“You don’t know what you’re doing until you’re done, and then all of a sudden it’s like ‘Oh that’s what I was up to,’” says Scott Helman about his latest album, Hôtel de Ville.
So what was he up to? He was in love.
“I wasn’t thinking about it when I started to write the record,” says Scott. “I moved to Montreal for about a month and a half to start writing the record… and to get this girl that I really loved.”
He didn’t realize it a the time, but so many of the initial ideas for Hôtel de Ville were conceived during that courting period in Scott’s life.
“A lot of the initial poetry and concepts were thought about at that time. When it was done, I went back on my notes and I found this poem called ‘Hôtel de Ville’”
The T.V. inches closer and the show I’m watching
Is curated for me as if a grand opening,
Of the story of my life
Towers of real estate built by the gatekeepers
Dropped in a metropolis to be seen by the dreamers
Nothing really going on inside
Impossible to reconcile with an empty objective
But baby, I have an objective
Let’s do this for real
The Hôtel de Ville
“I wrote [the poem] when I moved in, about this girl and trying to make everything work… We dated in high school and broke up and then kinda’ got back together and I was like ‘alright let’s do this for real.’ [The poem] was this statement to her and I feel like the record kind of is as well a little bit.”
This theme of an on-off relationship where the protagonist hopes to finally get it right and “do it for real” is seen most clearly in the track “Kinda’ Complicated.”
“That song to me is about this relationship that by all means wasn’t supposed to work but we made it work for as long as we did.”
Released in May, 2017, the video for “Kinda’ Complicated” was shot in California’s Slab City and Salton Sea. But that wasn’t the initial plan:
“Initially I was working with this director and we were gonna’ go to this abandoned water park near Las Vegas, and then I just by happenstance realized it was near Slab City. I’d known about Slab City for quite a while, and I realized this connection between the lyrics of that song, and that place.”
As you can see in the video for “Kinda’ Complicated,” this “city” in the Sonoran Desert is a lawless camp of mostly retirees who get up to all kinds of creative pursuits, like the art of Salvation Mountain — literally a painted mountain.
“To me that place was so metaphorical, like if you told me today you were gonna’ go to the California Badlands and start a community of lawlessness, I’d be like ‘OK hit me up in a year and let me know how that worked,’ but this place has been there for like 50, 60 years and it’s amazing and so cool. So I thought it would just be great.”
Off he went, with no plans, “which is a really hard thing to convince a record label to invest in, because how do you tell people that you’re gonna’ take their money and just go to the desert?” On the way he visited the Salton Sea, a lake the 1/6th the size of PEI, about 100 km from the Coachella Valley. Although once a thriving recreation spot for 1950’s Hollywood stars on vacation, the Salton Sea is now a salt-encrusted, smelly wasteland of abandoned boats, docks, and yacht clubs. Increasing salinity over the last 50 years has created uninhabitable conditions for the marine life, resulting in dead fish everywhere.
That’s not the only body of water Scott has directed his attention to. This month, Scott sent fans to his Solve the Solvable website—an initiative that invites his fans take action of any scale to help make the world a better place—and the Ocean Ambassadors campaign. Here, Scott’s fans are invited to to jump in on a national game of hide and seek with activism jewelry made from plastic found inside seabirds’ stomachs [note: this campaign is in partnership with our parent company Skunk Social]. To learn how you can get involved and get a free seabird necklace sent to you in helping preserve our shared oceans, visit Solve the Solvable.
Back on land, Scott’s Hôtel de Ville story ends well. The video was a success, and he got the girl (“I had to write the record first” he jokes). So who is this mystery woman? Well, we don’t like to pry like that at DamnMag, but let’s just say you may get a hint from his new record’s acknowledgments, but you’ll need to get your hands on a Hôtel de Ville album to see for yourself.
“…this was for you. It was always for you. Love, Love, Love! -Scott.”