To mark the release of their Grouillades EP, Montréal-based combo Clay & Friends played before a sold-out Club Soda on Feb. 6, 2020.

SOCAN was there to witness a moment of pure, unadulterated musical frenzy, shared with many friends on hand to celebrate – both onstage and in the crowd. Their number included Kirouac, Kodakludo, Claudia Bouvette, Franky Fade, FouKi, Vince James, and Will Murphy, to name just a few. This prompted Clay to exclaim, at one point, “It’s a dream come true! We worked so hard to get to this moment, right now. We’ve played so many shows in tiny venues all over rural Québec, so that one day we could play for a SOLD OUT Club Soda!”

To download or stream Grouillades, click here.

To see Clay & Friends’ concert schedule, click here.

Spirited and benevolent, Annie Sama creates music that couldn’t be more dystopian, and attuned to the current pessimism – this pre-apocalyptic period in which we’re all bogged down. No one comes out of her music unscathed – least of all President Trump.

Annie SamaVisually, her offering is highly avant-garde, closer to contemporary art than to the aesthetics of, say, Marie-Mai. Sama, a sometime designer, is as charismatic as a model in a perfume ad, and she creates a world where niche culture and pop melodies live side by side. And that world is set in a background where R&B is imbued with industrial sounds. Her music is a thermal shock.

Approaching her goals, the singer-songwriter oozes confidence, and seems fearless, as she dances and moves with poise and agility. She’s in full control, pulling all the strings of this marionette she’s created in her own image, a spectacular alter ego, Sama has a thousand skills, and could very well be the most intimidating of SOCAN’s entire membership. But on the phone, her voice drips like honey, and her words couldn’t be sweeter. She’s unbelievably affable, genuinely sweet. Is this still a good time for you? “Of course,” she says. “Gimme a minute, I’m just getting out of a cab and then I’m all yours… Thanks for this interview. I really appreciate it.”

We reach her in New York, her home away from home, a creative refuge where she frequently goes to find herself – the same way so many Montrealers rent a cabin in the countryside. Sama tackles the music industry from an international angle,  unbound by the physical territory of La Belle Province. Think Grimes or Kaytranada. “Right now, I’m talking to you from the corner of 8th and 24th,” she says. “I’m back, and I have developments to work on, and a few meetings. There’s no doubt that it’s an interesting market, on so many levels, and so culturally rich.”

Backed by a management and PR team in Montréal, yet fully independent when it comes to her engagements in the U.S., she juggles music-making and marketing on a daily basis. “I won’t say I don’t get any help, but officially, I have no one working for me in the U.S.,” she says. “I’m not saying that won’t happen down the line… I just need to find the right people to be the wind beneath my wings.” Interested parties, take note.

Artistically, Sama finds strength in the people with whom she crosses paths. “Sure, I have a DIY approach, but I never work alone,” she says. “Teamwork is really important for me.”

Shortly after shedding her APigeon alias, the one she used until 2016, she was part of the duo Beat Market. They released Atlantis, a languid hotbed of ‘80s keyboards, with a sound located at the crossroads of their respective universes. In 2018, with Now Wow We, a track co-written with Anachnid, Annie Sama dabbled in the political realm – a minefield if ever there was one, tackling the migrant crisis and the fate of children caged at the U.S./Mexico border. A fiery manifesto that hit precisely where it hurts.

At the end of 2019, alongside Belgian producer Løyd, she produced the lyrics to “Cyborg,” a dubstep-influenced track that evokes post-modern solitude and sex robots, that might very well bring the makers of inflatable dolls to bankruptcy. “He asked me to do something akin to Black Mirror,” says Sama. “He sent me the music track, and I had a ton of ideas. It truly became a universe unto itself, and it’s become a character that lives inside of me, and will come back, I think, throughout various songs on my albums.”

And even though the future looks bleak, on a global scale, the coming months could become rosy for this truly unclassifiable artist. with huge potential, who’s already attracted the attention of the U.S. edition of Vogue magazine. “I have surprises coming for you guys, but I can’t say anything because there are no dates attached to them yet,” she says. “I’m giving myself time, because the next things I’ll drop will come with a stage show. it’s all going to happen in the next step.”

Toronto-based pop singer-songwriter Kayla Diamond acknowledges she was a late bloomer, in terms of songwriting. “I was 22 and at university when I  wrote my first song, ‘Crazy,’”  she says. She hit a home run in that first at-bat, as the song helped her win the lucrative Slaight Music “It’s Your Shot” Contest in 2015.

That prize brought a publishing deal with Slaight Music, and a distribution deal with Pheromone Recordings/Cadence Music Group. It also sparked a major career change for Diamond, who was well on her way to becoming a lawyer – having just finished her first semester at law school (University of Detroit Mercy) when she heard she’d won.

“I hadn’t intended to leave law school to become a musician, but this meant someone had recognized me. To not take advantage of that would have been a disservice to myself,” she says.

One of her professors was especially supportive of Diamond’s decision, pointing out that she could always return. “I gave myself three years to get on the radio, or else I’d go back to school,” she says. “I’m not sure I’d have stuck to that, as I caught the writing bug, but within 18 months ‘Carnival Hearts’ was Top 40.”

Diamond released her debut EP, Beautiful Chaos, in 2017. lts breakout track, the aforementioned “Carnival Hearts,” has now notched more than 2.5 million streams, while another 2017 single, “What You’re Made Of,” was a Top 10 radio hit.

A follow-up seven-song EP, Dirty Laundry, was released in August of 2019, and Diamond acknowledges that, as the title suggests, this is a darker, more introspective collection of original material.

“I look at it now as rather my art piece,” she says. “It was something I needed to get out,  to air my dirty laundry. l ‘m not an angry person by any means, but l had this built-up anger. How do l channel this in a way that’s not going to be self-destructive? It was kind of my therapy.”

A crucial song on the EP is “Lie Lie Lie,” a co-write with Ria Mae and Diamond’s frequent collaborator and producer,  Craig McConnell (Celine Dion). “That song pretty much started the album,” recalls Diamond. “l wrote it literally the day after a breakup. l decided then to stop masking who I’m singing about, and l became public with being gay.”

I gave myself three years to get on the radio, or else Id go back to school.”

Other co-writers on the EP include Joel Stouffer, Justin Gray, Matt Dubois (12AM), Lauren Mandel, and Alexandra Soumalias. Diamond thrives on creative collaboration, welcoming feedback from her co-writers and producers. “When I  work with a producer, I can’t be, like, ‘You need to work for me and make it my style.’ I want the producer’s sound in my sound.

“I never come to a session empty-handed, that’s too much anxiety. I usually have a chord progression in my head, and I usually write what I think could be a chorus, though it often ends up being a pre-chorus.”

Diamond credits one early co-writer, Liz Rodrigues (Celine Dion, Eminem), with “a valuable lesson. At our first session, she said, ‘Write something that you can sing, then write a part where you can put the mic out to the audience and they’ll sing it with you, and that’s the hook.’”

Her style is an eclectic one, drawing from hip-hop and dance music as well as pop, with Diamond citing such diverse inspirations as Metallica, Dire Straits, Lana Del Rey, and Gospel music.

Diamond has also been a featured vocalist on two major international EDM hits, Kiso’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” (with more than 4 million SoundCloud streams) and Anevo’s “Feel Something” (more than 3 million Spotify streams).

A return to law school is not currently in the cards!