Jean Sebastien Audet was born in Gatineau, Quebec on April 11, 1996. That means he’s 16 years old and in Grade 10. Let’s put that in rock ’n’ roll cliché context: On the day he was born, Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” was the No. 1 song in Canada. Grunge was already starting to feel like old news, and Kurt Cobain was already two years cold in the ground. It was three years before Napster, so the record industry was at an all-time high. To put it differently, if (God forbid) Audet was to develop a scary drug habit and become a member of rock’s fabled 27 Club, it would happen in 2023.
In other words, the fact that someone that young even exists is enough to send our jaws dropping as we search for crow’s feet around our eyes. But it gets even worse/better: aside from the fact that he’s ridiculously young, Audet’s among Calgary’s most hard-working, versatile and forward-thinking musicians, currently playing in seven active projects that cover everything from weirdo indie pop to bubblegum garage to outsider hip-hop. Best of all, his age doesn’t even factor into the equation when listening to his recordings. Much of his work is on par with, if not better than, the adults attempting the same things.
When he’s not recording in his ramshackle basement studio, he’s releasing limited runs of music from like-minded under-20 savants with his Yew Nork imprint or hosting Least Side Story, a Thursday night show on CJSW. In other words, it’s a far cry from a half-decent paper route, a solid World of Warcraft account, a spot on the high school football team or whatever else those damn kids are up to.
“Whenever I think about my friends that literally do nothing out of school, I wonder how boring their lives must be,” Audet says. “Like if they just play video games or something. Or even my friends that are on school teams. I don’t understand playing a sport every day. The only thing I could imagine doing every day is music. It’s the only thing I’m interested in.”
When I first call him, he’s in the middle of recording. The lovable little turd is always recording, to the point where he lists 245 of his own songs in his iTunes library. That’s 10-and-a-half hours of music recorded in about three years, and it doesn’t include the many unmixed and unfinished ideas on his tape machine or the songs he’s recorded since this interview (while typing this sentence, I got an online notification to check out a brand new EP). It’s a ton of material, although he’s quick to add a disclaimer that “probably only 30 or 40 of the songs are good.”
Sure, some of his recordings are less engaging than others, but the reality is that a good chunk of this work comprises some of the best music being made in Calgary, with each new release better than the last. Aside from an obvious knack for top-shelf hooks and fantastic guitar playing, Audet is approaching each project with an acute aesthetic lens. To put it bluntly, a 16-year-old in the northwest suburbs is making music that sounds like it’s coming out of Brooklyn or Los Angeles.
As he puts it, learning about new bands and hearing amazing songs for the first time drives him to record. “I always say that no music makes me happy because either it’s not good or it’s really good, and then it makes me feel shitty that I don’t record music that sounds that good,” he confesses. “If I hear a song that I really, really like then I record right away, and try to write a song in like an hour. I want someone somewhere to hear one of my songs and want to make something that sounds as good.”
Audet had a cursory interest in indie rock at an early age thanks to his cousin, Josh McIntyre, who records with the blog-famous Toronto group Little Girls. That band’s web presence allowed Audet to discover other projects the same way many people did for a few years: by navigating the pop-up ad hell that was MySpace. Clicking away, he soon discovered groups like Thee Oh Sees and Actual Water. (Yes, this musician’s formative years were shaped by bands that are still active and popular. We are all that old. I’m sorry I had to point this out to you.)
Around the same time, he channelled his early guitar lessons into a short-lived career as a preteen busker in Kensington. When his mom forgot to pick him up one day, he entered Hot Wax to escape the cold. It was there that he met Chris Dadge, the improv legend and man about town who pushes weirdo pop and noise via Lab Coast, the Bug Incision label and myriad other projects.
“I was playing the first Crystal Stilts record in the store, then this little kid came in and recognized it completely accurately,” Dadge recalls. “Even my friends hadn’t checked it out yet at that point. We pretty much hit it off almost immediately. He kept coming in and asking for crazy stuff that we would never have in the store. He was always surprising me.”
While Audet’s aural requests were a little ambitious for Hot Wax’s shelves, he did develop a sense of camaraderie with Dadge, who nudged him towards the best new music. “I started going in there every day after school and he would show me cool bands. When I was first getting into independent music I would just buy whatever anyone said,” Audet recalls.
