TORONTO -- It's getting late in the evening at a Scarborough recording studio, and Chantal Kreviazuk and Grammy-winning producer Boi-1da, a.k.a. Matthew Samuels, are duelling on their laptops with such cheery back-and-forth one-upmanship, they could be going head-to-head in a computer game.
But instead of games, they're playing beats. And there's no trash-talk filling the air, just elaborately adorned soundscapes. In fact, as the pair dance to each other's creations, they swap genuine words of encouragement.
"That's cray!" enthuses Kreviazuk after hearing an unclaimed beat that could end up with one of the many hip-hop heavyweights who have collaborated with the 26-year-old.
When one of Kreviazuk's diverse creations blares free -- Samuels mimes the sweet swing of a baseball slugger. A home run, he's certain.
And it certainly wouldn't be Kreviazuk's first time clearing the bases. The 39-year-old, a one-time Canadian pop superstar in her own right, has found a second act crafting soaring hits for others: Drake, Avril Lavigne, Gwen Stefani, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Josh Groban, Hilary Duff and Mandy Moore among them.
She has songs on hold with Eminem and Kanye West. She has two prominent female household-name pop stars in a race to secure one of her tunes. She has a recent Top 10 hit to her name in the form of Pitbull and Christina Aguilera's Feel This Moment, and as a result of that song's feature placement among marketing for the NBA playoffs, she finally has a bit of cred with her three sons (whom she shares with rocker husband Raine Maida).
What she doesn't have is widespread credit for her creations among the general public. And the two-time Juno winner, whose solo career included multiple multi-platinum albums, has had to gradually come to terms with channelling her creativity into the charts in semi-anonymity.
"If I thought about that all the time, then that might really bother me," Kreviazuk said, perched in a chair in the well-appointed east Toronto studio.
"But you know what? I have a full, rich, complex life. And I'm happy and I'm challenged on so many levels, in and outside the music business and in and outside of my creative world.
"So you know, really, sure, do I want to scream from the mountaintops: 'Aiiee -- that's my song?' Well, my kids are in the house jumping and dancing to it when it comes on in the NBA, so I won. And that's all that matters to me -- is that I get to be a cool mom."
Kreviazuk takes obvious joy in her blossoming career, even if it's not the career she imagined for herself.
Sometimes, Kreviazuk might spend a week in a session with another producer or songwriter, trying to cook up ideas that could then be served up to any variety of artists. Sometimes, she'll write with a specific artist in mind, working on vague instructions on what they might be looking for.
In the case of Feel This Moment, Kreviazuk wrote the hook. She played the chorus's memorable chord progression on the piano and sometime-songwriting partner Nasri Atweh came up with the vocal melody. Next, someone in the room suggested nicking the keyboard riff from A-ha's Take On Me, and the blueprint for a hit cohered.
Almost immediately, the song was a smash for Pitbull and Aguilera.
For all Kreviazuk's success behind the scenes, the question remains: Why can't she sing and release any of these songs herself?
"A couple years ago, I was like: OK, this is a scary time in music. Nobody buys albums anymore. I'm not 'hip,' I'm not 'fresh off the whatever' anymore. What's my lane?"
She betrays no bitterness over the fact that a fickle industry would rather hear her songs filtered through other voices.
But she maintains her rightful pride in her versatile, vivacious voice, and she continues to hope for opportunities to have it heard. She relates a story about the making of Feel This Moment. Aguilera, for whatever reason, was not showing up to the studio to sing the song. Impatient, the powers-that-be began to discuss the possibility of having Kreviazuk sing it instead.
"And I guess they told her that, and she got in a car, she went over and she cut it," Kreviazuk says. "On the flip side, would the song have been a huge hit if Christina Aguilera hadn't sang it? Would they have picked it as the next single?
"We have to be realistic here, people. There's only one Christina Aguilera."
If Kreviazuk is a surrogate mother for the hit songs of other artists, her live shows are an opportunity for a welcome reunion.
Lately, Kreviazuk has opened her solo shows with an elegant interpretation of Feel This Moment. She finishes it in a hushed fashion quite alien from the South Beach cooler-spilling vibe of the original. Kreviazuk's version might not be punctuating LeBron James' dunks, but it packs a chilling jolt nonetheless.
"It's stunning," she says. "And that's my song! That gets to be my song for my whole life, because I get to go out and I get to play it for my audience.
"That is the best feeling in the world."
-- The Canadian Press