One listen one of Scott Helman’s music, and you’ll instantly know why the young singer/songwriter from Toronto has been off touring with Vance Joy. The sweet sound of the strings, mixed with thought-provoking lyrics and creatively-inspired visuals, immediately makes your ears perk up and your spirit feel lighter.
After releasing his debut EP in 2014, the musician quickly earned his way into the hearts of people across the globe. His latest single, “Ripple Effect,” from the EP Hotel de Ville, has prompted a new buzz around the artist that has fans lining up to see him. Since wrapping up his tour in Europe, Helman’s had a number of shows across the U.S. and recently made his return to Canada to tour with Joy.
Helman took a moment to share with AXS more about his inspiration and his love of music just before his travels.
AXS: Do you remember the moment when you first fell in love with music?
Scott Helman: I’ve always loved music. Ever since I can remember I had a strong connection to it. I had a karaoke machine when I was really young and I used to sing on that. There’s a video of it somewhere on the internet if you care to dig it up. But I do remember the moment I realized the power music had. I went to a Roger Waters show when I was around 13 years old and it completely blew me out of the water. I knew the songs vaguely, but to see it live, and to see the lasting effect it had on the people watching was something that really shaped my outlook on music. Music exists through generations, at least the good stuff, and to witness it as tangible as that was a groundbreaking experience. Not to mention my later listening of Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, which really solidified my understanding of how, whatever you think you understand about music, is always up for a shake.
AXS: What are the top five songs on your playlist right now?
SH: Well, I’m writing a lot right now, so the walls are up. I don’t like to listen to too much while I’m writing so I can let my intents guide me but I’d say: One, The Specials - “Ghost Town.” It’s good for long drives in the night when you’re tired and not a lot makes sense. Two, Bleachers - absolutely everything. There’s not really one song but if I had to choose [it would be] “Wake Me.” Three, Stacey Kent - “La Rua Madureira.” I was in an Argentinian restaurant with my mom for Mother’s Day and this was playing. It was a really nice evening so I wanted to remember it. I’ve been listening to it a lot lately for whatever reason. I guess I’m a mama’s boy. Four, Paul McCartney - Ram - the whole album. It’s very good for wine drinking in the sun with friends. Five, Deanna Petcoff - "Terribly True." She's a very good friend of mine and amazing songwriter; makes me think of home.
AXS: Tell me a little bit about what you've been up to?
SH: Right now I’m in Nashville, Tennessee, with some of my favorite people in the world. I’m writing down here. I’ve never been here before, so it’s nice to be with old friends and collaborators in a new place; especially when that place is so legendary for inspiring some incredible music.
AXS: You’ve shared the stage with Tegan & Sara, Shawn Mendes, you’ve opened for Walk Off The Earth and now you’re touring with Vance Joy. What are some valuable lessons working with these other artists have taught you?
SH: Feet forward in the bus while sleeping. Seriously. It’s a safety hazard. Never change the song if you’re listening in a group. Just let it play, man. And queue up the next one while you do. Be around people who are better than you and wiser than you – and listen to them. Keep your wallet in your front pocket.
AXS: So, tell me what first sparked the idea for your single “Ripple Effect?”
SH: “Ripple Effect” was written after a long conversation with some friends about the hard moments we’ve had to overcome in our lives. My good friend and co-writer Simon Wilcox was stressing how odd it feels when we’re fighting with our loved ones. It feels like all of our negative, violent and dysfunctional words aren’t coming from us, but from something we’ve learned. Having all had confusing and painful experiences with our parents, friends, and siblings, we figured there’s this beautiful moment where one decides to overcome this learned negativity by “unlearning” it and choosing something better. People often say, “I won’t be like my parents when I have kids.” Of course, this is difficult, and some would say impossible, but I feel that just the act of trying, can make life beautiful and worthwhile.
AXS: I’d love to hear more about the video and what it was like bringing it to life.
SH: When thinking about a music video, I was inspired by the old John Lennon video for “Imagine”. In it, Lennon plays the song while Yoko Ono opens the blinds behind him bringing light into the room. I had just gone to the UK with my girlfriend to meet with my extended family and shot a bunch of footage of us together. When I got home, I thought it would be really special to do the same as Lennon but in reverse, having Katya slowly close the blinds, insulating us from the world, or the ripples of learned history, creating a space where we could be ourselves, and more importantly, enjoy ourselves. In the background, home footage of us would begin to appear, making this world truly our own. It was a very emotional video to film. “Ripple Effect” means so much to me, specifically on the basis that it’s about healing the broken parts of ourselves. That’s a hard thing to choose to do, and I feel so lucky to show people that it’s not as hard as they may think.
AXS: What are some fun things about your album Hotel de Ville fans might not be aware of?
SH: It was inspired by a street I lived on for a little while in Montreal called Hôtel De Ville Ave. I moved there to settle down for a bit and start ruminating on ideas. My best friend and guitar player Callum Maudsley drove me down in his mom’s minivan and helped move me in. The first thing I wrote there was a poem titled Hôtel De Ville. Once the album was done, a year later, I had no idea what to call it. I went through my notes and found the old poem. The intro of the album is that exact poem over music, and thus the album got its title.
AXS: Overall, what inspires you to create and what do you hope your music will bring to the world?
SH: So much inspires me on a micro level; coffee being spilled, people sharing glances, ants. But, like I said, the power of music has for a long time now, been something I’m very moved by, and the idea of being able to achieve that is something that drives me every day. In doing so, I get to stand in front of lots of people and share myself with them. In that luxury, I hope to be graceful and kind and show that life can be good.