Borealis Music Prize (web)For today’s look at the Borealis Longlist we spoke to three artists whose first albums (at least solo ones) were recorded for the 2016 RPM Challenge and went on to be break-out albums of the year.

The RPM Challenge is a call for albums, written and recorded within the month of February, and composed of either ten songs or thirty-five minutes of original music. The challenge has been happening in Newfoundland and Labrador from almost ten years, with more and more albums being recorded each year.

The Attempted Murder of Laura Jean Fraser’s Good Grief, It Could Be Franky’s Your Friends Don’t Buy It At All and Justin Strong’s Peace & Understanding were all forged under the pressure of the RPM Challenge and became celebrated crowd pleasers.

Laura Jean Fraser is being recognized as a head turning innovator, Justin has become a new St. John’s favourite, and Danielle Hamel (It Could be Franky) won Best Urban Album at the 2016 MusicNL Awards. below is a sample from each album:


Do You Think This Album Would Have Happened Without the Pressure and Push To Sit Down and Do It for the RPM Challenge? 

Laura Jean Fraser: This album would absolutely, positively not have happened if it weren’t for the pressure of the challenge. Thanks to my unfortunate nature of not being able to let go of imperfections, I have never been able to release an album before, even without a deadline. The thought of laying down a full album in a month seemed like a terribly daunting task at the time, and I put off starting it until a week into the month (perfectionist and a procrastinator– a winning combination). Then the epiphany hit: the deadline isn’t a restriction, it’s a release! It doesn’t have to be perfect because you’re writing and recording a whole freaking album in a month! So I just, y’know, did it, mistakes and all. Sweet, sweet release.

Danielle Hamel (It Could Be Franky): It definitely would not have happened. I need to be pushed and motivated. I think the camaraderie of having so many of your peers chugging along in the challenge with you helps spur you on. I decided a few days before February 1st that I was going all in and giving this year’s challenge an honest effort. Since moving to St. John’s a few years ago, I had done two RPMs with my husband, Matthew Thomson (now known as Land of the Lakes).  I had never written a full album of my own material before. I had never used Protools or Ableton before. I had never done anything “electronic” or conceived of a song or an album from start to finish using midi and soft-synths before. The RPM Challenge was the perfect excuse to immerse myself in it, feel my way through it, and if it didn’t turn out exactly as I hoped, it was ok. No one is pressuring you to do something “good.” Everyone is just having fun being creative.

Justin Strong: Absolutely not. I’ve been writing songs for years, the majority of which have never been heard by anyone, except myself and some of my closest friends. But last winter I decided to challenge myself to do an RPM. I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to see it through, and knew that if I didn’t finish it within the month then I wouldn’t release it. I didn’t want to deal with that disappointment, and therefore was really quite hesitant. But one afternoon in Rocket I ran into Elling Lien, who encouraged me to finish what I had started, and gave me an RPM pin. I knew that if I wore the pin around then I would finish the album, so I put it on and finished it.

Can We Expect Another RPM from You in February?

Laura: If you had asked me on March 1, 2016 if I would write another RPM, I’d’ve used some distasteful language to tell you that a person must be a masochist to subject themselves to this madness more than once. In my defence, I was sleep deprived from staying up all night to make the deadline and the RPM wounds were fresh and gaping. But in the wake of the challenge I had the pleasure of hearing so much beautiful music from so many secretly and not-so-secretly talented people and I somehow got to be a part of this weird, freaky magic that they call the RPM challenge. It’s now eight and a half months later, my wounds have healed, and I think I’m ready to add to my collection of scars come February. The benefits of the results far outweigh the struggle of the battle.

Danielle Hamel (It Could Be Franky): I have no idea. I waited until a few days beforehand to commit to this one. I probably won’t know if I am up to the task or not until a few days before the next one!

Justin Strong: I’m not sure. I would love to write more songs, and certainly have more to say. I`ll have to see what happens in February! I want make more music with AE Bridger and Dope Piece because I am a superfan of both, so it might be a fun way to do that.

What is One of Your Personal Favourites Off the Album That You’re Mostly Satisfied With? 

Laura: Oh, dear. Picking a favourite song? I dislike them all equally, but I suppose I would have to say “We the Wee”. That song tickles my sarcastic side pink. Happy-go-lucky melody and subtly scathing, judgemental subject matter? Makes me happy wiggle. 


Danielle Hamel (It Could Be Franky): The one that I am most proud of is the song “Two Years.” Even the way it was completed feels like a personal triumph. I had the song almost finished except the chorus melody and there was no inspiration left. It was the last song to be finished. I was angry and discouraged and trying desperately to salvage the song with a suitable chorus melody. I was in a DIY vocal booth in my basement, recording take after take after take. It was late. I had to work in the morning. I couldn’t afford to spend another evening on this. I had to nail it and move on. Suddenly, with one take, inspiration struck. As the words were coming out of my mouth, I was in disbelief over how the song had suddenly shifted. It was the most emotional and cathartic moment of the whole RPM. I’ve been writing melodies for over a decade and I am always chasing melodies that I hope create moments in songs. It felt like the culmination of years of “practice” to create a moment I was truly proud of: a simple, repetitive, yet emotional and affective melody, something that I always strive for in songwriting and exactly the kind of melody that I find exciting and expressive. It felt like the whole album was written just so I could arrive at that one moment. It was the best feeling. This whole project scratched so many itches I never even realized I had.


Justin Strong: Probably the song “Peace and Understanding.” The delivery and level of discourse in that song makes me sort of uncomfortable because I have no idea where it came from. But it feels very very real, so I want to go deeper into that.