David Myles has always been attracted to another time. The Nova Scotian singer/songwriter felt the pull of history even as a kid, playing an orphan in an Oliver Twist musical and winning a lip-sync contest to “Heartbreak Hotel” as a seven-year-old.
“Between those two experiences, I kind of was hooked,” he said. “That’s where I got the entertainment bug.”
But it was later, in his teens, when everyone else was listening to Nirvana and Pearl Jam, that another classic sound really changed his life.
“You know when you’re a teenager and you have that moment and you find a record that kind of feels like it’s just yours?” he said. “For me, that was Miles Davis. I played trumpet so I got a Miles Davis record and I was like, ‘Whoa. This is awesome.’”
Today, Myles has made a living traversing musical time periods and genres, crisscrossing from folk, roots, pop, jazz, and country, and swinging between the forties, fifties and sixties to 2015, with the flick of a wrist and the strum of a guitar.
“I like sitting somewhere between Chuck Berry and Chet Baker,” said the singer-songwriter who wears suits on stage and invokes eras gone by. “I kind of think of my sound as ‘acoustic crooner.’ That’s kind of my vibe,” he laughs. “I might have coined something.”
So Far, Myles’ official US debut, is a collection of his songs over the years, re-recorded, with an easy-going, effortless sound. His smooth timbre anchors each hook-filled ditty, taking the listener from plaintive and introspective songs, to upbeat and urgent tunes, and soulful and lovelorn tales wrapped inside three minutes.
“I love the energy of the ’50s,” he said. “There’s something about that era, just before things went crazy psychedelic, it’s this great mix of being refined, but you can also feel the bubbling energy of something just about to fray a little bit, like when you watch Elvis.”
So Far managed to capture that energy, too; it’s the first time he’s recorded with a band the way he’s always wanted to.
“Jazz has always affected the way I like to hear sounds,” he said. “The record, even though it’s not jazz by any stretch, it’s made in the same way. We played live in the same room, just like they would have made a record back then. It was everybody in the same room, no headphones. It was super old school.”
Myles feels like he finally has a record that sounds like what he hears in his head when he’s writing. “For a long time I felt like “Oh, we’re a great live band,” but I just couldn’t figure out how to capture that on record,” he said.
Stripped of studio trickery, the talents of Myles and his band—guitarist Alan Jeffries and stand-up bass player Kyle Cunjak—shine through; the guitar is crisp, the timbre of Myles’ voice is clear and unvarnished.
Myles grew up in Fredericton, New Brunswick, “a small city or a big town,” as Myles calls it, on the east coast of Canada, the youngest of four brothers to two public high school teachers. His parents, though strict, were avid music lovers, and the entire family played an instrument, working their way through the Royal Conservatory repertoire, with Myles on trumpet and piano.
However, his family insisted that the path forward wasn’t through music, but through higher education, and impressed on the brothers they should get a degree in something sensible; music was just for fun. His brothers followed that path: One is a medical doctor, and two have PhD’s.
After getting a political science degree and going into politics for a brief stint, Myles deviated. During his third year in college when he was studying Chinese in China, he was making plans upon his return to go to law school, when he saw a red and green plywood guitar for sale. $30 later, he was writing songs, and law school became a less and less attractive option.
“When I came back from China, I had written a handful of songs and I was like, ‘Okay. This is, secretly, what I want to do. I’m not going to tell my parents, but really, something has gone off in me that I want to pursue.”
He never went to law school, which disappointed his father (He was super angry. But I promised him I’d wear a suit to work every single day. So I wear a suit, jokes Myles).
More than a decade later, he has had a steady, growing career as a successful musician, hosting a CBC radio show, “The East Coast Music Hour,” touring his home country, and winning accolades and awards.
So Far follows on the heels of a partnership with rapper-producer Classified which found Myles in more contemporary company, providing the straight foil to the hip hop-laden beats of his collaborator. The duo made “Inner Ninja”, an anti-bullying song featuring kids in the chorus. It went on to become a giant hit, going quadruple platinum, making it the biggest selling hip hop single in Canada.
“We knew it was kind of a high risk,” he said. “I’m a nerdy dude with glasses—how are we going to pull this off?”
They did. It even netted them a Juno—the Canadian Grammy—for rap recording of the year in 2013.
“It’s such an amazing feeling when you’re like, ‘Wow. This was just something that came out of the ether.’ Then all of a sudden it just takes on this huge life and people everywhere are singing it,” he said.
Visit David Myles’s website: davidmyles.com