NXNE Preview: Gavin Slate (Interview)

If you aren’t familiar with Gavin Slate, this Toronto-based musician released a 4-song EP last year and describes his music as having a “cinematic sound,” which is to say that his music “can really portray emotions.” His music lends well to film and TV. He says, “It’s fairly easy listening in a lot of ways, but it’s got emotion to it and can portray emotion in a scene,” a sound that falls somewhere in the realm of alternative indie folk/pop.

Slate takes much of his sound and writing style from experiences in Nashville, TN. Slate has a sister living and writing in Nashville. He says, “The one thing that I learned down there that I really applied in my writing is that every song you write, you want it to tell a story. That’s what I learned from writing down in Nashville, working with other writers. There’s no set formula, though. You gotta do what feels right. But I certainly thought more about the writing process when I went down there.”

To go along with his emotive sound, Slate has really found that music videos are key. In fact, when I spoke with Gavin, it was before CMW and he was gearing up for a music video release. He wanted to dish some details on how the video came about, which was released last month.

It all started when Gavin Booth messaged Slate about working on some videos, after he was unable to see Slate open at Lindi Ortega’s release show. At first, Slate was hesitant because he couldn’t afford it, especially knowing Booth has worked with artists such as Third Eye Blind, Vanessa Carleton and Eminem, but he was convinced to give it a shot.

Slate headed to Windsor to shoot a video for “Falling” in July of last year. They finished late, around 5am, and they whole crew was supposed to be shooting another video the next day, but since it was late, they opted to cancel. Not wanting to waste the time entirely, Booth suggested they work on another music video. They ended up filming the video for “Goodnight Lovers, Goodnight Thieves”, which was done with scripting and on the fly. They had successfully managed to shoot two videos in two days. That ended up being a great experience and other musicians, friends of Slate, were set to work with Booth on videos as well.

Slate was also around for the filming of videos for Robyn dell’Unto and Beth Moore and he also happened to have a show booked in Windsor between filming each video. After Beth’s video was done, Booth went to Slate’s show. Slate says, “I played a set and after I finished playing, [Booth] gets a text from his buddy and his buddy is like, ‘Hey man, if you need to shoot anything in a bar tonight, my bar is completely open. You can use it for a scene or whatever.’ And he gets texts like that a lot because people often open locations for him to shoot in Windsor. It’s a pretty open community there and people support one another.” Well, this led to a spontaneous shoot.

At the time they decided to shoot a video, they didn’t even know what song the video would be for, but Slate thought to shoot “Stranger in the Dark.” The song is about being cheated on and Slate had some ideas. He suggested, “Let’s get some shots of me sitting at a bar, finishing up a gig at a bar or something – that old school guy at the bar drinking at the bar after a rough night sort of thing.” They decided to “get some shots of like a sentimental guy collecting himself after he’s been cheated on.” Slate then revealed some details, “We got a few shots drinking at the bar and we got a one-take shot of leaving the bar, walking the streets in the night. It looks really cool because it’s like this one-minute long one-take shot, which you don’t see a lot in a music video. As we were shooting that, we were coming up with ideas of the fly, which is really strange and you should probably never do this. The idea we had on the day is that we were going to have these sort of flashbacks of shots that would just be of a girl or a girl with a guy that you couldn’t really see sort of thing.” Slate filmed his part of the video and Booth shot the footage with a lady named Annette separately.

At the time of our chat, Slate hadn’t seen the finished product yet, so he was hesitant to commit to describe exactly how the video would turn out, but he was very excited about it and the ideas that came from the process. He says, “I think the funniest part of this video and the last (“Goodnight Lovers, Goodnight Thieves”) is that they weren’t supposed to happen, so we didn’t really have to prepare for them in any which way. It’ll be interesting to see how it shapes up.”

Slate hadn’t initially really thought much about music videos. He released his Life as a Salesman EP last year and went through the usual process of putting his music up on iTunes for purchase and putting songs up for streaming on YouTube. After releasing a music video, he saw “an exponential difference between EP sales prior to putting out a music video and after putting out a music video.” He adds, “It was cool because it was just completely random people who were in the United States or in the UK. To me, that 100% changed my outlook on what approach you need to have for your songs and for your music.”

Currently, Slate is still working on his next EP in Hamilton with friend and fellow musician Ben Somer. While his Life as a Salesman EP was produced by Colin Cripps (Kathleen Edwards, Jim Cuddy) and has much more of a fuller sound, this new EP will be more stripped down, more acoustic will be producing by he and Somer. “It’s probably going to be 6 tunes, this one, so we’ll get to do a little more because we’re working on our own time,” Slate says. “It’s fun. You can relax a little bit more when you’re working with friends and it kind of allows you to be a little bit more creative, too, because you can work when you’re inspired.” There doesn’t seem to be much of a rush, but look for the album in the coming months, as summer seemed to be a goal. Slate says that he’s got tricks up his sleeve for this EP too.

And as Slate works on a follow-up EP, he’s already looking at video options, but even though he emphasizes how important video can be, it’s not the most important factor. He says, “The most important thing is to have a good song because without a good song, even if you put a good video to it, no one’s going to download your song. They’ll love the video and the video overshadows the song. This day and age has become more of that dual media overlap. It’s not as easy as it used to be with having a good song out there because there’s so much out there now. If you have a great song with a great video, you are now ahead of the pack that just has a great song.”

When I press Slate for a drunken story, he doesn’t reveal much, but he does go back to his time in Nashville. He starts, “Down south it’s completely different, all the laws and regulations there.” Already, this story peaked my interest.

“I showed up to a bar one night. I was there to see my buddy’s band. They were, for all intents and purposes, a straight up country/pop band almost, like radio country/pop. I go to the show and it was like $5 cover. I pay my cover, go in, first band was on and they were alright and then my buddy’s band came on. I went to the bar to get my first beer and and this is one my first nights out in Nashville. I walk to the bar and I’ve got like a $10 bill. I’m like, ‘I’ll take a Bud’ or one of those American beers. So I put my $10 on the table. The waitress takes my $10 and comes back with $9.99 change and puts it on the table. I’m looking at my change and I’m like, ‘I think you got my order wrong.’ And she says, “Oh no, tonight is penny beer night. We’ve got penny beer nights.” It’s Friday night at a music venue in Nashville. I don’t know how they do this, but they were charging a penny for the beers. And apparently it happens every week. They charge a cover, so maybe they make the money off of the cover.”

He finishes his story saying, “Needless to say, I had a couple beers that night and certainly enjoyed the show.”

He then adds, “I think Toronto needs to find a way to make that happen. I think that venue will be the most successful music venue. It was a pretty hilarious to get $9.99 back from a $10 bill. I tipped really well, though.”

As for Slate’s shot of choice, he says, “I’m not too picky, as long as it’s straight up whiskey. I can’t do any of those flavoured crazy wild shots. I’m a simple man, so straight up whiskey will do. Or an espresso shot, like an Americano.”

Apparently Slate has some summer shows lined up that have been announced on his website. For now, you can catch Gavin Slate playing NXNE at the Cameron House for Audio Blood’s Go Folk Yourself showcase on Wednesday, June 13th. He’s on at 8:00pm so get there early!

Check out the video for “Stranger in the Dark” below. And rumour has it Slate will have another (top secret) video coming out soon.

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Categories: Interviews, NXNE 2012


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