Shawn Hook is a JUNO Award nominated singer-songwriter with multiple platinum hit singles to his name. He’s collaborated with some of the industry’s biggest hit songwriters and shared some of the biggest stages with The Weeknd, Shawn Mendes and The Chainsmokers. We asked Shawn to shine some light on his musically talented inner circle who are on the rise.
A lot of your influences are older icons like Elton John, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, and the Beatles. What was your first memory of your introduction to artists like that?
That’s a good question. My parents got me into piano lessons when I was young. I started learning classical music and they got me into the Royal Conservatory. But one night they were watching Great Balls of Fire in the Jerry Lee Louis biopic. I remember sitting on the stairs — because that’s not a movie for kids — but I caught a glimpse of this guy playing the piano and I was like, “What is that? That’s so cool.” He was playing the blues, whereas I was learning piano it was just very structured and rudimentary. Bach and all that. But then I’m seeing this guy jumping on the piano, the piano’s on fire, and he’s hammering on it. And I was like, “That’s so cool! I want to do that.” I remember my next piano lesson, my mom and I were talking about what I saw and my teacher was like, “Oh that’s the blues!” So he taught me the blues scale and improvisation.
What did being exposed to those artists do for you as a musician?
When you see someone on an instrument that you practice so hard, doing stuff for their audience and crowds with songs that are amazing — that’s when I started to aspire to be like those people. I remember multiple times, sitting at the piano, visualizing myself in front of crowds and just sitting there performing. Or I’d watch the Grammy’s, and then I’d run to the piano and pretend I was on the show during the commercial break.
Tell us about this playlist you put together. What was your approach?
It’s more of an eclectic mix for sure. I think that the main thread is the personal connection and the talent. I feel like all of these people are talented in their own rights. The other thread is the musicianship. Everybody on that list is a musician and can back it up, so to speak, at the campfire. And I think I hold myself to a high standard in that respect. I’d never put out a song that I couldn’t play live. I’ve always gravitated towards that type of artist or that type of music.
Performers like Jerry Lee Louis?
Exactly. And I said with the campfire test, if they can sit down at a campfire and blow you away, there’s no smoke and mirrors — that’s just pure talent and skill. And I think everyone on this playlist possesses that.
Cobi is incredible. I saw him perform at a songwriting event in Los Angeles last year. It was Grammy week, and the NMPA — which is the National Music Publisher’s Association and they fight for songwriters’ rights — showcased these four songwriters that had written some of the biggest hits that year for the Grammy’s but no one really knows who they are. Cobi is an artist and a songwriter, and I was blown away. He stole the show. We’re actually signed to the same publishing company which I didn’t know until down the road. He just put out this new song last month. It’s a killer track.
John-Robert is kind of like Elliot Smith meets Thom Yorke meets Jeff Buckley. He’s on Nice Life Records, run by Ricky Reed — the guy who discovered Lizzo. It obviously blew her up and they were nominated for a lot of Grammys this year. Ricky is one of the most talented musicians out there and now producer. I checked John-Robert out because I’m a fan of Ricky. And I’m like, “Dude, this kid’s got something special.” On his Instagram he was just in his living room playing his guitar and blowing your face off. And I think he’s going to blow up as well. A great musician.
Last year, I was in London for a songwriting camp, then Paris, then back to Canada for another. We went to this First Nations reservation on Ohsweken, Ontario. There were twenty artists — well twenty creators: producers, artists, songwriters — put together in this massive studio in the middle of nowhere that’s called Jukasa Studios. We were put up for a week in these little tiny cabins and we had nothing to do, no distractions, and no cell phone service. But we had a mixing console from Abbey Road.
Posey was there and throughout the week, songwriters were working with each other every day. At the end of the week we drove back to Toronto to play the recorded versions of those songs but she stood up and was like, “I’m actually going to play this live.” And I was like, damn, that’s my move. I didn’t have time to rehearse, but I was like okay. She crushed this song that she wrote that week and I thought it was really impressive. It made me take her more seriously as an artist and I wanted to look into her more.
She’s got a super talented, super unique voice. And I think it’s something that’s going to cut through. She’s got a bit of a Florence and the Machine vibe. A bit more alternative, edgy, rock. Florence meets Evanescence in a way. But it’s modern. She’s young and up-and-coming so I think she’s one to look out for as well.
Fly by Midnight. They were at that same Grammy event at NMPA. My publisher had tried to set me up with them as writers multiple times but at that point in my life I was really close to closing my record and I wasn’t really interested in working on any new stuff. I had a bunch of music already written and done. But they were so hungry and they kept hitting me up because they really wanted to work with me. And I was like, okay, I can’t ignore that if somebody really wants to work with me, there’s got to be something there. That’s a key ingredient too as an artist, you want people to be hungry. Then I got to know them, we worked, and I was really impressed with their work ethic and how talented they were in the room so I started listening to more of their own music.
It’s amazing how much they’ve grown as writers and as artists within a year and a half. They were originally from New York and they just moved to LA six months ago. They’re totally independent but their growth and their numbers are going strong. They’re engaging and it’s great to see because they’re doing better than some artists that are signed to major labels. And they’re all DIY. And they’re talented!
