Stittsville’s Grace Lachance is 17 and is about to perform in her fifth concert slot at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest. It’s an enviable record for anyone let alone a teenager just graduated from Sacred Heart High School.
She’ll step out on the stage in the Barney Danson Theatre on Sunday with an eye on her future. But the road began at home in Stittsville.
“Basically the way I started, it didn’t feel like it was something that I was choosing. It was instinctive. The second I started to talk I was singing. I was walking around the house with a ‘sippy’ cup in my hand singing.”
And it just didn’t go away.
“As I grew up I was just wanting to sing more and more and wanting to get better and better.”
She started taking singing lessons from a teacher in Stittsville and that helped her develop her voice. The result of that work convinced her that “this was something I would pursue. I don’t have a low voice, I have a high range. I try to do whatever I can with with that but I don’t necessarily stick with one style or one of singing. I just go with the flow.
“I never write songs to fit my voice. I just hear the melody in my head and play it that way.”
Lachance writes with her guitar.
If there are artists she considers when she is creating they are the edgy young Canadian pop star Alessia Cara and the introspective English singer-songwriter James Bay. Lachance meets them somewhere in the musical middle.
She’s got some guts, does Grace Lachance. She debuted at Bluesfest at 13. At 15 she won the She’s The One contest.
The contest pits young female singers, aged 13 to 21, from across Canada. Lachance said she participated because “I knew wanted to do music and it was the perfect opportunity to exercise that. At the same time, there was no point in doubting whether I would make it, let alone win. You don’t know until you try it. I figured that even if I didn’t make it, would still be a good learning experience.
“It included different people of different ages, and with different styles. I knew everyone would be very talented, so it was about doing your best and seeing what happened.”
And surprise, surprise, she won … first time lucky.
Competitions are certainly stressful, but for Lachance stress turns into adrenalin.
“I’m not really the type of person who gets stressed. Instead I really get excited and run on adrenalin the whole time. It’s a positive adrenalin.” In her winning performance she sang one of her own songs called Try and one by the Irish band Kodaline called All I Want.
She sang one of her own songs to show the judges she was a songwriter. And she picked All I Want becasue she didn’t want to cover a more mainstream song.
“I wanted to pick something that wasn’t over done. There are songs that you hear a lot at competitions and I didn’t want to do one of those that everyone had heard a million times.”
One of the prizes for winning She’s the One is that the festival helps you develop as an artist.
And Lachance has been the beneficiary of that. She’s been travelling to New York and Toronto, working with producers and performing here and there.
The festival team has even helped her prepare a six-song EP which will be out this fall.
“I’m very, very excited about it. It is not just me and a small group of people hearing it.”
Now that she is finished with high school, Lachance will take a year off to concentrate on music. If the EP is successful she will use it as a springboard.
“Now I can focus on music completely. My mom is super excited. She knows how much it means to me. She is very supportive. She doesn’t do music at all no one in my family does, nevertheless she’s interested in what I create and show to her.” She knows her mother will be in the front row, she’s there at all her shows.
Lachance is also thinking about her father who passed away when Grace was 13.
“He loved it when I took out my guitar and he loved the songs I was working on.”
“I’m not nervous about the future because I feel whatever happens next year will be what it is. I’m just excited and looking forward to seeing the results.
“I have worked with people who are everything that is good about the music industry. It has been very empowering. I have learned there is nothing I can do to affect the outcome of a song other than work as hard as you possibly can.”
Nick Descarie would second that sentiment.
He runs She’s The One for Bluesfest. This year’s winner will be chosen on Saturday.
“We don’t just throw money at them, we do development. We spend about 12 months sending the winner to vocal coaches guitar teachers. They do dozens of writing sessions, they meet producers, they go to industry panels. We extend their network in the industry.
“Throughout the process we keep a catalogue of their songs that are co-written with label partners. Out of that we pick a song that seems to represent them. Depending on the song it is directed to streaming or to radio play.”
It is really about launching them, Descarie said. The festival also throws in marketing and publicity training along with photo shoots and a stylist.
“We give them an accelerated version of what a label might have done in the 1980s.”
After the single is released they festival may do more work with the winner. It depends on the kind of interest that is generated but, as in the case with Grace Lachance, the festival may stay in contact and coaching. Or they will extend the commitment to making an EP.
The festival does this to try to cultivate and nourish Canadian talent, he said.
“If it can be local and Ottawa then great, but our mandate is national. It is to give females a hand because they are under-represented in the industry. As the major labels aren’t developing many artists any more it is the responsibility of smaller labels and smaller entities in the industry to pick up the slack.”
She’s The One has been going for eight years.
When Descarie took it over four years ago, he changed it “from offering a prize package to a development package, which I thought would yield more success on a long term basis for the winner.”
Descarie has a history in the music business as a musician.
“I studied locally at (Ecole Secondaire) de la Salle in classical percussion and jazz. I moved to music production in college and then got a marketing degree. I was trying to gather the knowledge that would fit the music industry.”
He spent 10 years touring before singing on with the festival.
“Hopefully, now, I can can pass on what I have learned to these young women.”
There have been three winners since the program was changed” Grace Lachance, Emma Lamontagne and Cassidy Taylor.
“Grace has been a success. We have government funding and we are moving forward and committing to her long term. Emma had a single called I Don’t Sleep that had 400,000 streams on Spotify. She has a different management team, but we continue to advise her,” he said.
“Cassidy is just finishing up her 12 months and focussing on her live performance. She has a show in her hometown of Haliburton soon, two shows in the festival and her single, Lucky, will drop in August if all goes well. It’s a co-write with a Nashville singer-songwriter.”
Where: RBC Ottawa Bluesfest Barney Danson Theatre
When: July 15 at 3:30 p.m.
Tickets and information: ottawabluesfest.ca