Hidden Beats

We Are Story Tellers

Today our Spotlight – Sean Bertram. We sit down with Sean, who has been touted as the Canadian John Meyer, to talk music. The newest release Angeline is out now so check it out

Thank you for joining us today Sean. To start us off tell us the story of when you first picked up that guitar and knew you wanted to be a songwriter.

Thanks so much for having me, I appreciate it! I found the guitar in a bit of a roundabout way – I started out learning piano when I was 7 (my parents and my sister all played so they figured why not make it a tradition) but memorizing scales and playing Mozart was not at all my speed when I was that young. I kept taking lessons for a few years, but by that time I was obsessed with Guitar Hero, started listening to Hendrix, Joe Satriani, and Prince, and thought “guitar players are so cool!” So, when I was 10, my parents let me quit piano lessons and my dad got me my first guitar, a little blue Squier Stratocaster. The second I picked it up it just felt right – I knew I never wanted to put that thing down.

 

Songwriting came a little bit later for me. After my hard rock and shredding phase on the guitar, I heard John Mayer’s Room for Squares for the first time and was blown away. I’d never heard anything like it, and it opened my eyes to writing music myself for the very first time. I learned that entire album note for note and then started trying to write songs just like it, eventually finding my sound from that. Ever since I started, I’ve loved writing and learning as much as I can about how to get better at it.

Who are the people you attribute your career to? Be it inspirations, family, friends, or supporters.

My family, first and foremost, are my biggest supporters. They gave me most of my music tastes and have been so supportive of me pursuing music which I am so beyond grateful for. I consider myself very lucky in that respect. Besides them, I’ve had a number of fantastic teachers over the years who I owe a lot to, from my high school music teachers to my many guitar teachers, to my friends at college who have taught me just about as much as the amazing professors did. Also, one person specifically (who I won’t name, but she knows who she is) has had a big hand in my career in the past 4 years and she’s really changed a lot of my life and my music for the better.

Your second full-length studio album drops next week. Tell us about the writing experience? How has it been making music during this past year?

Let me tell you that I am ecstatic to finally have this album out! The writing process has been a culmination of my efforts over the past 3 years, with the first song I wrote for the album being done back in late 2018. And since that first song, I’ve grown a lot as a writer and as a person, stepping out of the academia and stiffer structures of writing and letting myself really feel a lot more and be more vulnerable, both in life and in my music, drawing a lot more from personal experiences for this album. I also drew a lot more from a wider range of my influences for the songs, and I was excited to be able to connect them all to each other in a cohesive package. I have some stuff that’s more folk influenced, some pop, some heavier rock influences, some Prince-like moments, obviously a touch of John Mayer, and even some songs that are directly inspired by 70’s funk and soul.

            

Making the album itself

Making the album this past year has had a lot of ups and downs. It started out as a bit of a challenge to myself, kind of seeing if producing and mixing a full-length album alone in my room was something that I could do, because being isolated meant I didn’t have any deadlines and no one was really expecting anything, so it was an opportunity for me to just have fun and learn as much as I could without any threat of failure. But then when I realized it was something I could do, it started to get a little too real. I got overwhelmed and had a lot of dark days, weeks, and months, where doubt crept in and I got wrapped up in thinking about what people would think about the album, the sound of the mixes, thinking they would hate it, that I’m not good enough, etc. And I’m sure so many people have been going through the exact same thing this past year and a half, especially artists and creators. But I had a lot of support from friends and family to help me keep going, and the experience really taught me a lot about every aspect of myself, and I learned how to see through my own self-doubts and be excited about and appreciate the incredible (if I do say so myself) music I was making.

How does this album differ from your last album? How have you grown in your lyric and music writing over the last 3 years?

With this album, I feel like I finally have the music sounding the way I’ve always heard it in my head. Having full control over the production and the mixes helped a lot with that, but so did just growing as a musician and a writer. The production is definitely grander in this album, and I take a lot more risks musically where I wouldn’t have with previous releases. Every song gets the full band treatment, and then some – I had a lot of fun experimenting with new sounds and textures throughout the album.

 

Over the last three years, I feel like I’ve grown exponentially as a writer, arranger, and performer. I like to think that my lyrics are more sophisticated and a little more real, because now they’re coming from a much more personal, vulnerable, and mature space, and I think that expression really helps the music to be fully realized. And on top of that, I’m thinking of music more completely; I used to only think of my music as being self-contained as solo acoustic guitar and vocal songs, and as much as these new songs can work like that, now I’m able to think so much more about instrumentation, tone, arrangement, and production. In part because of the experiences I’ve had performing and recording in a studio with a full band, and also because of just how much I’ve learned and absorbed in the past 4 years at school and on stages across the city.

Why is this album self-titled?

I spent a long time trying to decide what to call this record, but I landed on calling it Sean Bertram because I think this album is a very true representation of me. In terms of the sound, the style, and the ideas behind it, this feels like the real introduction of me as an artist.

You are not a stranger to big collaborations. Any special guests we should look forward to on the upcoming album? Nameless or not, how was working with them?

There’s actually a pretty big cast and crew who helped me make this album. The credits are full of some of my best friends and favorite musicians, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of collaborators. One artist who I kind of took a shot in the dark on and wasn’t sure if he’d even have the time to do it was Drew Jurecka. He was a professor of mine at college and I’ve been such a huge fan of his playing on records from Donovan Woods, Bahamas, and most recently the latest Dua Lipa album. It was on “Angeline” (the second single off the album) that I was really hoping to have strings, so I just sent him a note to see if he was into it and he said yes right away! I sent him the track, and within a couple of days he sent me back exactly what you hear on the song – he arranged and played the perfect viola and violin parts on the first take! I was absolutely blown away. I literally cried the first time I heard it because it was what I’d been hearing in my head for so long and he was able to bring it to life so beautifully.

