Breakfast With Havelin

A few years ago, I was sitting at home enjoying some free time, when I stumbled onto a show on Netflix called Lost & Found Music Studios. Being a sucker for fun teen shows, especially ones with music, I decided to try it out. Two episodes later, I was hooked. The story was fun, the music was good… What more could you ask for, right? Shortly after finishing the second season, I found out the show had been cancelled.  I needed a sense of closure. Thankfully, with the power of YouTube, I found that closure. 

Most of the show’s stars had already launched other projects. One in particular, has now become my favorite indie artist: Havelin. His debut EP Alright, Alright, Okay is incredibly moving. It feels both personal and really relatable. His follow up single “The Further I Go” truly is one of my favorite songs of all time. It expresses how alienated it feels to come home after a long time, and realize that it’s not home anymore. This past summer, Havelin went on his first U.S tour and I was not only lucky enough to see him perform, but also to talk with him before his set. After the show, I asked him if I could interview him. Thankfully, he agreed. Last week, we sat down and had a long talk about his life and his career. 

So, can you tell me about St. Albert– or Edmonton, where you grew up? How did growing up there influence your song “Further I Go”, which is one of my favorite songs?

I was born in Edmonton. My family lived there for around 10 years and then moved to the suburbs of St Albert, which is just outside of the city. When I first moved to the suburbs, I didn’t really make friends. I spent most of my time locked in an office writing. St. Albert is a great city to retire or raise a kid in, but it doesn’t have a lot going on for teenagers. Everyone pretty much fell into groups centered around a specific activity. After a while, I got involved with the local music community, which kept me sane and social. It was really important to me. From playing local open mics then running some of them, we were really focused on building the scene as much as we could. In Grade 11, I got booked for Lost & Found Music Studios and flew out of town for filming. So, that all kind of faded away. By graduation, people were surprised to see me cause they assumed I’d moved away.

I read that you got a lot of unwanted attention from being on TV. What show was it? Do you think that experience is why we haven’t seen much acting from you in recent years?

Well there was Lost & Found. Before that, when I got out of junior high, I did a talent competition for YTV in Canada called “The Next Star.” If you look up my given name Alex Zaichkowski, most of the results pertain to that kind of stuff. It’s kind of one of the reasons I went with Havelin as opposed to sticking with my original name. It was because I kind of wanted to create a separation. The Next Star show was a fantastic experience. It was great. I met a lot of great people, but it was a little bit corny like, “we’re gonna turn you into a pop star” kind of thing. I really don’t want people to think I was that kind of person because when I signed up for it, I only went and auditioned to impress a girl. I liked Toronto, so it wasn’t like I was trying to get that famous experience. Then, people started treating me differently like I was… like I thought better of myself or something. They believed I thought I deserved to be a teen pop idol or something but I was just like, “I just did it cause it was something I could do. I thought it would be fun.” So that’s kind of why I created that separation there so people didn’t see me as that but instead saw me as a genuine artist.

I was never a trained actor. Growing up, I never did acting classes or anything like that. Lost and Found was almost a bit of a fluke. I’ve done about three shows (I think) and two of them were performance based. The other one was Lost and Found and the acting element of that was very unique. You’d get your sides for the day and then you’d memorize them going in. During the scene, new lines might come up; so it’d be like you could never really learn it. I was really good with the improvisation and not so much with the memorization sometimes. Getting back into acting is something I really do want to do because I really enjoyed my time on set. I love the act of going into work as an actor: showing up on set, getting your morning coffee, getting ready, learning your lines, and “let’s go, let’s get on set.” I loved that a lot, because it wasn’t in front of a crowd. You just have the cameras there, and there’s not as much pressure, in that respect. It’s something I really want to do more of, but I need to work on my technical ability a little bit.

Speaking of Lost & Found, I was curious how that came about. I know some of you originally just had cameos on The Next Step.

Yeah. Then they had a plan for this show to kind of branch off and become its own thing. We actually filmed both seasons all together. There were politics with the networks and all that so it just didn’t end up happening the way that they originally envisioned. When they were pitching it to us and talking about it, we thought this could be the next step. It was a lot of fun because the writers let us develop and grow the characters we played. Some of the cast were primarily there for music while others were there for their acting abilities. It gave everyone a chance to feel comfortable in their character really helped.

When Lost & Found Music Studios got put on Netflix, it’s popularity definitely went up, but long after the show had already ended production. Most of the cast still get messages from new fans asking if there’s gonna be another season— despite production ending five years ago. Thankfully, a handful of the cast have YouTube channels and stream-able music. Havelin and I shared a laugh discussing what we would’ve liked in a potential third season, and the fact that his character was the only one who got an actual ending with the season 2 finale. I asked the typical fan questions (yes he still talks to some of the cast) and found out that he was actually involved in crafting some of the music his character played on the show. 

So from an outside perspective, the music industry in Canada seems very different from the music industry in the US. A lot of talented musicians as well as artists across the border seem to leave Canada and just dominate here. They typically say that they’ve done all they could there. You said that just releasing an album doesn’t mean you’ve made it, like people think. Do they give huge cash advances there like here in America? What’s been your experience with the difference? 

