A flexible band whose name has changed as often as its lineup, the Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra got started in 1999. This year, the unpredictable clan released their seventh full-length album, Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything, a dense, urgent and furiously dishevelled opus (just listen to “Austerity Blues”) partly dedicated to the City of Montreal and containing some serious sonic assaults: listener discretion is advised.

As creator of the (sometimes highly politicized) lyrics of the Mt. Zion squad, Efrim Menuck (on guitar, piano and vocals) believes he knows why this is. “We’ve been a quintet for the past six years now,” he explains. “This was the first time we were writing an album in this format. It was different for the other albums. I believe that the fact that we were writing songs for a restricted number of people made for a more concentrated, more vital energy on this album. Also, we performed a lot of live concerts in the last few years, and the fact that we were constantly on the road had an effect on the final result.”

“In 2014, the barriers between compositional styles have been broken. Now, every musician on the planet has access to an amazing palette. You can make music freely.”

With blues, metal and garage music influences, the new album is a calculated departure from the band’s post-rock (a term Menuck hates) early influences. “In actual fact, our roots are in punk rock! We cultivate a healthy distrust of everything that isn’t local. The moment there’s doubt in our minds, we say no. It’s that simple. If we can seem rude to some people, it’s just that we’re shy and suspicious,” Menuck explains wryly.

Completed by Thierry Amar (bass, vocals), Sophie Trudeau (violin, vocals), Jessica Moss (violin, vocals) and David Payant (drums, vocals), the quintet goes about developing its repertoire in a strictly democratic manner. “That’s the main thing,” Menuck explains. “We begin with a riff, a melodic line or just a handful of chords from a jam session, and we take it from there. These can be contributed by anyone in the band. Then we spend a considerable amount of time finding a simple music segment and building as many variations as we can around that initial core until we reach the point where we have a song that can be as long as forty minutes or so. We then shorten this to a more reasonable duration.

“We discuss all arrangements together. Sometimes one of us will have a stronger opinion and try to impose that vision. Then the three string players [Amar, Trudeau and Moss] sometimes bring a more ‘chamber music’ feel to the end product. The music always comes first. That’s not negotiable. When we reach the point where the instrumental piece is roadworthy, I can sit down and try to come up with lyrics that bring all this together.”

With three musicians (Menuck, Amar and Trudeau) also performing on a regular basis as part of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, all five Mt. Zion members are full-time musicians. Are they living depraved rock-star lives? Well, not exactly.

“We’ve been very lucky in the fact that we’ve been working with people who believed in us from the very start, and have remained our friends to this day,” says Menuck. “Essentially, we make our living on the road, but everyone’s on the road these days, and the competition is fierce. We love what we do, and I believe it’s important to think small. We don’t have a manager. We don’t undertake excessive tours. We do everything ourselves. We take a homespun approach, keep expenses low and split our small pie in a reasonable number of pieces. All we’re trying to do is make an honest living. And it’s not easy. It’s becoming harder all the time. Sometimes I think I should get out of the music business and do something else, but I’ve been doing this for 20 years now. At this stage of my life, I don’t know what else I could do. My C.V. says ‘Musician,’ period.”

Mt. Zion is planning to keep busy until the fall. Incisive guitar and booming violin aficionados were pleased to hear the news of the release of a Mt. Zion EP in May, and of another one later in the year, always without compromises, no matter what. “In 2014,” Efrim Menuck says, “the barriers between compositional styles have been taken down. Now, every musician on the planet has access to an amazing palette. You can make music freely without feeling you’re making a deep or formal statement. This is one of the great things about making music today. You can do whatever you like. After being around for a number of years in this business, you kind of need to find a track that can motivate you to keep going.”

In the 10 years since Belly and Tony Sal, co-founders of CP Music Group, started the company in Ottawa – at a time when they admittedly knew very little about the record industry and music publishing – the duo have turned a shared fervor for Canadian urban music into a thriving business.

That success is a testament to the passion and teamwork of the four founding members: CEO Sal, Grammy-nominated rapper/songwriter Belly, President Manny Dion and Artist Manager Cash. “The ideology we had coming into this was not treating it like nine-to-five job,” says Belly. “This is our family. It’s our everything, so when other people slept, we were working. When their day ended, ours didn’t, and I think it gave us a real advantage.”

“This is our family. It’s our everything.” – Belly

Over time they’ve built an impressive roster of talent, including Massari, Mia Martina, Belly, and producers DaHeala (The Weeknd, Rick Ross, Snoop Dogg/Lion) and DannyBoyStyles (Nicki Minaj, Flo Rida, Wiz Khalifa). CP Music Group has made an impressive mark on Canadian radio (it’s the No. 1 Canadian indie label at Top 40 radio), and garnered multiple SOCAN No. 1 Song Awards and multiple MuchMusic Awards. Belly’s songwriting is a huge part of that success, Sal says, because of his work writing with CP’s roster, as well as with a wide range of international artists such as The Weeknd, Snoop Dogg/Lion, Wiz Khalifa and more.

