Oh Canada! (and 5 hidden fun facts about moi)
By Justin Gray (Songwriter/Producer/Founder www.wearemdiio.com)
Living and making music in, and out of Canada used to be hard…almost impossible. When I was coming up as a young songwriter and producer, NO ONE was coming to Canada to find their sound, or write the hits to launch their careers. So WE had to leave Canada to find opportunities. It was expensive and time-consuming. There was no collaboration online. You literally HAD TO BE THERE. Commitment meant spending lots of money and time being away from family. You didn’t travel with a studio in your backpack. You had to rent one wherever you were. Canada was always considered the nice, polite little brother of the US. The constant tap on the head as if to say "oh…that’s cute. Let the adults take it from here." Quietly and subversively, Canada has grown. Not only grown, but exploded. Canadian success globally is not a new development, however. Canadian influence on modern music goes back to the dawn of the Top 40. Canadians have led the world in every genre and decade. Today we have Justin Bieber, Drake, Alesia Cara, Shawn Mendes, The Weekend, and Arcade Fire (to name a few). Most of Dua Lipa's hits were because of Canadians. Fact! Not only have Canadian artists impacted meaningfully, but so have a slate of Canadian songwriters, producers, composers, and engineers. Today…Canada is a destination and hotspot for artists globally! Anyone that recalls the pop music explosion led by the Swedes in the late 90’s/2000’s, will recognize that Canada is the new utopia for pop hitmakers. It feels the same. It is too easy to highlight all the incredible talent blazing the pop music path at the moment. Let’s go back a bit…talk about the OG’s. This is only a small cross-section of pop’s pioneers, rock’s rebel rousers, and inspirational innovators whose influence has left an indelible mark on today's generation. Quite frankly, if we were to write a story of the permanent mark left by Canadian producers, songwriters and artists, it would be 10,000 pages long. At least. Maybe even a page or two on yours truly.
Producers: Jack Richardson - Perhaps Canada's FIRST internationally successful producer, Richardson carved careers for The Guess Who and Bob Seger. The Jack Richardson Producer of The Year Juno is named after him. That’s a legacy! Bob Ezrin - Despite still being incredibly active, back in the 70’s, Ezrin was responsible for crafting the sound of Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd, and perhaps most notably KISS. Bob Rock - Defining the rock sound of the 80’s, Rock produced legendary acts like Bon Jovi, Metallica, and Aerosmith David Foster - As a young producer coming up in the 90’s, I was often asked to replicate the "David Foster" sound. Silky chorused and phased electric pianos played definitively. Foster’s production and writing can be traced back to 90's icons like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and of course Celine Dion. Daniel Lanois - Considered to be one of the most inventive record producers ever, Lanois famously produced transformational albums like U2’s The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, and has been a longtime collaborator of Peter Gabriel. Arguably one of Canada’s best songwriters…ever! Fun fact #1…in 2002, we were both nominated for "Producer of The Year" at the Juno Awards. Fun fact #2…I still haven’t won a Juno. Artists/Songwriters: Joni Mitchell - Joni defined a generation of folk protest angst. She said what she said, and sang what she sang. One of the first honest and raw songwriter artists to break south of the 49th. Her influence can still be felt to this day (See below Alanis Morissette) Shania Twain - Twain’s stratospheric career was the first of its kind, blending Country, Rock and Pop music in a way that spanned genres and defied comparison. You’re welcome, Taylor Swift. Fun Fact #3...I opened for Shania Twain at The Deerhurst Valley Resort back in 1991. Fun Fact #4...She once took my seats at a Backstreet Boys concert. Neil Young - One-quarter of folk faithful’s CSNY, the "Y" emerged as the grandfather of grunge and rock protest anthems. I am not sure bands like Pearl Jam exist, had Young not turned on, turned up, and kept us Rocking In The Free World! The Guess Who - Canada’s first Rock superstar export with their smash "American Woman." Written by Canadians. Performed by Canadians. Produced by Canadians. Ironic Eh? Offshoots BTO and Burton Cummings were not too shabby either. Fun Fact #5, I twice opened for Burton Cummings. It was at that moment (the second time) that I realized I absolutely DID NOT EVER want to be an artist. Bryan Adams - Adams owned the 80’s. From the opening guitar riff of "Summer of 69," you can hear people all over the world singing "I got my first real six-string." You just did it…didn’t you? But that’s just one of countless hit songs spanning decades. Adams still has one of the most iconic Rock voices of all time. It was (and still is) melodically raspy and raw combined with pure emotion. The Band - You don’t know how much you love the band, until you go down their discography rabbit hole. Instrumental (pun intended) for navigating Dylan’s transformation into a rock singer, Robertson and the boys carved their own immediately identifiable sound post Dylan. Zydeco, Rock, Funk and Soul, while having no less than 4 lead singers made The Band an enigma, and their music timeless. Alanis Morissette - The perfect human metamorphosis from sub par Canadian Pop princess, to ground breaking bad ass ballbusting Icon. You Oughta Know changed everything. I remember sitting in my car for 45 minutes after hearing it the first time NEEDING to know who it was. Finally the DJ mentioned her name. Immediately went to HMV on Yonge Street to buy the single. Hit after hit made Jagged Little Pill one of (and still) the biggest records in history. Olivia Rodrigo doesn’t exist with Alanis. Period, end of story. And not because of Alanis only. But because of the throngs of Alanis disciples like Avril Lavigne, Gwen Stefani and Paramore. Alanis allowed…nay…demanded women songwriters be raw and honest. Did she just say "go down on you in a theatre…"? Can she say that on the radio? "And are you thinking of me when you f*** her?" Wow…just wow. Honorable Mentions: Rush Triumph Nickelback Anne Murray Gordon Lightfoot Celine Dion Corey Hart Oscar Peterson Nelly Furtado Avril Lavigne KD Lang Leonard Cohen The CODA: Canadian artists always did (and do) what they do best! Work hard, be exceptional and succeed globally. Sure…it is easier now. The world has gotten smaller while opportunities to succeed have gotten bigger. There are more tools available for creators than ever, while having more creative outlets. Back in the day Paul Anka (also Canadian) didn’t have Tik Tok, Zoom or even a mobile phone. I mean…he barely had a television, but the resilience of being driven by an insatiable passion without an option for failure can be a good lesson for all of us. So today of all days, drink some maple syrup, and order Poutine with extra gravy…you will love it, and you will have us Canadians to thank for it. See you next week, and keep writing them hits. Justin@mdiio.com