Welcome to the first in a new quarterly series, Upstarts, profiling very young SOCAN members who are making some noise with their original music. First up: Moscow Apartment.

Moscow Apartment, the young Toronto duo comprised of 15-year-olds Brighid Fry and Pascale Padilla, has already piled up the accolades in just a year of existence.

The Rosedale Heights School of the Arts-attending besties were named Best Young Songwriters at the Toronto Music Independent Awards and Best Young Performers at the 2017 Canadian Folk Music Awards. They were a recent hit at the city’s 16th annual Winterfolk Festival, and spent last summer touring the festival circuit across Canada – performing at The Winnipeg Folk Festival, Guelph’s Hillside Festival, and the Shelter Valley and Summerfolk fests.

In September of 2017, the duo released a Samantha Martin-produced, self-titled, five-song EP that has garnered them nationwide attention, as original songs like “Francis and Isolde,” “Annie” and “The Things You Do” reveal an innate maturity, and a sweetly beguiling vocal balance that sounds simultaneously demure and bold.

“Mostly, our musical bond comes from us being really best friends,” says Fry. “We’re really close, and that influences our dynamic in the band a lot.” Adds Padilla, “It had never been so easy to write with somebody before. I think we have a familiar vision as to what we want to put out there.”

Moscow Apartment formed when, after losing touch for a few years, Padilla attended the release party for Fry’s Fox Hat EP in October 2015, and the former “carpool choir buddies” re-connected.

As songwriters, Fry started earlier than Padilla, bitten by the bug “in Grade 1 or 2. I had this really mean substitute teacher. I got really annoyed and I just wrote a song about how mean she was,” Fry recalls.

Padilla needed a bit of coaching. “In Grade 5, I started working with Girls’ Rock Camp and songwriter Kritty Uranowski,” she says. “I was always writing songs, but I didn’t have guidance on structure or how to be creative. She really teaches people, especially young girls, and fosters that creativity.  I felt like I wanted to write even more, [just] so I’d have stuff to bring to her.”

“We fought quite a bit over the summer, but I think that made us closer.” – Brighid Fry of Moscow Apartment

Padilla also said she learned a lot about personal growth from producer Samantha Martin. “She taught me to be a kick-ass person,” she explains.

The professional and personal mettle of their friendship was tested during last summer’s folk festival run, especially since they decided to drive to Winnipeg through Northern Ontario. “We’ve learned [that] it’s not good to camp for two weeks straight with your best friend— because you fight,” Fry says with a chuckle. “We fought quite a bit over the summer, but I think that made us closer.”

Padilla agrees that even frequent arguments can be galvanizing. “You get into fights because you don’t have that professional distance,” she admits. “It makes us work together and get through tough times.”

And both young women found the festival circuit to also be inspiring, both personally and creatively. “You go to all these festivals and you find it’s like a community – this miniature town,” says Padilla. Fry also found the experience educational. “We got to meet a lot of amazing people and learn a lot in the songwriter programs,” she admits. “‘It made me want to do even better. I really want to feel like I deserve a place in these festivals. I feel there’s still a bit of an imposter syndrome, although obviously we work hard.  But it makes me want to work even harder to be successful, and really feel confident being there.”

Moscow Apartment started out simply at first, with influences ranging from Joni Mitchell and Kendrick Lamar to Brooklyn indie rockers Big Thief. “When we both started, it was ukulele and acoustic guitar,” says Fry. “We’re still definitely rooted in folk, because that’s what we grew up with, and that’s still a big part of our music.  In the last six, seven months, Pascale and I started listening to indie-rock stuff, and that’s influenced us, because we’re teenagers – our personalities change really quickly, and you can see that in our music from song to song. It’s more reflective of us creating our own style as teenagers. Both folk and rock feel really natural for us right now.”

Padilla agrees. “I think I’m a completely different person than I was three months ago , and I feel our music is completely different than it was three months ago,” she says, adding that the duo recently started rehearsing with backing musicians to expand their sonic palette.

For now, Moscow Apartment is setting sights on recording new music and reflecting upon a wildly successful first year.  “Honestly, I don’t think we expected to do this much in a year,” Fry admits.  “We just started. We want to keep growing as a band and have stuff occur organically.”

Padilla says they’re in this partnership for the long run. “I can’t imagine my life without working with Brighid,” she says. “It’s cool working with someone who I love so intensely.”

Manila Grey may have only surfaced two years ago, but their musical relationship started nearly a decade ago. Childhood friends Neeko and Soliven grew up with their eyes glued to their television screens, as they soaked up the sounds of Outkast, Maxwell, Usher and Musiq Soulchild while watching RapCity and Vibe on MuchMusic. Then, in the summer of 2009, they began making music together. “There were definitely a lot of takes, a lot of laughs and a lot of hours online looking for beats,” Soliven remembers. “It was a time of discovery.”

But Neeko and Soliven took their musical ambitions to the next level in 2016 when they officially formed Manila Grey, an act that paired modern hip-hop production with Neeko’s rapping and Soliven’s singing. Much of this new chapter in their musical career, the duo notes, is thanks to collaborator and producer Azel North. “He not only produces the beats, but he also pushes the sound design for Manila Grey,” Neeko explains. “The man is very dedicated to his sounds, and that really pushes us to cross some boundaries and dive deeper into these records.”