Given Belly’s inroads into the international market, he and Sal are focusing on expanding that reach, recently inking a deal with Warner Chappell Music Publishing in America. “That’s our main focus, working with Jon Platt, President of Creative at Warner Chappell, focusing on the key ways to take what we’ve created to the next level,” Sal says.

As the industry has evolved over the past decade, there have been challenges, Sal admits. “The business is shrinking,” he says. “Everything is different, but when the industry changes, we evolve and we still stick with our passions – that’s what we depend on every day. As a publishing company we focus mostly on making the music and take it from there.”

“The changes taking place in the industry make it difficult to even understand what’s going to happen the next day, but we’re still here doing what we do,” Belly says, adding that their greatest strength is their friendship. “Success never kept nobody together. It’s friendship that’s kept us together, and if we have a problem we strap the gloves on, but then we shake hands afterwards and everybody’s good,” he adds, laughing.

When it comes down to it, having a shared a vision is the key. “Every decision Sal and I make, we make together,” Belly says. “The marriage between the creative and business world that we’ve built, that’s the best thing we have. Every day we know what the task at hand is and we complete it: mission accomplished, that’s what we go for every day.”

Long-distance relationships. As anyone with experience of these in a romantic sense can attest, they pose many emotional and logistic challenges. Making them work is a very difficult proposition.

That also applies to long-distance creative collaborations. Several prominent SOCAN members (and a few of their international comrades) are currently in such writing and recording relationships, so how do they keep the flame burning? Comparatively new technologies like file-sharing and Skype have been eagerly adopted by some songwriters as valuable tools of their trade, while others still insist on the direct, in-person approach.

Given his rural Ontario base, you might expect acclaimed singer-songwriter and in-demand producer Hawksley Workman to staunchly advocate for online creative collaboration. Not so. Now making a real impact in indie rock “supergroup” Mounties alongside Vancouverites Steve Bays (Hot Hot Heat) and Ryan Dahle  (Limblifter, Age of Electric), Workman stresses that in-person communication is crucial. 

“I think songs can definitely be written over the internet, but the music we were all inspired by was a collective human experience.” — Hawksley Workman of Mounties

“We’re very much a ‘performance’ band,” he says. “As the drummer, my part of the creation process is to inject live excitement, something that doesn’t translate to file sharing. I think songs can definitely be written over the internet, but the music we were all inspired by was a collective human experience. It’s about people in the same room smelling each other’s sweat.”

Workman rarely uses online communication in his production work (prominent clients have included Serena Ryder, Tegan and Sara, and Great Big Sea). “I e-mail mixes whenever my ridiculous rural internet will allow,” he explains, “but I’ll likely never be an ‘online’ guy.”

Rising country singer-songwriter Tim Hicks is more open to online collaboration. A recent SOCAN No. 1 Song Award winner for his first hit, “Get By,” a song he co-wrote with Casey Marshall, Neil Sanderson (Three Days Grace), and Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley (both of Florida Georgia Line), Hicks regularly co-writes remotely with Sanderson and Marshall. “I’m on the road all the time,” he says, “or I have the kids during the day as my wife works. If we can get a quick remote session in to keep those creative juices flowing, that makes all the difference.”

One attempt to all meet for a session in the Sound Lounge writing room at SOCAN’s Toronto office ran into a roadblock, Hicks recalls. “Neil was going to drive from north of Toronto, and I was coming from St. Catharine’s, but there was a terrible snowstorm that day,” he recalls. “We couldn’t drive in, but poor Casey didn’t get the memo in time and he went to SOCAN. I went onto Skype with Neil, who then ‘FaceTimed’ Casey on his iPhone or iPad. We were stretching technology to the max to get this session done, but we did get a song finished!”

Hicks explains that, “I write via Skype or FaceTime with other guys in Vancouver and Nashville all the time. It can be difficult sometimes ‘cause there is that delay, but that’ll get better in time.” He has also enjoyed more conventional in-person writing room sessions in Nashville. “They’re soaked in tradition there, and that approach has worked for so many years,” he says.

Fearing & White is definitely a long-distance collaboration, from Canada to Australia. Halifax-based roots-music veteran Stephen Fearing now balances a prolific solo recording career with membership in Blackie and the Rodeo Kings and, since 2008, his duo with fellow singer-songwriter Andy White. The Irish-born White now calls Australia home, creating obvious challenges. But the duo has overcome these to release two albums, their self-titled 2011 debut and 2014’s Tea and Confidences. Two joint compositions have also surfaced on BARK albums.