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Interviews, Music

Interview: Bad Child Talks “Free Trial”, Blending Art Forms, and Collaborating with Spike Stent

By: Jessica Nakamoto –

For 21-year-old singer-songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, Isaiah Steinberg, art and storytelling have always gone hand-in-hand. Yet it wasn’t until his mother’s passing that the young Canadian began to put pen to paper and utilize lyrics as an emotional outlet and platform from which to document stories of his own.

Finding solace in song, Steinberg quickly immersed himself in the Toronto music scene, and in a daring solo move from his hometown of Kitchener, Ontario, began a journey that would ultimately lead to the formation of what we know today as Bad Child.

A project that transcends genres of alternative-hip-hop and R&B, Bad Child has come incredibly far since Steinberg’s first days as part of Toronto’s bustling city-life. Now rather than the single-room studio and air mattress that once made up his minimal residence, Bad Child has found a home on some of music’s largest international stages and in the hearts of fans whose numbers continue to grow at an exponential rate.

And as to not keep his audience in waiting, this year promises to be another significant milestone for the up-and-coming artist. Adding on to his growing list of accomplishments, Bad Child is set to hit the road this summer for a string of exciting performances across the globe.

But before he takes the stage at Lollapalooza, Glastonbury, Great Escape, Reading & Leeds Festival, and more, we had the pleasure of speaking with Isaiah about his debut album Free Trial, hidden gems on the record, collaborating with Spike Stent (Beyoncé, Grimes, Frank Ocean, Yeah Yeah Yeahs), and more!

You recently released your third track “Breathing Fire”, have a debut album coming out, and are preparing for some pretty impressive live shows. So, a lot on your plate! Have you had a momentto take it all in, or is everything still a whirlwind of activity?

It’s funny, because when I first started, it was definitely a pacing thing. But I realized that this is a marathon, you know?

I want to do this for my entire life and I’m finally getting into the swing of things where I’m always writing or recording. I have a portable studio. So, I’ll be on a plane somewhere, playing and producing. It’s been really inspiring being this busy.

That sounds perfect! Whenever inspiration hits, you’re ready to go.

Oh yeah! I can work on voice, notes, or anything like that.

Was there ever a moment so far where you felt like everything was kind of falling into place?

Yes! I think that this is kind of the moment! I’ve actually had two moments that are like that.

When I first started, I lived on my own in Toronto and I spent most of the time just making music. I thought, “maybe someday I’ll get a record deal.” So, the first time was when I signed my first deal and I got to show my father. I was like, “hey dad, this is something real!” (laughs)

The second time is right now, being on the road and playing all these festivals. It feels like a well-oiled machine. It’s exciting!

Your story of moving to Toronto, living in a recording space, and making music, is really inspiring! I know your path hasn’t always been the easiest one, but do you think that having to overcome these obstacles has helped you approach creating music in a different way?

I think everything was reallyborn from necessity. The fact that I had to say things to try to understand them is definitely what gave birth to the music and the sound.

It’s always been about what’s around me. Even equipment wise. The record sounds the way it does because when I first started, I could only afford a five-dollar synth that I found at a garage sale. So, all of this stuff is very close to me.

It’s funny, because when you’ve been through a lot of traumatic stuff, like in my life, I feel that if I had not done music, I might not be alive! It was the only way I could explain what was inside my soul.

I see. Well, I really do like that the overall message behind Bad Child is about growth and redemption. I think you’ve more than accomplished that. 

I appreciate it. That’s the best compliment you could ever give me!

You mentioned that music has been an integral part of your life since a fairly young age. You wrote “Bad Child” at just seventeen years old and your career has had an incredible upward trajectory since. Has your creative process changed any since you wrote that first song?

Yes! It’s interesting because I look at things like genre and process, and I like to kind of cut them down. I think your process should always be shifting and changing.

Sometimes, for me, a song will come from hearing a frequency resonating when you close a door. I’ll say, “wow! That’s a great note”, and I’ll record it. I’ll make an instrumental out of it first, and then it’ll inspire me further lyrically.

Other times, I’ll overhear a conversation on the street and I’ll think, “hmmm, it’s interesting that someone’s mind works like that”. So, I’ll try to understand their view through my lens.

I think realizing the idea that process should never be fixed is important because it leads to reincarnating that stream of emotion. You should just have fun with it and explore. 

I heard that you like to draw images to help craft lyrics. I’m curious, what does that look like for you? Is it doodles on a napkin, Jackson Pollock splatters, or maybe detailed drawings in a notebook?

(laughs) Well, I’ve always made art since a young age, and they’ve sort of blended together. I actually didn’t start off writing lyrics and writing poems for quite a while. I had drawn for much longer. But eventually, they started to coincide.

I would draw figures and I’d superimpose lyrics and poems and ideas and sentences over the top of these drawings. For me, it’s just so cathartic, letting my emotions take me wherever they want to go.

I read you were also into photojournalism earlier on in your career!

Yes!

Do you think that it helped your storytelling ability, to layer all those different artistic elements together?

