Explore Issue 01 of LOOP Magazine

Featuring Sam Tompkins and Victor Ray as our cover stars, as well as internal spreads from Girli, Jords, Mysie, Finn Askew, Kara Marni and Master Peace

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Sustainable Music Series: The Activists – Scott Helman and The Evergreen Project

Hailing from Toronto, Canada, Scott Helman has already seen some huge success in his homeland and has dominated the Canadian scene with his 2017 debut full-length studio album Hôtel de Ville and 2018 EP Hang Ups, earning three platinum and three gold certificates to date. Scott has proven himself to be one of Canada’s top homegrown singer-songwriter talents and now he has conquered one territory he’s ready to take the next step to become one of Canada’s top exports with plans to “take over the world”!

As well as being an incredibly successful artist, Scott is a keen environmental activist who believes the collective efforts of the “human family” will save the planet from the climate crisis. A sentiment that led him to write a climate crisis-inspired song called “Evergreen”, from which the concept for his Evergreen Project was born. The project’s humble beginning was as a crowdsourced content strategy, where Scott reached out to his fans to ask them to submit their testimonials on the climate crisis. The initial intention was to create content around these testimonials, but the project received an overwhelming response, which left Scott feeling “responsible” for getting the message “to the right people” and compelled him to act on the opportunity – and thus, the Evergreen Manuscript was conceptualised. The aim of the project was to get these messages in front of the people in power across the globe, calling on global governments to act and make changes towards a more sustainable future. So, Scott decided to collect these testimonials in one manuscript that would be sent to governments and people of power across the world with the message:

“Herein lies the collective anxiety of the people on behalf of Scott Helman and Co. Inside is a collection of anonymous crowdsourced entries on the climate crisis, each entry conveys the landscape of the individual and the war that is being played out on that landscape. This is a message to those in power and that message is this: “Our voices will be heard.” 

Earlier this week we caught up with Scott and had a very open, honest, and informative chat about the Evergreen Project, his thoughts on sustainability in the music industry, and the release of his latest “pop-punk inspired banger”, “Old Friends”. Check out the full interview below. 

Interview:

Tell us a bit about your story and how you came to be a songwriter.

So, my name is Scott Helman. I started playing music when I was, well I guess I was 15 when I kinda picked up a guitar, no wait I was younger, I was 13, but when I was 15 I started writing songs and putting them out on YouTube and all that kind of stuff. Then, I got signed to Warner Music Canada, but it wasn’t like a full-blown record deal, but they kinda said; “Hey, we like your vibe, you obviously write songs, so we’re gonna kick a little money your way and develop you as an artist and see where it goes”. 

So, obviously, when you are 15 and that happens, you’re like: “I’m going to be playing stadiums in like 2 years”. You’re like: “Oh, I’ve made it and that’s the end of the road”. So, I was just so jazzed up, and you know, they would fly me to Vancouver or to Montreal, and I did a couple of trips to LA to write songs with different people and meeting producers, and it was just incredible. 

Then, I put out my first record when I was 19, called Augusta, and I saw some success in Canada, and I had a pretty big song on the radio, and yeah, things just kinda took off, and I started getting fans and playing shows, and opening for really cool artists. It’s just been growing since then, and I am just so lucky to call this my job until I can’t. 

After so many years of development with Warner Music Canada, what was it like to finally get over the line and release your debut album Augusta?

It was crazy, because, you know, when you’re 15 and someone tells you that you are good enough to have a record deal, I think it’s a bit of a mind puzzle because you’re like: “but I’m just some kid in high school, being a kid”, but I’m also going to Vancouver for 2 weeks writing songs with this guy that wrote that song that was really big, you know what I mean? So, it was kinda weird, but truly, I wasn’t expecting anything to happen. I was expecting to put out some music, and I’d maybe have a rough beginning, and I would trudge on some tour that nobody would come to, but my first real radio debut did quite well, and it exceeded my wildest dreams. And then, I was playing the Much Music Awards and I was nominated for JUNO awards, and I was like: “I don’t understand what’s happening!”. So, I think ever since then, like ever since I surpassed my expectations, I’ve just felt like my whole career has been quite surreal. I sorta feel like a voyeur, like I’m not supposed to be here, which I think is a good thing. 

Tell us a bit about your environmental activism and what sparked your interest in the topic.

