Life and times

Dartmouth beatbox phenom Kaleb Simmonds resurfaces with a brand new album. Johnston Farrow talks to him about The Life of an 80s Baby.

photo Darryl James

Full of raw talent, hip-hop and R&B enthusiast Kaleb Simmonds took the country by storm in 2004, infusing AOR radio hits with an aesthetic he learned on the streets and in the churches of Dartmouth. Over two years on after his top-seven placing on Canadian Idol, the 23-year-old artist is finally ready to take on the country—and world—on his own terms.

Sitting in his sister’s apartment in Dartmouth, it’s still hard to believe that Simmonds is the same person who broke onto the national scene, leaving Idol judges with mouths agape—Farley Flex told him he sang like Miles Davis played.

Once he sheds light on his history, his success is a little clearer.

Born and raised in Dartmouth, Simmonds found his calling as a singer when he began to perform at Sunday worship. By the time he was in grade 5, he had a manager booking him shows. While other students did their homework, he was chaperoned into local clubs and anywhere else that would let him sing. Simmonds claims he’s never had a normal job.

“My job was my talent my whole life,” Simmonds says, sipping a beer. “I wasn’t told that I was going to wake up and sing today. I just wanted to sing so bad that I wanted to make that my line of work. My skill was in music, I expressed that, and people caught on.”

In an attempt to gain some exposure, Simmonds auditioned for Canadian Idol. Lacing his tryout with the beatboxing he learned from his love of hip-hop, Simmonds earned a gold ticket to Toronto. However, the machine-like precision of the Toronto music business was a far cry from what awaited Simmonds back home after being voted off the show. Instead of having his entire day filled with business, Simmonds now had to make things happen on his own. The transition proved to be a difficult one.

“It was a mess because the time schedule was so busy when you’re working for the big shots,” Simmonds says. “For me to come home and take things into my own hands, the work ethic went down a big percentage. Coming home was a big dramatic change.”

While other Canadian Idol contestants signed lucrative record deals straight off the show, Simmonds decided he wanted full control of his music and formed Black Flag Records with two of his cousins. It took two years for any of his material to see the light of day.

“My reason for doing a record label was mainly because I wanted to be around people that I have abilities to make moves with in life, and also I wanted to be an owner of what I do,” he says. “For me to be an artist and put music out and not own it, I wouldn’t be at peace with myself.”

The years of work resulted in The Life of an 80s Baby, a sleek mix of influences of old soul, hip-hop and R&B, delivered in Simmonds’s unique style. The title of the album alludes to the generation that has grown up after the civil rights movement, in a world much more technologically advanced than its predecessors.

The Life of an 80s Baby is the young culture right now,” he says. “Children of the ’80s are usually given a label, they’re thugs, or they’re misrepresented or misunderstood. My cry out on this album is that we aren’t a fucked-up group of people. We aren’t messed up. We are the effect of the life we have been given.”

Simmonds plans to shoot a video and hopes to sign distribution deals in Canada and the United States as well as Japan and England. A move to Ottawa in October to further his business interests is also in the cards. Only time will tell if the young man with bottomless talent will be able to harness the same power that made him a household name for a short time. Simmonds is determined not to fade from public consciousness the way other Idol contestants have.

“My next move is to get international exposure,” he says. “I’m a universal artist, I shouldn’t be held down to Canada. Canadian Idol showed me what I had to do as an artist to get my music to the world as opposed to certain classifications of people.”

Kaleb Simmonds CD release, June 24 at Diamonds, 2099B Gottingen, 10pm, 404-2799

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