My very first encounter with Enfield pop singer Elijah Will was an impressive one, watching him lay down the dance track Intuition at the 2014 edition of Gordie Sampson’s summer Songcamp in Ingonish with producer Corey LeRue (Neon Dreams) at the controls.
In a cabin at Keltic Lodge, Will — at the time still going by his given name Elijah Wohlmuth — gave an impassioned performance the first time through. Listening to the playback, LeRue stroked his chin in thought and then offered up the suggestion that he take another shot at it and give it more sass.
Will’s extra sizzle sold the song, as his collaborator Kyle Mischiek clapped and grinned with glee at the sudden flavour boost. A few minutes later, with an added falsetto part, a fully fleshed-out song was born.
Cut to three-and-a-half years later, and Will’s debut has finally arrived in the form of the 3 AM EP, which surfaces on digital platforms on Friday. After collaborating with Enfield’s best-known musical resident — Luke Boyd a.k.a. Canadian hip-hop star Classified, who’s issuing 3 AM on his own Half-Life label — the softspoken 24-year-old has taken to heart that instruction to get sassier, and delivers a smart and catchy set of soul-pop over the course of five new tracks, plus three acoustic versions.
“Now I get that sort of thing from Luke in the studio all the time,” says Will over a donair sub at Bitar’s, just down the highway from his East Hants home. “I’ll be in the booth and he’ll tell me I need to push it more and things like that. But that extra push can make all the difference.
“That sort of thing can really help me. I think it has a lot to do with confidence. Sometimes you just have to think you can do it.”
By the time he got to Sampson’s summer songwriting retreat, Will had already been composing and performing his own material for a few years, but being around other artists from his own generation gave him some extra perspective and got the ball rolling toward becoming a professional. From getting tips from pros like Grammy Award-winner Sampson and his Nashville-based peer Donovan Woods, to brainstorming with up-and-comers like Mischiek and Laura Roy, it was an intensive course in honing his skill set.
“Everybody there had their own certain style, and I’m a good listener, so I was able to take it all in,” he recalls. “Going into that, I wasn’t as familiar with the idea of collaborating and all that.
“I can’t pinpoint exactly how it improved my writing, but it made me want to write more and cowrite with other people.”
It was an earlier Songcamp collaboration with Cape Bretoner Mischiek, All the Time in the World, that brought Will to Classified’s attention. Impressed by the track, Boyd invited Will to his home studio, where he wound up singing on Familiar and Wicked on the chart-topping, self-titled Classified album in 2013.
“It was amazing, just standing in that studio with all those awards,” recalls Will. “He and his brother Mike were always in the studio when I was there, and they’re just the most down-toearth people you can imagine. And they’re really good people to be with, making music, which really helped this whole journey of doing this.
“They’ve both helped me to be a better artist, and a better person. They’ve given me so much exposure, helped me meet other artists and taken me on tour across Canada, which was unbelievable, to have that opportunity.”
Listening to his parents’ Motown records led Will to modern R& B artists like Chris Brown and Will Smith, who gets a tribute on 3 AM in the song Fresh Prince. In Grade 5 he and his brother Ben and friend Daniel Graham formed a hip-hop trio Triple Threat, and sang their first song, Livin’ in the Maritimes, into a Dollarama microphone.
It was a humble start, but also a prescient one. “We even called out Class in it, which is hilarious,” grins Will.
“He’s never heard it and probably never will. It was funny, but that’s where it all started. I started making my own mixtapes, and eventually had hundreds of songs under my belt to work with.”
While working on his latest songs with the Boyds, Will was invited to perform on the road with Classified, as a guest on the Greatful tour and then the Ontario Beautiful Escape tour, where he had a whole set to himself.
The young singer welcomed the chance to see the rest of the country, away from insulated environments like the studio or Songcamp, and face his first substantial live crowds.
“I remember being on stage and seeing the front row, and the rows beyond it, singing along to lyrics that I’d written myself,” he recalls. “It was insane.
“We were in front of 2,000 people in Vancouver and all these people are singing my song, and I’m on the other side of that.”
Fans will continue to sing his songs if the tracks on 3 AM are anything to go by. From thecatchy plea of the title track to the throwback funk beat of Problemz, Will and Classified have crafted a concentrated set of tunes designed to stick in listeners’ minds.
It’s a classic pop collaboration practically formed in each other’s backyards, and Will is keen to see how far he can pursue a career while staying comfortably ensconced at home.
“I’ve been watching Class do it and he’s done pretty well with it so far,” says the singer, who still considers himself a small town guy at heart. “So that right there tells me I can do this anywhere. I can be where I want to be.
“I don’t have to go to Toronto, or California to pursue music.”