Shawn Hook prefers to do it with two other people.

Please. We’re talking about songwriting.

“I do like the power of three,” says the 31-year-old Nelson, B.C., native. “I think there’s something about having three people in a room that can complement each other’s weaknesses and strengths. I prefer to do that now as my working arrangement.”

Hook is on the line from North Hollywood, where he’s been doing promo work for his latest single, “Sound of Your Heart,” as well as getting in some writing sessions. He still maintains his abode in Vancouver, but he also keeps a place in L.A., which makes sense now that his career there, and elsewhere south of the 49th parallel, is unfolding like the proverbial lotus blossom.

One need only glance at the songwriting credits on his latest album to see that he speaks the truth about the power of three; five of the seven compositions were written by Hook and two other writers.

But collaborating with other songwriters didn’t always come easy. Though he was apprehensive about it at first, Hook discovered that the key for him was to find co-writers with the right balance of attributes. Once he started to work with writers that complemented him well, things began to take shape.

“There are certain writers that I have great chemistry with. You just click, it’s like another language.”

“There are certain writers that I have great chemistry with. You just click, it’s like another language,” Hook says. “I really enjoy that process, because I think one of my big weaknesses as a writer is that I tend to overanalyze what I’ve done, and sometimes I’ll kill a really good idea. The saying is ‘paralysis by analysis.’ I’ve found myself in that situation before.”

The artist and songwriter formerly known as Shawn Hlookoff was born in South Slocan, B.C., and grew up in nearby Nelson. He began studying piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Vancouver at the age of four. In high school, he played piano and trombone in the school’s jazz big band before his teacher urged him to play piano in the jazz combo. Later, he performed as a trombone player and back-up vocalist with a disco cover band called Shag and enrolled at The Art Institute in Vancouver to study audio engineering.

He released two albums under his original name, and in 2008 he became the first artist/songwriter to sign with ABC Studios in Los Angeles, which helped get his songs placed in ABC-TV shows including “Life in Faith” on Eli Stone, “She Could Be You” on Kyle XY and “Be Myself” on Greek. His song “Without You” premiered on MTV’s series The Hills. His music was also featured in other series, including Samurai Girl and General Hospital.

Simplifying his last name to Hook (what better name for a pop songwriter?), he released his official debut album Cosmonaut and the Girl on EMI in 2012. Produced by Jon Levine (Nelly Furtado, K’Naan, Selena Gomez), it featured the singles “So Close,” “Every Red Light” and “Two Hearts Set on Fire.” In 2012, he released the holiday single, “Follow the Lights.”

But things really started rolling with the 2014 hit single “Million Ways,” which climbed the Billboard Canadian Hot 100 higher than any of his previous songs. More recently, “Sound of Your Heart” reached No. 23 on the Canadian Hot 100 – getting a leg up by being featured in promos for Season 20 of The Bachelor – and upon its international re-release in early 2016, it entered Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40 chart and reached No. 1 on its Dance Club Songs chart.

Both songs appear on his latest album, 2015’s Analog Love, his first release since signing on with major U.S. label Hollywood Records. And because Hollywood and ABC are branches of the same parent company, Hook’s American songwriting and recording contracts are now consolidated under one roof.

He’s since appeared on Ellen and more recently, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and this past April he made a splash up here when he performed “Sound of Your Heart” on the 2016 JUNO Awards broadcast, where he’d been nominated for the Fan Choice Award.

“That was amazing,” says Hook of his JUNOs star turn. “As a kid, whenever I’d watch an award show, I’d run to the piano and pretend I was playing on the award show, so that was literally a dream come true. My mum and dad were there, and my sister was there, and my best friend was there, my girlfriend was there. It was a really special night for me.”

After shouldering all the writing and producing responsibilities for his first two albums, Hook began to see the power of collaboration while creating the songs that would grace his 2012 album Cosmonaut and the Girl.

One of his first co-writers was Shaun Verreault from Wide Mouth Mason. The two wrote “Every Red Light,” the first single from Cosmonaut. Writing with someone of Verreault’s calibre really opened Hook’s eyes to the power of collaboration. He watched the way Verreault wrote lyrics, and he learned that his songs can benefit greatly from working with someone who approaches songwriting in a different way.

“We’re there to write, so you can’t be too precious with anything; the best idea wins.”

“So, learning that, I kind of kept that in my mind going forward. I’ve had the chance to really learn from the best,” Hook says. “I’m getting in rooms now with some really top writers. A couple of weeks ago I was with Ryan Tedder [songwriter/producer for Madonna, U2, Adele, Beyoncé, among others] in Colorado. He’s super-proficient and it’s nice to be on the same level in the sense of collaboration – we’re there to write; there’s no egos in the room. You can’t be too precious with anything; the best idea wins. The more I do it, the more I learn that that’s what it takes to get there.”

Hook has tried all the usual approaches for writing songs – from what we might call the Nashville approach, i.e., getting in a room with other writers, to the pop music approach, i.e., producing beats and then coming up with top-line vocal melodies. But what works best for him more often than not is the more traditional way.

