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Interviews, Music

Interview: Coleman Hell Talks “Summerland”, Favourite Seinfeld Moments, and Sort-Of Opening For Hillary Clinton

By: Curtis Sindrey –

Coleman Hell. (Photo: Jess Baumung)

Coleman Hell. (Photo: Jess Baumung)

With the release of his debut album Summerland (out October 14th via 604 Records/Columbia), Coleman Hell kept a promise he made to himself to remain unconventional among the cookie-cutter trail of dance pop imitators. The stirring debut album mixes Coleman Hell’s boundary-pushing musical instincts with telling verses that go beyond dancefloor introspection.

In our new interview, Coleman Hell details the making of Summerland, his favourite Seinfeld moments, the time when U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sort-of opened for him in concert, and more!

Tell me about the meaning behind the album title, Summerland.

Well it’s sort of… I stole it from…well in witchcraft more so in wiccan religions but I think it’s for Pagans too. Essentially Summerland is their version of heaven. Where you go between reincarnations and you stay there thinking about what you’ve learned from your past lives and then you come back. Once you’ve kind of learned everything, you can stay there forever. So that’s kind of where I stole the name.

When I made this record it was about me getting in touch with where I’ve grown up and re-embracing. Writing about my experiences there and I went to this cabin there where I wrote this album, which allowed me to come back with this whole new perspective. It was kind of like my Summerland in a way. That was more of a distinct sum-up of what it means on a very basic level.

You stayed in a cabin in the woods to create Summerland. How did the isolation of that environment impact your creative process?

It was cool because there wasn’t like… we would have to go up this road for a while to even get an internet signal. It was super isolated and then the only radio station we could pick up was this classic rock station. So when we would go swimming or fishing we would have this one radio station cutting in and out playing Bruce Springsteen and stuff. In terms of anything else influencing me while writing the record there wasn’t really anything there expect my surroundings.

It allowed me to tap into my mind about what it was like growing up in a place such as Thunder Bay. The types of relationships I had there. Having a relationship in a small town is always an interesting thing because everyone knows everyone and knows your business. Going maybe 10 minutes in any direction  was always like cliffs to jump off and woods to run through. Now I’ve lived in Toronto for about 20 years so my life has been a lot different from that for most of my life… I mean, yeah… my life has been a lot different living here. Sorry did I say 20 years I moved here when I was 21 and I’m 27, so 6 years. But living in Toronto this pass little while has been a lot different from most of my life, is was what I was trying to say.

I don’t know…it’s like being cut off from the outside world to then having the only thing you can really draw from is from being outside. I think it kind of forced me to be honest and more contrived.

You directed, casted, and edited the video for “2 Heads”. What was that process like?

It was interesting because up until that point, I had kind of done that with my own videos but they are more low-budget, do it yourself or lyric videos. Me and my friend Michah collaborated on them or I just made some of them myself. Pretty much everything I like to have my hands in. I had just signed to Columbia Records and the thought of the artist they had just signed…directing, acting, editing, and casting their own video was not the norm. And they were not super thrilled about the idea at first because they didn’t think I would be able to pull it all off, I had to keep proving myself and meet all these deadlines it was a lot of work. But I love film and it was exciting being able to do that and a cool opportunity and I was able to prove I could do it…to myself. That I was capable of doing it. Now anytime anything else comes up I’m able to kind of do it myself. It’s important to me that not too many hands come into what I’m making because I want it to beauthentic.

Going from your hometown of Thunder Bay to a huge city like Toronto, what was that transition like?

Well first it was great, I mean for me I am ambitious and I’ve been a fan of all kinds of music ever since I was growing up so I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I wanted to be a music star, work in a bar and record music in my basement so I could play in these old bars. It was my dream to get out of there and join the real world and leave it all behind.

Then over the last five years while trying all this different kind of music here and jumping around to different scenes… kind of, I don’t know… exploring my craft and what I do. And then recently about a year and a half since “2 Heads” came out but I had this full circle epiphany while watching this Bruce Springsteen documentary about making Darkness on the Edge of Town. And how he went back to New Jersey and got back in touch with where he grew up and it sort of struck a chord with me. I realized that I’d been neglecting this whole part of my life, I have all these feelings and memories I’ve just kind of beenputting on the back burner for whatever reason. I guess I just kind of wanted to leave behind and start fresh. I started revisiting all of these experiences I had when I was there and that’s where this album started, where 2 Heads was born out of. Once people reacted so strongly to 2 Heads, I felt like I was going down the right path like I had hit something unique, honest and personal, so I wanted to keep exploring it. That’s what led me to doing the other songs right away.

