The words for “Perles” (“Pearls”), for instance, were written at the Petite-Vallée song festival with lyricist Marc Chabot and singer-songwriter Daniel Boucher. Yao later sent the lyric to his songwriter-producer associate with a sketch of the music he saw for it, and Sonny worked his magic.

Why did the album end up being called Perles et Paraboles? “I was thinking of something valuable, each song being a unique pearl having and telling its own story. My songs are inspired by what I see around me, by human interactions, and by my Generation Y experience as well.” Génésis 2.0’s “Génération sacrifiée” is a case in point. It tells the story of a young man who gets his university degree during the 2008-09 global economic crisis, only to realize that the employment he had been promised was not necessarily going to materialize.

“I always carry a notebook and my iPhone with me so I can jot down song ideas. I never stop writing.”

While he finds the Quebec market hard to penetrate with his slam/blues/jazz/disco style, Yao is looking forward to an international career, beginning with the French market. After testing the waters and making initial contacts at the last MIDEM conference, he spent a month Paris early this year to sign a deal with a music promotion agency and discuss distribution. Plans are calling for a release in April 2014, a busy month for the artist with a concert at Cabaret du Mile-End on the 11th as part of the “Vue sur la relève” festival, and with the ANIM (Association Nationale de l’Industrie Musicale) “Rencontres qui Chantent,” a project that brought him to “Contact Ouest” in Victoria, B.C. last year.

Yao has kept quite busy since the release of his new album, with appearances at FrancoFête en Acadie in Dieppe, N.B., Contact Ontarois in Ottawa, and the Petit Champlain Theatre in Quebec City.

How does he deal with songwriting and career management simultaneously? “I always say it’s like an athlete training all year long,” says Yao. “I always carry a notebook and my iPhone with me so I can jot down song ideas. I never stop writing. I’m very introspective.”

Yao was recently invited to re-connect with his former partner FLO for a new venture, and to contribute to a Le R rap project, none of which is likely to faze this highly organized artist, whose current reading material includes a book of poetry and one on the music industry.

And, as if was not busy enough, Yao – who likes to work on stage with experienced musicians like the violin player Olivier Philippe-Auguste – is now teaching himself the guitar. “Music is my full-time job. I am disciplined. You’ll find me at my computer screen at 8:30 in the morning,” the 26-year-old musician with big energy and large dreams confirms. Find more at

Name any gigantic country hit of the last two decades or so and there’s a better-than-average chance that it was generated from Nashville, Tennessee.

Sure, Texas factors into the mix, and maybe there’s a touch of Bakersfield in there, too. But for the most part it’s a 30-block-or-so chunk Southwest of downtown Nashville, nicknamed Music Row, that has served as the country music capital of the world since the 1940s. It houses record companies, music publishers, booking agencies, recording studios, management offices, session musicians, and everything else you’d need to make it as an artist or a songwriter. It’s the country music business Mecca of the modern world.

But over the past handful of years or so, Music City, Tennessee, has grown beyond churning out the latest Taylor Swift or Luke Bryan or Lady Antebellum and expanded its horizons to include multi-million-dollar rock ‘n’ roll success stories like Kings of Leon, The Black Keys, Paramore and a relocated Jack White (and his bands The Raconteurs and Dead Weather); platinum rap artist Young Buck; and teen idol pop group Hot Chelle Rae – genres that are giving the town a more musically cosmopolitan reputation.

“The lines are getting blurred,“ agrees Joey Moi, the Tumbler Ridge, BC, native songwriter /producer best known for co-producing several of Nickelback’s million-selling albums, and co-writing the band’s chart-toppers “Gotta Be Somebody” and “Something in Your Mouth.”

“There are literally thousands of talented people just sitting around chomping at the bit to work on anything.” – Joey Moi

Moi has been living in Nashville for the past two years as a partner in Big Loud Mountain, a management/label/artist development firm that has delivered six No.1 singles in a row for country artists Jake Owen and Florida Georgia Line. That includes FGL’s “Cruise,” a song Moi co-wrote, which recently established itself as the top-selling country digital single of all time at six million copies. For Moi, it’s been an eye-opening experience.

