Interview: Scott Helman

Photo: Joshua Platt

Photo: Joshua Platt

Under The Rockies went and saw Scott Helman perform at the Calgary Stampede's Coca-Cola Stage. Helman's been making waves from his hit song "Bungalow", opening for Walk Off The Earth on their US tour and, most recently, his MMVA [Much Music Video Award] nomination.

Along with photographing his performance, Under The Rockies' Mary McComish and Aya Nakamoto went and talked to Helman about the Toronto music scene, what his favourite thing to do in new cities is and if he runs through the 6 with his woes.

Helman's debut EP, Augusta, is out now. Catch him at one of the festivals he'll be appearing at this summer, you can find dates at www.scotthelmanmusic.com.

A lot of up-and-coming musicians have come from Toronto such as Shawn Mendes, Francesco Yates and yourself. What do you think it is about Toronto that’s been able to help musicians grow?
Scott Helman: A big thing, for me, was the diversity of the city is a really big thing. There are so many cultures that translate in art form. It’s such a really great place for music and it’s a welcoming environment. Shawn Mendes is sort of a Vine artist so I feel like Vine is its own country. Someone like Francesco Yates, it’s so weird when you meet other artists and you’re like, “This is the same place but we’re so different”. That’s the beauty of Toronto, between me, Francesco Yates, Drake and The Weeknd, not that the re’s not other artists, but we’re so different. A lot of times, artists come out of cities and it’s like, “That sounds like LA music or that sounds like New York music”, but I don’t think there’s a ‘Toronto music’, it’s just got good musicians.

Did you ever have an “I made it” moment? A moment where you maybe realized you could do music full time?
Funnily enough, when I decided to do music full time, I must’ve been 13 or 14 and I went to this little café called Aspetta and I invited all my friends to come see me play. After that, we all went out, to do things that 13-year-olds shouldn’t be doing, and I was talking to my buddy and he was like, “You should do this, for a living”. I was like, “Okay!” and that was just that, at that point. I tried and “maybe this isn’t going to work, maybe it will”. I really pushed myself on the Internet and I put music out there and luckily it was spotted by a record label, which is super lucky.

In a world full of young pop stars, how do you find you differentiate from the others?
In style and who I am. Art is about expressing yourself and who you are as a person and we’re different people. I was writing a song with Shawn Mendes at the MMVAs and we finished it the next day and I’m like “we’re different people”, yet it’s so great because he’s such a great singer and I love meeting new artists. 

I associate with songwriter more than anything. That’s always been my thing and I value that more than a lot of other stuff. Francesco plays different music, same with Shawn Mendes. It’s hard to compare because it’s so different. 

You got off the road with Walk Off The Earth. Being an up-and-coming artist, what are your thoughts on touring? What’s it like being young and on the road?
Touring is awesome. I can’t drink booze in the States, that wasn’t so much fun, but I manage. It’s fun. Walk Off The Earth, they’re really great people, so it was fun to spend that time with them. It’s really fun meeting people and seeing the world. I’m always a traveller, that was a big part of wanting to be a musician, to see the world and play music to the people of the world. It gets exhausting, it is a tiring job, like anything else. It’s weird, by the middle of it, you’re like, “okay, I’m really tired”, and then, by the end, you’re like, “no, I don’t want this to end”. It’s like summer camp in that way. 

You toured with Walk Off The Earth throughout the States and you’ve toured Canada, do you find the two crowds respond differently to the performance?
Every show is different. Borders don’t really matter to me because you could play a wicked show in Vancouver and then you could go to Minneapolis and play a shitty show. Then you could go to San Francisco and play an amazing show and play a terrible show in Toronto. It’s really about the people and about the day. There’s so many elements that go into why a show’s good or bad. So, no, it’s different every time.

You’ve toured and traveled a lot. What’s your favourite thing to do in new cities?
Go to record stores. That’s my thing. I need to get records. I like having stuff that I remember from each city. Or I get tattoos. And then I come home and my mom’s like, “What are you doing!?” 

Have you gone to any record stores here yet?
Did I go last time I was here? No, I haven’t because I never had time to. I will.

You’ve played smaller venues and larger ones, such as the MMVAs and now the Stampede, is there a size you prefer or are you willing to do it all?
This is going to be corny but the size of the show is kind of the size of the canvas that you’re painting on. I don’t think it’s good or bad, which you choose, you’re going to make different art. The size of the venue sonically changes the way the music sounds. That’s something you work with as an artist. I really like performing to 17,000 people, it’s great, but I also love performing to 20 people. It’s different, it’s a different art form. Some of my favourite shows have been in dirty little punk venues and some of them have been We Day. 

Your debut EP came out, Augusta, do you have plans for new music in the future? Are you writing right now?
I’m always writing. 

Do you have plans for another EP or a full length? What do you think comes next?
I don’t know, I’m writing. I have lots of songs, I don’t know what I’m going to do with them all.

Do you have any collaborations planned?
Not right now. Not on record but I’ve been collaborating with artists, writing wise. Me and Shawn wrote a song, which is cool.

Do you have any artists that you’d love to collaborate with?
Arcade Fire, for sure. Radiohead, but like, OK Computer Radiohead. I really like Vance Joy, he’s a great writer. Kiesza’s a really good writer. I like writers. It’s fun for me to perform with a band but I think it’d be cooler to get into a studio with someone and see how they do that. I listen to The Suburbs by Arcade Fire and I’m like, “I have no clue how you made this record. I have no clue how someone made this”. Neil Young, I would probably die. There’s too many.

Do you have any tips for Canadian musicians trying to get their name out there?
I would say, write songs. Don’t be afraid to put stuff online and promote the shit out of it. Also, if there’s not venues where you can play, find creative ways to play music anyways. I busked when I was a kid, I played at my school, I went to the Starbucks near my house and asked, “Can I play in here?”, it’s a coffee shop, it’s supposed to happen and they finally let me play. I did that all the time. I’d go to places and ask to play. That’s a big thing, play as much as you can. That’s my advice.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Festivals, touring coming up in the fall and then maybe more touring in the fall. Keep touring, playing and writing.

Are you constantly running through the 6 with your woes?
Honestly, I’m constantly running through the 6 air-drumming and shit. That’s what I do when I walk, I air-drum. But, no, I’m not running through the 6 with my woes. I mean, I have run through the 6 with woes before, but I’m not constantly running through the 6 with my woes.

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Mary

Mary McComish is a journalist, music junkie, vegetarian, feminist and social media queen. She received her print journalism diploma from Lethbridge (yes, where Marilyn Manson was punched in the face) College and, since then, has freelanced as both a journalist and a graphic designer.