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December 8, 2018 @ 7:00 pm$8 - $10
To paraphrase Thomas Edison, success is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration. Perhaps no working songwriter knows this better than Scott Helman. Since impressing the music world with his debut Augusta EP in 2014, Helman has poured his heart and spilled his sweat on stages across the world: wowing both unsuspecting audiences and adoring fans, whether alone with his guitar or alongside his band of musical brothers.
Much of the wisdom gleaned from that blood, sweat and tears can be heard on Helman’s debut long player, Hôtel de Ville, which he enthusiastically describes as “the next step” in his burgeoning career. And from the first listen on, there’s little doubt of what he means.
At just 21, Helman’s come a long way from the talented 15-year-old that blew away executives in a Warner Music Canada board room. Just four years later, Helman had his first platinum certified single with “Bungalow.” Since then, he’s earned two Juno nominations, toured the U.S. and Europe with Walk Off The Earth and performed to massive TV audiences at the 2015 MMVAs and 2016 Juno awards.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Helman hasn’t slowed down since. And the life experiences born of his journey have found their way onto his new batch of songs which are undoubtedly his best yet.
“When I sat down to make this record I felt like I knew a lot more about who I was,” he says. “It’s an extension; a deeper dive.”
Musically, the young singer-songwriter cites both current guitar-driven pop and classic alternative rock as his touchstones.
In the making of Hôtel de Ville, Helman listened extensively to album-focused artists like Arcade Fire, The Cure, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Bon Iver as well as his biggest influence, Paul Simon, and their spirit permeates the record, which Helman views as a complete artistic statement. But there’s no denying that fans of Ed Sheeran, Jake Bugg and Shawn Mendes will find a lot to love here. As Helman puts it, “If pop music is great, it’s just great music.”
For proof, look no further than first single “Kinda Complicated,” which applies Helman’s breezy, catchy songwriting and winking-lyricism to a failed relationship.
“The lyric ‘I’m moving forward but you want to rewind, I got a quick fix called a bottle of wine.’ That perfectly sums up that relationship,” Helman recalls. “When that song was done I was like, I gotta go break up with this girl now.”
“Kinda Complicated” also plays into the album’s overarching theme, which he describes simply as ‘healing.”
“The more that I write music the more that I feel I’m curing myself.” he explains. “How am I gonna be a better person and how am I gonna be a better lover? I have to figure out all those things that are knocking around in my head.”
Proof of this journey can be heard on the album’s introspective moments — “Ripple Effect,” where Helman considers the inevitability and acceptance of becoming an adult in the parental mold, and on the Hôtel de Ville’s political torch song, “21 Days.”
“With a song like ’21 Days,’ I don’t want to say fuck up the system (I’m 21, I don’t know shit) so it was more like, I want to figure out what’s going on inside myself and be the change I want to be in the world,” Helman explains. “When I listen to a song like After the Gold Rush by Neil Young, it wasn’t an overt political song. It’s just him getting through that thing. That’s what I want to hear so that’s what I made.”
Equally impressive is how natural these songs sit alongside the album’s more manic moments, such as “Kites” and “Sweet Tooth” which invite the listener into Helman’s ADHD-infused id.
“You gotta have fun and marry all that stuff together,” he explains. But just because it’s fun, doesn’t mean there isn’t a sense of healing there too. “A song like ‘Sweet Tooth,’ that’s pretty much about a previous relationship with substances that’s since been dealt with but it’s also unapologetic.”. At the end of the song I included a voice note from when I left a party and I was drunk. When you leave a party and your mind’s like ‘Woo!,’ that’s how I wanted to feel when the song was done.”
Like its predecessor, Hôtel de Ville takes its name from its place of origin. “I like to think of my music as a reflection of the nuanced experience of my life. These experiences are strongly intertwined with the places that they occur,” Helman says. “My first record was as much about freedom and discovery as it was about the city and culture that helped me reach those milestones. After two years of touring and playing those songs, another journey was underway. In a month, I decided to move everything I had of value to a little apartment on Av. De l’Hôtel De Ville in Montreal, where I found myself pursuing a love, and searching for meaning outside of what I was comfortable with. As an extension, and as the theme goes, Montreal, and my little apartment, became my next inspiration.”
Equally inspiring were the album’s producer Tawgs Salter (Lights, Walk Off The Earth, USS) and Helman’s long-time friends and bandmates Calum Maudsley (guitar) and Julian Psihogios (drums).
“When I’m writing a song I know I’m going to get out there with my boys and play like a rock band. That informs what you want to make,” Helman explains. “None of this would have been the same without them. They played on almost every song.”
“Yes, I’m a singer-songwriter,” he adds. “but I’ve got a band and it sounds like that on the record.”