Scott Helman: 'I Just Want More People To Hear My Music'
Scott Helman is vaping and chilling on a sofa in his dressing room at Montreal’s Bell Centre on Thursday afternoon – only hours away from warming up the crowd on the first night of Vance Joy’s Canadian tour.
“I’ve never played a 40-minute set in an arena before,” the 22-year-old singer-songwriter says. “This is my first time doing that so we’ll see – it’s going to be a learning experience.”
Joy's Nation of Two tour stops in Toronto on Friday before hitting Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Burnaby before the end of June.
Helman takes comfort in knowing Joy’s fans are likely to be receptive.
“I’ve been around the block when it comes to opening gigs so this is really refreshing because I know that the people I’m singing to are probably in my demographic,” he explains. “I can just be myself.
“And if people don’t want to listen to me speaking for a minute then check your phone.”
It’s a homecoming of sorts for the songs on Helman’s first full-length album, Hôtel de Ville. The Toronto native followed his heart to Montreal and ended up crafting songs in the city. (The album takes its name from a street in the city.)
“When I was making my first record I was in a really tough place in my life. Once it came out I got to see so much of the world. I was constantly on the move. I didn’t really have time to settle down and deal with my problems,” recalls Helman.
“When I was making that first record all my friends went to Montreal to go to school so for me Montreal was kind of like this place that I could never get to. And also the love of my life moved there and, you know, we broke up in high school and she left me… There was just unfinished business. I mean, I live with her now so it ended well but it was a seven-year process.”
Helman says he needed time to himself and Montreal seemed like the perfect choice.
“It was so good to me. I really had a great time living here,” he says. “In Toronto everyone’s trying to get famous and in Montreal it’s like everybody’s already too cool to be famous.”
Helman was thrilled to be asked to open for Joy, to whom he is often compared. He caught his show at Toronto’s WayHome festival and got a bit of a surprise.
“His music is mature and it’s definitely poetic but I didn’t realize how many young women are in the audience,” Helman recalls. “I thought it was a male college demographic. And then I saw his show and it was screaming girls and I think that’s so cool.
“The whole myth that teenaged girls don’t have the ability to appreciate what the general culture deems to be respectable art is, to me, super f**ked up. It’s really good music for anybody. It’s so welcoming and anyone can come to the show.”
As for his own set, Helman says he knows he’s expected to play his recent hit “PDA” as well as the song that put him on radar, “Bungalow.”
“Honestly, my least favourite thing in the world is rehearsing that song,” he says of the track from 2014’s Augusta EP. “Truly I cannot stand rehearsing it but playing it, it’s one of my favourite things to do because I know it’s how people know me and I know that people love that song. When I see people’s faces light up that really brings me joy.
“It’s also the end of the show so I’m really excited to have a cigarette.”
This year, Helman’s had the opportunity to showcase his music outside Canada’s borders – something he said is important to him.
“I don’t really care where it is, I just want more people to hear my music,” he admits. “It’s not like I want to be a famous person in the U.S. and hang out with the Kardashians. I don’t give a damn about that. I just want to play music for as many people as possible because I love to do it… and I think it’s good.”
Citing artists who needed at least three albums before the world started paying attention, Helman says he’s taking his time.
“I’ve had people in and out of my life – emphasis on out – that have sort of made me feel that I’ve got one shot and everything I do is my one shot,” he explains. “I just don’t believe in that.”
It’s fitting that Helman will be performing in his hometown on Friday, the start of Toronto’s Pride weekend. Earlier this month the singer surprised many by sharing a heartfelt message about LGBTQ equality on Instagram.
Ending it with “Happy pride and much love,” Helman wrote: “As an ally, I stand with the LGBTQ+ community in a fight for what is right, a fight that is not over until every person on this planet has the right to love who they choose and to do so without fear.”
Helman says he felt a duty to speak up. “Honestly, at this point I am super fed up with the ‘let’s pretend like everything’s OK’ because it’s super not OK and the president of the free world is really undermining humanity and common decency,” he says. “The realm of acceptability has actually moved. Like, what we deem acceptable as a general culture has moved. When that happens I get really afraid that all the progress we’ve made will go away.
“Maybe 20, 30 years ago you could be an ally for the LGBTQ+ community and not be that active about it and it would, I guess, be fine, but at this point when human decency is being undermined constantly in so many areas, I think if you call yourself an ally you’re not really an ally unless you make an effort to be.”
Helman says he wanted to remind people about the roots of Pride.
“I wanted to post something for Pride because Pride is so fun – and then I was like, but Pride was a protest. Pride is about the fact there are people who still need that love.
“Pride’s not really a party, in my opinion, it’s a reminder that tolerance is a really important thing.”
Most of all, Helman says he felt a sense of responsibility. “As a non-gay person, or non-queer person, I feel it’s important that if you’re going to call yourself an ally to really make an effort to be.”
This year, let's take a moment to think about how far we've come in the fight for an equal and more tolerant world. What started in the 1960s as a protest for LGBTQ+ rights has turned into a global movement which has shaped our world into a better place. Still, lets also consider that while we have come this far, tolerance and love are being taken for granted, and in the spirit of pride we should continue to fight wherever and whenever we can. LGBTQ+ people are still globally discriminated against at an alarming rate and these struggles should be considered and stressed. Over 70 countries have laws criminalizing LGBTQ+ activity. Even in Canada and the United States, gay men are barred from donating blood unless celibate for over one year, and homophobic and transphobic discrimination is commonplace. We should pressure our leaders to take a stand, ask questions constantly about their views on tolerance, scoff at the ones who refuse to march, and celebrate those that join us. As an ally, I stand with the LGBTQ+ community in a fight for what is right, a fight that is not over until every person on this planet has the right to love who they choose and to do so without fear. Happy pride and much love, Scott