Coleman Hell's debut album, Summerland, includes his latest single “Fireproof", as well as the smash hit “2 Heads".

Coleman Hell’s debut album, Summerland, includes his latest single “Fireproof”, as well as the smash hit “2 Heads”.

Where did your fondness for Elaine Benes of Seinfeld come about? Favourite Seinfeld moments?

Growing up in my house when I was younger my parents watched a lot of sitcoms and I’ve always been a fan of old sitcom’s. So Seinfeld is probably my favorite and I think she is my favourite character from the show.

When I was given the chance to go on my first tour, when I toured with Robert Delong, my manager was like ‘well you’re going on a real tour now, what do you want on your rider’ I was like hmmm… I get to put anything on here this is my opportunity to do the brown M&M thing, haha. I required a picture of Elaine Benes and if there was no printer “must hand draw”. If there is no picture, will not go on stage. It was a joke but I’ve gotten like 30 hand drawn pictures one time where people have liked framed them or photoshopped me in. With the venues you have fun with it, so it’s cool. I feel like I’ll need to retire it soon and start a new one I’ve had it for like over a year now.

I really like the Puerto Rican Day Parade one were their car gets stuck and they are all kind of split up. Well that always kind of happens but you get these four plots of them about being stuck in traffic and not being able to get through the parade. One of them is sneaking into this open house to watch baseball, George is going to a movie theater where that one guy is shining a laser pointer at his head. That one was always one of the funniest to me.

You actually had Hillary Clinton as an opening act of sorts when you performed in Philadelphia back in April. What was that like? 

Pretty intense, yeah, it was a show in Philadelphia I believe and she was doing a rally and speech, literally like…maybe I went on a half an hour later or something, haha. It was so weirdly close. So yeah, it was like she was opening for us. It was in the same venue and all my fans were kind of leaning over the side going in and all these people in this rally, so yeah, it was kind of making light of that situation. It was pretty unique and funny.

Are there any things that make you lean toward siding with one of the two candidates?

I don’t know. I mean I think it’s trying to pick the best of two evils at this point right? I was excited about Bernie being in the running. Pulling for him and all but after he dropped out I was kind of ‘ahh’. I guess Hillary over Trump because it is Donald Trump. But, I mean I don’t know if I feel too good about that, I’ve been touring the states for a few months this year. I think I’ve kind of experienced the restlessness and people’s emotions towards the whole situation too. I don’t think anyone is super enthusiast about the situation they are in.

You describe yourself as an electronic artist, but your music incorporates many different genres. What inspired you to do that?

I’ve always loved old music the way I learned how to make music, I never took music lessons so I bought myself a keyboard, taught myself how to play it. Brought myself a microphone and like Able 10 was one of the first ones I got. Started making beats, I didn’t have a band, the only instrument I could really play was the keyboard at the time. I couldn’t convince many people to meet in the garage, so I guess I’ll be the band and started producing beats. That’s kind of how I spent most of my time making electronic music on my computer. But I always had a big place in my heart for old music like Van Morrison, Joe Cocker, Steely Dan, Neil Young, Prince, David Bowie and all of this old classic stuff. I think moving in the direction I was going was drawing inspiration from the music I loved when I was little. The kind of music that came on the radio and I wanted to try to make an electronic version of that. A classic 70’s rock folk album but with keyboards. I started researching instruments, you can find pretty much any instrument, like a banjo, guitar and lap steel. You can find synthetic version and play them like a piano.

It sounded to me, no one really does this and exciting. So I could make my songs feel like rock songs. And that’s what I kind of set out to do with this record was to use all of these synthetic instruments and there are real one’s too. I had people come in to record horns, harmonicas and stuff like that. But for the most part it’s all electronic. I don’t feel like it sounds or feels electronic necessarily which is what I was going for.

Tell me about the artist collective you founded called Sideways. How did you guys get together? 

Me and my friends from Thunder Bay just kind, we gave ourselves a moniker and everything just falls under that moniker. When I make a video, do a photoshoot, make some art or anything. Instead of hiring someone to do it we make it amongst that group or one of them has a song and then they need people to help them with something, we go and help. We kind of just made that a thing. Like we started a little record label that’s just the 4 of us and in terms when a check is sent to me or something, or when I produce a video I take it at the end of that, it’s sort of like a company. All started by my friends and I where when anything falls under, when we do things ourselves.

 

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