Zeke Wilson discusses the artistic process of becoming vulnerable, Wilson and Flan and The Empties.
By: Edwin Thomas, Contributor
Zeke Wilson’s parents raised him on soul music. Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers and Marvin Gaye were the soundtracks of his childhood.
His father, Aron Wilson, is also a musician with two studio albums under his belt. Wilson describes his father as a supportive figure in his life. He taught Wilson to appreciate and play music, came to his shows, gave him feedback and also inspired him to pick up the guitar. Both father and son have similar tastes in music, enjoying Motown, soul and the blues. They could often be found in a jam session together in Aron’s basement studio.
Brought up in Kingston, Ontario, Wilson attended Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute where he established his foundation in music. In grade 10, he would find hip-hop beats on YouTube and rap over them with his friends using Garageband. He transitioned into writing and singing in grade 11 using his father’s basement studio to record vocals.
Around this time, Wilson also started teaching himself Logic Pro, a music recording software. During the remainder of his time in high school, he continuously released singles and collaborated with local artists such as Tshepo. Shortly after, he started playing guitar.
His first performance was during an open mic night at Kingston’s Elm Café, where his father accompanied him on the guitar. Wilson was initially uncomfortable performing in a live setting but found the experience to be very memorable.
“It’s a rush I haven’t gotten tired of. That feeling that you get after playing does not go away. It’s always exciting and exhilarating,” said Wilson.
After high school, Wilson took a gap year to live in Banff for eight months. He wanted to explore a new environment before enrolling in university. While working in a lodge during his stay, he participated in open mic nights every Friday night in a hostel across his residence. He was able to gain a lot of experience performing during this time.
Drawing inspiration from the nature in Banff, Wilson released a three-song, soul-style EP titled Three Seasons in 2019, with a song for every season that occurred during his stay. Besides being an opportunity to grow as an artist and performer, the Banff trip was also memorable for him as he was able to make life-long friends he now considers family. In the future, he sees himself living on either of the coasts.
In 2019, Wilson enrolled in McMaster’s arts and science program. He chose the program because he wanted to experience philosophical discourse and the art side of school while also integrating scientific learning. In his first year, he collaborated with a second-year arts and science student, Mark Pillai, to create the McMaster Music Production Society. Wilson and Pillai wanted to provide a platform for people in the community who were interested in music production. Wilson found that the club helped him find like-minded musicians that supported each other’s work.
While in university, Wilson was also able to grow as a musician. He became more confident in showing his vulnerability through his music and his art became central to his life.His time in Banff had improved his confidence through the low-stakes environment of the open mic night. It allowed him to feel more comfortable expressing himself.
However, Wilson’s time in university fostered his growth in even more significant ways. He was surrounded by musically inclined friends while in residence in Matthews Hall during his first year. He recalled being in the piano room with his friends playing music free of any feelings of nervousness or anxiety. The fear of judgement was a barrier in high school that he had to overcome.
“The vulnerability early in my career was because I wasn’t sure how [my music] would be perceived. In those days, I wasn’t writing the most honest music — I was just writing things that sounded good. It wasn’t a time where I felt comfortable speaking truth through music because I did not want to come off cheesy,” said Wilson
Wilson credits his father, Frank Ocean and Stevie Wonder as long-term influences on his music. He admires their ability to explore new styles with their vocal performances. Currently, the Black Keys and Allen Stone are also new influences on his music.
Shortly after his time in Banff, Wilson collaborated with his close high-school friend, Ethan Flanagan, to create the music duo, Wilson and Flan. At the time, Flanagan was in his first year of McMaster’s commerce program. Wilson credits Flanagan for improving his writing style and understanding the nuances of group work in the music industry.
In the summer of 2020, the duo released their first EP, Just for Now. They stayed in Flanagan’s cottage in Lac Beaven, Quebec for a week, intending to finish the EP before they left. The album has central themes surrounding relationships, as both members of the duo came out of relationships shortly before the album was made. While describing the writing process, Wilson explained how he had to learn how to work and compromise with Flanagan to finish the album.
“Combining ideas can create things that never would have been made on your own. There is a lot you have to sacrifice to consider the greater conception of the album, but being comfortable sharing and accepting ideas is important,” said Wilson.
