Sports analogies are songwriter/producer Rob Wells’ go-to when explaining his preference for co-writing music rather than going it alone. “When you co-write, it’s like how you discover the game of tennis,” says Wells. You start out alone, hitting a ball against a wall. Eventually, “you get to know how that ball’s going to come back,” he adds. Once you start playing with someone else, “you have no way of knowing how it’s going to come back at you. Whether it’s going to go left, right, up, down, or into the net,” he concludes.

Wells has earned three SOCAN No. 1 Song Awards:

* “All About Me,” performed by Matt Dusk, in 2006
* “Comme Avant,” performed by Marie-Mai, in 2011
* “Un coup sur mon cœur,” performed by Marc Dupré, in 2013

Speaking from his home in Pickering, ON, where he’s quarantined with his five-kid family, Wells expounds further. “The moment that I started co-writing with other people, and lots of different people,” he offers, “I began to really find the true joy in songwriting and production.”

That joy has been accompanied by several armloads of awards and accolades, including three SOCAN No. 1 Song Awards, several multi-Platinum, Platinum and Gold sales certifications, and a discography that includes stellar work with a cavalcade of international and Canadian superstars in a rainbow of styles, from Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Corey Hart, and Randy Bachman, to The Backstreet Boys, Serena Ryder, and Selena Gomez.

For nascent songwriters, Wells again resorts to sports. He likens the songwriter’s process to that of a body-builder. “You head to the gym and on Day One you’re lifting two-pound weights, and it feels really ridiculous and stupid, but after half-an-hour you find that, ‘Wow, my arms are actually getting a little bit sore.’” You increase the weights over time until, “after a couple of years, you’re bench pressing 250 pounds. It’s a slow process, there’s no way to get from A to B really fast.”

You work on that first song, as he says, “coming up with a melody, coming up with chords, coming up with simple lyrics, and then not dwelling on that song but moving on [to] write another. Finish that in a day, then move on to another one, and another. After a year you’re going to look back and you’ll say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe how horrible those are, but look at what I’m doing now!’” Then the quality of your work increases exponentially once you start collaborating with others. If you work like Wells, the “wows” keep on coming.

“The quality of your work increases exponentially once you start collaborating with others”

Inevitably, you’ll want to extend your control of the song to producing it yourself. “When I first got started,” says Wells, “I would write songs and the artist would choose the producer. Quite often. I was very disappointed with the results I got back. It’s not an ego thing. It’s just that, for me, music is just so emotional and so communicative. For me, holding the reins of production, I’m able to emotionally communicate what the song is supposed to be.”

But even with his producer hat on, Wells always puts the song first. “I don’t think about production until the song is done,” he says. “Once I have the song written, I focus on the chorus first. The chorus, for me, is the most important part of the whole production, and I try to make it as big as possible, using as minimal instrumentation as possible. That way you can create this great-sounding chorus without being over-produced, and then work backward and start to strip away for your pre-chorus, really strip away for your verse, and really strip away for your intro.

“If you do it the other way,” says Wells, “where you start with the intro, then add more instruments for the verse, and then more for the pre-chorus, by the time you get to the chorus you’ve got this crazy, massive amount of sound going on, and it’s totally over-produced.”

Wells has teaching gigs at the Harris Institute and Lakefield College School, but novice producers and songwriters can learn more from him directly via his series of YouTube tutorials (like the first one, embedded in this story).

It’s because of a guy everyone called Fern that Louis Cyr, aka Ludwig Wax, was infected by a virus commonly known as rock’n’roll. “His real name is Pierre Ferland,” says Cyr, about the person who made him want to devote his life to shaking his moneymaker, on his knees, onstage, with a Mexican wrestling mask on his head, night after night. Even if it means ending up alone, like all of his peers. In other words, becoming, one day, the singer for Nombre, and one of Québec’s most flamboyant rock singers – half acrobat, half daredevil.

Drogue, Ludwig WaxFlashback to Québec City in the early ‘90s. “Fern DJ’d at Midnight on Tuesday nights,” says Cyr, “and he’d founded an amazing band called Kaopectak alongside Gourmet Délice [bass player for Secrétaires Volantes, Caféïne and Nombre, founder of Blow the Fuse Records, and now business development director for Bonsound]. They did covers of obscure punk and rock songs. Fern was a very calm dude, but on stage… WOAH! We imagine all kinds of things about rock stars, but Fern was truly the first person I saw get onstage, go into a trance, and return to their normal life after. I said to myself, ‘I want to do that, too.’”

