Hip-hop artist Ghettosocks calls his songwriting style “unorthodox.” The Ottawa native, who launched his music career in Halifax after moving there to attend arts college 11 years ago, says it’s mainly due to the subjects he tackles. “I try to address fresh ideas,” says the MC/producer whose real name is Darren Pyper.

On his 2006 debut album, Get Some Friends, he wrote a song called “Read A Book,” in which he drops author and literary names. “I make a commentary on how a lot of rappers need to read books, to like, smarten up,” he says. “The message is ‘it’s for their own good,’ but it’s always fun and light-hearted. So in that way, in terms of the rap genre, it’s unorthodox.”

Ghettosocks’ two recent side projects, both duos with labelmates Teenburger (with Timbuktu) and Twin Peaks (with Muneshine), are also a little different. Both albums, Burgertime and Kissing Hands and Shaking Babies, respectively, are themed.

“Twin Peaks is loosely linked in to the work of David Lynch, and it’s a little bit darker, rooted in braggadocious raps over a variety of aural landscapes,” explains Ghettosocks. “Whereas Teenburger – which was produced entirely by Halifax legend DJ Jorun Bombay – is themed on ’80s movies and teen movies, so a lot more funny, more like a party record.”

Ghettosocks’ adventurous writing ways have earned him recognition from the music industry. His most recent solo album, 2009’s Treat of the Day, landed him a 2011 Juno Award nomination in the Rap Recording category, and a win at the 2011 East Coast Music Awards for Rap/Hip Hop Single for his song “Don’t Turn Around” (feat. Edgar Allen Floe). The year before, he received four nominations at the Nova Scotia Music Awards.

“Nowadays, rap has got stagnant,” says Ghettosocks. “There’s a lot of mimicry going on and emulation, people looking at what’s current or mainstream, especially Canadian artists looking at the U.S. market and emulating the styles and the subject matter. It just gets tired. I write about things that I know or things that I imagine.”’

His new solo album, yet to be titled, is slated for a spring release. At press time, he’d just dropped the lead single, “Invincible,” produced by Fresh Kils and featuring El Da Sensei from New Jersey’s The Artifacts. The album will also include production from Bix, Jorun Bombay, Juju from New York’s Beatnuts, and the Herbaliser from the U.K.

“As well, I’m going to produce half the record myself. I’m going to be handling the beats,” says Ghettosocks. “It’s going to be a little bit dark, a little bit more moody in terms of the sounds. If Treat of the Day was Easter, then this would be Halloween, if I would compare them to holidays.”
Now that’s unorthodox.

• A week after this interview, Ghettosocks donated a kidney to a family member.
• In 2011, he undertook his first extensive Canadian tour, sponsored by Via Rail, and has toured the U.S., Europe, and made an introductory visit to Japan.
• Ghettosocks has a sandwich named after him at the Good Food Emporium in Halifax (made of grilled cheese, tomato and avocado).

Chris Kirby is a singer-songwriter/keyboard player from Newfoundland. Purveying his uniquely modern take on blues/R&B, he released his first album Rum & Religion in 2006. It soon found regular rotation on CBC and hit No. 1 on the radio show East Coast Countdown. Since then he’s released two more, Vampire Hotel (2009) and a solo acoustic record, Sounds Like Wednesday (2010), the latter taking home the Music Newfoundland Jazz/Blues Album of the Year for 2011. Kirby’s newest album, Wonderizer, is set to drop in 2012.

“It had been in the works a very long time,” says Kirby. “I produced the record myself, and I took great care to make sure my first effort producing my own band [The Marquee] was the best it could be. I’m proud to say it was worth the wait.”

“For a composer writing concert music, there’s nothing more exciting than being the resident composer of a professional orchestra.”

These are the words of Robert Rival, who’s been the resident composer of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra since last September.

“For one thing,” the 36-year-old composer continues, “the fact that you’re on-site for all the rehearsals and performances gives these events more weight.”

Rival is the third person to serve as resident composer of the ESO, succeeding Allan Gilliland and John Estacio. And his move from Toronto to Edmonton last year, following the completion of a doctorate in music composition at the University of Toronto, was something of a homecoming for him. Rival is a native Albertan, born in Calgary – although he doesn’t think that helped him land his job.

” There’s nothing more exciting than being the resident composer of a professional orchestra.”

“When I applied, I don’t think they knew where I was from,” he points out. “There was an open call for applications, and about 50 composers applied. It was a thorough process, involving many organizational layers of the orchestra.”

Already, Rival has a promising compositional résumé: his music has been played by Toronto’s Gryphon Trio, it’s been broadcast on CBC radio, and he was a featured composer last year at the Windsor Symphony Orchestra’s Canadian Music Festival. But one of the things that gave him an edge with the ESO, he believes, was his commitment to music education.

“I feel strongly about the educational components of the job,” Rival explains. “Every year we select one or two young composers from high schools to write a piece, and it gets performed at an outdoor festival. A background in education and teaching is something that I brought to the table.”

Of course, central to Rival’s two-year residency appointment is composing for the ESO: his job requires him to write two pieces a year for the orchestra. His commitment to the orchestra doesn’t currently allow him much time for other projects. Just before he took up his new position in September, he finished a string sextet that was commissioned by the CBC. Then he plunged into the world of orchestral composition.

Since then he’s finished a tone-poem called Achilles and Scamander, to be premiered at Edmonton’s Winspear Centre by the ESO on March 31. That will be closely followed by his Lullaby – which will first be heard in New York on May 8, when the ESO appears at Carnegie Hall’s Spring For Music Festival.

“The first half of the program will be all-Canadian: pieces by John Estacio, Allan Gilliland and me,” says Rival, with a justifiable touch of pride in his voice. “I think it’s heartening that we’re devoting half of the program to living Canadian composers.”