Three years after the release of his first EP, Augusta, Canadian singer-songwriter Scott Helman has unleashed his debut full-length LP, Hôtel de Ville, a collection of 12 alt-pop coming-of-age tracks. The 22-year-old Toronto native who successfully broke into the music industry in his mid-teens earned himself two Juno Award nominations, certified gold status for his hit, Bungalow, and began quickly fielding comparisons to the likes of Vance Joy and Jeff Buckley.
With a new level of acclaim awaiting him, Helman has recently finished his cross-Canada Scott vs. Ria tour with fellow Juno nominee Ria Mae. We thought it would be the right time to ask him about his momentous musical journey.
G—You got your first guitar when you were ten. Was this what led you to become a musician?
Scott Helman—I used to mess around on my friend’s guitar, and really wanted to learn how to play. So, I asked my parents for a guitar for Christmas. I remember coming down the stairs and seeing it, and knowing instantly what it was because of its shape. I never put it down after that.
G—What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
SH—My parents are British immigrants, so I was raised on British pop like Duran Duran and Robbie Williams. As I got older, I started gravitating toward more of a singer-songwriter sound – Damien Rice, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Tragically Hip – songs I could recreate on my acoustic guitar.
G—What is it about the singer-songwriter genre you’re attracted to?
SH—I think being an artist is just as much about being original as it is about emulating other musicians you look up to. You can write a song you really like and recognize that it has similarities to a song you really like listening to. Once you start believing in yourself as an artist and songwriter, the better you become at having your own voice.
G—You got signed by major record label, Warner Music Canada. How did this transpire?
SH—I was putting stuff out on Myspace and YouTube when I was 14. I had posted two songs on YouTube that this guy filmed. He was at a party, met one of the label execs and showed him the videos. Fast-forward, I’m at a friend’s house hanging out, and get a call from that guy telling me Warner wants to meet with me. I almost fell over. From there, I got a development deal, and eventually aligned with the right team to record Augusta.
G—You released Augusta, your debut album, in 2014, only a year after you graduated high school. Did you find it hard to work on an album at such a young age?
SH—It was horrible. Seriously, it was really hard and really scary. All my friends went off to university, and I was alone in Toronto with this major record label that was giving me a chance to record an album. I was sh***ing myself. Everyone always wants to hear the fun, positive stuff, but the truth is, finishing the record was one of the biggest reliefs of my life. Yeah, it was exciting, but it was terrifying, too.
G—Your first album’s title, Augusta, came from a sentimental place. Did your latest album’s name, Hôtel de Ville also come from somewhere meaningful?
SH—When I finished touring for Augusta, I had time to contemplate things. I fell in love with my ex-girlfriend again, so I moved to Montreal to make it work with her. I was living on Avenue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville and started writing songs for the record. The first track was a poem I wrote when I first arrived in Montreal. I didn’t know at the time that it would even make it on the album, but when I was finished my record, I went back in my notes and found that poem. It felt like that poem was the beginning of the entire story, so it made sense to name the record after where it started.
G—Was there a specific mood or subject you explored on this album?
SH—The general theme of the record was one of healing. I felt like I had to go back and look at moments that messed me up or were super exciting and try to figure out how I really felt about them. I think there’s a superficial idea of how you feel about something, and then there’s the real way you feel about it. The song “21 Days” is a great example of this. It was fun to write, but it came from a scary place. A lot of people my age are frightened over what the future holds. Yet, when I thought about it all, I realized we need to love and respect each other more. So I added some positivity into that song.
G—To date, what do you think has been the most difficult song for you to write?
SH—I would say “The Lion” because of the dark place I was in when recording the album. Writing that song helped me understand the permanence of things, and that you can’t just make things go away. You have to be able to push the boulder up the hill and smile while you’re doing it.
G—Can you tell us a little about your #RiseAbove campaign and why it’s such an important subject for you?
SH—The internet is a really f***ed up place. You have Instagram and Facebook filled with millions of profiles of people presenting themselves like they’re doing way better than they actually are. If you’re a teenager looking at this stuff, the standard you think you have to live up to is insane. A conversation needs to be had that what you see online is not real. The #RiseAbove campaign is about taking pause before you post something to think about the implications, but also, on the other side, to take a moment before you react to what you see.
G—Have you ever been cyberbullied?
SH—Honestly, I’ve probably been on both sides. I know that’s not something a lot of people like to admit, but it’s true. I remember being an insecure 14-year-old hanging around a group of six friends, and every week, it was someone else’s turn to get beat on. The internet is a really easy place for that to go down. Now, when I see someone being a dick online about my music, I realize there’s something more going on with that person. Our youth needs to know it’s okay to put down their phones and find something healthier to do.
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