production company behind the success of Annie Villeneuve, Boom Desjardins, Stéphanie Bédard and Marianna Mazza. “Getting Entourage to look after my career gave me the time I needed to concentrate on my music. When I was managing the whole thing by myself, the only break I was getting was when I could climb on the stage and let it all hang out. I’m glad I went through that because it is helping me understand the chain of support artists need. Besides, I continue to be interested in the production side of the music business, and I’m considering a move in that direction at some point. I would love to help performers blossom. It’s a project I keep on the back burner.”

Looking like a character straight out of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction with her mischievous air, black bangs and red lipstick matching her fingernails, Sally Folk is Sophia D’Aragon’s alter ego. “It’s more than just a fictional character. The stories I tell are mine. The Sally Folk femme fatale aura that I add to it with chic clothes and makeup allows me to express myself. There is a wild side to every woman. Sally is an extension of my own personality.”

Far from being superficial, Sally’s lyrics lead her listeners to troubled waters where people fall out of love, infidelity leads to happiness, women are not afraid of being seductive, and drop-dead gorgeous men patronize strip clubs. Come to the cabaret! “Male-female relationships are an endless topic,” she marvels. “I find real inspiration in uncomfortable love relationships.” She might add that, as inspiration material goes, her own fictional life and that of her girlfriends provide her with an embarrassment of riches.

Musically, her album adds touches of Americana to superb brass and string arrangements by Michel Dagenais (Jean Leloup, Marc Déry, Breastfeeders), who produced her earlier album and is featured on this one both as a producer and performer. “I told him I was looking for new sounds for this one,” she recalls. Having just completed the recording of Daniel Bélanger’s superb new country-lyrical album Chic de ville, Dagenais used similar colours in Sally Folk’s new opus, and Bélanger himself is even featured as a performer on one track (“Les hommes du quartier”). ”That’s very precious,” Sally explains. ”Another thing I learned in my previous life as a businesswoman is that you don’t tamper with a winning formula. Sally Folk is my persona, but she also means the solid partners I can build things with. I feel that this project is taking off, and it’s exciting.”

The chances are that Sally Folk’s French-language songs will open new doors for her in the large summer festivals in Montreal, across Quebec and possibly in Europe as well. “That’s what I’m really hoping for because my music is meant to be shared with as many people as possible. When I’m on the stage, I’m living life 1000 percent. That’s where it all makes sense.”

Yao, a Franco-Ontarian artist of Togolese descent, born in the Ivory Coast of Africa, found out he had a creative spirit when he took a special interest in writing and acting as a child. After moving to Ottawa with his family in 1999, he was admitted in the Centre for Artistic Excellence of the De La Salle High School, where he specialized in Theatre and Creative Writing. Encouraged to pursue his musical interests, Yaovi, as he was then known, soon hooked up with FLO, with whom he created the RenESSENCE duet and, in 2006, released the self-produced album 2 faces d’une même âme (2 Sides of One Soul), followed by dozens of live shows.

Hooked, Yao remained torn between his passion for music creation and his search for a more traditional career, ending up neglecting his creative side as he pursued undergraduate studies in Finance and Political Science. Once he had secured a comfortable job in the banking sector, music came calling again in 2009, thanks to a chance meeting with his old friend Lynx, who had his own recording studio and production company by then, and invited Yao to join him. The end result was the 2011 hip-hop album Généris, with lyrics written by Yao and music composed by Lynx.

“Sometimes we’d discuss a theme, like the day I mentioned my problem with insomnia, and Sonny later sent me a piece.”

Yao then decided to take the final jump, joined SOCAN, and started taking his destiny in his own hands. His financial background helped him set up his own company and manage his business but, more importantly for the evolution of his music style, Yao discovered slam and, in 2012, joined SlamOutaouais, a Ligue québécoise de slam (LIQS) member team. Meanwhile, the musician started cooking up his next album and looking for a high-profile collaborator, who turned out to be Sonny Black, the co-writer of numerous K-Maro, Dubmatique, Corneille and Marc Antoine hits.

How did Yao get Sonny’s attention? “I just wrote to him,” he says. “I sent him my Généris album and asked him for a personal review. He went along and, as it turned out, his comments were exactly what I’d expected they would be. That’s where it all began. Sonny accepted to re-work the album with me, and we ended up with the Généris 2.0 promotional version.”

Towards the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013, they worked on the new version, which came out last fall. Then Yao moved to Montreal for two months to build a creative bubble with Sonny that eventually produced Perles et Paraboles (Pearls and Parables), an album that was recorded practically as it was being written. How did it work? “It varied,” Yao explained. “Sometimes we’d discuss a theme, like the day I mentioned my problem with insomnia, and Sonny later sent me a piece that became “Solitude nocturne” after I wrote the lyrics to it. Sometimes it was the other way around.”