Honestly, man, it’s so funny. The thing that I like about this sorta story is that it started with the music. It’s not like I sat down and schemed my way into activism, and it wasn’t like a premeditated thing. I truly was with some friends and we were writing a song, and that song ended up being about climate change and it was called “Evergreen”. And, it was sorta about, you know, at the time, my girlfriend was teaching me to garden, and there were just things about being reconnected with nature and just like the fact that it’s hard – I find it hard to look into my girlfriend’s eyes knowing that we are killing the planet, rather than just sit and think about it for myself and my future. When you think about the connectivity of human beings and the fact that we are all a family, that’s when I get really sad about climate change, because I believe that the potential of the human race is incredible! I have hope and faith that the human family can live sustainably, so I just get bummed out. So, I don’t know what I was trying to convey there, but that’s what the song is about.  

 So, we sorta earmarked it as a single, it wasn’t like a full single, but it was just going to be like a cool fan track, we were going to make like a really cheap video, you know, and create some content around it, and so I asked my fans to send me these kinda testimonials about how they felt about climate change, and honestly, initially, I was just going to use these messages in a video, like I was going to project them on a wall or put them on an outfit or something, but I was just so blown away by the response. I got hundreds of anonymous messages about climate anxiety and it was just insane, and that’s where the Evergreen Project was born.

So, it seems like the Evergreen Project came about very organically, but how did these fan testimonials develop into a Manuscript calling on Global Governments to change? 

Well, the crazy thing was that I was looking at this text document that to scroll down, just by way of my mouse, took me like a full 2 minutes, it was so long, and I was reading some of these messages and I was like: “Wow, people really put their heart into this”, and it was really inspiring. Like, some of them were gut-wrenchingly sad and scary, from things like; “I don’t know if I can have children” to “sometimes I feel suicidal”, you know, some really serious stuff. But then some of the messages were more like: “I believe in a better future”, and “I know we can do this!”, and “Together we can”, and it all just felt really real to me. So, I was looking at this body of text and I was like: “I feel responsible to get this to the right people” because this is amazing and really important. So, then I was like, “ok, I don’t just want to slap this on a video” and make it like a whatever thing, I want to make sure this gets seen and heard. So, I decided to compile it together into something called the “Evergreen Manuscript”, and I had a really cool artist do all the hard work of putting these all into text and make it look good. Then I wrote on the front: “Herein lies the collective anxiety of the people on behalf of Scott Helman and Co. Inside is a collection of anonymous crowdsourced entries on the climate crisis, each entry conveys the landscape of the individual and the war that is being played out on that landscape. This is a message to those in power and that message is this: “Our voices will be heard.” 

So, yeah, I just wanted to get this out there and make sure people saw it.

Why do you feel that sustainability is an important issue and why should people reading this consider their own contribution to becoming carbon neutral?

Well, I am not a sustainability expert, and there are so many moving parts, but I really truly believe that in order for us to have an open and honest conversation about the climate crisis, we need to feel open and honest, we need to feel like the landscape is welcoming. I mean, a big part of why I started the Evergreen Manuscript was because, you know, I think what happens is, we all go out into the world and we all pretend like we’re not on borrowed time and then we all come home – well, I mean before COVID that would be the case, now we are always at home – but, I think that we keep a lot of our fears about the climate crisis down, because it’s become this political issue of whether or not you believe it, and I just think it’s like, we need to be able to have open and honest conversations, and that’s what I was trying to do, all I was trying to do was just be like: “say whatever you want about the climate crisis, here’s a platform for you to do that”. I think the beauty of that is, as an artist, I was just coming to my fans and just starting with them and being like: “Where are you guys at?” and maybe we can meet there and then we can do something, and I took that beginning seed of like: “give me your thoughts?”, and then, I painted a mural in Toronto and I had fans come out, and then we actually started to pick up the conversation and talk about ways we can solve the problem, and then the Evergreen Manuscript got sent out. So, I think from my perspective, if you are an artist, it’s best to start with the fans rather than say things to people. I am always about collectivism.

But, I mean, sustainability in the music industry is a tough one, because it’s going to start with the people. Like, I mean, every great movement in the history of the world started with the people rather than a select few. I think it’s happening though, from Billie Eilish wearing a “No Music For a Dead Planet” shirt at the freaking Grammys to Lorde’s record being about nature and sunshine, I think, or what I am seeing is that there is hopefully going to be a return to eco-ism in music. I mean, I just think you got to stand for what you believe in. 