That’s a good observation! I think it’s actually the basis for how I look at storytelling now. To me, all of my years as a photojournalist were about bearing witness. You give someone a voice that otherwise wouldn’t have a say. That’s one of the most noble things that you can do if you’re trying to tell a truthful story.

For me, when I first started, I was doing photo journals on schools in Detroit and profiles on cities. I feel like when you can start to look at the soul of how people think and live, you understand that everyone has a story. Everyone has their own relative existence and it’s really humbling. It helped me learn to write, for sure!

From Bluesfest and Lollapalooza, to Reading & Leeds you have some amazing festival appearances lined up! How do you go about taking these deeper personal songs and translating them to fit a live audience setting?

I like to be fairly interactive with the audience. I’ve always looked at it as, “what’s the easiest way to cut out everything that gets in the way of you and the listener?”

When we perform live, I have a three-piece. We have a drummer who plays an electronic kit,and I’ll be up front playing piano and keys and kind of jumping around like a mad man! (laughs) I just love getting that kinetic energy out.

Performing is also like therapy because so many of the songs feel like picking at a scab. You create something and it’s not always that straight forward. For me, it always hurts to write. The songs are very real, and by the time they’re done, it’s almost like an epitaph. There’s a stone and I can say, “this is my catalogue of emotions. This is how I truly feel”.

You mentioned a little bit earlier that you’re super close with your father and sharing that moment of the record deal was really a special moment. Has he made it out to one of your shows or planning to come to any of these upcoming festivals?

Yeah! He’s actually planning on coming out to England and he’s going to a few shows! It’s always so funny to see him backstage. It’s a very cool experience for me!

Has he heard your full debut album yet?

Oh yeah! He’s heard it all and I think he’s excited about it!

Can you give us any details about the inspiration behind the album?

Sure! The inspiration for my debut album, Free Trial, actually comes from the modern relationship. I think that the way we look at each other has become contorted. We’ve begun commodifying each other.

It’s a conversation about things like Tinder, on how you can look at an image of somebody, and come up with a complete summation of their entire existence. You look at this picture and you say, “would I, or would I not” and you swipe them away or say, “yes”.

It’s the transactional element to romance that’s really interested me. It’s something that I’ve been on both ends of. I don’t want to make the project too preachy, but I do want to try to disseminate it and understand why we do that. It’s called “Free Trial” because I think people use each other like a free trial.

I see. It’s like social media, right? You get the good but also the bad.

Yeah, completely!

In addition to your inspiration, I was really curious to ask you about working with the legendarySpike Stent on the record! What was the process like with him?

Oh, the process was so incredible! It’s funny, there was a humongous coincidence when this all came about. Spike had always been my number one, and I’ve always wanted to work with him. I felt like he aligned so properly with all the music that I’ve grown up with and loved.

When we started working together it was such a smooth journey. It was hilarious because he kind of turns everything to the eleventh gear. He just cranks the car up and it’s just going! (laughs) It was so easy to work with him!

It was almost like he was inside my head and he just knew how I wanted things to sound. We didn’t do very many passes.

That’s amazing that you clicked right off the bat! 

Yeah! He’s just a great individual.

So, as a listener, are there any hidden “Easter eggs”, so to speak, that we should be on the lookout for? Maybe a hidden gem on the track or anything of that sort?

Mmmm. There are quite a few things hidden on the record. I can’t give too much away! (laughs) Just pay attention to the samples in the album because they all mean something in my life.

I just have a couple more questions for you! One of them is, going back to social media, you recently posted a picture on your Instagram, of a piano that you taught yourself to play in your grandmother’s garage. You had the words, “we’ll see where this road goes”. This made me wonder, what are your future goals for Bad Child, going forward?

For me, I see Bad Child, hopefully lasting my entire lifetime. I really think that this is the vessel that I can explore myself in.

I see it as a multidisciplinary thing too. I see Bad Child involved in the art world and in visual media. Even in fashion! Personally, I would love to see it branch out as much as producing video game soundtracks and original scores for film. I’d love to see Bad Child be a really three-dimensional thing.

Forsure! I’ve heard of some bands incorporating music with VR and that sort of thing. So, I’ll be on the lookout in the future for all your new works! 

(laughs) It’ll be thrilling!

Is there anything that you’re the most excited for in 2019 or in the coming years?

Honestly, I’m excited to see this album get the light of day. And I’m really excited to play Glastonbury! That’s always been my favorite festival. So, I’m proud.

Excellent! I’d like to wrap things up with just a few fill-in-the-blank questions. Would you like to give it a go?

Go for it!

When I’m not playing music, I love to…

Read! I love Silvia Plath and Cormac McCarthy. My favorite book of all time is The Roseby McCarthy.

My go to travel snack is…

Vitamin water!

Any flavor in particular?

Oh, Triple X! (laughs)

If I could collaborate with anyone, past or present, it would be…

David Bowie!

Last one for you! One place I can’t wait to visit is…

Algeria.

Discussion

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