Vancouver-based electronic pop artist Chris Clute is a fixture in his local music scene. Having a love of music from a young age, piano lessons paved the way to him jamming, making his own songs and figuring out how to play songs he was listening to. His songwriting reflects a variety of perspectives, with his early introspective and self-reflective writing leading to his learning to write from others’ points of view as as he began to write and create music with others. Performing in rock bands and collaborating with other musicians over the years has taught him what kind of artist he wants to be. Aside from playing in his own band, he also works on music with producers Sal and Pete of Sound of Kalima and often collaborates with his sister, musician Andrea Clute. A passionate advocate for bringing attention to Canada’s (especially Vancouver’s) opioid epidemic, homelessness and the mental health struggles that many face, he recently released “Vince’s Song”. The song was written for his friend Vince who, consumed by addiction, disappeared into the streets of Vancouver’s dangerous downtown Eastside. He has also created a campaign around the song, selling shirts and donating the profits to Street Saviors Society Outreach organization in Vancouver. Via Dropout entertainment:
“Vince’s Song,” was written for the family of Clute’s lost friend, Vince. It is a ‘true story’ of a young man, slowly seduced by substances and consumed by addiction, who has disappeared into the streets of Vancouver’s dangerous downtown Eastside. Clute’s heartfelt music video actually takes viewers onto those same streets where Vince now likely languishes, his whereabouts still unknown. The song, produced by close friends Sal Verma and Peter Newieunberg from Sound of Kalima, is a message to Vince “to come home.”
I’ve seen a lot of music videos this year, but “Vince’s Song” pulled at my heartstrings in a way that no other video has in 2020.
You can connect with Chris Clute via the following links:
What can you tell me about your childhood and discovering your love for music? What was it like growing up in Vancouver and what can you tell me about the music scene?
My parents put me into piano lessons at a pretty young age… I hated it… but they taught me to not give up on things right away. Even though I quit taking lessons for piano a few years later, I started jamming and playing around, making my own little tunes and figuring out how to play songs that I was listening to.
You also play music with your sister. How did you start playing together? What has that experience been like for the two of you?
Growing up we we’re very into the Family Channel (Canada’s Version of the Disney Channel). The songs were catchy and would always have us singing along and led to our parents getting annoyed from us singing a Jonas Brothers Lyric over and over again. We started with playing songs we both liked. I would typically play guitar and she would sing, but it wasn’t till I started singing more that I was able to fill out our performances with nice harmonies and backings to compliment her voice. Performing music together has been a pretty awesome experience. She’s hella talented and seeing peoples’ reactions to hearing her sing live has been pretty special.
Having been in a few different bands/projects over the years, what can you tell me about your style and sound as a musician? Who would you count as influences?
I feel like as humans, we’re a product of the things we’re exposed to the most. Having been in a few rock bands, I think that side will always be a part of me. Also, in collaborating with talented and passionate musicians, I’ve definitely learned a lot about myself and what I like. Early on, I was obsessed with the Canadian band Sum 41. I remember a car ride from Kelowna to Vancouver (4+ hour drive). I must have listened to their “does this look infected” album on my dad’s walkman for pretty much the whole ride. Nowadays, I’m super into Jon Bellion’s music. It blows my mind how someone could be so damn talented and still let the emotion of the art shine through each track. Another big influence for me in the recent past is the canadian group Arkells. Their live show is so much fun to be a part of. I can’t wait to see them again some day after covid.
You have said that a lot of your early songwriting was very introspective and self-reflective from your perspective. From your experience with writing and creating with others, you’ve learned to write from other points of view. What can you tell me about your songwriting process and what that shift was like for you? How does your process differ when writing with others vs writing alone?
The process is a little different every time but I’ve been able to focus less on myself and really dive into creating and developing characters and think about how they would be feeling or how I would feel if I were in their situation. Sometimes when writing with others, I feel a little bit of added pressure to come with ideas on the spot. Recently however, it’s been helpful having a creative team helping to keep things on track. I tend to get very distracted or lost in things that may not be that relevant to the end goal. But having good collaborators can help make it feel like we’re playing volleyball or juggling. We’re each taking turns to keep the ball in the air.
You have said that when writing music, something needs to pull you in right away and make you feel. Does this make it hard for you to write songs or do you often feel something quickly while writing? How do you work through writer’s block, when it presents itself?
The best thing for me is to take a walk or to do something that doesn’t require much thinking (washing dishes, running, having a shower). The song idea will usually stay in my conscious mind while doing something else “unconsciously”. I have no idea how, but I think it frees up the mind to work in a differently and can help find ways around the “block”. Once we’ve got something recorded, I sometimes play NHL21 on the ps4 while listening to the song on repeat. It usually helps to listen back in different settings and situations to really feel out the song whether that’s in the car, out on a walk or even in a different room.
