Toronto is a city that has become synonymous with the word “rapper,” if you live there you know exactly what I’m talking about. There’s no shortage of young artists trying to make it and by that, I mean make it out of there—Canada’s largest city. Respectfully, of course, the city is full of culture and talent but industry hotspots like L.A. have more opportunities for artists. Ask 12AM, who made the move three years ago and likens the hustle mentality of Toronto to L.A. but credits La La Land for having more people to work with.
Travis Barker, Omer Fedi, and Mason Sacks are a handful of the producers he’s been in the studio with, and the opportunities go beyond production from music video directors to artists to collaborate with. Known for his moody R&B sound, which lives up to his name, 12AM’s recent collaborators have helped him tap into his alternative and rock roots bringing a fresh perspective to his music. His most recent EP After Midnight marks the beginning of a new era, fusing his Toronto-influenced roots with his new sound and experimentation. Lyrically, he’s never held back opening up about the hardships he faced in his youth and the all-too-relatable feelings of heartbreak and anxiety.
Before hopping on a call with 12AM, I had some insight from an unexpected connection. My roommate was friends with him in University, during the early days of his career and remembers how he believed in himself since day one. Another testament to how connected Toronto can be. Below, we chat about all the making of After Midnight, why his music has a nighttime theme, and the moment on tour he’ll never forget.
What was the creative process for your EP After Midnight?
This new EP it’s been a while [in the] making, COVID put everything on pause. It was just [me] in my bedroom, writing, recording, working with some of my homies that are actually on the project itself. I wanted to take that Toronto sound that I grew up with and merge it with what I was doing in Los Angeles working with some amazing producers like Omer Fedi, John Feldman, and Travis Barker. It helped me tap into my alternative and rock roots while including r&b and hip-hop.
A lot of your music touches on struggles with mental health. What is the connection between your mental health and music?
Oh my god, everything. I don’t go to therapy, even though I strongly recommend it, but I use music as personal therapy. It allows me to get out feelings that I’m feeling without actually having to talk to someone. It definitely helps and it means the world when kids DM me saying that [my] music has helped them [with] what they’re going through. That’s why I’m so adamant about storytelling and talking about real issues because it just helps people and that’s why I do it.
What was the inspiration behind the album art for After Midnight?
I saw the world translating into a very digital age and one of my favorite things is video games and digital art. I wanted to create this [album art] on my first project almost as an NFT, that hasn’t been sold [yet] but we’re making an NFT version of it, to give people a dive into this world that I created on the album. Any sort of feeling comes after midnight so you could be the happiest in the world or you could be the lowest that you’ve ever felt and it’s always, like, better or worse at night. So I wanted to make it an art piece rather than a regular cover. It was definitely based [on] Blade Runner 2049, cyberpunk [genre], and one of my favorite movies, Drive.
How did your music video for “Voices” come together?
I collaborated with Logan Meis, he directed it and he’s been one of my favorite directors. He heard the song, instantly wrote the treatment, and sent it back to me. Usually, I do most of my directing myself with other people like Chris Villa, but this is the first time [someone else] completely came up with the idea and I absolutely loved it. It was cool because it was my first-ever big-budget video with Sony so I wasn’t expecting this big team and all the production behind it. It was about fighting your demons and the voices in your head when you have anxiety and are stressed.
From your name, 12AM, to the titles Afterparty and After Midnight, what is it about the nighttime that resonates with you?
It’s my favorite time because it brings out all the emotions. I’ve had the best time of my life after midnight and I’ve also had the worst time of my life. You’re either super lit with friends having the time of your life or you could be alone [and] depressed, or you could be with somebody having the night of your life doing that. That’s why I just love that whole vibe.
What barriers did you face early on in your career that you’ve now overcome? Are there any you’re still working on?
The biggest barrier would be when my mom was sick I was taking care of her for a while so that made me put my music on pause. When she passed, it’s something I’m still working on and overcoming, but it allowed me to focus on myself for the first time in a while. It was definitely hard—it’s still hard—I was forced to grow up instantly even though I was 21 when it happened. Another barrier is how intensely competitive music is and you have to find a way and keep grinding. It’s one of those things that you got to be kind of crazy where you don’t stop and that’s what has made me be able to live off of music. Always wanting more and never being fully satisfied [is] a hurdle but a good thing too.
What has been one of the craziest moments in your career thus far?
Signing a record deal with Sony. That’s a dream I had when I was in Grade 1, so when I signed a record deal I was like ‘oh my god, I did it.’ Also going on tour, I remember being in Salt Lake City and there were like 1,000 people there and I was mind blown because it wasn’t one of my most popular cities and they went crazy and knew every word. I was sitting there like ‘how in the world did this music I made in my basement travel all the way to Utah and have this many people listening, resonating, and loving it.’
How would you describe your relationship with social media?
Social media is important but it’s something that I like to not kill myself over. I used to be obsessed with it and it took a toll mentally on me but now I’ve stepped away from it and use it often but [don’t] care too much about numbers. The social media thing isn’t the end all be all, a lot of it is showing [the] best version of yourself [and] I don’t always want to fake a smile if I’m not feeling good. So I think it’s a great tool but not to lose your mind over it.
You’re a huge NBA fan and one of your early songs is called “Devin Booker.” Is he still your favorite player in the league?
Devin Booker will always be my favorite player because he actually retweeted it, brought me to a game, and signed a jersey for me that was insane. I used to work at the [Scotiabank Arena] for the Toronto Raptors, not even for the money just to see the games. [I saw] Kobe Bryant’s last all-star game which was insane. I’m such a huge Kobe Bryant fan.
What’s next for you?
I’m really excited about the next single I’m dropping, it’s gonna be with Tyla Yaweh and we’re shooting the music video in November. That’s going to be incredible, he’s one of my best friends out here. What I really love about the team I’m working with right now is we’re not going to stop dropping music, we’re going to try to do a song every month and do a music video for almost every song. It’s been such a long break I want to get all this music that’s been sitting on my hard drive out into the world.
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