Aside from the Evergreen Project, are there any other sustainability-conscious changes that you have made or plan to make to the way that you create, distribute, and promote your music?

Yeah, I mean man, every time I am on a plane, I just want to jump off the plane, because I feel like I am the problem, and that’s another big issue that I wrestle with on a daily basis. Some days I wake up and I am like: “I’m horrible” and “It’s on me” and “I should feel responsible”, and then some days I wake up and I’m like: “man, there’s like 6 companies that are responsible for like X percent, or whatever massive percentage of global carbon emissions” and somehow this capitalist system has created this thing in my brain where I feel that I am solely responsible. So, it’s tough, that war is being played out on the landscape of the individual. 

You know, a big thing for me was merch, like, I always wanted to give people the option to select sustainable merch, but at the same time it’s more expensive, which makes it tough, but yes, sustainable merch is important to me and I try to have an option for that. When it comes to buying my music, with the likes of Apple Music people have the option to buy music that doesn’t involve a physical copy to avoid plastics.

But, you know, when it comes to flying, that’s my work, that’s how I make a living, so I understand what it’s like if somebody’s job is tied up with things that are unsustainable, and that’s a tough one, and I think that responsibility falls on our society as a whole. We can’t blame people for working in industries that force them to choose unsustainable options, we need to try and adapt those industries to be more sustainable themselves, and that’s where it is a systemic issue rather than an issue with an individual. I am also, luckily, able to sometimes afford to buy carbon offsets, so I think that is really important. If you are an artist, I think it is really important if you are flying all over the world making records and selling music and also claim to be left, you should definitely think about buying carbon offsets. 

You know it’s tough. I really think that at the end of the day it’s going to come down to systemic change, but I also know that systemic change usually comes when enough people give a shit, and you know, you gotta raise hell! And dude, raising hell involves hypocrisy. Like, there is no great world changer out there that they couldn’t find dirt on, from Gandhi to MLK, to John Lennon, to Nelson Mandela, I’m sure you could find something on. Nobody is perfect but as long as the arch is toward justice, that’s what I am about. 

Do you have any examples of positive changes that you have experienced or know of from the wider music industry in terms of reducing the industry’s carbon footprint?

A band that I really appreciate is the 1975. I saw they did something where they were printing their logo on old merch items, which I thought was awesome. Something that I actually plan on doing really soon with the girl that helps me run my merch, she’s actually kinda my stylist for things, her name is Katie Goodfella, she’s amazing, actually, she designed the Evergreen coveralls that I was wearing in the video that were really cool, she wrote all the comments on these coveralls. But, we really want to do this thing where we go out and buy a bag of $2 vintage T-shirts and then just screen print logos on those because I think that’s such a cool way to be sustainable with merch and I am kinda stealing that from the 1975, but I just think that would be so fun. But yeah, I think that those are really great ideas, and again, I think it’s a kinda snowball thing, like, you sell a fan a sustainable piece of merch, they get stoked on the fact that it’s sustainable, and then they yearn for more sustainable merch, and hopefully that gets the ball moving for enough people to care. So, I think that it is really cool that the 1975 did that.

 

Where do you think the biggest environmental issues lie within the music industry and what do you think needs to be done to address these?

I think that the biggest carbon footprint problem probably for artists, is as we said, probably flying. I think that there is work to be done in that area, and it’s weird because I see a band like Coldplay being like: “We’re not going to fly anymore”, but it’s like what are you going to do, take a boat? And then it’s like, if Coldplay doesn’t come to Toronto to play their arena show, another band is going to fill that slot, so I actually don’t know the answer to that problem. I think that’s going to come, but I don’t know the answer, maybe it’s a carbon offset, maybe the governments of our world can help support the industry by offsetting those carbon emissions in some way, or maybe there is a solution in this new electronic age with live streams and holograms and shit like that [we had a chuckle about the idea of this]. I also think that for every artist out there that’s taking a flight across the world, if sustainability isn’t part of your mandate as an artist and it’s not something that you’re talking about, I think that you should probably take a look at what you are doing, because, you know, I still fly and it’s not great obviously, but as I said before, I invest in carbon offsets when I can, but I also know that there are people out there, hopefully, that I have inspired to be more sustainable, and if I can plant a seed in this industry, for a bigger artist to then go and do the same things and vice versa. If we as an industry start speaking in the language of sustainability, I think that we could make a really big impact and do a lot of really good things. So yeah, the pressure is on for the music industry. Also, the carbon offset should obviously be carbon offsetting, but also, the carbon offset should be your art, you should be talking about carbon offsetting in your music, you should be fighting for a more sustainable world because if you are taking a flight, it should be worth it.

