Scott Helman Takes the Long Way

While Scott Helman already has a lot of talent for 21, he's been working with Warner Music since he was 15. The Toronto native who has already made a name for himself with his Augusta EP, took the time to make sure his follow up was just as good. Releasing his debut LP Hotel De Ville with a string of singles to pull in listeners, Helman's looking to catapult his already big success into the stratosphere. We caught up with Helman ahead of his show at the Bronson Centre on October 13 to talk about starting young, writing with ADHD and how Montreal inspired his latest record.

Ottawa Life: Can you walk us briefly through how you went from picking up a guitar at 10 to signing with Warner at 15?

Scott Helman: I remember when I first started learning the guitar. It was so important because I didn't have a thing, I wasn't a sporty kid and I couldn't focus in school because I have ADHD. When I first found the guitar, I was really good at it, and I could do it alone. I like chess, pool, and darts because I can really challenge myself, I don't really like team sports. The more I did it, the more I discovered new music. At first I wanted to be the best guitar player in the world, but then I thought writing songs was an easier endeavour. I was wrong, but I liked writing songs because it allowed me to express myself where I couldn't in other ways. Going to an art school really helped, and finding older people who were artists for a living. I put my music out on YouTube, and the guy who did the videos was at a party, bumped into a guy from Warner and told him about me.

What was the most important lesson for your career you learned from writing in that period with your development deal?

There's a really valuable thing writing songs when you're that age. I would emulate my favourite artists. I fell in love with Nirvana, and spent six months trying to write like Kurt Cobain, which if you're trying to be a professional musician is not the best thing to do. But what it does, is it teaches you all the tricks. Song writing is really complicated, but the more you do it, the more you learn the tricks. I already had that arsenal going into the deal. The biggest thing I learned from then was that I was trying to say eight things in a song, every song had to be my autobiography. What I learned through the deal was just writing about one thing. The idea of an album was never in my head, I just thought I always had to write that perfect song. Simplifying it, you start writing more and you start to boil things down and get things across properly. There was a point where my A&R guy said, "Write a verse and chorus every day for two weeks and send them to me," which was cool and also horrible. (Laughs) Some days you don't have anything to write about. Sometimes you make your best stuff then. I wrote "Machine" on a day where we spent all day in the studio with nothing, and then I was messing around on the guitar and said "Your heart is more than a machine" and the song flowed from there.

Did you ever feel like you sacrificed some of your youth or even a different life to keep your deal to write music strong?

I didn't feel like I was sacrificing my youth, I didn't feel normal, nobody feels normal at 15. It made sense to me in a way, to be in Vancouver for two weeks, in a hotel room writing songs alone. At the same time, there moments where I didn't feel like I was missing out but it was hard for people to understand what I was going through. I was having a great time, and I was learning things, I felt lucky, but I'd get back and talk about my time in the studio, and it was hard for people to get it.

What did Tawgs Salter bring as a producer to the record and how has your relationship evolved creatively since you joined with Warner?

I would love to hear his response. I met Tawgs when I was 17, after I'd been writing with the deal for two years. I had this song that I was going to go to radio with called "Boom" it was super pop-y, I didn't feel like it was me and didn't represent who I was. A month before it was supposed to go out, I met Tawgs and we wrote Augusta in three weeks. We sent it to the label and they said "F*ck, now we have to call all the stations and tell them not to use the song anymore." Tawgs gets what I want to do, and we have a good balance together. Early on I remember kicking him off the piano to show him how to play a song, which he loved because no artist would do that. Now we're buddies, I was terrified to talk to him when I first met him. I felt like I had something to prove, which is good when you're young, I still feel like that though. We're just closer, and I'm a better song writer than I used to be, so now I can be direct about what I want.

As an artist living with ADHD there are a lot of drawbacks but I've also heard of cases where it can allow you to think of some pretty unique ideas, how have you found coping with it during writing?

I do find that, you can probably here it in my song writing on a song like "Tikka," that scatter-brained stream of consciousness. My ADHD is a huge component of my music, a lot of the times I'll just start rambling and an idea will come to me. There's no lack of stuff, it's more organization of it all. It's not even that you don't have the ability to focus, but that your focus is super saturated on specific things. I feel like I'm right there when I'm song writing, it's very therapeutic. I write about my life so this is a part of my life.  You can love some one but 15% percent of the time they really get on your nerves, but I don't really mind I love who I am.

Knowing you're from Toronto, I was curious what about the Hotel De Ville street or the Plateau inspired your new album title?

My first record was name Augusta, which is a street there. It was really huge for me because it was the first place I'd lived that wasn't home, and I culminated the record there.  It felt nice to be in this place, where here too I was in this place for a month, just getting the ideas out for the record. I like the similarity between the two titles. Sometimes it feels like a place in your life is a huge reason for everything happening to you. I was actually backpacking through Amsterdam, and there was a magic of that time and place, which is where the cover comes from, it's not actually in Montreal. A lot of my music is about places, even when it's about someone, I imagine them in a space. The Plateau has something really special about it.