Tyler Shaw: Canadian Talent
The Canadian artist discusses his new single, “North Star,” growing up on Rage Against The Machine and becoming a father during the pandemic.
From the small town of Coquitlam in British Columbia, Tyler Shaw had a childhood filled with soccer and music. With a mother who plays piano and a brother who joined the school band, musical instruments were always close by. Inspired, he dived into drums and taught himself guitar, bass and piano. Fast-forward to today, and Shaw is set to release his third LP and has collaborated with the likes of Avril Lavigne, Justin Bieber, toured with Selena Gomez and opened events for Shawn Mendes.
While the music he creates now could be called infectious pop, Shaw’s teenage years were spent listening to Metallica, Rage Against The Machine and Tool. “That music really resonated with me at the time. That’s when I created a band and started to write songs like that,” he says. “Then I guess I fell in love or what I thought was love at the time, picked up the acoustic guitar and started writing love songs.” It’s something he calls a “whole shift in my songwriting process,” and kick-started a period of experimentation with different melodies, both vocally and instrumentally.
Today, his music taste is a little different. When asked what his top three songs are, he says Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” and Michael Bublé’s “Everything.” It’s a fusion of all of these past and present inspirations that come together in his latest single, “North Star.” Described as up-tempo pop-rock, Shaw says it’s accompanied by the favourite music video he’s filmed to date and stands a little closer to the music he grew up with.
“This is more rock and roll, which I’ve always loved,” he continues. “I’m really happy with the song and video.” Written in Toronto with Nate Ferrero, Mike Sonier and produced by longtime collaborator Alex ‘Pilz’ Vujic, “North Star” started on piano before being “flipped upside down” in the studio. “It’s about having that one thing you can depend on,” he shares. “You look up to the sky and see the North Star. It’s always there.”
Shaw’s creative process is one led by feeling and intuition. “I let the music dictate what I’ll be talking about and what the melodies are,” he explains. “I start by just jamming on the piano or playing something on guitar and almost subconsciously zone out until something stands out in my consciousness.” After that, he’ll start jamming on that more and singing different melodies. “A random word will come out of my mouth and that will become the title of the song. That’s not always the case, but it’s usually how it goes.”
“If I could snapshot the growth over nine years, that would be the highlight”
Being so involved in the production and intricacies of music means Shaw hears songs as a musician. It’s something that comes as a blessing, but also, at times, calls for something different. “When you do this for a living and spend every waking minute thinking about it, you start to dissect songs,” he continues. “You start to listen to the beat, the groove, what sounds they’re using. It’s fascinating, but something that can get in the way of purely listening to music. That’s why I tend to not listen to pop, but rather low-fi, classical or jazz. Something that’s completely different that I’m not doing every day.”
When the pandemic hit, Shaw had just returned from a writing trip in the U.K. and was about to set off to Los Angeles. COVID-19 completely reworked his sense of normality and introduced a period of self-reflection, but it also brought some defining moments. This summer, he’s due to release a new album he’s been working on. In December, he also became a father. “You don’t know until you’re a parent what kind of love it is, but when [my wife] Alex told me we were expecting, I had a realization or epiphany that I have to be the best version of myself and make the world the best version I can for this human. I’ve got to be on my A-game, and that had a big shift in the way I thought about different things, including music.”
By nature, Shaw is a person invested in making the world a better place. With a father from Hong Kong, he’s passionate about doing his part to stop Asian hate. “I don’t want my daughter growing up being embarrassed of who she is, so that’s a big inspiration and factor. You should be proud of who you are and you should not be hating on other cultures because they’re different.”
After so much time at home, Shaw’s itching to travel and start playing his music in other countries. Above all, he wants his music to be “timeless,” something someone continues to love over the years. “It’s an ongoing highlight reel,” he says, after being asked about his most career-defining moments to date. “If I could snapshot the growth over nine years, that would be the highlight.”
INTERVIEW BY ESTELLE ZENTIL