Very few musicians have the vast talent of David Myles — or a performance style as unique, touching and inspiring. The multi-faceted singer-songwriter and gifted storyteller, originally from Fredericton, New Brunswick (he now lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia), has a loyal, multi-generational fan base in Canada that stretches from coast to coast to coast and well beyond its borders. He has toured the world and amassed countless awards, and he has been an integral part of many successful collaborations including “Inner Ninja,” a single made with Classified that became the biggest-selling rap single in the history of Canadian music.
Myles grew up in a close-knit albeit competitive family with three older brothers who would all go on to earn PhDs. His parents placed a strong emphasis on hard work, dedication and… music. When The Maritime Edit met with Myles, he was on the brink of releasing Real Love, his 10th and most ambitious album to date. It’s a catchy, unique product that was born from years of musical exploration and a deep understanding of the individual expertise of the singer’s bandmates, Kyle Cunjak and Alan Jeffries. Real Love’s 13 tracks dig deep into the foundations of fifties rock and roll while paying tribute to jazz, country, folk and R & B, and the album comes together in a way that makes perfect sense and leaves listeners wanting more.
Dinner with David was set for a sunny evening in June at Kingsbrae Garden’s Savour in the Garden restaurant in Saint Andrews-by-the Sea. Normally closed for the evening, the owners of the award-winning eatery opened their doors — and their kitchen — to offer a truly memorable night. The restaurant is well known for offering the finest and freshest New Brunswick produce and food, and what was served that evening was no exception. We were greeted by the restaurant’s chef, Alex Haun, who had prepared a charcuterie offering, creatively set in moose antlers, of cured meats and cheeses from New Brunswick with sides of fresh, warm bread and preserves. The meal that followed was exceptional and the service couldn’t have been more warm or welcoming. It was an ideal spot to meet, dine with and learn more about one of Canada’s most prolific singer-songwriters.
The Maritime Edit: What was it like to grow up in such a musical household?
David Myles: It was definitely a musical family with everyone playing a few instruments. We had two pianos in the house and our parents always wanted us to be musical. It was strict in that they forced music lessons on us and music was a huge part of the day-to-day of the house. But they didn’t necessarily want me to choose being a musician as a career.
I remember knowing when I was a kid that I liked music more than anybody else. At 12, music was all I thought about. I would go to the Fredericton Public Library, check out a rack of CDs, pore over them, return them and check out a bunch more. I did this constantly. I always dreamed of being a musician but never thought I would be a singer. In my last year of high school I had a job at a vegetable shop that, unfortunately, didn’t see a lot of customers. I ended up spending a lot of time on my own there, mopping floors and singing to Chet Baker, whom I was totally obsessed with. That was when I realized I could actually sing.
The Maritime Edit: We couldn’t meet you and not mention your savvy sense of upscale style. Can you tell us a bit about the suits that have become to be so synonymous with your brand and what they have meant to your career?
David Myles: I needed to prove to my parents and maybe to myself that I wasn’t casual about choosing music as my career. I knew that if I was going to dedicate my career aspirations to making music that every show was going to be serious, in terms of the work I put into it — even if it meant that I was going to be playing at a bar for eight people and changing into a suit in a bathroom stall. When I put on a suit before a performance it sets a very clear “It’s showtime!” mindset for me. My suits are also a symbol of my respect for my audience. My dad was a high school biology teacher and he wore a suit to school each and every day. I’m sure that to many he seemed overdressed, but it was part of the routine for him and the suits represented his respect for the teaching profession.
The Maritime Edit: Has your style sense helped you succeed?
David Myles: Oh, for sure. What started out as me wearing black suits and black shirts has evolved with every record. Now the suit that I choose is a reflection of the artistic direction of the album. I buy all of my suits at Robert Simmonds in Fredericton, which is where my dad shopped. The store’s owner, Paul Simmonds, is so involved in the style and branding part of process that I regard him as an integral part of the team. We talk about the albums and their direction, and I often call him with new ideas when I am on the road. We both love it.
