What do you look for in someone who will support you creatively when you’re writing with them?
I love the feeling of safety, that there are stupid ideas but we’re all brave enough to have them, and to say them out loud. Sometimes that stupid idea is the genius one, and you had to say it to someone else to take a piece of it and run somewhere else. I love the feeling that you are enjoying yourself, that there’s a friendship there. It’s important to me that you want to have dinner together at the end of the night and talk about other things. That matters to me. There’s an intimacy there that makes you want to share more in lyrics. Just people who bring different things to the table than I bring. I definitely am nicknamed the Cookie Jar. I have a lot of ideas, and it’s nice to get them to people who will be like, “All right, those are seven, let’s pick two of those” and narrow it down and point out like, “That’s not working.” It’s nice to have someone who’s got a really great head for the Swedish-style structure of a song because I can want to be Bob Dylan in moments. Not actually, but I can kind of ramble on and on without any real thing. I’m learning more and more the value of keeping it contained. That’s satisfying to a first-time listener and, I think, good for a pop song, at the very least.
The title of the album is so straightforwardly, uh, non-vague, in a way I really admire. I don’t know what this says about me but I feel like I have a lot of trouble expressing myself without cloaking things in irony or sarcasm somehow, and I think part of why I love the album so much is because it’s just like, EMOTION! Did you have any hesitation about that—that it would come off too girly or dramatic or something?
No, I felt a desire for it, especially in the times that we live in. I wanted to cut to it. […] I don’t want to shit on anything ’cause there are so [many] different flavors of music but I even felt like some of the music I was listening to was a little lacking heart to me. I didn’t get it. I could see other people really getting it and I was like, What’s wrong with me? Am I gonna crash, is there gonna be a breakdown, am I old? I don’t know! And that’s what excited me about the ’80s so much—this really emotional era of pop music. I wanted to tap into that as best as I could and make it my own.
You’ve said that you think you’re best at singing when you’re not really listening to yourself, which makes total sense to me. It’s like what you’re saying about when you feel self-conscious or like you have something to prove to other writers: it gets in the way of the art. In the studio, what is it like to sing when people will sort of catch you versus performing on stage? How do you strike the balance: wanting it to be real but also having to keep it on track?
In moments of high stakes and high pressure—this doesn’t go for every time but most of the time, I don’t mean this in a braggy way it’s just a weird thing that I’ve noticed about myself—I can somehow be more present and do a better job when the stakes are high versus when they’re low. I don’t know if that’s like a weird thing.
No, that’s human instinct!
Yeah. It’s like, “Oh my god, this matters,” and then I’m really trying. There have been moments when that’s kicked in and I’m very conscious, I’m thinking about it. But there are moments when I feel things happen in my performance that surprise me and I’m happy with it. That’s usually when I’m lost in a song and I’m remembering what I felt when I wrote it. Or I’m feeling the crowd and it feels celebratory and I decide to make a different decision; I feel like I know where I’m going and I don’t. That’s exciting ’cause you surprise yourself. But there are other performances where you just shit the bed. That happens, too. I’m just saying that the best feeling, for me, is when I’m really lost in the music, and that can happen just as easily in the studio if you’ve got a good vibe and you had a couple runs at it and you say, “I’m just gonna do one full take from the beginning,” and that feels great. Then there are other times when it happens onstage and you just actually feel so extremely present that it’s like a high.
I read that you made your dad a PowerPoint when you wanted to go to a performing arts school?
Not exactly, but something along the lines of a PowerPoint presentation. I had to word it in a way he’d get it, like, “life happiness meets quality of life meets money!” Almost like a CAPP class or something. Do you have CAPP class in the United States or is that just a Canadian thing? It’s Career And Personal Planning.
Oh, got it. There is some of that, yes.
I pitched it to him that even if nothing ever worked out, and I was singing as a lounge singer at a hotel bar four times a week, I would have so much joy in that, much more joy than I’d get, for me, from being a teacher—which was, at the time, what I thought was the other option. I said I could go and get a teacher’s degree, which was his idea for me, and then I could go and pursue music afterward. But that’d be five years of my life which would be so important to be putting toward [music]. I don’t want to bank on my Plan B, I want to invest everything in my Plan A and almost erase Plan B so it’s nonexistent, like this is the only option. By the end of it he was like, I think you’re brave. I was like, OK.
I love that! I sort of did something similar and my dad is a teacher so I thought he wouldn’t be into it but he was like, “This reads like an application to the University of Tavi.”
What did you try to remember when you had to convince yourself and your parents that this was the right path for you?
I used to take the train from Mission to Vancouver to go and sing at these open mic nights with my girlfriend Che, who was doing the same thing as me. There was a whole Vancouver city nightlife thing. It was my first [time] dipping my toes—writing songs and showcasing them at the end of the week at these spots. I had actually gone to college for a year, the Canadian College of Performing Arts, with the idea that after I got out of there, I’d go and attend university to become a teacher and get this Plan B. That was what was ingrained in me. But I ended up getting accepted into the second year of the performing arts college. It was the same year that I’d been given my guitar. I was writing these songs and they felt like this new passion—more exciting than anything else I had ever tried before, even better than singing. I just love putting a voice to like, my emotions, and forgive me for saying it like that.
I was listening to a song I’ll never forget by Rufus Wainwright, a song called “Poses,” and he says, “Life is a game and true love is a trophy.” I felt like, that was what music was for me, and that was what I wanted to put everything into. I had the epiphany that I was going to embrace the bohemian lifestyle for a bit and figure out my art and figure out what I wanted to say and then let life live me for a little bit.