Roddy Colmer Talks New Single “White Little Lights”, Songwriting, And Career Longevity

Kat Harlton

For Roddy Colmer, the musical road has taken many twists and turns. He left Toronto in 2005 with his rock/reggae band Rebel Emergency and moved to New York City, where they spent a year recording their first album with Grammy Winning Producer “Commissioner” Gordon Williams (Lauryn Hill, Amy Winehouse). They teamed up with Jamaican Dancehall Artist “Panic” to become “Panic & The Rebel Emergency” and toured The USA and Jamaica until during a soundcheck in San Diego, Panic was arrested on stage and sent to prison for 15 years for mistakes from his past. The band regrouped in Toronto and continued on, releasing 3 more albums as Rebel Emergency, touring Canada and opening for such artists as The Roots and 311.

The band took a break in 2012 and Roddy released his first solo album “The Little Things” and then started a new project called ‘Most Non Heinous”, an electro-rock band with artist/producer Matthew von Wagner (USS). MNH released 2 albums and had radio success with their single “Weird Science” which reached #25 on the Canadian Rock charts. Colmer released his latest album “Afterglow” in 2019, introduced by the melodic first single “Written in Stone”. Working without the creative constraints of a deadline, partnered with a focus on honest and resonant songwriting, the album took a year to record, with the bulk of the recording done with producer/engineer Devon Lougheed (Hey Ocean, Smashing Satellites) and additional recording and mixing done with Matthew von Wagner. Highlights include “Make it to Forever”, a melancholy duet with the very talented young Universal artist Nefe, the slow-burning “Little Glimpse”, which was co-written by the brilliant and accomplished singer/songwriter Jocelyn Alice, and “Yes I Do”, a perfect easy summer song written and recorded with artist/producer Ben Nudds. The album was released by Flying Colours Music and reached #2 on the iTunes Canadian Singer/Songwriter charts and #90 on the overall Album charts.

He also started the Rock project “Century Surfers” in 2019 with Jamie Gutfreund, which has released 3 singles including “The Storm” which debuted on the Top 50 Alternative Chart in Canada.   

Colmer is also an active contributor to The Howard Stern Show, with his parody songs receiving consistent airplay. He plans to Keep writing and recording in 2020, working towards full EP releases for both his solo work and Century Surfers project.

We had the opportunity to chat with Roddy about his new single “White Little Lights”, songwriting, and career longevity.

Kat: So for those who have never heard your music before, how would you describe your sound, and yourself as an artist?

Roddy: It’s difficult for me to describe my sound because I’ve been involved with different sounding projects (Rebel Emergency, Most Non Heinous and most recently Century Surfers). I would say that one element that I try to weave through them all is that I try to squeeze as much melody out of every song I work on no matter what genre it is. I’ve always been attracted to extra melodic songwriters. For my solo music, which this single is, I try to be as true to myself as I can and not force anything. I’m a generally optimistic person so most of the lyrics I write tend to lean that way or at least have a glimpse of it. For instance this song is about losing someone close to you, but also the feeling of comfort knowing that you will always have the memories of that person whenever you need them.

Kat: Your new single “White Little Lights”, is based off of a book of poetry of the same name which your nephew published. What was it about the book that inspired you to turn it into a song? Was there any collaboration with your nephew about the track? How did that discussion go?

Roddy: I wasn’t aware of my nephew’s poetic prowess until he gave me this book. His mom (My brother’s wife) had recently passed away from cancer and many of the poems touched on that topic in a really beautiful and thoughtful way. I searched though the book and underlined lines that stood out to me or felt like they belonged in a song. I took those lines to a fellow songwriter in Toronto named Nate Kreiswirth, who I had previously worked on a song called “Written In Stone”. He’s a super talented guy and very easy to write with. In a couple of hours we had the basic skeleton of the song. Because I was using some of the lines and inspiration from the book, I kept sending my nephew drafts to make sure that he was ok with it, as I wanted to capture the same spirit that he had created. I also wanted the music to match the intensity and feeling of the words, and really build in a dramatic way. He ended up directing and starring in the video as well, which he did a really amazing job on.

Kat: “White Little Lights” features the talents of Jason Pierce (Our Lady Peace) on drums, and Stuart Cameron (Matthew Good Band, Crash Test Dummies) on guitar. How did they come to feature on track?

Roddy: My producer Ben Nudds knows both of those guys and reached out to them. One of the good things about sticking around in the music business for so long is that you get to meet and collaborate with some really amazing people. Jason is one of my favourite drummers to watch live, Stuart is so versatile on guitar, and both are full of and generous with ideas. We sent them the track and they sent us back a few versions with different ideas, and then Ben and I put it all together.

Kat: You’ve had the opportunity to be in a few pretty successful projects in the past, and you’ve done quite a few collaborations, how have those influenced your songwriting?

Roddy: I feel like collaborating is so important to grow as a songwriter. It can get you out of your comfort zone and force you to come at an idea from a different angle than what you are used to. You also learn new tricks and methods from other people. Sitting down and writing a song with Jocelyn Alice made me realize how much I still had to learn and how much better I could strive to be. Writing with Ash from USS made me look at lyric writing in a totally different way than how I did before. I could list 20 people and tell you how each of them affected me. The important thing is dropping any ego you have and letting the song be the most important thing in the room. The best idea wins no matter who comes up with it.

Kat: You’ve been very active in Toronto’s music scene for years, organizing showcases and generally supporting artists and the community at all levels. How do you feel Toronto’s music scene has changed over the years, and do you have any advice for emerging artists?

Roddy: I feel like one of the most important things is establishing and maintaining relationships, and being supportive of other artists. Being a musician is hard. It’s a crazy choice to do it as a career and to be successful at it you need a support system and you need to immerse yourself in it. Be nice to everyone, especially your fans, people who work at venues, and of course fellow musicians. If you see an artist do something you liked, tell them….Even if it was just one song in their set you thought was good, tell them after the set. People need positivity these days and artists need reassurance that what they are doing is appreciated. The music scene needs a culture of support to survive and the only way for that to happen is if artists go to each others shows, collaborate, promote each other, and generally lift each other up.

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