The Maritime Edit: How are you feeling as you gear up to release Real Love?
David Myles: I am way too excited. I am a mess. Really. This album represents everything I have learned up to this point and everything I have learned about my band and what we do well together. We wanted to take our time before its release in the US to make sure we had every aspect of it properly managed before we put it out there. We knew that the process was going to take a while so have had to be patient about it, which has been kinda tough.
The Maritime Edit: What inspired you to make Real Love?
David Myles: I had been listening to a lot of country music on the road and really got into it. I like its energy. It’s strange because rock and roll is really where country and R & B collide, but I came to enjoy country by being really into R & B first and finding myself at rock and roll. I could imagine us playing it and playing it well. I know my band’s gifts and through really working on my voice I was able to find a different way of singing that suits me and the album really well.
The Maritime Edit: What is the best career advice you have ever received and who gave it to you?
David Myles: Ron Hynes once said to me, “It’s not about the audience loving you — it’s about the audience understanding that you love them.” That stuck with me. He’s right. It’s very important that your audience feels and understands that you really like your job and that you love and appreciate them being there to support your career. I keep that in mind a lot.
It’s important to me that my audience knows who I am — not just that they know my music. I think it makes for a more intimate experience. Equally I want to know who my audience is. Because I have had the chance to tour so much I have come to know and appreciate the nuances of different towns and their people.
The Maritime Edit: It shows. People leave your performances feeling like they do know you — your stories resonate with crowds in such a personal way. Did you always know you were a great storyteller or was is it a process for you?
David Myles: I never thought that storytelling would translate into a big part of my career. Storytelling was always a huge part of my family culture. My family was large and that meant you were always competing for airtime! You know, if you were going to “take the mic” at the dinner table you had to be damn sure you had some direction!
I remember that one of my first gigs was at a café called Weeds in Calgary. It was a really quiet audience. They weren’t talking and were really chill, and I felt that I needed to engage them in between songs. So I told them stories. The crowd response was so incredibly positive and immediate, and I remember thinking, “This is it. This is part of the show and this changes everything.” I realized that night that I had a performance that had something more to offer. It wasn’t going to be just about the songs.
The Maritime Edit: Can you tell us about a standout moment in relation to making music your career?
David Myles: After university I took a one-year internship in politics and was later offered a job. I called my brother Jeremy to tell him that I was ninety-five percent sure I was accepting the offer. He said “Beware of the trap!” And then he went on to say, “Look. You said you were going to focus on your music after high school and you didn’t. Then you said you would after university and you took the internship. Then you said you would take a break after the internship but now you are thinking about taking this job. If you are really going to do this now’s your time.” And with that he convinced me. I went from being ninety-five percent sure that I was going accept a full-time position in politics to saying no to the opportunity so I could dedicate my time and efforts to music. That conversation was a total game changer for me.
But every musician I know has moments where they think, “This is a ridiculous career. Maybe I should do something else.” I mean, it’s an insane career! Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do, but everyone has doubts and doubts are a good thing. But I have also been incredibly lucky.
The Maritime Edit: Sure, you can say that you have been lucky but you are also exceptionally talented, hard-working and ambitious.
David Myles: Thanks. By lucky I mean that I am in an amazing position in that I have artistic freedom. I don’t have a label but I have a manager, Sheri Jones (Jones & Co.), whom I love and I have a team of people I work with who are amazing. But ultimately I have very few people telling me what to do. It is what musicians ultimately strive for. I have said, “I want to make a French record!” and I have people around me who have enabled that to happen. To me that is insanely luxurious.
The Maritime Edit: So would you ever sign with a label?
