Q+A: Singer-songwriter Scott Helman
Scott Helman is a young singer-songwriter based out of Toronto. With two Juno nominations and multiple hit singles under his belt, he will be kicking off the Scott vs. Ria tour with singer-songwriter Ria Mae in Ottawa on Oct. 13. The Charlatan caught up with Helman over the phone to talk about life as a musician, the heartfelt meanings behind his biggest hits and his upcoming tour.
The Charlatan (TC): What is it like, life as a young, 22-year-old, touring and recording musician?
Scott Helman (SH): It’s good, it’s definitely un-orthodox, I’d say. My life structure is not quite the same as my friends and stuff, but it’s great! I get to travel and see a lot of different kinds of people and I get to do what I love.
TC: How has 2017 treated you?
SH: 2017 has been great for me. It’s been really fun and I got to put out an album, so that was pretty great. It’s kind of been a weird year though . . . It’s been a really bad year for the world, I think, and as an artist, you try to figure out ways to sort of respond to that . . . My motto has always been positivity and giving people a relief and entertaining, and I just feel like I have to work harder now, which is great because that is what I want to do, but you know, I definitely feel like I have to work harder because there’s a lot of people out there that need help and healing.
TC: How do you think people have been responding to that message of positivity?
SH: I think very well, and I think that in a world where everybody thinks that they’re right about what they believe, and where it’s not usually the easiest thing to get out there and meet all different kinds of people. I think that making music, especially playing music live, is something that really brings people together, and I’ve felt that overwhelming sense of togetherness before at concerts, and that’s kind of what drove me to want to make music in the first place: standing in a room with a thousand other people looking around saying “we all like the same artist,” and that’s a pretty great feeling, so it’s pretty cool. That’s really why I like to involve the crowd in the show, and really make it a show is because when you feel like you’re participating in something like that, it’s pretty special.
TC: How would you describe the process of putting [Hotel de Ville] together?
SH: I would say it was pretty difficult for me because not only was it my second project, but was my first full-length album. My first project was an EP, and then I had to sort of hunker down and make a full record, and there was definitely pressure to exceed what I had done before and meet the expectations, but it was fun and it was definitely a personal endeavor of healing and stuff. There was a lot of things I had to revisit in my life and think about, and that’s a hard thing to do when you’re 21, I think. So, I’m pretty proud that I did it.
TC: What was the most meaningful part of that album or meaningful song, and why?
SH: It’s hard to say because the whole record for me is its own entity, so I feel like each song serves a different function, like a different limb on a body. I’d say one of the most special songs for me was “Ripple Effect.” My parents split up when I was in Grade 11 and when it happened, I didn’t really think that it had such a large effect on me, but I got in the studio with some friends, and it was a pretty emotional writing session and we kind of all just talked about our lives and that song kind of just came about from our conclusion of just like well… I don’t know, when you start a relationship with someone, when you’re dating someone and things go wrong and things are getting hard, sometimes it’s good to just say “Well, you know what? Fuck it. Let’s just enjoy ourselves in spite of that.” And yeah, that song really helped me through a lot of stuff.
TC: To what extent are your songs based on real life experiences?
SH: I’d say all of them are in some capacity. I mean, it’s weird. A song like “Bungalow” wasn’t really actually written about anyone, in particular. It was kind of a song that I wrote about several people and I kind of used as a means to make myself feel better about a pretty bad breakup. But, they all have elements of truth to them, I think, and I feel like when I’m in a writing stage, I usually just try to collect ideas from my experiences, just write lots of stuff down and use them later.
TC: How do you make sure to stay fresh from song-to-song?
SH: I listen to a lot of music, I try to stay very on-the-ball about what’s going on and what people are making, and try to sort of collect influences and be inspired, and stay truthful and write about things and write about things that I care about, and that if I’m just writing to be relevant, then I don’t think that really creates great music. I think all great art really just comes from a need to like make things, so just make sure that need is alive and keep it.
TC: This is the Scott vs. Ria tour, what can you tell me about what this tour is going to be like?
SH: Well, I can say for myself that if you’ve seen me before, I think it’s going to be definitely a new experience because you put out a record, but it really takes a minute to get everything put in the right place and really step up the way that the show flows. So I think that it’s going to be definitely really exciting for people that have seen me before, and you haven’t seen me before, then you’re definitely seeing the show at the right time because I think it’s going to be really great, so yeah, I’m really excited. Everything’s falling into place really nicely.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.