When asked further about the barriers he had to overcome to grow as an artist, Wilson reflected on his early music career, noting the importance of identity in music.
“The biggest [struggle] for me was trying to find an identity through music when you are still so uncertain of everything in life as a young person. Getting involved and excited about music is a really fun but disorienting process because it is such a subjective field and there are a lot of expectations set on you as an artist, said Wilson. “Having some mindful thinking on how important the [music] process is for you, what it means to you and why you do it is the most important motivator.”
This year, Wilson and Flan performed multiple shows in many different areas of Ontario, including around both Hamilton and Kingston. They also recruited a third member, Ben Hagedoorn, Flanagan’s first-year roommate, to join their duo. In September, the group rebranded under a new name, The Empties.
“The name comes from the feeling like there is this empty slate to write a legacy on,” said Wilson, reflecting on the band’s new beginnings. “It’s the band name that says everything and nothing all at once. We let the music speak for itself.”
The Empties plans on releasing an album next year in collaboration with local artists in Hamilton and Kingston. Make sure to stay tuned for more from this group!
Hamilton-native Paulo Leon discusses the evolution of his music and where his drive to pursue his passion has led
By: Edwin Thomas, Contributor
Music has been a significant influence throughout Paulo Leon’s life. Chilean folk music and poetry was the soundtrack of his childhood. His mother, Nancy, was a guitarist and singer for a Chilean folk band in Kitchener, while his father, Marco, was an avid hip-hop fan and introduced him to Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Gustavo Cerati, an Argentinian psychedelic singer-songwriter.
In the eighth grade, Leon spent a lot of his time around his older brother, Gabriel and his brother’s friends. He admired their ability to freestyle rap with each other. Gabriel eventually took Leon under his wing and inspired Leon to make beats for his raps.
Leon taught himself FL studio using a combination of YouTube tutorials and experimentation. This do-it-yourself mentality became a core value he would carry forward in his music and into his label later on. His beats then were inspired by the music he listened to at the time — Donald Glover’s Because the Internet, Kanye West’s Yeezus, J. Cole’s Born Sinner and Coldplay’s X&Y.
Around this time, his mother also pushed him to write and perform with the Hamilton Youth Poets. Paulo was initially hesitant to participate. He was always a shy kid but had an innate desire to perform. He was encouraged by his first slam poetry performance, which was well received by the audience.
“People were responding to me, to what I was saying on stage,” said Leon. “People snapped and people yelled, ‘that was a bar’ in the crowd. That was really the moment when I was feeding off of it, I liked when people were enjoying my work.”
His time with the Hamilton Youth Poets improved his confidence performing in public and taught him to feel more comfortable expressing his true self.
In high school, Leon would also write poetry during independent study time in class. He found his creative flow was best during class.
“The best part [of writing] for me is when the world feels like it’s going past you,” said Leon.
Over time, he transitioned from writing poetry to writing rap songs. Leon started making beats for his raps, though he would not publish them initially. His first songs were heavily influenced by Kanye’s stripped-down, soulful style. It was also during his time in high school where he released Glass Plates, his first single. He recalled being excited when people in his high school were listening to it.
“That feeling still sticks – getting excited that people are tuning in,” said Leon.
Leon released his first album, Casablanca, in 2017. Casablanca’s reflective storytelling coupled with powerful instrumentals made it a strong alternative hip-hop record. Leon was heavily inspired by Jay-Z’s discography and Kanye’s production style, seen on songs such as Calling it Quits.
Leon enrolled in McMaster University’s Humanities program for English and Cultural Studies in 2019 with plans to become an English teacher. He became more comfortable with singing in public by performing in the half-circle sing-alongs in the courtyard between Matthews Hall, Moulton Hall and Wallingford Hall. During first year, he was surrounded by musically-inclined peers who also helped propel his growth as a singer, encouraging him to try new things and step outside his comfort zone.
During the pandemic, Leon was not able to perform, losing his main source of income. He also struggled with the lack of opportunities to collaborate with other musicians due to COVID-19 restrictions.
At this time, he was at a crossroads with what he wanted his future to look like. On one hand, he wanted to follow his passion and focus on his music career. On the other hand, he wanted to continue studying at McMaster because it was a more secure option for him. Ultimately, he chose to defer from McMaster and this was a pivotal moment in Leon’s life.
