Who: Kuba Oms
When: Sunday, Sept. 5
Where: SERF Stage, LIVE At Squamish festival
Cost: Weekend pass, $145.50, single day ticket, $79, kids under 12 free!
Writer's block: it's every artist's worst nightmare. And Canadian singer/songwriter Kuba Oms knows all about this affliction.
Born in Victoria to a Scottish mother and Indian father, his musical background is an interesting one. The groundwork for his career was laid in his teenage year, when he began singing covers at school and around bonfires, eventually starting the cover band, Souled Out. That band became known for its renditions of old soul classics from Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder and the like.
"In that time, in the early '70s and late '60s... there was a war going on, and a lot of the music was inspired by the social scenarios of the times," he said. "...It spawned music that meant something, and I was always drawn to that."
Oms found himself drawn to the impassioned lyrics of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and Stevie Wonder's Livin' For The City, and the soul in the acoustic tunes of Bob Dylan.
From there, Oms went on to form Velvet, an experimental improv unit that strayed into dance/DJ territory and is still very much active today.
But then things started to go sideways.
"I just had all the major labels in the U.S. pounding on my door and I just didn't feel that I was really worthy. It was weird," Oms recalled. "And I went into a writer's block and, you know, the only way I could get out of it was to break up with the love of my life and suffer like a fuckin' classic artist. You know, the classic tale of tumultuous turmoil."
But that heartache quickly spiraled into drug abuse.
"Then I realized that if I was going to hit rock bottom here, that meant that the music was going to go, and I had this wake up call."
Oms managed to get his act together and work through his block.
"Through this all, that writer's block dissipated and it's gone forever - trust me. I've figured it out!"
He seems to have worked out a process that opens his creative channels that "lets the universe flow through" him in his music.
Whatever that process is, it seems to be working. Oms has had a very busy year - between being short listed for the Peak Performance Project for the second time and receiving a grant from Much Music to make a music video, he performed with the Grammy Award-winning rapper Common and played a bunch of Olympic gigs.
But most significantly, Oms released his first solo project, How Much Time , last September.
That 15-track album draws inspiration from the '70s era of soul, funk and rock 'n' roll, featuring a range of songs that touch on some very personal subject matter.
"Miss You So Bad is about me missing my girl, but if you listen to the verses, it's also about me missing myself, because I was lost," he explained.
"And Beautiful Uncertainty means a lot to me. I worked hard on those lyrics and lines like, 'just because we're wandering doesn't mean we're lost.'"
The album opens with Never Meant to Hurt You, a reflection on a lost love, which was featured in the film Powder Blue starring Forest Whitaker and Jessica Biel. But there are also some more upbeat tracks: Beautiful Uncertainty, the soulful ballad Piece De Resistance, the reggae-inspired Comin' Undone; and a velvety-smooth acoustic tune, "This Heaven," which was written to honour late snowboarder Craig Kelly, and was featured in the film Let It Ride .
While heartache seems to work as inspiration for this artist, Oms is now calling on the healing power of love for his follow-up effort.
"What's inspiring this music is the world needs love, and there are so many awesome and inspiring stories out there, and so many awesome and inspiring people, and they're easy to sing about."
Yes, Oms already has another album in the works. He's currently in pre-production mode and has laid down the drums for five of the tracks, fine-tuning lyrics along the way.
"I was a little more subtle with a lot of the lyrics on this record, but there's definitely political statements in there. On this next one, it's not going to be political and its not going to be literal or preachy or anything like that, but it certainly isn't going to be bubblegum."