Myles above | Music | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Myles above

Things have changed for the Fredericton native, whose second record has propelled him to the forefront of the Halifax scene and onto the biggest ECMA stage.

photo Kyle Cunjak

Listen to "Love Again" by David Myles

David Myles demonstrates well the principle of rapid immersion---the brilliant experience of diving in fast and deep and coming up with golden, artistic expression.

Growing up in Fredericton, he studied trumpet intensely, loving jazz in particular. A few years ago this musical mind was studying political science, with a minor in Chinese, at Mount Allison in Sackville, New Brunswick. Then one day he’s off on an exchange to a city two hours from Shanghai, China, to learn Mandarin.

In a warm and wood-lined cafe in Halifax, he casts back to his life “living in this tiny room and writing all these mellow songs” on a guitar he purchased. “All my spare time was spent playing. I went from not playing at all to getting completely into the idea of being a songwriter.”

He realized that idea with the release of his first record, Together and Alone, in 2005, after he got back from China. The Fredericton native didn’t stick around to officially release the record—instead he headed out west and “lived in the back country.”

In his mid-20s, Myles is covering much ground, though he’s staying put in Halifax for now—long enough for ECMAs nominators to tap him for the Rising Star Recording of the Year for his second record, Things Have Changed.

Naturally, given the principle of rapid immersion, Myles put the record out last May after only beginning to record it in January.

“With this album I gained a lot of confidence. I’d played live more. The big difference is that I got to flesh out all the ideas on the second album,” he says. Myles was working with Charles Austin, who gave him the space and the support to “think about the arrangements.”

His praise for his producer and players—on stage and on this record, including Jill Barber on two tracks, Dale Murray, Matt Murphy and Gabe Minnikin—surfaces throughout the conversation. Myles calls Austin a “human hub of activity” whose work is vital to the current Halifax music community, from the emerging artists to the vets, who exemplifies the spirit of collaboration that characterizes the city’s music right now.

This artist’s respect for arrangers and musicians illuminates another point about Myles’ own music. It’s got soul, a classic soul, like the old R&B studios and composers of the ’60s and ’70s. He names Curtis Mayfield, the “happy blues” of Taj Mahal, Al Green and Bob Marley as favourites.

“I listen to that, more than I probably listen to folk music,” Myles says. “I think it’s only a matter of circumstance that I play folk music.” (For the record, he refers to his music as roots, which gets at the blending of folk, blues, soul and even jazz.)

The live show is that circumstance. He often hits the stage alone with his guitar—thus the folk label—as he did for a highly praised December opening slot for Sarah Slean at the Rebecca Cohn.

He followed those shows up in the early new year with a show at Ginger’s, where he formed a trio (with drummer Benn Ross and fellow Fredericton native Kyle Cunjak of The Fussy Part on standup bass). A line formed downstairs, went out of the club and down Barrington Street. Myles sees the two as connected—the chance to play to 650 people at the Cohn, an “attentive audience,” some of whom were curious enough to check him out further.

Further proof of his soul vibe comes right off the title track of Things Have Changed—specifically the horn part provided by Myles himself and that Wurlitzer at the hands of Dylan Jervis. The success of that song goes to the rule held true during the recording: “Go for what felt right with each tune.”

What you get then in Things is a collection of songs that each stand on their own, while making the whole work too. Follow the trumpet parts, and you sense an album that shifts smoothly. Myles says it adds “harmonic depth” but, in some places it lifts while elsewhere it gently holds the listener.

No wonder his heroes also include Ray Charles. “Ray Charles, people can get that, but at the same time people can listen and go ‘These guys are the heaviest players,’” he says. “The time’s perfect, the tuning’s perfect, but at the same time it’s not held back for the sake of being perfect.”

Though he lacked confidence about his songwriting “for sure at first,” he’s found his groove now. He calls his style “more direct than metaphorical.” He admires the storytelling in the classic jazz songbooks—simple stories with memorable hooks.

David Myles is already checking the depths—he’s playing around with fresh ideas at Charles Austin’s new studio location—but it’s not yet time for rapid immersion. For now, he’s enjoying life on the surface.

David Myles plays February 16 at the Schooner Room, 4pm (free) and at Alderney Landing, 8pm and February 18 on the ECMA telecast, 8pm on CBC.

David Myles plays February 16 at the Schooner Room, 4pm (free) and at Alderney Landing, 8pm and February 18 on the ECMA telecast, 8pm on CBC.

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