“I decided to defer from McMaster to throw myself into my work and spend my time, money and energy into something I was passionate about,” said Leon.
His decision to leave McMaster and pursue his passion was the inspiration behind his 2020 album, Partly Stabilized, Partly Curious.
A typical day for Leon now consists of working all day with fellow collaborators from the label, Whak and Mo, in the home studio of his parents’ house. Besides working on music, Paulo would also work with andthenyoudie’s releases. The consistency in Leon’s work life is a structure he emphasizes.
“Always keep creating,” said Leon. “I’ve suffered from writer’s block. You have to feel the block but also don’t be afraid to keep creating.”
Drawing from his own life, he offered further advice to other future artists.
“Do not hesitate to get uncomfortable, be yourself,” said Leon. “And don’t hesitate to reach out to others around you for help or feedback. A lot of my time was spent not playing [music] for anybody, just because I was nervous.”
Leon is now working on his next album, Mr. Show Missed his Show, a reflective album of Leon’s decision to jump into music. Over the pandemic, he took a liking to folk and psychedelic rock, as well as getting into Tame Impala, The Beatles, Violent Femmes and Joy Division. The psychedelic aspect of Tame Impala’s music will be featured in his upcoming album, along with more singing and guitar production. He is looking forward to releasing and performing the album, which comes out in late September. In the meantime, his prior work can be found here.
By: Natalie Clark
Hamilton has been getting its fair share of the winter weather this season, so in what better way to embrace it than to explore all that Winterfest 2019 has to offer?
Winterfest is a two-week long affair that features winter events in and around the city. Beginning Feb. 1, there will be free and paid events held throughout Hamilton such as open skate, live music and various themed events. Take a break from studying and enjoy the winter weather while taking part in this timely Hamilton tradition.
Juno Award winner and Hamilton born indie rock singer/songwriter Matt Mays will be performing at Hamilton Central Public Library on Feb. 10. Mays is currently on his Dark Promises Tour and will be making a pit stop in his hometown for an intimate show. Head on down to Hamilton Central Public Library for some of the best music Hamilton has to offer. This is a paid event and tickets can be purchased on Eventbrite.
Frost Bites is a four-day event in partnership with Hamilton Fringe featuring some of Hamilton’s best theatre performers. Each night, artists will perform “bites” of theatre shows that are meant to last no longer than 20 minutes each. The festival will also be taking place on Feb. 14 to Feb. 17 at two community locations, the New Vision United Church and St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church.
On Feb. 13, Winterfest will be holding a lecture featuring guest speaker Kojo “Easy” Damptey, an afro-soul musician and scholar-practitioner. Born and raised in Ghana, he attempts to address societal issues and enact change in the world with his lyrics. He will be speaking on behalf of stories of existence, resilience and resistance. The event is free and will be held at the Historic Ancaster Old Town Hall. All are welcome to join the celebration and commemoration of Black History Month.
Stressed? Bored? Dying to pick up a new hobby? If any of those resonate with you then this beginners knitting course may be up your alley. For $90 you’ll learn the basics of knitting over the course of three classes, running on Wednesdays from Feb. 13 to Feb. 27. Grab a group of friends and head down to the Art Aggregate in East Hamilton for all the tips and tricks you need to know about knitting.
In honour of the beginning of the Chinese New Year on Feb. 5, Barton Stone Church will be hosting a Fung Loy Kok Taoist Tai Chi Open House on Feb. 9. This event is free and includes a demonstration and class, as well as various hot drinks including tea and apple cider! There will be volunteer staff available to chat with you about their class schedule, as well as information about the benefits of Taoist Tai Chi. The event is sure to be a warm evening full of new learning experiences.
The Canteen is one of Hamilton Winterfest’s signature events. Featuring live music from a variety of artists, including Hamilton-based singer/songwriter Ellis, a cozy fire, winter marketplace and various other events, this event is worth the trip to the Battlefield House Museum & Park National Historic Site on 77 King Street West. The location is also known as one of Canada’s most significant monuments of the War of 1812. Aside from participating in the event’s attractions, you are also welcome to explore the museum and historic grounds on site. This is an all-day event taking place on Feb. 16 starting at 10 a.m.