Working with the band

Working with my regular band on most of the songs was such a joy – Jared Gershon on drums, Jeremy Bautista on keys, Brent Webb on bass, and Amanda MacDonald and Tarik Henry on backing vocals. We’ve all played together so much that when it came time to record, we just had a blast. There was no pressure, no egos, everybody came prepared and excited, and I think that really comes through in the songs. Jared, especially I had just a great time working with you. I sent a lot of stuff back and forth with him remotely last summer when I was recording the last few songs, since a drumkit is the one thing I don’t have at my place, and he just gets fantastic recordings and is able to read my mind when it comes to parts, tones, and feel for a song. We had a lot of fun messing around in the late stages of production just seeing how far we could take some parts. In one of the songs, I had him record himself beat-boxing as bad as he could, and he really delivered – it was terrible and sounds hilarious on its own, but it sounds surprisingly great in the song.

Your newest single, “Angeline” is a beautiful sorrow track about long-distance love and longing. Is this an experience close to home for you or was it inspired by someone else’s story?

Unfortunately, yes, this is a song that comes from a personal experience that I wrote while in a long-distance relationship. It’s all the doubts, fears, and longing that come with a long-distance relationship, especially in the digital age, where even though you’re always connected, it can sometimes hurt more than it can help. This was actually the last song I wrote for the album, and I think it might be my favorite one, despite how hard it is for me to play and hear.

What made you settle on the name “Angeline” as the subject of the song?

Sometimes I get random words or phrases that kind of just pop into my head, and a lot of the time I don’t really know what they mean or where I could have heard them before, and that’s what happened with the name “Angeline”. I’ve never met or heard of anyone named Angeline, but the name just came into my head one day and the melody followed right behind it. The same thing happened with the song “Santa Barbara Pier”. At the time, I didn’t know Santa Barbara was a real place, let alone that it actually had a pier.

I think I speak for everyone when I say we are digging the color pallet for the new album. Love the soft pastel tones of beige, pink and turquoise. Is this by your choosing or do you have a designer for the promotional pictures? Is this close to your personal style or did you go out of your comfort zone?

Thank you so much! I’m really proud of the design of the album and the colors on it. It is all by my choosing, and it’s a style I’ve always wanted to express but never until now really had the courage and confidence to pull off, but I did have some help from my best friend who helped me get the right outfit combinations, and she was a great sounding board for a lot of my ideas. The photographer for the album, Hilary Gauld-Camilleri, was also a huge part of that – she got some fantastic shots that helped bring my vision to life.

We need to know the story of the stunning turquoise electric guitar. Could you share it with us?

The story is a bit of a sad one – that was a guitar I really connected with when I got it back in 2018, but I, unfortunately, had to sell it to help fund the album. It’s a bit of a once in a lifetime guitar because it’s so unique in the tone-woods and just how beautiful it is to look at, but I’ve got to say it’s prettier than it sounds, so even though it can be heard on a few tracks on the album, I hope it’s in a good home with a loving new parent.

Are you still based out of Toronto? Think the capital will be your forever home?

I was honestly expecting Toronto to be my forever home until the pandemic hit. As was the case with a lot of people, it uprooted me, and now I’m back with my folks in a little town called Wellesley, where apple cider gets made and horse-and-buggies pass by my window a half dozen times a day. More and more lately I’m feeling the call of the city, and I’m itching to get back, but these days I think anything’s possible in my future – I could end up back in Toronto, I could fly out to London, England, I could put down roots here and become a farmer… with the state of the world these days it seems only time will tell.

Your music is described as folk, indie, pop, and rock. Do you identify with any of these labels?

More and more I feel like modern music is breaking down the barriers of genre, which I think is fantastic, and I like to think my music does the same, but I do think those labels describe my music pretty well. Sometimes I’ve even heard people call some of my stuff R&B and Neo-Soul, which is really cool, but I’m definitely closer to Donovan Woods on the folk spectrum than I am to D’Angelo on the Neo-Soul spectrum.

In another life where you were not a musician, what would you be?

I’d like to dream big and say pro basketball player, but if I’m being honest, I’d probably be an engineer. I’m really just a big nerd.

Your TikTok has skyrocketed in popularity recently. You have quite a social media presence. How is it to interact with your fans in this way? Especially as live shows are not quite back at 100%.

The world of TikTok really is incredible. At least, it’s been good to me, I managed to end up on the wholesome side of TikTok thanks to my very first video (I sang a song about muffins that I heard in a dream and people just ate it up). And in terms of interacting with fans, it’s kind of surreal. People have been so sweet, I get a lot of messages every day from people telling me they love my music and sometimes how much it’s helped them through tough times, and that just makes me so unbelievably happy. I think on social media I just want to be as genuine as possible and be real for everybody following me and my music.

 

I don’t want to paint myself as some grandiose mysterious artistic blah blah blah, I’m just a regular guy doing what he loves, like most of us are, and I think that’s the best any of us can do. So, when doing that connects me to people around the world, even though a screen, I think that’s pretty special.

Thank you for joining us today. Before you go want to give a shoutout to the person, organization or charity of your choice that you think needs it right now?

A big shout out to the Wilmot Terry Fox foundation, they’re doing such great work and I’ve had the pleasure of working over the past couple of years with Nigel and Cheryl who run the branch and do so much for the community and the cause. Also please vote, get vaccinated, and Stop Line 3!

This Spotlight – Sean Bertram is a wrap. Thank you to Sean for taking the time to chat with us

Check out the newest release from Sean Bertram right now!

Keep up with Sean right here

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