Award winning singer-songwriter and Toronto native Scott Helman is set to release the first installment of his album series ‘Nonsuch Park’ on September 4th. This upcoming project encapsulates many of the winding roads taken throughout Scott’s life and the lessons learnt along the way. Its name, an ode to his late Papa’s home in Sutton, UK - a meaningful place and sanctuary which inspired the album’s message - that life is short, precious, and beautiful.
Scott sat down with RAD to delve into his creative process for the upcoming album - He is a creative person, involved in all aspects of his music - opening up about his journey navigating the music industry, his artistic inspirations, activism work, and unwavering passion for creating authentic art.
Aisling: To ask about your creative process, with the new album coming out - we listened to the new song “Wait No More”, which is pretty cool, and the video is pretty impressive, did you shoot that from home?
Scott: Yeah we did, we initially wanted to do an animated video, but when covid hit we were like “well what do we do,” but the animation house came back to us and said that it would take roughly two months. So my director Ben was like “we can do this!” so we came up with a treatment, so we figured we were going to have to shoot from home because a) we couldn’t find any other locations to shoot and b) we couldn’t hire a crew. So Ben and I worked together to figure out how we could put together something that was interesting, which is when we came up with the backwards video. To be honest with you, I had seen backwards videos before, and I was unconvinced, I was like “yeah cool it’s gonna be like the Coldplay video, cool whatever,” and then it was kinda up to me to put in my personal touches and see where I could make it my own. That is usually how we work, Ben has a vision for how we can shoot it and what we can do with whatever budget we have, and I take that and see how I can make it my own.
That video was more about the details, rather than special effects and stuff. I think it turned out really well considering the speed we did it under, and the team was literally just me, Ben, Dave Sherman who is my cinematographer and my girlfriend, like in my house.
Aisling: When was this, at the start of quarantine?
Scott: Yeah that was around March/April, because I was in LA in March writing, I signed a lease in LA, and I remember signing this lease in my Airbnb and calling my girlfriend being like “this covid stuff is getting kinda crazy,” and I was like nope i’m not going to live in fear so I signed the lease anyways, and three days later they were ensuring everyone wears masks on the airplane and i had to quarantine at home for two weeks. But it was very weird to put out this record, as I’ve been working on it for two years, so it’s super strange to release music in such an uncertain time.
Aisling: How has this climate, covid and politics and all going on right now shifted the record? Like did it make any changes, or did you want to add anything into your songs?
Scott: I think especially as an artist, the skills that i have improved on, being writing and touring, are two of the things that I can’t really do - I mean i can obviously write songs, but I love to collaborate when I write, which has now been pretty hard, and obviously I can’t tour. So, I think it’s really made artists rethink how they work, and for me, I’m really going to try to rethink how i can create moments online that feel organic and useful, i’m really tired of my phone all the time, so i’ve been thinking a lot about how I can make art online that would feel as if it does to be at a show, or how it would feel to see an artist in person.Through using social media and also just the nature of the content you’re posting, I feel like there has been a renaissance of really honest and dope stuff being posted online, especially post-covid, i’ve noticed a lot of artists are being themselves a lot more, because there isn’t time for a facade. The other way would be the selection of songs became different, like i saw more relevance in the songs “Wait No More” and “Afraid of America,” which i feel like I had this massive pool of music, and covid helped me see relevance in how to arrange the album.
Aisling: In terms of inspiration, where do you pull your inspiration from for writing, whether other artists, other music, art in general, is there anything you go to to spark inspiration when you’re in a creative slump?
Scott: whenever i am dealing with a creative slump, I typically ask myself a series of questions: is what i’m writing true, and if not, why? But i see writing as a means to solve problems or come to conclusion with inner conflicts/ external conflicts, especially like the song "good problems”, was an answer to divorce- as my parents got a divorce when i was 11, so that song was like an answer to that conflict within me, so i guess i try to ask myself that, and get inspiration from other music,
It depends where i’m at in the writing cycle, because usually an inner voice, and often I require isolation and stillness in order to find it, you know, there’s nothing worse than writing a song and you’re halfway through it and you think it’s really good, until you realize you’re subconsciously referencing a song you know?. I’m a big fan of artists who produce their own music, from Bon Iiver, to John Bellion, to Charlie Puth, i feel like the expression of the artist is pure when they produce their own music as if everything is coming from them, so i try to focus on artists like that, but it’s not the technical aspects such as what drum did they use orof plug-in did they put on their vocal, it’s more so when they were sitting down and wrote this really beautiful song or this sick banger, how did they arrive to those choices, and what inspired them., I like to think of it that way, more what did the song call for?. Bon Iver is a great example, because I would never make those choices –, to be frank with you i wouldn’t even know how he comes up with his choices, they’re so incredible – - but i think what’s so interesting is that he’ll write a song and decide this song calls for this sound, and it’s regardless of who he is as an artist, conveying what he has to say through bringing it to life with sound.