This song is what their experience was just moving to LA, and it’s their latest single. I really believe in them as well as a duo and I know that they’re getting offers from major labels right now but I’ve told them just keep doing what they’re doing because they’re in control.
We’ll keep an eye out for them for sure.
They’re cool! They’re like more chill, kind of chill-pop, electronic, chill-electropop. They’re really talented in their own right and as writers as well. They write for a lot of other people. And actually, I have a song with them on my new EP too.
Parson James, another friend of mine, super talented. He was a feature on a Kygo song about five years ago called Stole the Show. I remember hearing that record thinking it was Coldplay and just falling in love with it. I met him in LA at another Grammy party. Katy Perry was hosting and event for Spotify during Grammy week and one of my buddies introduced me to him. There was a group of us on the dance floor and he’s yelling over the music, “Yeah I’ve got this song called Stole the Show and I’m like, “What?! That’s You?! Woah! I’ve got a song called Sound of Your Heart.” and he’s like, “What?!” It’s this funny dance floor conversation and Ariana Grande is dancing right there. All these massive artists and I’m like, this is so cool.
After that I went and checked out his music and thought wow, this guy’s got a really interesting voice and a really interesting story. Then he became a close friend. He just recently signed a massive record deal. The new single hasn’t come out yet but he’s always been doing features. I think he’s the type of artist that will have a great solo career if someone really gets behind him, and it looks like someone has. He’s got that gift. His voice is just so natural.
Alt Bloom — Ethan Thompson — is another personal friend. He was in a band when I met him and we were signed to the same record label, Hollywood Records. We actually co-wrote one of my biggest songs in Canada, Reminding Me, the one featuring Vanessa Hudgens. I remember that day, it was one of the first times I met him, and we just instantly clicked. In my mind I was like, wow, maybe we could be a band. Because he’s got such a nice voice, we really complimented each other in that room. I think the band he was in ended. Samantha Ronson was in that band as well — Mark Ronson’s sister.
He’s such a pure talent. He plays guitar and sings. It’s more like a chill, electro, low-fi sound, which I dig. That’s kind of what I listen to when I need to relax. I love low-fi. It’s not necessarily in-your-face melodies or lyrics. It’s more about the flow of the song and the sound of the sonics. Just the mood.
Junior Mesa is also on Nice Life Records, another of Ricky Reed’s guys. He’s got this old school sound. It’s almost like Elton John and John Lennon. He’s quirky but he’s got a really soulful voice. He’s a brand new modern artist with a brand new modern song, but Ricky really went for the soul of it and I think that’s what’s really cool and special. I’m a fan of that because it’s bringing back more musicianship into what we’re listening to. He’s a new-age throwback, a talented piano player, and just unique in terms of melody. It’s just refreshing because I work and write a lot in the pop world, but I don’t want to just go listen to pop records or go listen to Spotify’s Top 40.
This is one I just heard of recently. It was one of those songs where you’re listening, and you’re waiting — I’m so cynical. Usually when I hear something new, I’m like, okay how long is this going to last? And this was one of those ones where it was like, oh… oh! Oh, okay! And then the chorus came and I was like, oh shit! Okay! Damn! Well alright, let’s listen to it again. To me, that’s when you know there’s something special. When that chorus kicks, it’s a total vibe. And I love that title too, Quantum Physics. I don’t know too much about Ruby, she’s an anomaly on this list. I’m sure we might have connections because it’s a small world, but I just thought this song itself stood out.
You mentioned about wanting to start a band with Alt Bloom. What’s so appealing about being in a band vs performing solo?
Yeah, honestly, I love playing in a band. In 2018, I was playing everywhere with my band and I loved it. I toured the US and I toured Canada twice. I love it. To me, a great performance that you either see or perform is all about dynamics. When you have a band, your highest highs and your lowest lows, your dynamic range, is that much bigger. When I do a concert solo, I can only do so much. But with a band, it’s just this wall of sound that you can either put full-on or you can strip back. I can just go right to piano and vocal, or just vocal, and those moments of dynamic difference to me really help. Because that’s what music is. It takes you on this ride, and it’s this journey of dynamic moments.
There’s something that happens when you riff off of people that you’re there with.
Oh the energy, yeah. It also allows me to not play anything. When I’m solo I’m stuck playing the piano or guitar, but when I’m with my band it allows me to be more of a front man and allows me to interact with my fans a bit more. And I love that. I think one of the last big live shows I did was up in Newfoundland and fans there go crazy because they don’t get a lot of acts to tour up there — its an 18 hour ferry ride and it’s a lot. So they do the Iceberg festival every year and I went up there. They were going crazy. It was just one of those moments where I was reaching out and singing and running through it. It just adds so much more energy to the crowd.
You’ve been involved in supporting some great causes. Can you share some details about any of them?
I’m on the board of directors for the Unison Benevolent Fund which is a cause that’s actually near and dear to me. It’s an emergency fund for anyone in the music industry. It’s really amazing because for anything like groceries or rent, they’ll help. But also mental health or any other health issues — dental, medical — they’ll help. I was approached by Unison a couple years ago, and last year they asked if I wanted to join, and I did.
And then the WE organization. I learned about them maybe four or five years ago, and I went to my first ME to WE trip to Africa two years ago. They’re already established and it’s incredible what they’re doing, so I’m just basically happy to raise awareness and help them.