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Canadian Indie Rock Musician - Scott Helman - Biography

Some artists labour their entire lives to come into their own and earn recognition. Scott Helman has somehow condensed that process into his adolescent years.

The singer-songwriter from Bayview has just released his first seven-song EP, Augusta, and is poised to be the next big thing in Canadian music — all before his 20th birthday.

Helman’s passion for the arts blossomed early, and although he grew up in the Lawrence Park area, he eschewed his local school for Claude Watson School of the Arts, followed by Earl Haig, where he was enrolled in the visual arts program.

“By the time I got to high school, I knew that art was the thing I wanted to do — in any form really,” says Helman.

His decision to become a musician came about organically after he conquered his fears.

Although he spent his formative years attached at the hip to his guitar, Helman had been somewhat reluctant to share his singing until encouragement from his older brother gave him a boost. “I always had a love for music,” the artist says. However, he “never sang for people until about Grade 9.”

Like a typical teen, the aspiring musician was prone to questioning his skills. “I thought I sounded weird or didn’t have a good voice,” he notes. This all changed one day when Helman’s brother, with whom Helman is close, took proper note of his singing and guitar work. “My brother was like, ‘Yeah, your voice isn’t so bad.’ ”

The elder Helman’s vote of approval was all it took to set the youngster on his current trajectory.

“Then I thought, ‘All right … maybe my singing is OK,’ and I started writing songs and singing more. It sort of just developed organically like that.”

By this point, Helman had been spitting out his own tunes for a while, although he describes his songwriting debut in decidedly inauspicious terms.

“It was an awful song, like, just terrible,” he says, as he recalls being inspired to compose it by Remembrance Day services at his school.

“I came home and was all mopey, so I wrote this song about this guy at war. His girlfriend was writing a letter to him. I just remember thinking it was really good at the time.”

That one supposedly disastrous debut was soon eclipsed by work that Helman can take real pride in — work that got him noticed by Warner Music by the time he was 15 years old. After playing a small show for friends at Aspetta Caffe on Augusta Avenue in Kensington Market, Helman was prompted by his friends to take his music much more seriously.

“I remember that really affected me,” says Helman, “and from that moment on, I knew: ‘I need to write a lot of songs, pick the best ones and make some videos.’ ” So rather than just airily stating his goals before letting them fall by the wayside, Helman put his money where his mouth was and set about doing just that.

Sounds simple enough, but only for a select few is it a formula for success. Recognizing his passion, a particularly supportive friend gifted Helman some studio time for his birthday. The end result of the session was a few demos that were more than enough for Terry Moshenberg — who arranged the studio time — to put his faith in the singer-songwriter. Moshenberg, who became Helman’s manager, brought the artist’s catchy melodies and smooth, pop-inflected vocals to the attention of execs at Warner, who summoned him for an in-house performance.

Perhaps some of his songwriting proficiency can be attributed to his stated muses.

Helman is a devoted listener of classic singer-songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s, although he’s not totally stuck in the past — his favourites playlist includes present-day musicians such as Sun Kil Moon and Hozier.

“Musicians like Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan and Neil Young had a connection with music that is completely alien to us now,” he says. “I don’t think I’ll ever feel that level of appreciation for newer artists.”

Soon after Helman caught the label’s gaze, a record deal was in the works, crystallizing his post–high school career plans, which are the stuff of fantasy for so many: he would make an album, take it on tour and be a professional musician.

However, unlike the majority of professional musicians, Helman still lives at home in the York Mills area with his parents.

“It’s a nice place to live,” he says. “There’s a fair bit of diversity in the neighbourhood, and the architecture is really pretty.” What really makes his neighbouhood stand out, however, is the “sense of consideration for others,” as he puts it. “When I’m downtown, I keep my headphones on and walk 80 miles an hour, but uptown I’ll smile at someone and they smile back at me.”

Nonetheless, the heart of the city is where Helman found much of his inspiration for Augusta, which is indeed named after Kensington Market’s main artery. It was not only the location of that first show, but the market was also the site of much of Helman’s songwriting for the album.

“I just fell in love with Kensington Market the first day I walked in there,” says Helman. “I sublet an apartment on Augusta for two weeks in the summer. While I was living there, I finished my record and soaked in all the experiences I could. The album name is commemorative of the awesome memories I have of making the record.”

Now that the EP is done — anchored by his single “Bungalow” — all that remains is for Helman to get on the road and promote it. While his current itinerary only comprises a few cities, including Kingston and St. Catharines, a more extensive tour is being cooked up.

The musician’s recent gigs have included a showcase at Canadian Music Week and opening for Tegan and Sara at a concert outside Roy Thomson Hall.

“I really love Toronto, but I’ve never been more excited to go on the road,” he says. And the destinations he’s musing on are not what one would expect.

“I’ve always dreamt of playing the big shows like New York and Chicago,” he says. “But I think as I grow older [I’ve become] excited to go to somewhere like Thunder Bay — to play a little show and see what the people are like.”

As he embarks on his tour, it’s difficult to imagine that Helman is poised for anything less than success. But should he encounter any obstacles on the way, he is confident in the path he’s chosen.

“I do come from this privileged position, but I think, at the end of the day, I’m supposed to be a creator and an artist,” Helman says.

“There’s this quote from a song — I forget what it’s called — you know you’re an artist when you have to make your art. The question is, if you stopped making your art, would you die? Would your self not exist anymore? I know that’s really dramatic, but I thought it was a cool idea. I survive off my art, so I kind of need it.”

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