Last weekend, I had the chance to sit down and pick the articulate and artistic brain of Sebastian Shinwell, mastermind behind the Toronto indie band Crhymes. Here’s what he had to say.
FTB: Tell me about the conception of Crhymes. You write all the music. Did you begin by yourself and then bring other musicians in to play the music for live shows?
Sebastian Shinwell: It was originally for the master’s thesis at York, for the composition thesis which I’m no longer in. I sat down with my supervisor and told him what kind of music I write on my own and what kind of music I write academically, and he’s like, “why not make them the same.” My head exploded and I said, “Oh, you can do that?” So I wrote all the music for the thesis and I didn’t have the players in mind. A month or two before the performance, I got musicians together and kind of got it done with eight people. We were offered a show the following month, but most of those band members were there only for that show, so I had to scramble and get a set together for the following month. I just whittled it down to the five piece. After that show, we got offered another show, and after that one we got offered another one. So then it was like, “OK, this is Crhymes, let’s go forward with this.” The thesis was last August, and we’ve played a show each month since then. The band’s been around for eleven months.
Do you continue to write all the songs now that you’re playing with a band? How much do they contribute to the final version of the songs we hear?
I still write all the music. I write the skeleton of the song and then put the parts in [music development software] Reason just to hear what I’m doing. Then I get scores and hand it off to people in the band. Sometimes when we get together we realize something didn’t work in real life, or did, and then we finalize the parts. But I’m writing the guitar lines, about eighty percent of it. Then the other twenty percent is based on if it works live. Can the saxophone breathe? I’m a guitar player, I didn’t know breathing was a thing. Ha! I didn’t take that into consideration.
Tell me about your writing/composition process.
It starts as a skeleton, me playing and chords and singing. That becomes the base of a song. I think for most singer-songwriters, that’s the foundation. After that, I put stuff into Reason and write lead lines to it, put a drum track to it, and pile it as I go. The writing process seems like I write really intensely for three or four months, and then I don’t write for three or four or five months. All I do is listen to music in that time. It’s kind of like swinging back and forth between writing and listening to music. When I’m writing, I’m not really listening to music, and when I’m not writing I’m only listening. So I’m letting myself be influenced and then going and writing. I never put my guitar away in its case, because if I don’t look at it, then I won’t be compelled to play it. It’s always lying on a couch or on the kitchen counter. Then I can pick it up and play one of the songs I was working on, or noodle, and it kind of builds on itself.
Are you trying to achieve anything specific with each song you write?
The music that I get into the most is the music that borders the idea of accessibility and experimentation. A good example would be Radiohead, although Crhymes doesn’t sound much like Radiohead. This idea of playing with expectation and experimentation. So when I write a song with just guitar and vocals, the lead lines and some of the harmonies and stuff, I want to be a little bit more out there. I don’t want to say that I’m trying new things. Anyone can say that I’m not doing that. But maybe less generic. I’m trying to write something that people can get into on a more intuitive level. Like, “there’s music happening and I just want to dance and I just want to get into it in a visceral way.” But if people want to sit back and get into it that way, by listening, there’s that option as well. So sort of playing with these two ideas. I’m not sure if I’m succeeding with that, but based on feedback I’ve gotten, people do say they like the balance of these two things.
I was actually thinking that during your show. I was very intensely listening and I felt there was an intellectual level to the music that I appreciated as a musician, but at the same time I thought it would be really wicked music to put on if you were high.
Ha! I think drugs are a big part of rock music. How could you deny that? I think that there’s that intellectual level that I’m trying to speak to, but at the same time I hope it’s music that you can get drunk and dance to, or get high and trip out to. I’m trying to hover around that line.
I think you’re successful in that for sure. Tell me, what are your influences?
A lot of things I guess. Musically speaking, I’ve always been a huge fan of Arcade Fire. I’m not sure how directly these things influence me. The Dirty Projectors always influenced me a lot. I really appreciate the main singer, or the writer or band leader. He always hovers around that line as well. His vocal lines are fucking wild but he still has this pop sensibility. He’s almost getting poppier and poppier, but his music is still wild and experimental which is really nice to see. tUnE yArDs is a band I’m really into. The leader of that band is an incredible musician.
What do you find your biggest challenges are with getting your music to audiences?
One of the hardest challenges IS getting your music out there. The internet is your friend, so I guess that’s the way you have to get your music out there. But how do you do it in a way that people aren’t like, “that guy’s just trying to sell his music”? How do you do it in a way that’s honest and genuine? I feel like people are aware of whether the person selling the music is honest or not, and whether the music is honest or not, and I don’t know how to navigate that and still be honest. It’s a tough thing to do. The last thing you want to do is be that band where they’re just sleazy and trying to sell their music, ‘cause then people aren’t interested.
How much do you rely on social media, or find that it affects what you do to promote and market your music?
It’s a big part for sure. I don’t know what bands did before social media. Then again, record deals and producers played a bigger role before social media existed. They would do the PR. Independent music seems like a result of the globalization, or the social media boom. It’s everyone for themselves. Which makes it harder, but easier at the same time. But you’re fighting a lot more people. There’s a lot of competition in music. You have to play those shows where you’re playing to one person, or where people aren’t even paying attention.
Any plans to play some shows in Montreal in the future?
Actually something I wanted to do in September is do a southern Ontario tour, from London to Montreal, and hit up universities along the way. Maybe during frosh week. That’s when the new album will be coming out, so it would be nice to release it and tour then.
What are you hoping to achieve over the next little while with your music?
There’s a new album coming out that I’m working on. I have to record vocals and mix it, but it will be out in the fall. I want to connect to more people. Get more people into it, get more people listening to Crhymes. It’s tough, with marketing, there’s definitely an intention to get more people into it. But I’m a very conflicted person when it comes to this. Am I playing for myself or am I playing for people? It’s both. If I’m not happy doing it, then fuck it. If I’m only playing for other people then I’m not happy doing it. It’s a tough thing to negotiate. I just want people to have fun. I want people to go to shows, dance or sit in the back and get into it.
What’s your target demographic?
It’s been kind of a curse of mine because I seem to write music that appeals to my own demographic, and my demographic doesn’t spend money on music. I’m not really thinking about it too much. Maybe I should. I’m writing music that I want to write with a thought of if the music will be enjoyed in a live environment.