Scott Lanaway, a Toronto, Ontario, Experimental music artist, has had his sound described as a combination between “the dream-like state often induced by Neil Young with Radiohead’s persistently hypnotic vibe.” Music is something he explores, unafraid to tread in unfamiliar places, in the same way that he approaches emotions. He notes, “I think music is emotion”. His latest album, Mergers and Acquisitions, was a result of working through a time of great personal loss. Delving within himself, he dealt with harsh emotions of grief and transformed dark feelings into the creation of something not only beautiful, but also hopeful.
When and how did you realize you were a musician?
I think I knew I loved music starting at a very early age. In nursery school in England I would sit out nap time and play with a plastic guitar in the corner. When I was 4 I had a Mickey Mouse record player and I listened to 45s all the time (at that age consisted of Petula Clark's 'Downtown', The Wombles). When I was 7 I started playing around with drumming (using my Grandma's knitting needles on an upside-down box). I played euphonium in the school band for years. I started teaching myself guitar when I was 16 by listening to records, then I moved to bass and then keys. I started experimenting with songwriting when I was 17.
Do you think music can inspire and motivate others? How does making music change who you are as a person & artist?
I think music can take people places that they are afraid to go consciously (for fear of being overexposed). I think it can also excite people and bring energy into the everyday, transforming the mundane. For me making music is something that makes me feel excited and motivated like nothing else can. It also I think helps me cope with and process life in a lot of ways. When I'm making music, I'm inspired by the process so I'm focusing less directly on thoughts that don't go to positive places.
Your recent album, Mergers and Acquisitions, was inspired by a painful personal loss. Did channelling your emotions into this album help you to ‘free’ or work through those feelings?
I would say that self-expression and communication help to metabolize grief to a certain extent. I think working on this record did help me explore some of these issues in a meaningful way. However it's easy to be swallowed up by these emotions as they arise from situations that cannot be resolved.
Do you always find inspiration in your emotions? Or are there other sources for you as well?
I think music is emotion. You're communicating a state of mind and the feelings associated with it. Sometimes the origin in the creative process may be outside yourself. Sometimes I am reading about something, learning about something outside my direct experience that fascinates me, and the resulting energy can find it's way into music. I'm often blown away by how absurd life seems, and music helps me process that. For instance, I have a song about Oprah on this album, the idea for which originated in a comment she had made at a graduation ceremony about the benefits of travel by private jet.
If you had to define music by only using one other word, what would it be?
You have been quoted as saying, “The big mandate I had was to be authentic to the spirit of each song without second or third-guessing what was happening. Being intuitive and letting go. I took lots of chances and felt very uninhibited.” What kind of an impact did this anything-goes kind of process have on you? Would you say it helped you grow spiritually, emotionally or otherwise?
I would say it felt really good to try to let go of preconceived notions of myself or my music, and just be in the moment, and explore choices in overdubs that felt right for each song. Sometimes it could be frustrating because I would I might spend a lot of time on a particular approach and then decide later that while I might like it on it's own, it's not feeling right in the mix and abandon it. Sometimes simpler is better. But the ideal is to have the process happen within a spirit of discovery - when you are in discovery mode, exciting things can happen and you feel energetic and outside the mundane. But it's an elusive feeling - you have to try to be nice to yourself and create a space it can occur in. It's not something that can be forced or faked.
Having experienced loss and grief recently, is there any advice you might have for someone who is going through a similar struggle?
You have to communicate with people who might understand. It's easy to become isolated and many friends will not be bothered enough to get over their own awkwardness to offer a connection. You might try a bereavement discussion group - you'll find that there are others out there who are going through similar things - which can be very reassuring. Take a chance and talk to some people.
If your music could be the soundtrack to any movie, which one would it be?
Let's say: "Heat" Music in general is very cinematic for me. I've made the last track on my last 2 albums into a 10-minute atmospheric opus. I love soundtracks – I often buy them even before I've seen the movie. (Check out the soundtrack to 'There Will Be Blood').