Just before the pandemic shut down international borders, Shawn Hook was in Sweden doing a showcase, preparing to launch an album and embark on a full global tour. It’s his first album with a new label, and a chance to change up his sound, adding electronica elements to his signature soulful pop. So the Canadian musician has been sitting on this release for a while, and while the first single may be called “I Don’t Wanna Dance,” Hook himself is certainly ready to get moving. He’s no stranger to topping pop charts at home and abroad, and this release is sure to do the same. We caught up with him during some rare downtime to talk songwriting, success, and style.
So where are we catching you right now?
I’m in LA. I wish I was back in Canada. I came down here at the beginning of June to reunite with my girlfriend — but we ended up breaking up like that week. So I’m stuck here now until my lease is up. But it’s all good. I have a lot of friends down here and a studio, so I’m getting some work done.
There’s probably a song in that, right…?
Oh there’s so many songs! I’ve already written like five songs about it, and my new single “Deeper” kind of foreshadowed what happened — and inevitably what didn’t happen.
How did you get into music in the first place?
My grandfather was the first person I saw singing and playing music live and that was a big thing for me — him by a campfire singing. My mom had an old keyboard that my grandfather gave her. I used to sit there for hours as a kid pretending to make music. So my parents put me in piano lessons when I was four, and I continued with that throughout elementary school, and high school.
What kind of music were you into then?
I was all over the place. In elementary school I liked C+C Music Factory, MC Hammer, Michael Jackson, Vanilla Ice. Then I went through a country phase, and a hip-hop phase. And then a rock phase when I was playing hockey, because we’d listen to rock in the dressing room, like ACDC and classic rock. I was conflicted genre-wise. I studied classical and jazz. And I got into a disco band after high school. So pop is the music I make now, but it’s through all those other filters.
Tell me more about the disco band…
So in high school I learned how to play the trombone and I actually really got into it. There was a local band in Nelson, BC, where I grew up, called Shag, and they were selling out clubs. They had this disco thing and they were so good. They were basically ex-students and ex-faculty from the local music school. And they were looking for a horn section. I wasn’t sure, but I went to the first show and got paid like $400 — and at 17 got to party in a bar, so I was hooked. That’s where I developed my falsetto, I think, because I played trombone and used to sing some Bee Gees songs.
How did you end up down in LA?
At the time, MySpace was still kind of a big thing. I posted some stuff and a music supervisor in LA messaged me and asked, “When are you down here next? I’d love to set up some meetings for you.” I’d never been to LA, but I just said, “I’ll be down there next week!” I just booked a ticket. I did some showcases and met a bunch of people and ended up signing a songwriting deal with ABC. This was before streaming, so at the time TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy were breaking bands so it was great exposure.
How do you write the perfect pop song?
Music comes first for me, before lyrics. So I’ll sit down at the piano or guitar and play what I’m feeling. And then start singing gibberish melodies, and sometimes in that I’ll land on a word or an idea and I’ll write about that.
What makes a good pop song to you?
Most importantly it has to be relatable. Catchy, but unique. When it sounds effortless that’s when you know you win. And when you can connect emotionally, that’s when you know you win. Those are the key ingredients for me anyway.
When do you feel you found your own voice?
I think it was my second album, which I released with Universal Records. I started feeling a lot more confident after my first record, and I started reaching out to people and taking chances. It felt good and it felt right and it felt like me. “Sound of Your Heart” happened to be on that record, and it became one of my most successful songs.
What was it like watching that song blow up?
It was awesome, because it was so unexpected. This was a really slow burner. It didn’t get played on radio right away. But it was on a TV commercial, and then it started selling on iTunes, and then radio started to pick it up. It exceeded anything I’d put out in Canada before, and then I started getting phone calls from record labels in the US. When I got offered a US deal I remember just breaking down in my kitchen and crying. At that point I was still in a lot of debt, I was thinking I was going to have to get a day job, the music thing isn’t going to work. And I got two offers in the US and I moved down here and for the first time financially I was able not to worry about being in debt. It was all just surreal at the time because I’d dreamed about this my whole life.
How would you describe your personal style?
I think I’m “classic modern,” if that makes sense. And to me that’s what HUGO is. They take classic looks and put a little twist on it. They first dressed me for the Juno Awards in Calgary a few years ago and it got picked up on all these “Best Dressed” lists, so it’s been great.
What do you like to wear day-to-day?
It depends on the occasion. When I’m working at home I’m in sweatpants and a T-shirt. But I do like to dress up for red carpets or when I go to restaurants. The other night I threw on a blazer and a T and some white pants and I was like, “Damn! I feel so good!” It felt so good to actually dress up. Fashion is confidence, and sometimes it’s nice to remind yourself of that.
Who would you say are your style icons?
James Dean is probably the one.
What else are you hoping to do?
I’m about to put out a new EP on October 23rd with Ultra Records. It was going to come out earlier but the pandemic slowed it down. So this year is going to be new music coming out. And hopefully next year, we’ll see what happens, but it would be great to tour the new record. And I’ve been working on my next project too, with the intention of putting out another album as fast as I can.
Shawn Hook describes his style as “classic modern.” We just think he looks effortlessly cool. Here are a few ways to capture his look with the latest from HUGO.