With regards to your recent single “Listen 2 U”, you have talked about how the song focuses on the strange feeling of lost connections and trying to rebuild and that the impact of human connection is universal. What are your feelings on human connection in the age of modern technology, the internet and social media? How do you feel that Covid has impacted human connection and do you feel that modern technology has helped to soften the impact of less contact with each other?
I think my relationships with certain people have changed dramatically. I just hope when I actually see them again in real life, we can go back to how it was. But when I don’t see someone face to face, it definitely feels like I’m missing a part of them. While technology has made it possible to still work on music and keep in touch, it’s missing something. And I think we’re all missing that something right now.
Over the past few years, you have worked a lot with Salil and Peter of Sound of Kalima. How did you meet and come to collaborate with them?
I met Pete playing hockey actually. He was playing for the Commerce Capitals, a UBC intramural team for the Sauder School of Business. From time to time they would need a goalie and I’d step in and steal them a game or two! I later found out he was producing and making music and one day they needed vocals on a track. Knowing I was the frontman of a band at the time, Pete asked if I could sing on the song they were working on. From that first session on, I felt like him, Sal and I had a pretty solid connection on a musical and creative level. Whether it’s joking around or creating beautiful sounds, it’s always a good time with those two.
You recently released “Vince’s Song” about your friend Vince who struggles with substance use disorder and currently lives in the Downtown Eastside part of Vancouver. What can you tell me about Vince? You have said that although inspired by Vince, the song is for anyone who feels stigmatized by society for their mental health and/or substance use problems. Why do you feel there is such a stigma surrounding these issues, and what do you feel is being done in Canada to change the script and erase the stigma? Do you feel that progress is being made?
Even though mental illness is talked about more often now, people still don’t seem to equate it to physical illness. It’s normal to go to the dentist to get a check up but for some reason people don’t talk about going to the psychologist for a check up. Stress has a huge impact on our mental health, and sometimes we don’t take a day off until we’ve let that stress build up and it’s too late. I think employers are doing a better job encouraging employees to take personal days or to take sick days when their not feeling 100%. It’s definitely a step in the right direction.
How did the idea behind the music video for “Vince’s Song” come about?
When filming the music video, we really tried to show the disparity in Downtown Vancouver. We wanted to show how you can walk from West to East in downtown Vancouver and see a drastic change in everything. We started in Coal Harbour, a high-income neighborhood, where there’s tall skyscrapers, expensive restaurants and everything is well-kempt. We then drove two minutes east into Gastown, an area of Vancouver that has gone through intense gentrification throughout the years and has an interesting combination of fancy restaurants and nightclubs but also homelessness and is steps away from the Downtown Eastside. We ended with shots of the Downtown Eastside, a low-income area with a large population who struggle with mental health and substance use that lacks the social support their residents need. This drive, from Coal Harbour to the Downtown Eastside, is less than five minutes. We thought this highlighted the inequities of our society, especially in Vancouver.
You created a campaign around the song, selling shirts and donating the profits to ‘Street Saviors Society Outreach’? What can you tell me about the organization and the work they do for those who live on the streets in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver?
After a year like this, I think we’ve all learned the importance of looking after the people in your community. This pandemic has affected everyone. With this in mind, we decided to put together a campaign to help the residents of the Downtown Eastside. The “For Vince” campaign aims to help those who are in need of immediate support by raising money for the ‘Street Saviors Society Outreach’. This non-profit organization patrols the Downtown Eastside several nights a week, providing outreach, food items, harm reduction supplies, and emergency medical care from certified medics and emergency medical responders (EMR).
How has the opioid epidemic impacted British Columbia and how did you become involved in supporting the cause and community that has been impacted?
If you live in Vancouver, there’s no avoiding the opioid epidemic. Almost everyone I know has people in their life who struggle with mental health and/or substance use disorder. When we were talking about putting out Vince’s song, we just wanted to do some good because there hasn’t been a whole lot of good this past year.
You have discussed experimenting with cinematic music and piano scores. Are you hoping to write music for film and television? What sparked that interest for you?
I have a few songs that would be awesome for the big screen or even a Netflix type series and we’re working on getting placed in TV and Film. Haven’t done much in terms of scoring but it’s something I could see myself learning more about.
What’s next for you?
We’re really trying to bring people in on my story and my music. I want to release an album, but I definitely want to create the demand first. Our plan for the next year is drop singles every 6-8 weeks and really build up anticipation for the album to come out sometime next year!