Monday, July 3, 2017

Canada 150: Grimes, Imagine Dragons, Shawn Hook, Julia Michaels & More Reflect on the Anniversary

Canada 150: Grimes, Imagine Dragons, Shawn Hook, Julia Michaels & More Reflect on the Anniversary:

You could name drop Drake, Shawn Mendes, The Weeknd or Alessia Cara. “Hey I’m from the same country that bred these hot super stars” -- but it’s way easier to buy a flag for a couple of bucks. It’s an unspoken rule when traveling abroad to have a Canadian flag somewhere on your person — a patch on your backpack, a luggage tag or a small pin  — and you’ll be treated better.

As Canada celebrates the big 150 on July 1, Billboard asked a select number of musicians, mostly Canadian, what they like about Canada -- and if they do, indeed, get preferential treatment when they tour overseas or across the border.

From Imagine Dragons and Julia Michaels to Shawn Hook, Grimes and A Tribe Called Red, check out the varying opinions.  Next year on Canada Day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to legalize marijuana (which Billboard surveyed musicians about), but this year it’s all about Canada 150.


Sharing management with fellow Canadian The Weeknd, Massari, whose forthcoming U.S. debut album, Beirut, on CP/Universal, features the hit “Done Da Da,” was born in Beirut, Lebanon, but moved to Montreal when he was 11. “From someone who has traveled the world, I will tell you that the overall perception of Canadians is the most positive of all cultures. I’m so proud to be a Canadian because of the simple fact that you see so many people from so many different walks of life. We represent unity and we have begun to dictate the way the sound of music is coming from Toronto because of that same unity and multiculturalism that we have here. I’m so proud of this country. All Canadians should be really proud to be Canadian.”


The Juno Award-winning electronic-based pop singer’s new album, Skin & Earth, is due in the fall, complete with a comic book series that she created. Born in Timmins, Ontario to missionary parents, she spent her youth living in other parts of the world including the Philippines and Jamaica. Now a well-traveled touring artist on her fourth studio album, she says, “People like Canadians. People generally are warm towards Canadians. Canada always had this halo of warmth.  We’re a welcoming country. It’s one of the most welcoming countries I’ve been to and I’ve seen a lot of countries in the world — a country that nurtures music and a country that, especially now and in the past, has always been an amazing country for music, a country I’m proud to be part of.”

Shawn Hook

Shawn Hook, the Hollywood Records singer/pianist who currently has a hit with “Reminding Me” featuring Vanessa Hudgens (21.5 million collective streams), will be doing a radio promo tour in the U.S., UK, Sweden and Canada all summer for his new EP, My Side of Your Story. He was born Shawn Hlookoff (of Russian decent) in Nelson, British Columbia, but has lived in Los Angeles since 2016. He divided his time between the U.S. and Canada for eight years before moving there permanently. “We totally have the reputation for being nice, warm-hearted people. When people find out I’m Canadian, or I’m traveling amongst Canadians abroad, everyone kind of breathes a sigh of relief, ‘Oh they’re good people.’ That’s the reputation we have around the world.”

Francesco Yates

Toronto’s Francesco Yates, who had a Canadian hit single “Better To Be Loved” in 2015 and a bigger hit with Robin Schulz called “Sugar” whose video has 321 million views on YouTube, signed to Atlantic when he was 16. He went on to work with Pharrell Williams and is now managed by Johnny Wright (New Kids On The Block, Backstreet Boys). He’s been locked away in a basement studio working on new material by himself, as well as with LA-production group Alien Rhythm, so forgive him if he’s out of the loop. He does have a Canada Day gig but didn’t know it was the 150th. “Oh I didn’t know,” he says, before touting Canada. “Our expression of freedom and artistry is like that of no other. No matter where you are from in the world, this place will feel like home to you. That’s the best thing about being from here.”

Imagine Dragons

Hailing from Las Vegas, the top-charting Billboard act tours extensively and has spent considerable time in Canada headlining arenas and they have some fond connections to the country’s East Coast.

“I think Canada represents a lot of incredible things, especially right now that Americans are inspired by. I think Justin  [Trudeau] is so progressive and intelligent and handsome. We look up to Canada in a lot of ways,” says singer Dan Reynolds.

