A Great Escape catch-up with Toronto’s most exciting new musical export.
In a packed Green Door Store at this year’s Great Escape, one of the buzziest new names is about to hit the stage. With only three tracks out (and his fourth, “Desert Island Lover” dropping today!), Toronto’s Bad Child makes innovative electronic music guaranteed to give you goosebumps.
Having taught himself piano and subsequently production, he started to make music as a form of therapy after his mother passed, blending genres and writing from the heart to create his captivating sound. After releasing his eponymous first single last year, it blew up online and kicked the Bad Child project into motion.
Now, with his debut album on the horizon and sets at Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds coming up, we met up with him for some post-set beers in Brighton to find out all you need to know.
So going back to the beginning, was there a moment when you were younger that you realised you want to do music?
Well, when I was young I used to live with my grandmother and she had a piano tucked away in the back of her garage and one day I found it and said “I’m gonna try and learn it!” So every day I would try and play this thing for hours and I would put a radio on next to me and I would try and imitate what was on the radio.
Eventually I started learning chords and learning songs from all the old video games that I played. I just kind of taught myself, and then after that I fell in love with production. I’ve been producing since I was, maybe, nine.
I kind of lucked out because I’m from a very multicultural family and so my exposure to different musical cultures was tremendous. I grew up with my grandmother playing all of these French singers and my mother would play a ton of Latin American music while she cooked. From a young age, my Dad would play guys like Fish and guys like Rush. So it was just like all the shit! I can’t say I don’t like something, I like a lot of country, but for me my musical awakening was Nine Inch Nails.
In what way?
Well I really wanted an iPod when I was young and so I begged my dad and finally he was like “Okay, I’ll get you a fucking iPod” and when I was downloading some music onto it, he had all these folders, and I was just picking them at random and I saw Nine Inch Nails and my dad was like “Don’t put that on there!” and so I obviously did. When I listened to The Downward Spiral for the first time I must have been 11 or 10. I felt like he was just screaming at me and that’s what made me feel I like music a lot and made me really want to explore how can that make me feel something.
Was there a moment when you moved in to wanting to do it yourself?
After high school I worked a string of jobs, I worked at a fabric shop and multiple restaurants, but I was always doing music on the side and it was kind of a funny situation. I wanted to be a photo journalist and I was getting ready to go to school for it full time and when my mother passed I had all this energy built up in myself and I needed to put it toward something and I put it toward Bad Child. I just decided the first song I ever release is called “Bad Child”, the project is called Bad Child and it was received quite well online and later on I was like, “Well, I’m young I better take a shot at it.”
You just touched on your mum passing, what impact did that have on you and how did you go about translating those feelings into music?
Well, I mean after it happened I felt really alienated and it was difficult for me to, you know, kind of decide what I wanted to do in life. I wasn’t floundering but I had my head focussed on finishing school and then I’d decide from there. Music was almost the natural remedy and therapy for it. I always looked at writing songs as if it’s cataloguing emotion and I’m a super emotional person and when I experience something I can’t hold it inside.
Is wanting to get those emotions out where most of your inspiration stems from?
Oh yeah. I have a problem saying stuff that isn’t genuine, you know what I mean? I’m not going to stop until I understand myself. I’m not doing this for anybody but myself. It’s just to understand myself better.
Putting such difficult emotions into music, is it difficult knowing that the whole world will hear that?
I actually think it’s really cathartic. I mean, I was scared when I put my first song out because it was so personal. I said “Fuck it, I’ll do it, I’m doing it for myself.” And I started to get messages from people saying, “Thank you, this song helped me.” That made me feel like I was doing something more than just myself.
Is that the kind of aim with all the songs that you create?
I think I’m very careful not to be preachy. I don’t want to be like think this way, do this etc. I like conversations.
Growing up in Toronto, what’s the music scene like there? Were you influenced by artists that you heard there?
It’s difficult when I talk about where I grew up because I moved around so much when I was really young and then I settled down with my family outside of Toronto and then the last few years I’ve been living in Toronto. When I decided to make music I moved to Toronto, I just told my Ma, “I have no fucking clue how I’m going to make money but I will.”
With the sound, I don’t like the idea of feeding culturally into “Oh, everyone is making this sound.” I like to understand it and enjoy it, but I’ve always thought that when I make music I like to draw from old and new. I look at a band like Talking Heads and be like “How can you combine the Talking Heads with someone like Justin Timberlake?” So for a lot of my album I played this silly game where I said, “I want this to sound like Sean Paul and Nine Inch Nails.” Sonically, it was so fun for me to make. I think music should be fun and cathartic.
So is the album done now? You’ve already got three songs out so what’s the next step?
Well I can’t say too much! I will tell you though that it’s a very conceptual album. It’s already done and completely finalised. I’ll give you the title which is Free Trial. Expect that this year, early next year maybe!
What can we expect story wise and music wise from it?
Well I can give you a quick little buzz on it. Free Trial is about how human beings utilise each other in relationships, in business and in life. I’ve always thought that human romance has become a commodity, so things like Tinder, you look at a picture of someone and come up with a complete summation of their entire existence and would I or would I not? I think that’s transcending to how we look at people in business and in real life. It’s a conversation about that. “I need to be with someone right now. I need to have money right now.” It’s like, do you?
You’re coming back here for Reading, Leeds and Glasto, how are you feeling?
I mean, when I was young it was my dream to play Glastonbury. All of my favourite bands have played it. It’s kind of cool to say that we’ll be playing that. I’m really excited.
How long has this journey been for you from wanting to make music to the album being done?
I guess I’ve been working at it for four years now. I do all of the production and stuff, so it’s been about four years. It’s actually gone quite fast because a lot of it was on my own and I spent a lot of time working out the right contracts. I just said “I’m gonna take all the time in the world because there’s no rush and I’m still young.” I’m not going to get fucked over by a contract. Ever. The contract’s they came up with are perfect. They knew exactly what I wanted to do with full creative control. And everything.
What do you want people to take away from your music?
I want them to ask more questions than the music answers. I don’t want to guide people too much. My favourite music is the music I can listen to for 10 years and in year five it means something completely different to me. For me, as personal as it is, I try to make it artistic enough, like there’s a lot of lines in there that can have like quadruple entendres.
And where does the Bad Child name come from?
It’s about redemption. I thought it would be interesting to reclaim the word because I never felt good enough growing up. It was one of those things that I said, I’ll wear that and it’s about me trying to redeem myself after everything I’ve been through.
Do you think you’ve got some of that redemption?
I feel like I’m on my way.