INTERVIEW: Theo Tams on new EP and getting closure in the studio

(By: Angela McLean)

“Proper, authentic and vulnerable” – these are words Canadian artist Theo Tams would use to describe his new EP, ‘Call the Doctor.’

Released Friday (Sept. 28), ‘Call the Doctor’ marks Tams’ fourth project since winning the final season of the CTV talent search Canadian Idol in 2008. His discography to date includes a full-length album, EP and a small selection of original Christmas songs. But this record is special. With songs about love and heartbreak, LGBTQ+ acceptance and perseverance, Tams attests it’s raw, “heartbreakingly, devastatingly real” and simply Theo. In short, it’s everything the music industry needs.

You can grab tissues and press play, but first get the inside scoop on Theo’s inspirations, growing up gay and the song that made him cry in a coffee shop bathroom.

Happy release day! How does it feel to have ‘Call the Doctor’ out?

It’s such a weight lifted and I’ll sleep easier from now on! I just hope that listeners get out of it what I got out of it, which is being heard and being understood. I feel like, especially when it comes to relationships, there’s a lot that we’re not supposed to talk about. Growing up I remember listening to songs by Sarah McLachlan and Bryan Adams and thinking for one second like oh sh-t, they’ve been there and they get it. I want to pass that on.

‘Call the Doctor’ is a very bold title. What inspired it?

It’s a lyric from “Last the Rain,” a song on the record – “Call the doctor, I don’t think we’re okay.” Every single song on the album is written from this space of pain and panic and heartbreak, so it just kind of fit. It is bold, but it makes sense.

The cover art for 'Call the Doctor' by Theo Tams
The cover art for ‘Call the Doctor’ by Theo Tams.

“Romeo and James” will likely catch many listeners’ attention based on the title alone. Can you share the story behind that song?

I grew up in a super strict, conservative Christian family where being gay was not a thing, and if it was a thing you didn’t talk about it. My partner as well, we kind of came from the same story. It’s kind of becoming more accepted, which is a beautiful thing, but it’s accepted more in big city centres. I’ll still go to small town Alberta and get called all kinds of names when we hold hands. I wanted to do this take on the most classic love story. [Same-sex love] is everywhere whether people recognize it or not, and love isn’t the same thing for everyone, so it should be known, and it should be celebrated, and it should be shouted from the rooftop.

How would you say you have grown musically since winning Canadian Idol?

I’ve learned to stand up for myself and my music. I remember right after the show I went into this writing camp and they were like, OK, we want to make a Maroon 5 record, or we want to make a Bryan Adams record, and I was just like, how about we make a Theo Tams record? This is kind of the first time in my career that I’ve really been able to do that and thank God for the people that I worked with that not only understood the vision that I was going for but championed it.

Theo Tams performing on an episode of Canadian Idol in 2008
Theo Tams performing on an episode of Canadian Idol in 2008. (Photo courtesy of Alloy)

That show was all about showcasing Canadian talent, and right now Canadian artists are some of the biggest in the world. How does it feel to be part of that roster?

I think Canadian music is the best in the world right now because our market is so small that we have to fight to be heard. The way that you really fight to be heard is by being 100% true to your sound and voice. When I think of Alessia Cara, Shawn Mendes, The Weeknd, Drake…even Avril Lavigne’s new record is going to be massive and it’s because every single one of those artists knows exactly what they want to say and I think that’s incredible. If I can even be slightly associated with those names then I’m very excited!

What was the most challenging song to write or record?

“The Last Song” broke me into a million pieces. It’s about a relationship from almost a decade ago that continues to haunt me. I found myself going into the studio and still drawing inspiration from that and I had to let it go. We wrote that song quick, probably in 25 minutes, and I literally walked out of that studio and went down the street for a coffee, went into the bathroom and broke down. It just felt like I had finally released something huge. Even now when I listen to it, I don’t know if I want people to hear it, and I certainly don’t want that individual to still feel like they have a hold on me 10 years later, but they’re going to find out now!

What does music mean to you?

Music has always been therapy for me. Growing up in southern Alberta there were two ways to get aggression out of your body and it was either through hockey or through football and I did not fit either of those norms, so I sat on the sideline writing super emo poetry at the age of 12. That’s kind of translated into this record.

Having seen the up’s and down’s of the music industry, what is one piece of advice you would tell “Emerging Artist Theo”?

Stop being a brat and stop thinking that you know everything when you don’t. Listen more, talk less and work harder.

What are your future plans with this EP? Can fans expect a tour announcement soon?

The next single should probably be released in a month. I’ll also have more Christmas music out – Christmas music is my jam! We’re working towards this either late February or early March tour. That’s the ultimate goal – to share this music across the country.

‘Call the Doctor’ is available now on iTunes/Apple Music and streaming platforms.

(Header photo: Angela McLean/RUtv News)

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