“Plus, my grandmother is from Nova Scotia,” drummer Daniel Platzman interjects. “So I’ve got some Canadian in me. We’ve not played in Nova Scotia yet. I keep pushing it.”

“Or Prince Edward Island,” guitarist Wayne Sermon jumps in, noting a family tie — sorta — to the small province. “My sister used to watch Anne of Green Gables growing up and I just fell in love with that island.”

“We’ve done some extensive Canadian touring but not enough,” Platzman says. “There are some more Canadian places we’re very excited to get to. We’re coming.” Watch for Canadian flags on Platzman and Sermon’s gear.

Scott Helman

The 21-year-old started his touring adventures a couple of years ago after releasing his debut EP, Augusta, in 2014, on Warner Music Canada and now his first full-length album, Hotel de Ville, but he knows all about the usefulness of the Canadian flag. “I remember when I went to India when I was 15 and we were in the airport and I was talking with my friend and these guys were being super rude to us. They were just guys that worked at the airport. We had flags on our backpacks and we turned around for something and we came back and this dude had the biggest smile on his face, ’Oh you’re Canadian!’ And from that point on, he was super nice. It’s amazing, especially in times like this, right now, it’s really important that we keep our country a role model in the rest of the world, whether it be musically, politically, socially or just our attitude towards tourists. I just think that that’s really special.”

A Tribe Called Red

Ian "DJ NDN" Campeau from the First Nations DJ group has a different perspective on Canada 150, a birthday celebrating colonization against a backdrop of slaughtering and dominating Indigenous Peoples. The group’s latest album, We Are the Halluci Nation, was inspired by a fictional tribe that resisted the dominating ALie Nation, conceived by late Native American rights activist and poet John Trudell.

“I heard recently that somebody put on a Halluci Nation patch and they got treated extremely well in London and got approached about it which was mind-blowing,” says Campeau. “So instead of putting a Canadian patch, they put a Halluci Nation patch, which is pretty dope.”

Not surprisingly, Canada Day “is just another day for me,” he says, as A Tribe Called Red returns from a European tour that day. “Here’s the thing about Canada 150. The idea of Canada was never meant for Indigenous people in any way shape or form. We actually impeded the idea of Canada and to celebrate the ownership would be like, say you live in a house and you find out that your father had to murder people for you and your family to live in that house. Would you be able to celebrate owing that house for 150 years? Not only that,” he adds, “Would you invite the living people of the family that got murdered to come and celebrate you owning that house for 150 years? That’s how I feel about it.”

There are currently protests in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, advocating for “reoccupation” on unceded Algonquin territory, and Campeau suggests going a step further and following the lead of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia. “In Australia the Indigenous people celebrate on the same day as Australia Day [January 26), which is also Survival Day, which is a cool sentiment where everybody can party, one side for the colonization of Australia and the other one is celebrating the survival of the colonization of Australia.”

Marianas Trench

Singer Josh Ramsay doesn’t have a Canadian flag on the usual travel items. The guy who co-wrote “Call Me Maybe” for Carly Rae Jepsen and fronts his own platinum-selling pop-rock band in Canada actually rocks one. The Vancouver-based band’s last album, 2015’s Astoria, came out in Canada on 604 Records and in the U.S. on Cherrytree/Interscope and the band are touring machines. “I have a custom-made maple leaf guitar that I call The Patriot that I always play for the last couple of songs and everyone always loves it,” he says.

Shaun Frank

The co-writer of The Chainsmokers “Closer” and an artist/DJ himself with hit songs under his own name, such as “La La Land” with DVBBS feat. Delaney Jane; and “Let You Get Away” feat. Ashe, once fronted rock band The Envy signed to Gene Simmons’ label. Before that he was in a band called Crowned King, so he is no stranger to touring and traveling. “I’ve had the opportunity to spend so much time in America this year and America is an amazing country with amazing people, but there’s something way more relaxing about being in Canada,” says the guy who still lives in Toronto, despite gigs in the U.S. all summer, including weekend Vegas slots. “You come home and there is just less tension.  There seems to be a lot of tension around the world and somehow in the way our country has evolved, we just don’t have that and that’s an amazing thing. It’s nice to come home to that.”