David Myles: I haven’t. But for now — that has been a good thing. To be honest there hasn’t been much interest. I have my own niche and major labels tend to sign young talent meant for pop radio. I don’t fit into that category. As a business I am lucky because I have a great publicist and an excellent distribution stream in Canada that translates into what a label might offer. Maybe I would love it if a label came knocking and maybe one will. But had I been signed with a label eight years ago, I would be hard-pressed to think my career would be any better. I have been able to make a Christmas record and a French record, I have worked with Classified, and I have a fifties rock record coming out that I am super pumped about. The reason I got into music is because I love all facets of it, and I have had the sort of career that has allowed me to explore so many genres. I don’t think I would be given that sort of artistic freedom in many environments if I wasn’t independent.
The Maritime Edit: What do you love the most about touring?
David Myles: The great part about touring is that I am with my best friends, Alan and Kyle, all the time. We have seen the world together. Each day there are moments when I think, “This is the coolest job. We are on our way to a new town, we are going to do another show tonight, it is going to be totally different from the last one and it too is going to be great!”
The Maritime Edit: Do you party a lot when you are on the road?
David Myles: No! Not when I am on the road and working. For sure I like to have a good time but in the end it is about maintaining my ability to do my job. There is a huge expectation put on your voice and on your ability to get it done every night. That in itself can be really stressful.
I remember being at a songwriters’ camp with all these amazing writers and producers from around the world. Everybody would be up late partying and my roommate came back once at 3 a.m. to find me reading The New Yorker in my bunk. He was like, “You are the weirdest guy. Ever!”
The Maritime Edit: What, if any, are the downsides of touring?
David Myles: I think it’s easy to complain about touring because most importantly, you are away from your family, which is brutal. There is a heavy amount of guilt that goes with touring. I have two children, and I have to leave them and I have to leave my wife. In doing so, I leave her with a huge amount of busyness and responsibility. She went away for five days last week and I was with the kids. When she got home I was like, “I can’t believe how often you are in the position that I was just in. I am so, so tired!” For sure I am tired when we are on the road, but she is way more so — without question. I have a great life when I am touring, and knowing that I am not there to help out as much as I can is hard… But I try to make up for it when I get home.
The Maritime Edit: How has your wife helped you succeed?
David Myles: She’s amazing. We’ve been together since before I was ever a musician and we have watched my career develop together. I couldn’t do it without her. No way. I mean not only could my family not do it without her, but I couldn’t do it either. She is the stability in my life. My career, like anyone’s, is always going to have its ups and downs. Some albums have worked better than others, there are times when we are not touring as much and there are times of self-doubt. And to have someone like her — someone so consistent and supportive — is incredibly helpful.
The Maritime Edit: Can you tell us something that your fans don’t know about you?
David Myles: I REALLY like politics and I think about politics all the time. But I have made a conscious decision, up to this point anyway, to not bring it up at my shows. I like music because it removes boundaries and it brings people in and together. I would never want people to feel unwelcome at my show because they might think different from me.
The Maritime Edit: Can you share an interesting fan story?
David Myles: I have a fan, Linda, who makes pyjamas for me, my family, my band and my manager every couple of years.
The Maritime Edit: Like… themed pyjamas?
David Myles: Yup, sometimes. They are all matching! She is awesome! On paper it might sound odd that she makes us pyjamas, but she is totally sweet and her husband is really cool too. If Linda is my biggest fan, and I imagine she is… She is so incredibly sincere. She’ll drive seven hours to see a show. She’s from Ontario and she and her husband have toured throughout New Brunswick because I talk and sing about it so much. The fascinating thing is that we never know when we are going to see her. We’ll be doing a show in the middle of nowhere and there she is. There’s Linda! I mean, to have a fan who wants to drive long distances and see countless shows and take an interest in who you are and where you come from is a huge compliment. A musician’s career relies on people like Linda.
I am incredibly grateful because I have really great fans. They know me for who I am and I know them. I think because I put it all out there at my shows and I have taken the time to know my fans, there isn’t a big separation between us. Because they know me as a person and as a musician, they treat me like a regular guy so I never have these weird or awkward encounters with people. Fans who have seen and enjoyed my performance don’t treat me like I am a star, because I’m not. And trust me, I am more than totally fine with that.
This story originally appeared in The Maritime Edit magazine. To subscribe, please click here.