“The most successful method I’ve had with all my big songs, especially with ‘Sound of Your Heart’ recently, was just starting from scratch at the piano and vocal, or guitar-vocal, and building it from there,” he says. “I find sometimes writing to a beat really kind of paints you into a corner. Sometimes it works. Sometimes you have a DJ that’s married to a certain track, and he or she’s just looking for the right top line, but I prefer to start from scratch because I feel like I’m more creative and there aren’t as many constraints on the writing process.”

He takes pride in being a well-rounded songwriter, which obviously helps when you’re collaborating.

“Sometimes in a session I’ll take the role of just top-line; I won’t touch the music,” he says. “Other times I’ll come up with the music, and I might not have the chorus melody but I’ll come in with lyric ideas, or editing. I kind of take on whatever role fits the best with whoever I’m writing with. Or I’ll just write from scratch and start songs myself, and produce myself as well. So it all depends on the situation.”

So now that he’s been finding success with his music and his songwriting efforts, surely things must be getting easier.

“I always thought when I was younger [that] one day it’ll be easier as a writer,” says Hook, “but it’s harder now because I feel like I’m trying to raise the bar more and hold myself to another standard.”

It would seem that when it comes to setting goals and aiming to attain levels of professional accomplishment, the horizon is ever shifting for Shawn Hook. So what does the horizon hold? Where will this road lead him?

“I just wanna continue on this trajectory,” Hook says. “Having success thus far with ‘Sound of Your Heart’ has really opened up a lot of doors for me in terms of who I get to collaborate with now, and I just want to continue on this road and this journey and take it to the highest level I can take it.”

Lately, it’s a journey that’s been keeping him extremely busy. Currently he has three (there’s that number again) agendas that fill his day-timer. He’s promoting his new single across America, which included the Kimmel show, as well as popping into radio stations in various cities to shake hands and sometimes perform a song. He’s also preparing for a slate of live shows this summer at festivals such as the Calgary Stampede, the Pemberton Music Fest, Edmonton Ex, Canadian Music Week in Toronto, the iHeart Radio Fest and the Much Music Video Awards. And on top of all that, he’s making his next album.

It seems any way you add it up, the road to No. 1 always requires three things: work, work, and more work.

“It’s been busy. Not much time to see family lately, which sucks,” Hook admits. “But, y’know, it is what it is. Gotta make hay while the sun is shining. There’s a lot of pressure, but I enjoy it. So hopefully we’ll have a good record by September.”

That sounds like something Shawn Hook’s fans can count on.

He was behind Délivrez-nous du mal. He was behind IXE-13. He was behind Bonheur d’occasion. He was also behind Le Matou, The Decline of the American Empire, Les portes tournantes, Jesus of Montreal and C’t’à ton tour Laura Cadieux. Each and every one of those times, he was behind it.

Francois DompierreHe is François Dompierre. He didn’t direct these classics of Québec cinema, but this emeritus composer created the music for all of these films and many, many more.

Going through the list of shorts and feature films in which François Dompierre was involved is pretty much like reading the history of film in Québec, from the ‘60s to the 21st Century. Not unlike a modern-era Mozart, the composer has left a deep musical imprint on a vast and universal body or work.

Which is somewhat surprising, since he never envisioned such a career for himself when he was a student at the Conservatory.

“At the Conservatory, they teach you learned music, what is usually called classical music,” says Dompierre. “Film music was not a career plan. At 20, I dreamt of writing concert music, which is now something I’ve been doing for quite a while.

Yet François Dompierre’s name is widely associated with ‘60s singers, thanks to his collaborations with Félix Leclerc, Pauline Julien, Louise Forestier, Pierre Calvé, and Claude Gauthier, to name but a few.

“Yes, I was an arranger for many artists,” says Dompierre, “and I worked with the National Film Board, most notably with [Jacques] Godbout. Film music became a business for me, but rather unexpectedly.”

Learning by Doing

Godbout (IXE-13), Jean-Claude Lord (Délivre-nous du mal) and Marcel Carrière (O.K…. Laliberté) are among the first directors with whom Dompierre worked in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, an era that was quite devoid of any manual on how to make film music.

“I learned everything I know by doing it,” says Dompierre. “I was lucky to be a part of that era. We could try stuff. We were learning as we went, just as those directors were. We were all building something. It was an era where anything went. We weren’t really aware of it, but in hindsight, absolutely.”

Francois DompierreAsk any songwriter and they’ll tell you they either write music for a text, or write a text for a piece of music. There’s no other way. The same goes for film music, but there’s still a specific modus operandi.

“I’ve written music for words and words for music,” says Dompierre. “In the ‘90s, writing music had become the very last stage in the creative process. We were sent images and were asked to base our work on those. Yet, for a comedy such as IXE-13, the music was written before the filming even began. But 85 percent of the time, the music comes at the end of the production, just before the mixing.”

Some Cases in Point

Making a movie is a huge team endeavour, but the composer is generally alone in his corner until he delivers his work to the director. It would make sense, then, that over a period of four decades, Dompierre’s vision was not always perfectly in sync with that of his directors.