Vancouver-born experimental pop artist Claire Boucher, better known as Grimes, has headlined and opened tours all over the globe, including headlining the Vision Tour (2012-2014), ACID Reign Tour (Asia/Europe, 2016) and opening for everyone from Lykke Li  (2011) and Lana Del Rey (2015). She won’t be doing anything “that Canadian” on Canada Day (“ideally eating something like spaghetti that I enjoy”) but she does find, “[People] are always so much nicer when they find out I’m Canadian. It’s a thing, definitely. I’m definitely relived to be Canadian when I’m traveling.”

Julia Michaels

Iowa native Julia Michaels, whose smash “Issues” has enabled her to enjoy global success as a recording artist, has been touring with Canadian Daniel Kanter, who has been musical director for Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and Shawn Mendes. She hasn’t gauged whether his presence gets them special treatment but says, “Dan has a lot of fans though. In every country we’ve been to, there’s always people waiting outside of the airport for him.  I’m like, ‘Cool. I’ll be in the car,’” she laughs. “They’re always there for him, it’s amazing.”

She is aware that it’s Canada’s 150th though. “Happy Birthday. I learned about it when I came here in February. I did something for Universal Music where I went to Sonic Boom [record shop] and I picked out my favorite records and I found out about it then because I signed the flag.”

Karl Wolf

The singer, who has a thriving career in Canada, co-wrote OMI’s 2015 international hit “Hula Hoop,” which landed the Toronto-based artist a publishing deal with BMG in Los Angeles earlier this year. Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Wolf immigrated to Canada in 1995, starting his new life in Montreal. “I don’t understand the whole 150th thing. I’m just proud to be Canadian because my parents lost a lot of things in the civil war in Lebanon,” he says. “I was born in Beirut so I’m just happy to have a future and a life and we can actually just be normal and not be scared of anything and any wars. To me, I’m just happy we live in a beautiful country, probably the best country in the world, so I’m just blessed to be Canadian. I’m lucky.”

Bea Miller

Eighteen-year-old New Yorker Bea Miller, who has released two EPs on Hollywood Records, and will soon release Chapter Three: Yellow, is well aware of the Canada 150 celebrations. “I think that’s so cool. I love other countries and people from other places supporting any other place. Canada’s awesome. I love Canada every time I’ve come here. I spent two weeks here last summer on tour  [opening for Selena Gomez and DNCE]. I had so much fun and the fans here are so sweet. I’ve never actually encountered a rude Canadian in my life. That’s actually a true story.”

Tasha The Amazon and producer/DJ Dan Thrax

Rising Toronto rap artist Tasha The Amazon, now with booking agent Paradigm in the U.S., has been touring America since November and hits the U.K. and European next week.

“There’s a lot of excitement even around the city of Toronto right now,” says her producer/DJ Dan Thrax. “I think people are just as excited about that as they are about the Canada thing. People want to visit here. They want to know what makes this place so special and why so many special people come out of here.”

Adds Tasha: “That’s the thing. Obviously, we are Canadian, but we wear this city on our back more than anything else because Toronto is a very special place. So traveling to other places, everyone just wants to know what’s up with Toronto. Some of our artists are Billboard top 10, all Toronto artists. They want to know what’s in the water here.”


Toronto’s Grandtheft, born Aaron Waisglass, is signed to Diplo’s label Mad Decent, and remixed Calvin Harris’ “Summer” and Sweet Nothing,” Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” and Major Lazer’s “Number One.” This year, he had his own charting single, “Easy Go,” featuring Delaney Jane. He’s been working on the follow-ups, including tracks called “Square One” and “Gold.”  “I’m always proud to be Canadian and proud to fly the flag wherever I go, proud to be a Canadian artist,” says Grandtheft. “I found that years ago, it was something that people put on their backpacks, but as an artist it was always a bit of a weird thing. I felt like a bit of an alien. You’re an artist that’s not American and that was our identity. Now everywhere I go people are like, “Whoa, you’re from Toronto! You’re from Canada! What’s in the water up there? So much good music.’ It’s really cool to see that people are receiving artists differently now worldwide.”