At this point in the interview, we discussed Radiohead’s audit of the carbon footprint of their U.S. tour. To which Scott commented:

That’s amazing, and that’s when it really always comes down to science. That’s a thing that I should have said at the beginning of this interview – don’t fucking ask me, go ask a scientist, because I don’t know, I’m just talking about what I am scared of, but yeah that is amazing. 

And that’s a thing to consider, because if I can inspire enough of my fans to take the subway to my show rather than drive, hopefully, that is going to offset the flight that I took to play that show.  

Climate change is a very complex issue that affects every element of industry, society, and the environment, which will require a huge amount of systemic and cultural change across the world to address. Within the context of the music industry, do you think it will be possible, with all these changes, to generate a sustainable income as a musician or an artist in a carbon-neutral world?

Pft, damn. 

I know that it is a really big question and I am sorry to ask it. 

No, that’s ok, it’s a really good question. 

Yeah, I think so. I think that the flight thing is huge, that’s a big one and that’s tough, but I also don’t think that it’s necessarily necessary to fly, like I said in a sustainable world, maybe there is a way to do things more sustainably. Like, maybe in 20 years’ time live stream shows will be the thing and that’s going to be the new way of playing music or maybe art becomes more regional. I’m not sure, but I think art will always survive and music will always survive. Are you going to be able to make a career out of it whilst also being 100% sustainable? Time will tell on that. But I’m not sure, that’s a really good question, I am going to be thinking about that all day. 

It’s so hard too because sometimes you have to ask yourself if the message is right, because if you are preaching sustainability but you’re not sustainable, it’s like man, is that a good thing or a bad thing? But, yeah, until they invent an electric plane, I don’t know what the answer is.

  

I think what you are saying is right though, the way forward, for now, is offsetting and finding ways to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. I personally don’t think that there is going to be one solution and everything is going to be ok, I believe it will be a series of small changes here and there that will naturally balance out the carbon output of the industry. 

Yeah, I think that let’s say I got big enough where I was going to play an arena show, and if I decided instead to play 4 shows at a venue that was next to a subway stop in New York City so that the entire crowd could take a subway to the show, and let’s say upon entry you showed your subway slip and you got a discount on merch or something to incentivise people to get there sustainably. Not only would that hopefully offset the carbon footprint of the flight, but also, that’s those people’s Saturday night. So, you have actually come to a place and you’ve brought all these people, who would otherwise probably go out and drive and do other things and be unsustainable, to a place and they have acted in a sustainable way to get there. So, as a result, the sustainability of that region has gone up, which is amazing, because you are promoting sustainability. So, in a sense, yeah, I do believe that sustainability is possible, and currently, bands like Radiohead are proving that, but also there is a version of the world that arches towards sustainability. I don’t know what a 100% sustainable world looks like, so I can’t even envision an artist in it because that world is far away, but it will come, man. I think that it will all slot together when we get closer to that. 

While we are here, we should also discuss your music. You mentioned already that Evergreen was a song inspired by climate change, but do you think that climate change and the environment will influence your writing in the future?

Yeah, I don’t know if it’s going to be a focal theme in the future, but yeah, it definitely makes its way into so many of my songs. I definitely have an attenuation towards thinking about the natural world and my place within it, so you know themes of self-deprecation and glory, and the consideration of animals and love, all those things are connected to the environment. So, thinking environmentally I think goes beyond thinking about sustainability. I think it’s like a mindset, so my answer to the question would be yes. I want to continue to do things for the planet and to carry on the Evergreen Project, and find new ways to keep that project alive, and who knows, maybe I’ll write a whole record about the Earth at some point or make a movie, but I don’t know, I am an artist, so it’s a day to day question of “What the fuck am I doing?”, but we’ll see.   

How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before?

Oh man, someone asked me to do this in 3 words recently, and I can’t remember what I said. 

Oh wait, I said: “Always getting closer”. I thought it was ok, but I think I could have done better, something like “word soup surprise” or I don’t know.