So that’s a really great question. I think the difference between the Canadian industry and the US industry is size and in relative land. I mean Canada is massive but there’s a lot of empty space. There’s really only two cities that are kind of entertainment hubs. There’s kind of two different ways of “making it” nowadays. There’s the traditional idea of putting out a song, it blowing up, and you get a record deal. Then from there, everything keeps spiraling, but doesn’t really exist anymore. Now, there’s so much out there. There’s so much propriety that you know– you have people that got twenty five million a song, you know, five to fifteen million every song. Then they’ll come to Toronto and play smaller venues I’ve played, but with half their numbers. Your money goes a lot further in the States and there’s a lot more connections there. So naturally, like when people find a foothold of success from Canada, they want to leverage that because they sort of see the U.S. launch platform. You sort of build a critical mass in Canada and then you and then you migrate south. 

I can’t see myself doing that. I’m a Canadian boy at heart. You can have a career as a musician in the Canadian industry and make good money just touring across Canada. You can be the best musician in Edmonton, Alberta, and play gigs every night but you will never have that sort of mainstream success. Also with things like Spotify, the way we see music has changed. Charts don’t matter the way they used to. It’s a new playing field. Now, making a living off just your music without that mainstream success is incredibly hard. You could do it if you play covers at weddings or corporate gigs, but I’m not there yet. 

If you don’t mind me asking, what do you do to supplement your living?

Lots of part time work and minimum wage, depends on the month. Sometimes I play a cover gig. Touring is expensive.

You make some of the most relatable music I’ve really ever listened to. Is that a goal when you’re writing a new song, or does it just sort of happen?

For me, it’s almost a bit of a challenge to take an idea and put it in a way that is both  personalized and generalized. I don’t want to tell a story that has unique aspects to my life, but I don’t want someone to listen to feel alienated or like they can’t relate to it. I always try to make the effort to try to comb through it and go, “no, that’s something crazy that I think in my head and other people probably don’t. So let’s take that out.” But, you know, while still keeping as much of me as I can. 

Havelin has a very unique outlook for an indie artist. He told me that, as much as his music is meant to express his feelings and thoughts; he’s also fully aware it’s a product for sale and takes that into consideration when he’s writing. Honestly, I think any artist who wants to monetize their art should try to find that balance between expressing themselves, and having a marketable product. 

You’re stranded on a desert island. It can only bring five albums with you. What do you pick? 

Best of Warren Zevon

Because The Internet- Childish Gambino 

I LOve You Honey Bear- Father John Misty 

You’re the headliner and you can get to opening, acts alive or dead. Who are your openers?

That’s hard because I don’t think I could, as a fan, pick people to open for me. I’d rather open for them. So, in that sense, I’m a huge Passenger fan, as well as Ed Sheeran, I mean he’s the holy grail of white guys with guitars. 

Would you ever consider going on tour with your former castmates? Not as the show but as the artists you are now?

It could be fun, but it would probably be confusing for fans. People would show up expecting to hear music from the show and ask us to play songs we haven’t touched in five years. Probably a bad idea.

Havelin addressed something that is actually a pet peeve of mine. Too often in the world of entertainment, fans os a show or a band are temporary. I encounter people all the time, who are surprised to hear that band they listened to in 2007 is still making music in 2020. I hear people reminisce about artists who are still active. The same goes with actors. I’ve never understood why some fans limit their fandom to a single project, even in today’s personality driven internet age. You love a YouTuber until they do something outside of the main platform, or thank it’s weird for a TikTok star to launch a YouTube channel, etc. The way many fans conditionally love an artist has always baffled me. I found Havelin’s music because I liked his character on the show. Truth be told, that’s how I find a lost of music and other media pieces I like. I do what seems natural to me, and follow the artist who I enjoy. Sometimes your favorite backup guitarist might leave that band and become an incredible solo act, but you’d never know cause you didn’t look. 

Talk to me about your new song Gentle, which is amazing by the way

Gentle is definitely a personal one for me. I wrote most of the lyrics in my living room, and it’s inspired by my relationship with my girlfriend. We’ve been together since high school. We’ve been together five years now and she’s my rock. She’s been with me through everything. We were long distance for a while and now we live together. That’s what Gentle is really about when, you know, somebody that long and you know everything about them and you know how they react to situations and you just want to make things better. It’s about learning to love when things aren’t easy, rather than putting up walls.

It definitely feels like a more mature love song than your previous work. It taps into the concept of love languages and how to actually be with someone. It’s one of my favorite love songs.

Thank you, I’m glad you see it how I envisioned it. That’s definitely what I was going for. I wanted it to feel like a promise. A promise to be good to who you’re with. It’s not about desire or something new, but nurturing and realistically caring for the person. 

Beautiful, so, is that a single for an upcoming album?

Good question. I believe so. If all goes well I’ll be working on something these next couple months and have something for summer. No guarantees in this crazy world, but there’s definitely work being done. 

What do you want? What do you hope people see from you as an artist, what kind of impact or impression are you hoping you’ll leave on the people who listen to your music?

I really just want to connect with people, tell the stories I have to tell because I like to live the weirdest life I can, I want people to feel like my music is there for them when they need it, and being able to pay my bills would be nice as well. 

Havelin is a perfect example of an amazing self made artist. He’s honest, he’s genuine, and he really puts his heart into his music. I think everyone could find comfort in one of his songs, like a warm cup of coffee on a cold day. I can’t wait to hear his next project, and I hope I’ll get the chance to see him perform again.  

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