“What I’m discovering is that Nashville is so rich in talent, and not just country,” he says. “When I first came to town, it was so overwhelming to see how many talented people there are in one place. There are literally thousands just sitting around chomping at the bit to work on anything. And the word is just starting to get out.”

It’s up for debate whether or not this change in perception surrounding Nashville is a new phenomenon.

“I would say it’s happening more,” notes Espanola, Ontario’s Terry Sawchuk, a Nashville-based songwriter and producer who topped the charts with Jake Owen’s “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” and has worked with JUNO-award winning jazz singer Matt Dusk on the majority of his albums.

“When I talk to the old-school people – the Roger Cooks [“I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing,” “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress”] of the world, the guys in their 70s who have been here forever – they say that things have always gone in waves. The L.A. writers would all move here every couple of years because there was more going on here. So there’s always been a history of transient movement, in all styles.

“If you look at most session musicians, songwriters and artists, traditionally, they are not from Nashville. They come here for the great talent pool, steady work, and low cost of living. With them, they bring their diverse influences, which then play a big role in the musical make-up of the community. It’s safe to say now that Nashville is the Silicon Valley of music.”

Sawchuk strengthens the argument that Nashville’s stature as strictly a one-trick country music pony is changing.

“Because there’s an infrastructure, genres that I’ve always written have more acceptance now, more avenues,” he explains. “For instance, the publisher that I’ve hooked up with – Kobalt Music Publishing – is very much an international company, so they’re getting me pop cuts in Germany, Poland and film and TV in Los Angeles.”

Del Barber admits that he used to lie about how he made his living.

“Saying I was a musician always sounded like gloating,” he says simply. But with four albums, a handful of awards and a JUNO nomination under his belt, it’s a title he’s now using a little more comfortably.

But Barber, 30, who grew up just outside of Winnipeg, says he never made a conscious decision to become a musician. “It wasn’t a grandiose dream,” he laughs. “It trickled into a job, and it’s a job I really love. But I see it as a trade and I try to apply myself to it like a trade.”

“My music has the possibility to de-centre people and to make them think about what they believe in.”

While Barber, who comes from a long line of storytellers, cites artists like John Prine, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen as inspiring his folk and alt-country sounds, he’s just as quick to credit the prairie landscape and the people he spends his days with.

“I’ve always been influenced by people who really make things – people who produce goods, in agriculture and manufacturing,” he explains. “I spend most of my spare time fishing and hunting and helping on farms. So I can’t help but feel that at best, my job is about being a recorder of those types of feelings, and the people I encounter through those activities.”

Though he has done his time in urban centres (including Chicago, where he studied philosophy), Barber says being around the people whose lives he wants to capture in song is key to his creative process.

“I have a hard time understanding people writing in the country music idiom without having lived it,” he says. Not that he’s given to navel-gazing. Barber hates the idea of being perceived as a “middle-class, white, country kid who complains about the world. I think I can say more politically and socially through other people’s stories,” he explains.

At the end of the day, Barber says his goal is to write songs that will appeal to a broad audience, no matter where they live.

“I love songs that are accessible to [people of] every sort of creed and class,” he says. “My music has the possibility to de-centre people and to make them think about what they believe in,” he says. “That’s what stories do.”

Track Record

  • In 2011, Barber won two Western Canadian Music Awards, for Independent Album and Roots Solo Recording of the Year, and was nominated for a JUNO for Roots & Traditional Album of the Year.
  • Seeking an organic sound, Barber’s current album Prairieography was recorded inside a 150-foot tall grain silo.
  • While he plays with a band whenever he can, Barber does most of his touring on his own. “I do a lot of storytelling if I get the right venue,” he says.

True North Records
Discography: Where The City Ends (2009), Love Songs for the Last Twenty (2010), Headwaters (2012), Prairieography (2014)
SOCAN member since 2009