As a child growing up in Sarnia, Ontario, Byram Joseph could see the United States across the narrow expanse of the St Clair River from his hometown. His father worked in one of the chemical refineries for which the town is famous and when he later scored a similar new job in nearby Windsor, Byram could glance across the Detroit River at one of the world’s most famed music metropolises. So close, yet frustratingly out of reach for a music obsessed youth whose neighbours held much more regular and realistic employment, like that of his father. Luckily Byram’s mother nurtured her child’s fascination for music. For a while, Byram and both of his sisters took piano lessons, but Byram was the one who also progressed onto violin and drum lessons.
“I got kicked out of piano lessons because I wasn’t practising enough,” laughs the 32 year old following the release of ‘Heavy Rockin Steady‘, his fourth album for renowned label BBE. “I would just listen to the way the teacher played it and then repeat it by ear. She soon caught on. I would go in with some pieces I’d made up, but she didn’t really want to hear that. I didn’t get very far with the violin either. I have a short attention span. Teachers in that kind of music are typically theory based. That sometimes creates a conflict when it meets someone who has a mind that is maybe more creative. I lasted longest with drums because my teacher was more about jamming and creating.”
The encouragement Byram received from his mother has paid off. ‘Heavy Rockin Steady’, released under the artist name Beatchild & The Slakadeliqs, is a startling amalgamation of contemporary pop, 60s soul and psychedelia, sounding somewhere between Shuggie Otis and the first two Lenny Kravitz albums. There are touches of country too and of hip hop soul, the genre in which Byram first came to be widely known. He has previously released several highly regarded works within the latter, including the 2008 album ‘Soul Movement Vol.1‘, recorded as Slakah The Beatchild.
Such excursions marked Byram as a beat maker and producer of considerable talent, another achievement for which his mom can take credit. “When I was around 11 years old she bought me a karaoke machine,” remembers Byram. “This was the paradigm shift for me. I didn’t know anything about recording music. To me, back then, music just appeared! It had a speaker and two tape decks. You’d put music on one, then a blank tape on the other, hit record and tape yourself singing. Cool!” It wasn’t long though before his inquisitive mind found out he could play around with what he just recorded and add another layer on a fresh tape. His interest in music production was born. “My mind just exploded with ideas,” he says. “The world of multi track recording!”
After signing up to a more “realistic” route of education, studying architecture in Windsor in the hopes he could one day design recording studios, Byram felt as though he was doing himself a disservice in not pursuing music. He dropped out and headed to Toronto to stay with his uncle. After paying his way through a job in construction, he signed on as an intern at a recording studio. “The first studio I got into was Phase One Studios and it was a big deal. People like Bono and 50 Cent would come through there,” he says of the dream position. “I think they saw the hunger in my eyes. After six or seven months of being an unpaid intern, they hired me and I worked my way up.” “My turning point came while I was working at the studio,” he says, although he was already s imultaneouslyexperimenting with his own music making. “They had a writing camp, all these amazing songwriters, three in each and every room in the building. People who wrote Billboard chart hits. I was an intern so I was just bringing coffee, but one room needed a programmer. They looked at me and asked “Can you make beats?” I was,, like “Hell yeah!” This is why you intern, these are the moments you wait for.”
The lessons he learned from this introduction to structuring his songwriting were put into debut album ‘Soul Movement Vol.1’, on which his fresh hip hop beats were accompanied by several guests including Divine Brown and a then little known hip hop MC called Drake. “In my early years I didn’t know who the beat makers were, but I was listening to a lot of Busta Rhymes, Fugees, A Tribe Called Quest,” he says of his influences in the genre. “A little later it was J Dilla and when I heard him my world stopped. I discovered that he was behind so many songs that I really loved, Janet Jackson ‘Got Til It’s Gone’, A Tribe Called Quest ‘Find A Way’, Slum Village. I was on that vibe for a long time.” As his songwriting talents developed, Byram wished to stretch out from the confines of hip hop soul and formed the band alias The Slakadeliqs for a 2012 album release on which he experimented with with a more soulful and psychedelic approach. “It was so much of a departure that I felt like I had to separate them.,” he says of adopting this new alias. “It was an experiment. And it went well. Some Beatchild fans actually liked that project and so did a whole new audience.”
For ‘Heavy Rockin Steady’ he has matured enough and found the confidence to finally bring together the two sides of his music making, hence the new moniker Beatchild & The Slakadeliqs. The refined beats of his hip hop days are still evident, but added to by instruments such as banjo and violin, an influence of the country and folk music he has opened his ears to in recent years. Of particular interest to Byram was the “storytelling” these genres held and ‘Heavy Rockin Steady’ reflects this, holding his best lyrics to date. As well as being his most genre defying work, it also offers some of his most widely accessible music to date too.
“That song literally is a monster, it’s Frankenstein,” he says of the Heavy Rockin Steady track “Giants and Monsters”, an anthem you could just as easily imagine being chanted from sports stadium terraces as you could imagine Pitbull taking it to the top of the charts. “Musically it was originally a reggae song I was working on for Slakadeliqs. It was cool, but it didn’t feel good enough to me. A couple of years later, a songwriter from California who I was collaborating with sent me a beat for a major label pop thing and asked if I could write to it. So, I gave it a go and somehow remembered the progression and lyrics from Giants and Monsters and they fit. It felt great. I sent it back to them, hoping it would be cut by a big artist, but it wasn’t. I’m now happy that didn’t happen.”
“Giants and Monsters” is just one track that marks Heavy Rockin Steady as Byram Joseph’s most accomplished work to date. The album stands as a reward to his encouraging mother and to the dreams she inspired in that little boy who used to gaze across the river all those years ago.
Words by Marc Rowlands
Album ‘Heavy Rockin’ Steady‘ is out now on BBE.