Brooke: With all of your albums / singles you release, do you try to maintain cohesion? Or is there always a different theme you’re trying to convey?
Scott: With this album I tried to convey a cohesive thought/energy, and part of that is because I think it makes the singular differences between the songs when you have more of a structured template to work within. So, I definitely try to keep it cohesive, but not in terms of the sounds I use, I usually just go with whatever the song calls for. In a song like “Evergreen”, I’ve never actually used a beat like that –, this trap/ modern hip-hop sound –, but I thought that this song in particular called for that, because it was about a very important issue, being climate change. It was about the beauty of nature, I felt like those sounds fit that really well because it was sort-of the opposite to me.
Brooke: Do you participate in activism outside of music?
Scott: Yeah I do, I attended a handful of Black Lives Matter protests, and i try to participate whenever there’s something I believe in, an I also have the Evergreen Pproject which is my own project, and Solve the Ssolvable which is an initiative i started which at the moment is just a forum, and i’m in the process of transitioning it into a Non- for profit organization. But I think activism is a complicated word, as i’m a relatively radical person and I strongly believe that the systems in place right now are absolute garbage, and we need to fix them completely, and I think activism is a lifelong commitment, I don’t think it’s like something you can dip in and out of, I believe it’s an identity, a sense of self, and a value system. I believe in bringing activism into all aspects of my life, from hiring a female tour manager to pressuring my record label to have more diverse members, to telling your parents they’re a little bit racist. I think especially as a white male, just listening is also a form of activism, listening to women, people of colour/ marginalized groups, people with disabilities, and indigenous people.
Alex: How is your relationship with the size of the team, and what you see in producing and how you work with a team to ensure that the essence and artistry is still there?
Scott: Well to start, I got signed with a big record label that incorporates a lot of people, and I was there just as this young pop artist that they were developing, so there were like 10 people with their opinions, all incredibly talented individuals, and i’ve actually made it sort of a direction for me to make that pool smaller. Because I think there’s a cap on how many opinions you can take, as it only gets more complicated when you add more people, as there is never total agreement. I obviously love the process of creating authentic content, and I personally don’t think the viewer understands when they’re viewing 10 different opinions, it’s much easier to revert back to what the artist wants to continue a cohesive narrative. That always ends up being way more intuitive in a true sense, so I've made it a real point to keep my work simple and honest, and to develop ideas very thoroughly before delivering them to labels or a [production company or even a director. Big teams are so useful, I know if you ask any indie artist on the street they’d say that they appreciate the power of a big record label, but at the same time i think this works for any creative team, as you rely on one another’s amalgamated talents in order to produce the end result, and push things along. I’ve started working with an aesthetic team that’s doing graphics for me, expressing my ideas visually, on other platforms, they can make my visions come true, and I find that’s way easier to have a couple people working on that rather than a million people weighing in.
Alex: While writing these songs do you usually have visuals in your head or do you have ideas throughout your process of writing?
Scott: I’m a very visual learner, I was actually an art major in high school, so i’m always very attentive to the visual aesthetic of a music video, and sometimes during writing a song the producer is tracking a sound or trying to change the sound and usually that’s when inspiration sparks for a music video, with different ideas and colour schemes. Music videos are rarely used, but they’re usually used later, or in reference, as an aesthetic direction.
Aisling: Which song on the album did you write first, if there was a particular one?
Scott: “Good problems” I actually wrote before “Hang Ups”, around two years ago. There are 44 versions of “Good Problems” - the first version I bounced down two years ago. I started working with Warner Brothers LA quite frequently which has been nice because they are super knowledgeable in their industry but I’ve been working with Warner Canada for 9 years, which is nice because they are fresh/blunt with me, they loved the song. I just kept writing. I wrote a bunch of trash songs but just kept going. Next came “Everything Sucks” and “Evergreen” and put it all together. “Afraid of America” happened two or three months ago. I wanted to write a song about me moving to the states and then I thought it would be compelling to switch roles with my girlfriend, she is the one reasoning with me about how risky moving to America is - with it’s politics, high chance of failure, small chance of success.