“I’ve seen it all; directors always have something to add,” he says. “And that’s when you, as a composer, need to start acting like a psychiatrist. You ask them, “why do you want this?” And they say, “Because my girlfriend likes it” or “Because the images are begging for it.” OK, and why are the images begging for it? Music creation is quite a subliminal creative process. But it’s true that filmed images do call for a certain type of music.”

There are several types of directors,” says Dompierre. “There are those who see the music as a foil for the images. There are those who know exactly what they want. Denys Arcand is an example of that. Denys loves classical music. For The Decline of the American Empire, we based the music on Handel’s Fifth Concerto, and I created variations on that theme.

Although he recently did the music for Léa Pool’s La Passion d’Augustine, it was the first time he’s scored a movie in 15 years, having stepped away from it due to the distinct vision of a film’s stakeholders, and the impact of technology.

“Sometimes producers want music for their film but the director doesn’t,” says Dompierre. “Nowadays, because of technology, it’s possible to intervene on the music. You can, for example, do away with a string part. You know, when you spend hours on a single bar of music and then the editor cuts it out… But you can’t let that affect you. It’s life.

“We worked more like artisans in the ‘60s and ‘70s. We’d give each other advice. We talked with each other. It was teamwork. I worked closely with Francis Mankiewicz on Les portes tournantes. I wrote music and once Francis gave his OK, he gave me carte blanche.”

François Dompierre comments the homage he received at last month’s Gala du cinéma québécois with joyous straightforwardness.

“It was very nice, as it coincided with my 50th professional anniversary.”

As Chairmen of Québec’s rap scene, the six members of Dead Obies are the very incarnation of the bold, up-and-coming new generation. Raised on American rap in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, they were mainly inspired by diverse and multi-lingual literature. They truly broke onto the scene in 2013 with Montréal $ud and followed up with this year’s Gesamtkunstwerk, a critical and popular juggernaut that was, however, shunned by the industry’s institutions – who can’t stand the “Frenglish” used by the band throughout their œuvre.

Resilient combatants driven by a desire to be the flag-bearers of a polyphonic culture, the band stands and delivers. “At the end of the day, we speak French with our audience, in all of our releases, etc.,” says Jo RCA, one of the band’s rappers. “I come from a South Shore Francophone family who parks their car in the driveway. As a general rule, a 51% ratio of French content is required to be considered Francophone, but for some obscure reason, an institution like Musiaction requires a 70% ratio. Thing is, there’s basically just Dead Obies who fall into the category. Lucky for us, Bonsound, our label, can and wants to support us. But it does send a weird message,”

Create, Right Here, Right Now
Beyond the ire of public funding – the band has been asked to refund an $18,000 grant from Musicaction for failing to comply with their Francophone content ratio – the Obies clearly know what their audience wants: the album was at the top of the sales charts in Québec when it came out, and fifth in Canada overall. This feat was accomplished without much help for the usual commercial suspects who, to this day, turn a blind eye on locally sourced rap.

The situation is basically impossible to explain from a logical standpoint. On the one hand, you have the institutions and other major networks who basically just don’t know how to handle this phenomenon; on the other, you have the millennials and their cultural identity anchored in both official languages – and a few mouse clicks – who are yelling for more, more, more…

And it’s precisely in that somewhat disconcerting, spontaneous divide that Dead Obies strive and become perfectly relevant. They stand and deliver.

A Six-Headed Hydra
“We roll with peeps from both sides of the Main,”

they rap, referring to Montréal’s Saint-Laurent Boulevard, a major north/south axis that serves as the historical and symbolic boundary between the Francophone community to the East and the Anglophone community to the West.

 The band operates as one beat-maker fuelling five very distinct voices and lyrical styles, and their creative process is achieved around those distinctions. “We work as a unit, we influence each other, we set each other on different trains of thought, and even rhymes,” says Jo RCA. “We want our material to be representative of each one of us. Our differences also influence our creative process, and therein lies the Dead Obies’ unity, what makes our cell so complex and wide-ranging. The connection between each and every one of us is mind-blowing.”

Their songwriting often resides in something rather intangible, like the zeitgeist of each member’s individual reflections, but always using an infallible equation: “We are all very abstract thinkers, it’s probably our strongest common creative denominator,” says Jo RCA. “We hate when everything is easy, spoon-fed, when there is no second, third, or fourth degree. Our tracks must be able to breathe and have a life of their own. I think we’ve made great strides towards that goal on the new album.

“Our main goal is simply to create great tracks that, we hope, the audience will react to. When we come up with a track, we play it back to each other for months. And then comes the time where we feel it’s time to release it to the world. It can sometimes be strange to witness how a song created spontaneously, in a specific moment and state of mind, ages. It happens all the time to me: I’ll listen to an old song of ours and hear something completely different than what I remember I intended when I created it!”

One thing’s for sure, few artists are in a better position than Dead Obies to unequivocally claim its own relevance in a not-so-inclusive cultural landscape. On both sides of the Main.