OTTAWA POP DUO WINS CTV'S THE LAUNCH
Photo Credit: Mark O'Neill
Written by Lynn Saxberg
Meet Elijah Woods and Jamie Fine, the Ottawa-area musicians whose edgy, electro-pop version of a song supplied by producers propelled them to win this week’s episode of CTV’s The Launch, a new reality television series that aims to launch a musical artist with every show.
They starred in the second episode, which aired Wednesday, featuring celebrity mentors Scott Borchetta, of Big Machine Group (home of Taylor Swift), OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder, who’s also a songwriter and producer, and Sugarland singer-songwriter Jennifer Nettles.
Unlike the Idol franchise, which left producers scrambling to come up with original material for the winner, this series starts with the song and strives to find the artist best suited to perform it. The contestants, chosen by audition in advance, get 48 hours to record the tune, and the winning version is released as a major-label single the minute the show ends.
The Woods-Fine version of Tedder’s song, Ain’t Easy, had the mentors swooning over the power of Fine’s voice.
“My whole mantra for my entire career, especially at the Big Machine Group, is finding true artists with an individual voice,” said Borchetta in an interview the morning after the show aired. “That’s the drug I’m addicted to. As soon as I hear Jamie sing, I literally forget where I am. It’s like an out-of-body experience. And then I look at two of my trusted colleagues, Ryan and Jennifer, and they’re having the same type of experience. You don’t question that type of thing. We had really strong artists on the show, but this is magical. What Elijah and Jamie do together is the epitome of a duo. They’re the best version of themselves when they are together.”
Fine, who’s 24, is the singer-songwriter with that goosebump-inducing voice, a sound so remarkable it prompted Borchetta describe her as a “street Adele,” while Woods is the 23-year-old musical mastermind who handles the instrumentation, arrangements, production and co-writing.
They’ve been making music together as Elijah Woods x Jamie Fine for almost four years, starting a few days after Woods first heard Fine’s voice on a friend’s smartphone.
“I freaked out,” says Woods of his first impression of Fine’s singing. “I was like, ‘Why don’t I know her, and when can I have her?’ I dragged her into the studio that Saturday and we started writing in a way that I had never written with anyone else. We formed an instant connection, which was really strange for me. There’s usually a boundary between producers and vocalists that sometimes you can’t get through, but with Jamie and I it was completely cohesive.”
The pair met at Algonquin College, where Woods was enrolled in the music industry arts program. He graduated in 2014. Fine had recently completed the culinary arts program and was working at the Woodroffe campus. “I’m very passionate about cooking and that’s the route I chose after high school, but I was doing music at the same time,” Fine said, adding that her culinary endeavours are on the backburner for now.
Born and raised in Ottawa, Fine is a Merivale High School grad who grew up in the Centrepointe area. Introduced to jazz and classical music by her parents, she was 11 or 12 when she discovered her voice, although it wasn’t until high school that she realized she loved performing, too.
“That’s really where I came out of my shell musically,” Fine recalls. “We had these multi-cultural shows and everybody went to them every year. That’s really where I opened up the performance aspect of my music.”
Woods, meanwhile, grew up in the countryside outside Perth, the son of music-loving, granola-crunching parents — his mom is the owner of the town’s popular Sunflower Bakery; his long-haired dad taught him to play guitar at a young age. He started producing music at 15.
“I think growing up in the country sort of shaped my musical tone as a composer and producer,” Woods says. “I let myself be secluded. I never wanted to be influenced by things that were current. It allowed me to find a sound and find my own voice. I didn’t go four-wheeling or play in the mud. I was in the basement writing music or out playing basketball, keeping my shoes clean.”
That first song that hooked Woods so thoroughly was entitled Falling Down, one of Fine’s earliest efforts, its emotional outpouring inspired by a breakup.
“It was my first relationship with a woman,” Fine says. “I had just come out, and it was an emotional and confusing time for me. I sat down at my piano and I wrote, and it sounds so cliche, but it was the perfect way to get it out and helped me get through the situation.”
On the TV show, the new single, Ain’t Easy, was also tackled by another contestant with plenty of star power, 18-year-old Basil Phoenix. A beautiful young woman with a unique voice, she turned in a slick, mainstream-pop version of the tune, but her inexperience showed, both in the studio and in her pre-performance jitters.
In selecting Woods and Fine, the mentors made it clear they’re looking for an act that’s ready to be catapulted into the spotlight, not one that needs more experience. Looks, in this case, was not the key factor in their decision.
“One of our many sayings at Big Machine is ‘the edge of the mainstream is what’s next,’ and I really think Elijah and Jamie are on the edge of the mainstream,” noted Borchetta. “When you have something on the edge that is this powerful, it pulls the mainstream toward it. So I don’t look at it as an unlikely winner, I look at it as an extraordinary winner.”
Episodes of the TV show were taped last fall, meaning Woods, Fine and their families had to keep the win secret for months. Now they can finally talk about it, as well as the other music they’ve been producing. A full-length album is in the works.