Toronto singer/producer Seth Nyquist's quick rise has his head spinning, but he's figuring things out on the fly
MORMOR at Longboat Hall (1087 Queen West), Wednesday (April 24), 7 pm. $20. eventbrite.ca.
MorMor has had to learn quickly.
It hasn’t even been a year since the Toronto indie pop singer, producer and multi-instrumentalist has released his critically acclaimed debut EP, Heaven’s Only Wishful. But he’s already put out several music videos, spent time in various studios between Los Angeles, New York and his hometown, recently wrapped a European tour and is getting ready to head out on his first North American stint as a headliner.
When I meet the 27-year-old, born Seth Nyquist, at a Bloorcourt café near his apartment, he admits his education in navigating the industry has progressed at an accelerated pace.
“It was a huge learning curve after dropping the record,” he explains, clarifying he’s talking about the business side more than the actual act of making music. “There’s a lot of pressure having to deal with tours and all these new relationships. Finding my footing again and figuring out how I wanted to be in this new chapter of my life was a huge thing.”
It’s been a whirlwind 12 months, but Nyquist is no stranger to getting on stages and performing in front of audiences. His mother, an English professor at the University of Toronto, forced him to take piano lessons as a child and he also spent time singing in choirs. But many of his formative experiences didn’t come from classrooms.
“As a kid we’d go to High Park and see Shakespeare,” he recalls. “The conversations that we would have at the table when people would come over definitely shaped the critical thinking side of my brain.”
He omnivorously listened to the Beatles, Nirvana, Radiohead and Wu-Tang Clan in high school, but says he frequently felt alienated because of his tastes.
“I remember when I was eight or nine I had wanted a Jimi Hendrix CD for my birthday, and kids were laughing because they didn’t understand why I would want to listen to that,” he says. “I was also adopted, so I think there were all these complex views on fitting in and finding people. Earl Sweatshirt had that line, ‘Too Black for the white kids and too white for the Blacks.’ It’s kind of like that.”
“Obviously community is something I have a strong desire for, but I think with the internet and just the ability to travel you can develop a scene that is global,” says MorMor’s Seth Nyquist.
When he was 18, while studying sociology at Ryerson University, Nyquist received his first laptop from his aunt and learned to use programs like GarageBand and Logic. He dropped out after a semester, but spent the next few years writing psych-pop songs that showcased his malleable falsetto and knack for layered production, while addressing themes like depression and isolation.
One of those tracks, Heaven’s Only Wishful, ended up in the hands of an associate of Daniel Caesar and was featured on an OVO Sound Radio guest mix by Pharrell Williams and his OTHERtone co-host Scott Vener. It became a viral hit, with over 3.5 million YouTube views and more than 3 million Spotify streams. His self-released EP of the same title clocks in under a half hour, but shows a veteran musician’s command of structures and textures.
While he’s grateful for the co-signs, and mentions he’s friends with the members of hometown heroes BADBADNOTGOOD (the band’s Alex Sowinski was Nyquist’s drummer for a handful of shows last year), Nyquist doesn’t necessarily see himself as belonging to a Toronto scene. “Obviously community is something I have a strong desire for, but I think with the internet and just the ability to travel you can develop a scene that is global,” he says.
His forthcoming EP, out later this year, is inspired by his world touring and personal life changes, and he describes working on the new material as “very, very therapeutic.”
“I don’t want to say it’s more cohesive, but I think from front to back there’s a common thread holding it together,” he says.
The melancholic Outside, released as a single last month, notably includes the line “Looking outside, I’m scared to die,” which Nyquist points to as an example of a lyric giving him a “feeling of discomfort” that lets him know he’s on the right path. “There’s definitely a fear behind putting out things like that, but something always guides me to risk it.”
The video was shot in London by director Duncan Loudon and stars Nyquist in clown makeup (influenced by Wim Wenders’s 1987 romantic fantasy film Wings Of Desire), a treatment he originally resisted. Learning to trust others to help him execute his creative vision has been one of the most important lessons he’s picked up.
“You have to choose what you’re getting invested in, that’s a big thing that I’ve learned,” says Nyquist. “I’m someone who definitely puts all their energy into whatever they’re doing, and you really can’t be doing that with certain things.”
While the circle of people around him continues to grow, including a three-piece backing band for the upcoming tour, Nyquist remains unfazed by the attention. He’s content to let others handle the day-to-day business logistics so that he can continue to prioritize the music. (He’s yet to take any major label meetings.)
Besides his management team, one person in his corner has been UK singer and composer Mica Levi, who gave the singer some valuable advice when they spent some time together in New York last year.
“She said, ‘You got to write what you feel right now and not overthink,’” says Nyquist. “That really clicked for me.”
@nowtoronto | @Max_Mertens