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Interviews, Music

Interview: Scott Helman Talks Influences, Vinyl, and Artistic Integrity

By: Luke Ottenhof 

Scott Helman

S

cott Helman is having a good year. Signed to Warner Music Canada, the label featured the Toronto-based singer-songwriter on its compilation album Sounds of the ‘80s. Helman’s cover of the Tom Waits rumbler “Jockey Full of Bourbon” follows on the heels of contributions from Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith.

Not shabby company for the nineteen-year-old.

“They asked me what ‘80s song I liked and I said that one instantly,” Helman says over the phone from a car bustling through Ottawa. “Some people were like, ‘oh, we don’t really know the song.’ I made the video for it all myself. I just love Tom Waits, it was as simple as that.”

Helman’s potently sweet vocal style is a far cry from Waits’ tar-crusted croon is a far cry from Helman’s potently sweet stylings, but the pairing is satisfyingly twisted, like a dollop of honey in their Canadian Classic whisky.

Waits is just the beginning for influences on the songwriter who unabashedly name checks lyrical deities Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Paul Simon, even Syd Barrett and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd.

“I’ve always liked writing that made me sort of think of images,” he ponders. “Paul Simon with ‘Graceland’: ‘The Mississippi Delta shining like a National Guitar,’ like I see that for some reason. I’ve always liked that, and I’ve always tried to do that myself. I’ve always tried to recreate that feeling for other people.”

Helman named his 2014 EP, Augusta after a sidestreet stretch in Toronto’s Kensington Market and the inspiring imagery of “Bungalow” to the break-neck story arc of “Tikka” showcases a songwriter with a hand as deft at constructing as the brain that visualized it.

“The place that you are really effects how your music is created. You can listen to certain artists and really tell that they changed where they were. The Beatles are a perfect example. The hustle-&-bustle of Kensington and Toronto really effected a lot of the songs. Whatever’s around me is inspiring at the time.”

Helman named his 2014 EP, Augusta after a sidestreet stretch in Toronto’s Kensington Market.

Helman named his 2014 EP, Augusta, after a sidestreet stretch in Toronto’s Kensington Market.

Helman’s intimate knack for imagery in songwriting fuses his experience as a visual arts major in high school and his love for music.

“I think when I was younger and something would happen in my life, and I’d go home and write a song about it, I realized that when you’re able to do that, when you get to a point in songwriting that you have that ability, you start realizing that writing songs is a part of your life,” he explains.

His perception for art’s spatial & physical aspects makes it no surprise that Helman is a self-proclaimed ‘vinyl fanatic.’ Helman sheds some light on his take on the vinyl revival.

“I come from a generation where [vinyl] wasn’t really a thing. I remember as a kid, I’d buy CDs and posters, and I felt like I had a connection to the artist. When I got my first collection of vinyl, it was so special to me because it was a time machine… [It] feels real,” he muses.

“Now you can pick up a single or whatever, but just putting on a record, it’s so special to me,” he pauses. For Helman, putting on a record is “like going to a gallery. I’m sitting down and having a connection with this artist for a moment in time.”

While Helman wrestles to squeeze his vivid sight into ear-friendly modes, he’s also a young artist cultivating an identity on a very big label. Helman remains remarkably muted and collected in a sea of co-writers, A&R reps, and TV gigs, a clear sandy-haired head atop able shoulders.

“I’ve had arguments over one word for like 20 minutes, and I remember listening to songs after and going, ‘wow, that one word changed everything,’ Helman explains. “Sometimes you have to push to have an idea heard, but that’s just the process of working in a group. I think that if art is hard to make then it is going to be better. You might as well have those arguments and have that time to battle over words.”

He continues, a cool grin and a shrug almost audible in his voice. “But there is value in just writing for yourself. For every good song [that] I write, I write 100 bad ones. And I don’t mind it.”

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