On the cusp of the release of his song and video “First,” I spoke with Jeremy Voltz about his Motown inspired sound, his love of Jeff Buckley and the state of the eclectic Toronto music scene. The soul singer talks about his passion for story telling and his excitement to share his inspired piece of music with the world.
Why don’t you start by telling me a bit about your music, what defines you as an artist.
My music is inspired by soul, but I try to bring the folk mentality to it. I want to tell stories with my lyrics but also still kind of have the throw back to Motown and classic music that gets people dancing and feeling something. That’s the goal.
How did you get into Motown and soul music?
It goes back to what you listen to growing up. My parents have this great record collection, and I would always come home from school and just put something on. I listen to a lot of jazz, a lot of soul stuff, and classic rock too. When I started writing music, you write what you know, and what your ear has been trained to hear.
I definitely hear the soul influence in your voice. Perhaps even a little bit of a Jeff Buckley inspiration?
Jeff Buckley was a huge influence. I heard Jeff Buckley in high school. A friend played me Grace, the album, and at first I was like, “I hate this, this is so weird,” [laughs]. I listened to it again because I couldn’t get it out of my head even though I was pretty sure I didn’t like it. It was that second listen that I was like, “This is incredible.” I went down the Jeff Buckley rabbit hole and I had to learn every song from that album on guitar. He’s probably my biggest musical inspiration.
At what point did you decide to pursue music as a career?
I think it took me doing something that I didn’t love before I realized that I had to do something I did love [laughs]. I came to Toronto for grad school at UofT in mathematics, and I did that for a long time. [I] finished my PhD: it was difficult to finish. I felt really uninspired. [Music] was more of my time than really focusing on finishing up, despite my best efforts. It wasn’t a choice, it was a compulsion. That’s when it was like, you know what, this has to be my life.
You’re working with NU Music right now and you have a song called “First” coming out soon. Tell me about this track.
Working with NU has been great. Tayo is fantastic. I love his musical choices, what he inspires, his tastes and his ideas. It was great working with him. He contacted me two years before I ever worked with him, from listening to my Soundcloud. I was still in grad school, and was too busy. But when I was done with school, and was like, “Okay, let’s do music,” I checked out NU and their website. They had grown so much in two years, and I [thought] “this is amazing how far they’ve gone.” You could tell that Tayo is really doing good things with the business. I felt really good about working with him.
I sent him songs I’d been working on, and this one he found really inspiring. It was already a pretty fully formed song. We reworked the lyrics a little bit, and the bridge, but it was mostly just a song that I had that was just acoustic guitar and voice. Tayo added some production and made it really cinematic. That was kind of what we were going for, something you’d want to hear in a movie. There’s so much drama to the song; the song is really dynamic and went through all these different spaces and feelings. We really pushed it in that direction and we’re happy with the result.
Are you currently playing any live shows? Where can people see you perform?
Yeah, I try to play as much as I can live. I just played a show at The Piston this week, and I’m playing at The Hide Out on Saturday night at 8PM as part of a band competition. I play with a band [called] Voltzawagon [as well]. It’s a four piece, blues-rock band, all music that I’ve written.
How do you think your sound fits into the landscape of the Toronto music scene?
One of the interesting things about the Toronto music scene is there almost isn’t one scene. As I go to more open mics, or shows, there are all these little isolated music communities where all the people in this community know each other, and all the people in this [other] music community know each other. I’ll go to some songwriter meet ups or shows, and it’s like everybody here is so into lyrics, folk music and story telling, versus everybody in this [other] group is so into groove. I don’t know if I can define the Toronto music scene as one thing.
Luckily, I’ve gone a lot to The Painted Lady open mic on Mondays. It is such an incredible scene. It’s where the band formed that I played with and it’s where I’ve met so many good people. It’s a groovy night. The soul sound, the throwback thing, it’s fun! It’s danceable, and it’s organic. A lot of stuff feels really produced nowadays, there’s a lot of electronic elements to music. And that’s great! I like electronic elements. There’s just something about watching somebody on a stage, play their instrument really well, and evoke emotion out of it. You get that in these great spots like The Painted Lady.
Is there anything else about your music that you’d like to share?
We’re coming out with as music video to the track, “First,” and the video was an amazing experience to do. The idea was [about] a mother and daughter saying goodbye to someone. We decided that nature would be really nice because the song is so cinematic and beautiful and has so much drama to it, that only a nature scene would do it justice. We went out into the woods, and Tayo found this mother and daughter pair of actors who had just come back from India to say goodbye to somebody really dear to them. When they heard about this project they were so excited to do it because it was kind of a catharsis for them. It was such an incredible experience to work with them, and you can see it in their performance. There was so much passion by everyone on the team to make this something special. I’m really excited to release this video.