Some songs, no matter how far they lie outside your sonic comfort zone, are just too much to resist. Take Canadian musician Coleman Hell’s “2 Heads”: an infectious backbeat, a plucky banjo sample, luscious keys, handclaps, and “woo hoos!” Join the 6.2 million who’ve watched the sexy, duplicitous video on YouTube and the hook will set itself even deeper.
At its core, “2 Heads” performs a very simple job: It mashes up danceable electronic pop with classic rock flourishes and a tinge of downcast folk. And though it ain’t James Joyce, the line “We just got caught up in the moment/Why don’t you call me in the morning instead/Before we turn into a monster with two heads” is one that cuts all kinds of ways.
“It’s a great song that still gets crowds hyped up,” Hell tells Folio Weekly Magazine. “And somewhere the powers that be are smiling, because it’s still getting played on the radio and it doesn’t seem like it’s gotten old yet. I don’t think people are sick of it yet, even though I haven’t been putting out much music since ‘2 Heads.’”
That’s all going to change this summer, when Hell releases his debut full-length with support from Columbia Records. The 29-year-old Thunder Bay, Ontario, native moved to Toronto nearly a decade ago to pursue music full-time, rapping with Burnz ’n’ Hell for several years before alighting on his current stylistic path.
“I’m such an ADD music listener and appreciate all different kinds of music, so I spent two years making everything: disco, rap, pop,” Hell says. “It wasn’t until last year that I had this sort of breakthrough, though, where I could channel the feeling of the old rock and folk from the ’70s I was listening to with the energy of electronic dance music.”
Such a contrast is perfectly summed up by the recording process for his as-yet-untitled debut: He and bandmates Rob “La+ch” Benvegnu and Michah Dowbak rented a cabin in the Ontario wilderness and wrote and recorded the entire album, with the doors wide open to the elements. “A lot of it elaborates on the sounds of ‘2 Heads,’” Hell says. “Ideally I want to make songs like that all the time – they can connect with people emotionally, but if you don’t want to sit down and soak up the words, you can dance to it as well.”
Hell got a good lesson in straddling both those worlds simultaneously earlier this year, when he did a stint opening for hip-hop-influenced arena-pop bigwigs Twenty One Pilots before kicking off his own American headlining tour. “Their fanbase is really intense, and also a lot younger, so it was great to play for kids instead of just the 21+ shows I usually do,” Hell says. “Plus, they have a crazy live show with explosions and insane backgrounds, so just watching that and learning from it was important.”
But perhaps the most refreshing thing about Hell is that, even given his quick ascent and legitimate shot at achieving international success, he’s still passionate about his longtime community in Toronto. He and several friends founded Sideways, a songwriting, production, video, and design collective that allows for nonstop collaboration but also creative freedom. “We all make our own music and help each other with our own projects,” Hell says. “We bounce around, shifting roles and helping each other’s music take off. And that will never go away – Sideways will always be my support system.”
In fact, La+ch and Michah serve as Coleman’s backing band, adding extra power to the songs they helped him co-write and record. But Hell emphasizes the fact that the three of them had the album mostly done before Columbia Records even came calling. “In a way, I’ve been making this album my whole life,” he says. “I’m not going to switch it up and make some Hollywood album — that’s not really me. I’m just trying to stay true to my roots.”