A Chippewa Secondary School graduate is hoping to get some hometown support for his song “Lucille and Dan” on CBC Music’s Toyota Searchlight 2022 contest.
Nineteen-year-old North Bay native Simon Gagné has entered the contest which is an annual search for Canada’s most talented singers and song-writers.
“My dad sent me a link, which is how I hear of most things, and I decided to submit my bio and my song,” says Gagné who has been playing guitar since the age of four.
“I discovered my love of playing through the video game Guitar Hero, when I was three years old,” says Gagné.
“It led to my continuing obsession with the instrument. I received my first guitar, a ¾ nylon string, for my fourth birthday and my first electric guitar for my kindergarten graduation. I haven’t gone a single day without playing for at least an hour since.”
For the contest, Gagné wrote a folk-acoustic song called Lucille and Dan.
“It was a really hot day and I was skateboarding near the splash pad and there was a group of people who were either homeless or not well off and they were just looking for someplace where the sun wasn’t beating down on them,” says Gagné.
“They were laughing about how there was nothing that was ever on or ever working for them. The splash pad that day was off, it was one of the hottest days of the summer and so they couldn’t even quickly cool off there.”
Gagné says that interaction inspired him to write some lyrics about what he was seeing and hearing.
“I came up with these two fictional characters who go through the experiences that I had with all those interactions with people around North Bay.”
Gagné has been writing his own music since he was very young and says he uses his surroundings to inspire him.
“I can get inspired by everything and anything, stuff I see or stuff I am dealing with personally. Sometimes I’ll also just make up a story if the mood strikes me and I’ll see what I can create out of that, but a lot of the time it’s based on some real thing or experience,” he says.
“Every once in a while, if I want to have a point to a song and I don’t have any real-world experience to draw from I’ll write my own little story.”
Gagné says his creative process involves using the voice memos app on his phone and seeing what comes out.
“I just hit record and start freestyling and jamming and seeing what I end up with. I’ll usually get about a 30-minute file and I’ll go through that and anything that I think is good, I’ll put to paper and then add words and fully flesh it out from there,” he says.
Not only is he proficient in playing the guitar, but he taught himself bass, drums, and piano, and he also sings.
“I’m not super technically sound in any of the other instruments but I base everything off my knowledge of the guitar,” says Gagné.
“With piano it’s just a matter of knowing where the notes are and that’s all I need to know where the chords are because it follows the same suite as guitar, you’re just playing those notes on a different shaped key.”
Gagné, who performs under the name Funhouse, had a band in high school but says with people working full-time jobs or going to school it's hard to keep a group together and on the same schedule.
As a part-time kitchen staff employee at Greco’s on Algonquin, and a volunteer at the OUTLoud Community Centre, Gagné has also had to learn to adjust to life outside of high school while still maintaining his creative outlets.
“In North Bay it can be tough to find people who are my age, who are into the same type of music and who are also at a similar level of playing,” says Gagné whose ultimate passion is to continue to perform live music.
“Then you also have to factor in, who is willing to put the time and effort into practicing and performing because it is a lot of work. Especially in a band with three other people, that's a lot of scheduling to balance out and it’s asking a lot for people to make that commitment.”
Gagné adds it’s a tough city to be a younger unknown musician and finding places to play.
“I’ve played at local festivals, at my high school, and the local farmers market, but I’ve had to make many of my own shows as well,” says Gagné. “I’ve thrown shows in my basement as well as started my own small scale recording studio in my house. For any other performance opportunities, I have had to travel to Sudbury and Toronto.”
Gagné says he feels there is an opportunity being missed by North Bay establishments to welcome in a younger music scene.
“As a young person it's always cool to see other young people make music and that’s not always doable when there isn’t a large sample size where you live,” says Gagné.
“I used to head down to Toronto quite a few times throughout the year to see friends and people my age playing crazy rock shows at different clubs and bars and that was just really cool to see. It was inspiring to me as a musician and I’m sure the same thing would be inspiring to young people here to see that in North Bay. I think more people need to be open to embracing a youth scene that could be possible here.”
Gagné is starting to find ways where his music can support him financially, a good starting point for any young artist.
“Every once in a while, I’ll have a client for my music, where I do studio work. I just sold some guitar loops to a hip hop producer and I’m also working on a friend's song where I do some bass and drums on the song.”
Gagné is also enrolled in the Sound Engineering program at Canadore College and says he’s making contacts there as well.
“I have a couple of people in my college program that know a lot of people in North Bay who have been putting out feelers for me, which is really nice of them.”
But winning this contest could help Gagné go a lot farther with his dream of making and performing live music as the prize includes a spot in the next scheduled Allan Slaight JUNO Master Class artist development program as well as a performance spot at a music industry showcase night in Toronto, and a trip to the 2023 JUNO awards.
Gagné says he’s appreciative of the support he has been getting so far, including a Facebook post from Chippewa Secondary School which encourages people in North Bay to vote for him online.
“It’s really cool to have that support. With any art, it can be difficult to see people genuinely being interested in what you are doing and giving you that belief in yourself in what you are doing. So, it’s great that Chippewa put that out there because that is a tangible thing that I can look at and see the support,” says Gagné.