Aisling: What would be a dream collaboration for you?
Scott: That’s hard for three reasons. First, I love the people I work with. I think I’m so lucky to have people at my label who I collaborate with, they are my people and I could never give that up. *lists people he admires and tries to narrow it down* Carly Rae Jepsen, Jack Antanoff, I would love to watch Bon Iver work, Lennon Stella, Clairo, BROCKHAMPTON, Bruce Springsteen.
To be able to write a song with Paul Simon would be the absolute pinnacle of my life. I would give up my cat... no I wouldn't. You know when you hear music or see art or something creative and think that if you lived in a different lifetime that a different version of me would have made that? Sometimes I listen to his songs and think, I’ve thought exactly in that way before.
Aisling: What’s your favourite Paul Simon song?
Scott: It’s called ‘Song for the Asking’. Paul is able to convey the darkest, saddest, most intimate and personal lyric while also being funny and approaching it in a very human way. Since then I think the best modern version of that is hip hop. Chance the Rapper is an example of that. Everything he says is deep and personal and also large and prolific but at the same time accessing this wise gesture character, it’s cool to be able to laugh and smile at our tribulations.
Aisling: Although there are some emotional ballets on this album felt that it communicated an overall positive or uplifting tone, would you say that’s what you were aiming for?
Scott: Yeah, I think even a song like “Evergreen,” where it’s really sad, but within the song I talk about uplifting things like love, and I try to fill the whole spectrum of feelings within my music. This album is dedicated to my grandfather, and I wanted to carry on the theme of naming the song titles street names that have a significant meaning to me.
Alex: Watching your fashion choices over the year, what is your relationship with what you wear and self expression?
Scott: Well there's two things, there’s the outwards perspective of how I identify, and if I don’t like something about myself i’ll try to change it, and i try to do that effectively. I did this by having a stylist that I loved and have a great relationship with, so that I could be excited by fashion and collaborate in that way. I think also I became more confident, and I realized how I dress is another form of expression for my art, which excited me. I enjoy taking those chances now, not like when I used to just wear a t-shirt and jeans and think that was it, but now i’ll throw in a pair of bell bottom jeans into the mix. I think I definitely connect with a lot of feminine characteristics, like painting my nails, or the fact that whenever I go shopping I spend 90% of the time looking at “girl” clothes, and growing up i would always wear whatever I wanted, but I never realized what I wear can be received as a form of self expression.
Brooke: Where do you do most of your shopping?
Scott: There’s this store in Toronto called “Later,” they have a lot of really cool vintage finds, like vintage jeans, button-ups from the 50’s, really nice pieces that have a story behind them and feel really tactile, along with finds from value village or other consignment shops, to designer as well. I like to take designer shoes or a shirt and combine it with something that feels really cheap, because I think that sort of brings things together. I like to try new stores, and shop local/small businesses, because I love supporting that in a political sense, but also it’s the best when you go into one of those stores and the owner comes around the corner, looks you up and down and says “I have the perfect thing for you!”, it’s such a different experience from shopping in like Nordstrom.
Aisling: Lastly, do you have any advice for someone who has a creative passion, and is looking to turn it into something feasible, how did you take your musical passion and turn it into the next step?
Scott: Yeah, well having grown up in Toronto, as a pop artist, in the realm of pop music, I am the underdog. I’m up against Drake, Alessia Cara, Shawn Mendes, Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber, which gets really difficult because I’m signed by a Canadian record deal, making music in a very Canadian way, when I’m against these huge superstar record labels and pop artists. Throughout my career I've had to sit back and assess that, and realize that’s okay, my path is my path, I'll get to where I get when I get there.
You really have to trust the process, and I think that’s way more beautiful than measuring your value against someone else, in mere comparison of the success of others. I know most young creators are comparing themselves to other young creators, only to bring themself down. That mentality is useful and motivating in some ways, but you’re never going to be happy if that’s all you’re thinking about before bed and when you wake up in the morning. Don’t compare yourself too much, also I think you have to take your time. I really mean that, take your time and use it wisely, figure out who you are and what you want to convey.
“Nonsuchpark (sa)” drops on September 4th on all streaming platforms.
Where you can catch up with Scott →
PHOTOS BY Peyton Mott