The resulting songs are some of Canada’s most polished and confident in current hip-hop, at times reminiscent of The Weeknd and Majid Jordan. But, of course, there’s one difference that makes Manila Grey stand out from their R&B contemporaries: their unabashed embrace of their Filipino culture. Neeko and Soliven aren’t afraid to admit that their culture informs their approach to their music — in fact, it fuels them more now than when they first got into songwriting.

“As we got older and the music started progressing, there’s always been a duality between the stories of our past life in the East, and our current life in Vancouver, that we just had the constant urge to tell – but couldn’t tell until now,” says Neeko. Soliven adds, “We realized that this is a big opportunity and outlet to introduce the people to something very unique.”

Many artists are simultaneously lyricists, music creators, and singers. Yet sometimes the magic happens when separate lyricists, music creators, and singers meet. Such was the case for “Repartir à zéro,” which became a SOCAN Classic in the year 2000 and turns 30 years old in 2018.

One of Jo Bocan’s signature songs, since the launch of her eponymous album in 1988, Repartir à zéro was born of the collaboration between Danièle Faubert (lyrics) and Germain Gauthier (music).

Even in the now-rare instance where the lyricist, music composer, and singer are three distinct people, it’s usually because of a fourth person – the producer, in this case – that all the pieces come together.

Composer and Producer

Gauthier – who had composed music for Nicole Martin, Donald Lautrec, Pierre Létourneau, Renée Claude, Nanette Workman and Diane Dufresne in the ’70s and ’80s – was initially approached to be the producer.

“I’m pretty sure the project was underway when they called me in,” says the man who started his career as a guitarist. “It was Jean-Claude Lespérance who gave me a call to offer me to get on board.

“He said, ‘I want you to do Jo’s album.’ I said, ‘Oh! You know, Jo is quite left-field for me. Do you really think I’m the right person for the job?’ I thought I was more pop than Jo. She’s a very theatrical singer. That’s when he told me, ‘That’s why I’m calling you.’ I told him I wanted to meet Jo before I gave him an answer.

“I didn’t know Jo, but it really clicked between us artistically. There was some kind of magic operating. We launched into artistic discussions, and it was endless. I was amazed by her incredible open-mindedness. By her charisma. And I fell in

love with her voice. Meeting her created beautiful sparks.”

When working on an artistic endeavour, it’s a natural tendency to invite colleagues with whom you’ve worked before. That’s why Gauthier contacted Danièle Faubert. “I met Jo,” remembers Faubert, who’s written for Beau Dommage, Francine Raymond, Pierre Bertrand and… Germain Gauthier. “I can’t remember exactly at

Germain Gauthier

Germain Gauthier

what stage of the album, but it was just a meeting with no specific topic. It’s important for a writer to meet the person for whom we’re writing. We try to understand that person, what they project.

“Writing is meeting chemistry. Part of the song has to resemble the singer. If there’s something they’re not comfortable with, we changed it. But I need to be happy too [laughs].”

Concern for the Environment

Inspiration, whether musical or otherwise, remains most elusive. On “Repartir à zéro,” two elements presented themselves. “I remember stepping outside after a dinner with friends and there was a nice breeze outside,” says Faubert. “There wasn’t a soul on the street. I could hear my footsteps, and I was a little weary. The environment was already a pressing matter back then.”

That how these lyrics ended up in the song:

Who will be the first one to blow the planet up…
Getting clean water and air back, is that a naive dream?…
Not bowing down any more, moving forward fearlessly
Imagining earth as a Garden of Eden

“Actually, if you think about it, it’s still a very relevant song,” says Faubert. “Water, air… Nowadays, with the nuclear menace between North Korea and the U.S… Not to mention Trump turning his back on the Paris Accord… But it’s also a hopeful song.”

“When Danièle showed up with those lyrics, we’d already worked on a few songs in the studio,” says Gauthier. “As the album’s producer, I was partly in charge of giving it a direction, and we’d articulated the album around a specific sound. I read the text and I said, ‘Wow!’ Those lyrics blew me away. It was incredibly beautiful.”

Instinct Above All

So beautiful, indeed, that the accompanying music was born of an instinctive creative process. “The piece of paper with the lyrics on it, I left it on my kitchen table,” says Germain, genuinely moved. “I read it over and over again until I knew it by heart.

“A lot of times when I compose, I’ll get stock a little on certain parts before getting to the point. In this case, I heard the first few chords in my head, no need for a piano or guitar. I almost composed the entire song in my mind. Flashes like that don’t happen often. And at some point, I told myself, ‘Wow! That’s Jo Bocanit.’ That was an intensely joyous moment.”

Thirty years later, the melody of “Repartir à zéro” hasn’t aged a bit. Neither has its subject matter, or video, where images of Jo Bocan as a child and as an adult are cut with images of war, famine and racial struggle. The clip could be re-shot with recent images. “Repartir à zero” is a personal song with universal subject matter.

“I don’t know that I’m trying to be universal when I write, but the text has to be about something that I really care about,” says Faubert. In this instance, the writer (Faubert), the composer (Gauthier) and the singer (Bocan) all benefited from it.