In 1996, “in some basement in Cap-Rouge,” he recorded Fun Bomb!, the only album by Demolition, his first band. I show him the album cover from my end of the videoconference call. “Look inside!” says Cyr. “Do you see who produced the album?” And what I can clearly see is that it was produced by Stéphane Papillon, with whom Cyr recently re-united in Drogue, Québec’s new super-group, the other members of which are guitar hero Jean-Sébastien Chouinard, bassist Fred Fortin, and drummer Pierre Fortin (of Gros Mené and Galaxie).

“At the end of my Cégep, the two bands that made it to the finals of Cégeps en spectacle were Papillon’s band and Jean-Philippe’s [Dynamite Roy, guitarist for Secrétaires Volantes and Nombre, and Drogue’s lyricist]. Papillon sang ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ and it was the first time I heard a Stooges song.”

Rock “funabulist,” adolescent on the loose, charismatic, and most likely a bit masochistic, as Ludwig Wax, Cyr became a Québécois Iggy Pop, never hesitating to wrap his microphone cord around his neck, to climb everywhere, to catapult himself into the crowd and to do the snake on the floor, a modus operandi he adopted right from the get-go with Demolition, and which would guide him to the third and ultimate Nombre, Vile et fantastique (2009).

“C’est-tu l’aube, c’est-tu l’aube, c’est-tu l’aube, c’est-tu l’aube ou le crépuscule ? /Un jour je me bats, y’en dix autres où je capitule” (“Is it dawn, is it dawn, is it dawn, is it dawn or is it dusk? /One day I fight, there are 10 other where I capitulate”) he howls on “L’aube ou le crepuscule,” the galvanizing first single from Drogue’s first EP.

“I consider Jean-Philippe Roy to be one of the most important songwriters of the punk rock Francophonie,” says Louis about his longtime friend, whom we could qualify as semi-retired from the rock scene. “In that song, Jean-Philippe is wondering if our feet are inside or outside of our casket. How are we supposed to react to aging? We’re all around 50 years old now.”

What’s Cyr’s attitude with regards to his own age? Let’s start with a list of injuries: Ludwig Wax has “kneecaps typical of someone who too often decided to jump really high and land on their knees like a moron,” he says. He has back problems, also linked to his stunts, and a shoulder that makes him miserable since he dislocated it during a Demolition show in Japan during a G8 Summit in 2000.

“My attitude towards aging?” He gives an unequivocal answer. accompanied by a booming laugh: “I decided join Drogue!” (Editor’s note: The line in French is “J’ai décidé de jouer dans Drogue,” a wordplay best translated as, “I decided to play with drugs.”)

Although Stéphane Papillon and Jean-Sébastien Chouinard tricked him into joining the band – he met them thinking he was only going to collaborate on a single song for Papillon’s solo album – the singer, now that he’s got the bug again, is dying to get onstage and “feel the air moving because of the amps.” As hard to believe as it is, a certain virus (more dangerous than the rock one) has meant that the members of Drogue have never all been together in the same room. That also explains why Cyr is the only band member – disguised as a human billboard(!) – featured in the video for De la poudre aux yeux, a tribute to Guy L’Écuyer’s character in André Forcier’s film Au clair de la lune (1983).

“I want to become one with the music when I’m onstage,” says Cyr. “I want to be stabbed by the sound waves of the drums, guitars, and bass. I know not everyone enjoys loud music, but I do. It makes a lot of musical styles more interesting. Whenever I listen to music or sing, I get to a point where I feel it should be even louder.”

At least they didn’t have to jump through hoops to get on the show.

Thanks to the involvement of Wracket Music Supervision Inc.’s Everton “Big Easy” Lewis Jr., a several young, promising Canadian rappers have landed their joints on Anyone’s Game, a 30-minute, six-episode CBC high-school basketball docu-series following one of the NBA’s most promising talent pipelines, The Athlete Institute.

Everton Lewis Jr.

Everton Lewis Jr. (Photo: Will Selviz)

Based in Orangeville, Ontario, the institute builds its Orangeville Prep team as the players pursue the NCAA Division 1 scholarship, and hopefully an eventual shot at a pro contract; the accompanying doc showcases the talents of such up-and-coming rappers as Toronto-raised, Montréal-born Patrik, Ghanaian-Canadian Friyie (pronounced FREE-yay), and GTA MC collective Lunch Room Poetz.

