27 Oct Up and Coming: Scott Helman
The first time I heard, “Cry Cry Cry” is one of those moments I know will remain ingrained in my mind until the day I die. Hanging out with a few of my housemates, a little tipsy on a Friday evening, my friend put on Scott’s first fully mastered, finished single that had yet to be released. All of our jaws dropped simultaneously, with all of us speechless, and thinking, “there is no fucking way this is our best friend’s kid brother.” I mean, the oldest memories I have of him involve light sabers, Blue’s Clues, and time-outs. I was completely blown out of the water. We always knew he was a good musician, but this moment showed us that he was a true artist in bloom.
Born in 1995, Scott hails from Toronto, where he’s spent all of his nineteen years. For both middle and high school, Scott attended Claude Watson and Earl Haig, two prestigious arts schools in Toronto, where he specialized in fine arts. Although he has a remarkable aptitude for visual arts, his one true love has been music ever since a defining moment in his life: the first time he heard Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.
From that point onward, Scott’s goal in life was “trying to make something half as good as this.” He became a student of music, and his teachers ranged from the Beatles to Neil Young to Johnny Cash and back again. He spent hours daily mastering the guitar and finding his own voice and sound, the latter being something dynamic to this day. Currently signed by Warner Bros. Records Inc., Scott has been working closely with Ron Lapota, VP of A&R. This has led to the writing of over 30 songs, with the objective of defining a sound that he can call his own. Working with such a storied, reputable label has had a profoundly positive effect on the quality of Scott’s tunes. Since signing with Warner at the ripe age of 17, Scott has grown and matured into a gifted lyricist and storyteller.
Scott has recently released a seven-song EP, Augusta, showing extended flashes of greatness and potential that the majority of young artists could only dream of (listen here). “Cry Cry Cry” is an emotional roller-coaster, describing a turbulent relationship that Scott has finally recovered from and overcome. The chorus is just about the catchiest damn thing I’ve heard in years: “The sun comes up, I’m doing okay, I don’t need your heart to show me the way. And in the night the pain goes away, you’re no longer here but I don’t cry, cry, cry.”
As a side note, Scott may or may not be coming to a university near you in the near future (PSYC: check him out at The Grand Theatre on November 21st, for a night of socially acceptable, embarrassing dancing). You don’t want to miss the chance to see him play an intimate venue while he’s still an up-and-comer.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Scott for a quick interview:
D: Who are your strongest influences musically? How about personally?
S: My strongest musical influences are a combination of new and old stuff. A lot of classics (like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, etc.) are always on repeat on my iPod. But I like to come into contact with new music as much as I can. I’ve always been attracted to pushing the envelope, or being a part of something, which is why I listen in to what’s around me. Right now, “Take Me To Church” by Hozier is one of my favorite songs, along with Paolo Nutini’s entire album, Caustic Love.
Personally, it’s always been my friends that have inspired me intellectually and musically. My friends help me think and learn, you know. My band is also an extremely special group of musicians with their own individual styles, and interests, which helps as well.
D: What are the main sources of inspiration for your music?
S: Love is a go-to, but it’s hard to say, really. Sometimes a subject or idea seems like it has to be shared, and you try really hard to convey it. Other times, you don’t really have a choice, and lyrics just come, and that’s that.
D: How do you balance being an up-and-coming musician with growing up and finding yourself at such a young age?
S: I try to stay humble. There’s a lot to be excited for, but I don’t see any intrinsic value in having an ego. Friends help, family helps, and remembering where you come from helps as well. Writing and performing music is about sharing an experience for a greater purpose. Once you realize art is about art, not yourself, it’s much easier to balance.
D: When we were younger and used to jam in your basement you could really shred on the guitar, but you haven’t exhibited that side of your musical ability in any of your songs so far. Why is that? And are we going to get a taste of that any time soon?
S: I don’t consider myself a guitar player as much as I do a songwriter and a singer. My focus has shifted a lot, because I felt there was more to my art than just some shred skills. I think I’ve used that ability to craft melodies and chord patterns more than just play the guitar. But you never know, maybe I’ll wail on my next record…(laughs).