But, you know, my roots are in singer-songwriter music like Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, and Bob Dylan, but I also grew up on 80s English pop music and Canadiana music, which I am sure nobody in the U.K. even knows what that is. But you know, when I started making music, I was writing songs on the guitar with a harmonica. I thought I was Ray Lamontagne and that was my vibe. But then, when I started being opened up to the amazingness of a studio, and the possibilities of creating music on a laptop, I started really trying to fit those themes into pop music. I am a songwriter and I approach music from a songwriting perspective, but I like to mess around with pop sensibilities and alternative sensibilities, and I like creating something that feels new and fresh and that excites me within the modern landscape. So, you know, I make modern pop music, but that’s where my roots are. I just write about what I care about and I try to make music that excites me and makes me feel something, and I hope it does the same for others. 

You recently released your latest single ‘Old Friends’, tell us a bit about the project and how it came to be?

The song is about a group of friends that I kinda used to roll with back when I was a bit of a mess, and you know, part of the song was about getting better and becoming a more functional adult and identifying that that group of people wasn’t great for me and moving on from that, which is a good thing and I am a lot healthier now and I wasn’t doing well with those people. But at the same time, that’s painful, and part of getting better is going through really painful changes and letting people go, that even though you know are bad for you, you miss them a lot. So, it was kinda like a love letter to destruction and addiction and messing up my life and being a fucking disaster, and being like, part of growing and healing, is also admitting that those things were fun and that time wasn’t all that bad.

So yeah, it started off as a kind of like a ballad and I was writing this kind of beautiful sad and slow song, and then I got bored in the session and I was falling asleep and just remember standing up and saying: “Play me the verse!”, and right when the chorus came, which we didn’t have, I was like: “Pause it”, and I just remember screaming: “I miss my old friends”, and then all the people that I was with said: “That’s cool, let’s write that song”. So, it went from being this ballad to being this pop-punk-inspired banger. 

What is your creative process like?

It kinda depends. I always have a list of titles or things that inspire me and I like to journal and write down my thoughts about where I am at with my life or things I think about the world. And then it depends, sometimes I come into the studio and I am like: “guys, I have to write this song today”. For instance, when my grandfather died, I was in the studio and we were writing this other song, and I was like: “I really want to write about my grandfather, that’s what I want to do today”, and then the song “Papa” was born out of that. Or some days, like I have this song called  “Chinese Restaurant”, which is about a hot girl that I saw in a Chinese restaurant. It’s ridiculous but I love that song, it’s just one of those songs. And I remember that we were kinda stuck in the studio, and the way that song started out was my friend Simon, who is an amazing songwriter, was like: “say a word, 3, 2, 1”, and I said the word “Laptop”, and she was like: “Great, we are writing a song called laptop”. It literally started out like: “You’re my laptop baby, I type on all your keys”, and then it was like: “You’re my ice cream cone”, it was a weird fucking start. But that birthed this verse that turned into: “I wish I was your bluebird, you can tell me everything. I wish I was your journal. . . “, and then this song came out of that place. So, the inspiration changes every day and it’s different every time. 

Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?

That’s a good question man. Whenever anyone asks me that question, I always go like Paul Simon, and if I did, it would be like, I mean, I would retire! If I could write a song with Paul Simon that would be like my ultimate experience as an artist, and if there is any artist that I think speaks directly to me, it’s him, I don’t know why, maybe it’s because I am Jewish, maybe it’s because I am from the East coast or whatever.  

But, I would love to write with Matty Healy or just be in the studio when he is making records. I just think that the way that The 1975 makes records, just really feels like the way to make records in this day and age. I just really appreciate the work that they put into their music, and I just think that we think very similarly about culture, so I would be really interested in that.  

     

If you could support any artist, dead or alive, who would it be?

Damn man, that’s so hard, I mean there are a lot of artists that I would love to see, but I don’t know that I would be apt to open for them.

Honestly, though, I think Bright Eyes would be pretty cool, I would just like to see their show. I’m just obsessed with Bright Eyes. I would say that they are my favourite modern band. The 1975 would be pretty damn cool too, but like also, Carly Ray Jepson would be cool too – what a weird person I am. 

You have already experienced huge successes in your native Canada, but what are your ambitions going forward and what can we expect from Scott Helman in the future?

Well, over Covid I put out some songs that I really really loved, but I have held on to a certain few

Words by Darren Hay

Posted On 3 October, 2022