interview. Strange Fellow is sharing sonic reverie with his first single ‘Reaper’

"I think the music touches on feelings that are not so easy to explain, but also feelings that people want to rejoice with"
30 December 2023

Making a dynamic entrance, Canadian solo project Strange Fellow presents a powerful debut single, Reaper. This compelling indie alternative track, conceived amidst the lockdown blues of 2020, explores the realms of self-direction anxiety and the quest for reassurance in unexplored territories.

Written swiftly in the span of a single night, Reaper offers a direct glimpse into the mind of Strange Fellow, a mere 19-year-old at the time. The song boasts a rich soundscape that echoes US heartland rock with contemporary alternative indie elements seamlessly woven throughout. The recording process was nothing short of remarkable, with Strange Fellow collaborating with friend Marcus and attaining a musical grant that led them to the prestigious Subsocials Studios. The end result features the collaborative efforts of Zakk Davis on electric guitar, Wesley Anderson on drums, Paul Dumas on bass, and Strange Fellow himself on vocals and acoustic guitar.

The accompanying music video, open to interpretation, captures a subjective journey of navigating hardships while chasing a fleeting “good” feeling. With a velvet smooth voice and a sonically pleasing instrumental backdrop, Reaper becomes the ideal soundtrack to bid farewell to the year.

Behind the moniker Strange Fellow is Justin Smith, a young artist whose musical odyssey began with guitar lessons in a small Canadian town. At 15, Smith explored the realms of unconventional, psychedelic guitar parts on Garageband, sharing early creations on platforms like SoundCloud. The turning point came in 2020 when a collaboration with fellow songwriter Paul Dumas caught the attention of rising producer Marcus James. Together, they ventured into Subsocial Studios, birthing a collection of songs, including the debut album Reaper, finalized in 2023.

The name “Strange Fellow,” born from the term “Strange Fellows,” encapsulates a sense of divergence from the norm, a theme mirrored in the music. Drawing inspiration from folk, psychedelia, rock, and poetry, Strange Fellow’s compositions navigate a spectrum of emotions, entwined with disorienting lyrics that mirror life’s inherent confusion.

Throughout the song, there is many lines that touch on the feeling of desperation

Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind Reaper and how the lockdown environment in 2020 influenced its creation?

The environment influenced the song because I was sort of trapped in my room due to lockdown, with boredom ensuing. I decided to make a song. The exact inspiration for the song is unknown, as truthfully alot of time has passed since I made it and my thoughts are definitely in a different place nowadays. I guess the inspiration mainly comes from isolation and the fleeting thoughts that come with it.

The writing process for Reaper was described as happening in a single night. How did the intensity and speed of that process impact the final outcome of the song?

The quick process definitely shaped the song into a more melodic and vocal based song, where other songs I have written over a long period of time typically feature more chord changes and variation in terms of chord usage. However, I think this quick process allowed it to be as raw as possible.

Your influences include Neil Young, Tom Petty, and King Krule. How do these artists shape your musical style, and in what ways do you incorporate their influences into your own unique sound?

I grew up hearing Neil Young played from my dad in the car and on our household speakers quite often, so I find that I tend to look up to Neil Youngs music when it comes to structure. I also enjoy Tom Petty for this same reason. King Krules chord choices and arrangements have always intrigued me throughout around a decade, and I’ve noticed myself feeling more free to try unconventional patterns and rhythms due to this. 

The music video for Reaper is described as “up for interpretation.” Can you share more about the concept behind the video and how it complements the themes of the song?

The concept behind the video could be interpreted as a man going through hardships to reach a good feeling, only to have it stripped away again. Throughout the song, there is many lines that touch on the feeling of desperation. However, I believe the most thought provoking art allows the viewer to use their own experiences to shape how the art is interpreted through them individually, so the main focus of this video isn’t so much a “storyline”, but a visual aid to the song itself.

Reaper features a rich soundscape reminiscent of US heartland rock with modern alternative indie elements. How did you go about blending these different musical styles to create a cohesive and unique sound?

I typically don’t think about the exact genre of the song that I’m making so it kind of just comes naturally from sitting down trying to create something. I think this comes from listening to multiple different musical genres which naturally fuse into each other through playing

The recording process for Reaper involved collaboration with friends and a grant for Subsocial Studios. Can you share more about the collaborative dynamic and how working with others influenced the final product? 

Years ago I met my friend Paul Dumas where we became a team fleshing out the songs, we introduced our friend Wesley Anderson and Zakk Davis into the band where they added their own touch onto it. Casey being a Jazz drummer added a certain note of perfection and expertise and, Zakk a long time guitar player added his own twist of psychedelia  And his own style. My friend Marcus was the one to receive the grant, and push us towards subsocials studios for our recording process. 

The name Strange Fellow seems to carry a sense of ‘divergence from the norm.’ How does this theme reflect in your music, and what led to the adoption of this unique moniker?

I think the music touches on feelings that are not so easy to explain, but also feelings that people want to rejoice with. This can range all the way from sadness to ecstasy. This range of emotions found in the music as the album will present, is perhaps why I find it to be ‘Strange’. I think many of us venture through life trying to pin down the reason for the feelings we experience, and I want to convey them through music. In short, feelings are strange. I want to convey that it is okay to feel them, even if it feels strange to feel them sometimes. 

Your journey into music started with guitar lessons and later experimenting with psychedelic guitar parts on Garageband. How did these early experiences shape your approach to songwriting and music creation?

I think this overall allowed me to be a bit more carefree with my song writing and not feel like I have to worry about judgement, as I was simply doing them for fun. I want to keep that mindset, and so far I have kept it! My guitar teacher, Janice, was very accepting of taking your own musical route and I also think that allowed me to be myself.

Reaper” marks your debut release. What emotions or messages do you hope listeners take away from this song and, more broadly, from your upcoming debut album?

So far, the debut album will be released as singles until the final release of them all together. With this, I have hopes that people will listen to each song and get a different message out of all of them. I know Reaper is a bit more on the desperation side lyric wise, but I hope people get something out of the song irregardless. I look back on Reaper and I think the isolating lyrics are somewhat comforting now, knowing that if you are in a tough spot that there are lessons to learn after.

Live performances have been part of your journey, and you express a desire to expand this aspect in the near future. Can you share any plans or aspirations for your live shows and how they might enhance the experience of your music for the audience?

I really enjoy performing live as I enjoy entertaining and bringing my music to a rawer point past the recordings, so I expect to do some live performances in 2024.


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