A Conversation with Wayne Tennant
by Robert Flis / September 3, 2020
We concluded the Summer Edition of our Music Industry Talks series with a talented Montreal based singer, songwriter and producer, Wayne Tennant. Inspired by artists like Prince, Stevie Wonder and George Michael, Wayne has built up a catalogue of songs fusing soul, R&B, pop and electronica, and he joins us to discuss his musical journey as well as what’s to come.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your music.
Wayne considers himself a “slave to melody and harmony,” which is something he picked up from friends in the industry as well as some of his greatest musical influences. “Melody is king,” says Wayne. “It’s the first thing I look for when I’m listening to other people’s music. If I walk away and it’s stuck in my brain, then I know that you’ve achieved something on a musical scale.”However important it may be, Wayne feels that melody is no longer the focus of most popular music, explaining that many artists aren’t doing justice to their genres. “I really believe that when you’re doing a certain type of genre of music, you go back and you listen to those who did it before you, who really referenced it in an intelligent way and who were successful at doing it,” he says. “Otherwise, I really think you have no business doing it. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in evolution, but there are still some basics you have to adhere to.” Wayne emphasizes the importance of going back to the greats, which is something he does often when looking for inspiration.
When was the first time you were introduced to music?
Wayne credits his grandmother as being his introduction to music. Wayne grew up in Jamaica and was raised by his grandmother there until the age of 9. He remembers her singing every morning and they often played together on their upright Steinway piano. “In the islands, music is everywhere, it’s part of everything,” he reminisces. “That’s what really did it for me.” Wayne’s grandmother was also a choir director and a dress maker, who also taught dress making in one of Jamaica’s large schools. Inevitably, style and fashion became something important to Wayne as well. “I’m influenced from a time where image was very important. It was almost like a uniform,” he says. “The minute you step out of your door, you represent yourself. Even if you’re not working, you’re always working as an artist. People remember you. It’s just natural for me to always be creative. Dressing up is a form of creation.” Being and looking different and unique always came naturally to Wayne, but it wasn’t always easy. In high school there were moments when he just wanted to be accepted, but he was always able to acknowledge that he didn’t want to blend in; he wanted to be himself.
Tell us about the journey that brought you to Montreal.
Wayne moved from Jamaica at the age of 9 to Northern Manitoba where his mother was working. Needless to say, it was a pretty big culture shock and he explains that it allowed him to build up a tolerance to feeling “different” from those around him. “I remember experiencing racism as young as 9,” Wayne says. “But I’m really grateful for that experience because rather than become bitter, I learned to be the odd one out and be comfortable with it.” Wayne used these challenges to embrace his differences and that influence still carries through into his music to this day. Wayne’s next move was to California when he was around 12, and that’s where he picked up his first instrument (the saxophone) and discovered some of his favourite artists like Michael Jackson, Prince and David Bowie. He then moved back to Canada, settling in Toronto with his family. Wayne got his first opportunity to perform on stage at a high school talent show and that’s where he fell in love with performing. “That’s how I found my own lane in high school,” he explains. “A safe lane where I could exist. Because somewhere along the line, people thought I was ‘cool’ because they couldn’t do it.”
At 19, Wayne got his first experience recording professionally, but it wasn’t a straight path to a music career. In university, he studied nursing to satisfy his family who thought that pursuing a career in music was too risky. He graduated and ended up working for 8 years in the medical field, but during his downtime, he always kept his musical projects going.
Wayne made a name for himself in the Toronto live music scene, playing at open mics and joining bands which offered him a number of touring and networking opportunities. Eventually, once he felt like he had exhausted the Toronto music scene, Wayne moved to Montreal for the more laid-back atmosphere so that he could focus on really creating his own music.
Tell us about the music you’ve recorded.
Wayne financed the recording of his first EP by travelling to Morocco and singing there on and off for 3 years. He released his first EP “Everything Changes” in 2009. While it was great working on his own music, Wayne felt frustration having to wait on other musicians he was collaborating with, so he decided to put together his own studio and begin the process of learning how to record himself. He began working on his first full-length album “Life in a Minor Key” on one of his trips to Morocco and it was during one of those early sessions that he wrote the song “Crash” which earned him a considerable amount of media attention on CBC due to the accompanying music video. Following that, he was nominated for Anglophone Artist of the Year in 2017 at the first Gala Dynastie Awards which celebrates excellence within Quebec’s black community. This nomination was incredibly special to Wayne because he is a big advocate for diversity and inclusion and often grapples with themes of racism and oppression in his music.
How have you been affected by the pandemic?
“When the pandemic happened, I froze because I was in the midst of preparing my single that would have come out in May,” explains Wayne. “I froze for at least 2 weeks. It was hard for me to get out of bed. I work on music full time, so if I’m not doing my own music, I’m doing corporate events. I do that throughout the year and the season was starting to pick up.” Due to the pandemic, the majority of Wayne’s corporate gigs were pushed to 2021, which complicated his own release schedule. “All that marketing money that I was working for to promote my single was up in the air,” he explains. Wayne decided to go ahead and release his single “Fireflies” in June and shot his own video using only his iPhone. The video features many of his friends who collaborated by filming themselves singing or dancing to the song. Wayne directed and edited the entire video himself and so far the results have been great with over 32,000 views so far. His next single “There ain't no Sunshine” will be out at the end of September and there will be a new video accompanying it as well. Wayne aims to release a new EP by the end of the year.
Do you have any advice for artists affected by Covid or the current BLM movement?
As far as challenges brought on by the pandemic, Wayne recommends embracing the technologies at your disposal and adopting a "do it yourself” attitude, saying “Take the time to look at the technologies that are out there – that are literally in your hands - and make use of them.” In terms of the social issues that many BIPOC communities are facing, Wayne emphasizes the importance of opening a dialogue about it. “Have the conversation with your friends, especially people who are not of colour,” he says. “Have those conversations, even if they may be uncomfortable.” He also challenges everyone out there to read and learn about the history of our social and political systems, so that we can better understand the reasons why they are the way they are, as well as how we can create change. You can find news about Wayne’s upcoming releases as well as all his social media links on his website, waynetennant.com.
We’d like to extend a big thank you to Wayne and all the other guests who joined us during the Summer Edition of our Music Industry Talks series to share their stories. We will see you again soon for our next edition!
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