Lewis Jr., who served as music supervisor for Vice Canada for three years, said he was mandated by the CBC to feature Canadian music, though he shied away from established talent in favour of rookies. Some of the placements were artists that Lewis Jr. had previously been aware of, or whose music he had included in Vice documentaries.

“These guys – especially Patrik – have been building a buzz,” he says. “I stage-managed him years ago at Canadian Music Week; he was really hustling, working, and coming up from the bottom. And his song ‘High End’ was selected for TikTok Canada’s music campaign, which is one of the same songs that’s licensed in the show. I felt it was appropriate to include him and his sound and provide him with additional exposure, while simultaneously riding his coattails.”


Patrik (Photo: Laizlo)

Lewis Jr. says he worked with Friyie for the 6ix Rising: Toronto’s Rap Ascendance doc – Friyie’s “Money Team” served as pro boxer Floyd Mayweather’s theme music when he confronted Conor McGregor at a press conference – and found the Lunch Room Poetz collective through a lifelong association with the quintet’s Phil “Philly Regs” Rego.

“They’re more of the underground and the raw, true art form of hip-hop,“ Lewis Jr. explains. “I always felt that was really important, because a lot of what basketball was framed around, it didn’t start with this newer age kind of music – it started with the KRS-Ones back in the day, and  the Nas influences, things like that. The Lunch Room Poetz are five battle MCs, and they’re  vicious! I thought that original Toronto-New York City gritty kind of sound needed to punch through on Anyone’s Game.”

The  artists involved are grateful for the opportunity.

“It means a lot to be a part of  the basketball culture in Canada,” says Patrik. “As someone who took basketball growing up, and had aspirations playing in a league, playing in university, it’s nice to be in that atmosphere… The involvement of my music makes me feel like I’m an extension of the story of what’s happening in Orangeville.”

Lunch Room Poetz

Lunch Room Poetz (Photo: Kenzo Ferrari)

When creating flows like “High End,” Patrik says the rhythm is the initial grabber. “I always go for the beat first,” he explains. “I’m not a producer or a beat-maker, so usually I work with multiple producers and beat-makers, to find a vibe, or the mood I’m in. In terms of writing [lyrics]… I start off by just praying and asking for understanding and wisdom, or the right wording to express what I’m going through.”

In the case of Lunch Room Poetz – Young Stich, B1 The Architect, Lotus James, KP, and Philly Regs – their previously released song “The Grind” just happened to align with an Anyone’s Game episode also called “The Grind.” “It’s perfect, man,” says B1 The Architect. “It talks about the struggle, the grind ,and the hustling, and it’s something very akin to [our experience] in our group. It’s not easy being an independent label and trying to launch your own product, just as it’s not easy to be  an independent basketball player trying to get recognition and actually making it to the NBA or NCAA.”

Lunch Room Poetz’ key to creativity is to enter the studio with a batch of beats. “Someone will kick it off with a verse, and then everyone will write together and try to stick to a concept,” says B1 The Architect. Philly Regs and B1 both says that the group’s appearance on Anyone’s Game only heightens their credibility. “It gives our group a bit more notoriety within the rap community, because proving that you can do this is big,” says Philly Regs.


Friyie (Photo: Ennrick Thevadasa)

Friyie is still enjoying his relationship with Mayweather, whom he calls “a mentor” and “a big brother.” He says the placement of his song “Pushin’” “is a great opportunity for my music to be featured on its own, because as an artist you’re trying to get as much placement as possible. I played basketball myself in high school, and I’m a real big fan, so… it feels like an accomplishment.”

Friyie – who worked with rapper Tory Lanez and Roddy Ricch on his debut album ANF (Ain’t Nothing Free) – says he starts off his creations by freestyling. “I tell an engineer to just record me in the booth,” he says. “I’ll go in there with a blank slate because I don’t like to over-think songs… I’ll listen to the beat for a couple of seconds, and when I start to freestyle, I’ll record the whole song twice, or three times, just spitting out whatever comes into my head. Then I’ll listen back to it and pick out the parts that will make the core foundation of the record, then just build onto that.”

Anyone’s Game will no doubt help Friyie, Lunch Room Poetz, and Patrik in the long run, and might even make them future contenders.