D: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
S: Hopefully making music still, but really, I couldn’t say. There’s no point in looking so far into the future. Your predictions are always wrong, and if you achieved them it’s hard to say you’d be happy, anyways.
D: Your songs could each fit into different genres, but at the same time could generally fit under the “sing/songwriter” bubble. Do you have a plan regarding the direction of your music and sound, or are you going to let it shape itself?
S: A combination of both, I think. Like I said, the process is sort of intuitive, but there are some things I want to say still, and some sounds I have yet to play with. I’ll let my heart guide it, with some forks in the road from my brain. I hope that makes sense…
D: Growing up in Toronto, do you see yourself moving elsewhere as your popularity grows?
S: Maybe. I’ve always liked New York. But it really depends on who I become, you know?
D: Having participated in Canadian Music week and recently worked with CBC, you’ve been well exposed to the Canadian music scene. Do you see it growing in the future? Any new Canadian artists to keep our ears peeled for?
S: The Canadian music scene has always had incredible things to share, and I think it will continue to as time goes on. Half Moon Run is a great band from Canada, and their record rocks, Stars, Broken Social Scene, Sam Roberts, you know, all amazing, consistent artists. Arcade Fire has also continued to create incredible music, and I think will keep doing so. I don’t know really, music is music.
D: You had a brief stint living in Kensington Market this past summer. How would you compare that to growing up in traditional, conservative Lawrence Park?
S: Hmm. I think when I got there, I thought, “this is where I’m supposed to be.” It was only for two weeks, cause I had enough money to sublet for a bit, kind of like a vacation. But I’d go back in a heartbeat. I wrote a lot there. You know, my neighborhood is nice and safe and attractive, but the consciousness in Kensington just seems a lot more catered to someone like me…
D: Touching on the last one again, how do you think growing up in such a conservative area of the city helped shape who you are today?
S: I mean, anywhere you grow up shapes you, and I think it’s hard to really point out why. The biggest thing it did I think was to make me yearn for some real, “outside-the-bubble” experiences. Growing up in a predominantly white, upper-middle class environment can bring out different things in different people. For me, it made me want to learn.
D: How about going to Earl Haig High School, and being surrounded by liberal, artistic people?
S: I think that was the first time I was in contact with what I mean by “real-experiences.” I’m not trying to devalue anyone’s experiences at all. But when I got to Earl Haig the biggest effect it had on me came from the fact that it was the biggest high school in the province. More than my art program or my art friends, the fact that so many demographics were represented in the school just opened my mind so drastically. There’s so much more to the experience than just that, but yeah.
D: Toughest question of the day: If you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
S: Damn. I hate this question. Such a sad fate! Okay, let me think… probably Dark Side, but that would get a little depressing. I’d probably go with that, or Legend by Bob Marley… just cause I’d probably be a lot happier. Maybe I’d make a mix of the 2 and burn it just to cheat.
D: Of all the musicians who have died prematurely due to mental health issues or drug problems, whose musical potential do you miss the most?
S: Wow. This question is pretty close to my heart, so let me think about that for a second. I think growing up, Kurt Cobain always struck me as such an interesting and devastating case of lost talent and genius. The way he conducted himself, and championed for compassion and the purity of art seems to be a lost treasure, along with the fact that his music was borderline revolutionary. I think it’s kind of weird to think of it that way though. I mean, in terms of their musical potential. When someone’s lost due to such a sad thing, like addiction or mental illness of any kind, it seems more fitting to celebrate their creations, and life.
D: Thanks a lot for your time man, one last question: When the fuck are you coming to play a show in Kingston? You’re garnering quite the fan base around here (especially with the ladies).
S: As soon as I can, man.
(Scott will be playing at the Grand Theatre in Kingston, November 21st!)
D: Fuckin’ right man, hope to see you soon! Cheers.
Daniel Rottman, Online Contributor
Photography: Warner Brothers