One of the early purchases that struck a chord with Audet was Cold Toads, the debut cassette from Women/Puberty/Beija Flor trifecta Friendo. The Bart Records release left an immediate and lasting impression on him, enough so that it kicked off his own career. “Like I said, when I hear a really good album I’ll want to record something,” he explains. “I literally started Faux Fur the next day, when I was in Grade 8 at my school.”
Formed with his junior high friend Julian Hampton, Faux Fur’s first show was performed at Cantos under the name Priests, and they soon became regulars at Tubby Dog and the now defunct all-ages dream shack Comrad Sound. Audet’s parents, who continue to drive him to shows and watch almost every one of his sets, were supportive from the start. “My mom stopped doing a curfew when she realized I had to play really late,” Audet recalls. “She trusted me more and I had more freedom to perform.” Soon after they started, Hampton and Audet parted ways as bandmates, and the group arrived at its current lineup with Andy Flegel on drums and Michael Halls on second guitar.
Around the same time, the city started taking notice. Faux Fur was selected to open for clear precursors Women, alongside Azeda Booth at a Local Library show in 2010. Then Sled Island came calling, and more recently MTT Fest. Soon, Faux Fur attracted the interest of then-thriving Ontario cassette imprint Scotch Tapes, which released a split tape between them and Portland’s Ghost Animal. “I remember being really uncomfortable with my age when I was talking to those guys,” Audet says. “I was talking to the guy from Ghost Animal and after the tape came out he was like, ‘We should tour together, how old are you?’ and I was like, ‘I’m in Grade 8.’”
Faux Fur simply isn’t enough for Audet’s creative appetite, however, and he has stretched himself across endless projects since. Whether he’s making shambolic heartbreak anthems in The You Are Minez or vintage acoustic pop with Darren Wantz, Audet has become somewhat of a BandCamp renaissance man, often writing songs off the cuff as he records them. Craig Storm, who recruited Audet as bassist in his band The Gooeys, is shocked by his constant output. “He’ll come up to me like, ‘Oops, I just accidentally recorded 10 albums of good songs over the weekend.’ The little jerk.”
This audacious everything-goes approach to creative output is less tied to the overly precious perfectionists in the indie world, instead bringing to mind studio-devouring rappers like Lil B. Audet’s not just tied to hip-hop metaphorically, however, he’s also a rapper himself, offering beyond-his-years punchlines and Stones Throw-referencing beats as Zouk Fuck. The project started on a whim last winter, when he was growing tired of summery beach pop in the depressing cold. Taking solace in Drake’s Take Care, he decided to try out some rap for himself.
While he hardly takes it seriously, Zouk Fuck is the only one of Audet’s musical projects that draws the attention of his peers. “Whenever I post one of those songs I’ll go to school and everyone in the hall’s like ‘Yo Jean, the Creator.’ I think that’s some of the worst stuff I do because it’s kind of a joke. Like, I love hip-hop, but I’m not really into it that much. But that’s the only thing that gets recognized. They make me do rap battles all the time in the locker room.”
Yes, the locker room. Seeing Audet opening massive shows has made it easy to forget that he’s still just a fresh-faced kid in high school. And when he’s there, he doesn’t get too many chances to talk about indie rock. “I don’t go to one of the hipster schools like Aberhart or whatever,” he confesses. “I go to Francis, and everybody there is super into sports. Most of the friends that I have are jocks. I don’t want them to feel like dicks if they read this, but most of the kids I hang out with are nothing like me.”
Sometimes, it’s just easier to keep his rock-star moonlighting a secret. “I have this one teacher who’s pretty young and pretty cool, and he was talking about how much he loves Braids,” Audet recalls. “I felt like telling him that we played with them at Sled last year, but I didn’t want to look like a dick in front of the entire class.”
Aside from its obvious charm and the fact that he frequently uses the word “dick,” Audet's status as a teenager can cause some problems, particularly when he’s trying to play shows in bars. “I think I feel a lot older than I am, so I think I forget that I’m not even legal yet,” he explains. “It’s cool that I’m 16 but sometimes it’s really hard to play shows and the staff at bars freak out when they find out that it’s me playing under a different name.”
This is problematic for many people, as Audet’s the youngest of his collaborators. Craig Storm recalls a particularly stressful show with The Gooeys. “We showed up at one show and when they discovered his age they nearly cancelled us right then and there, but luckily they just told him to stay in the corner and don’t leave. I think the anonymity of the venue is important. Since Alberta has no allowance for minors to perform in bars, most places tell us to get a substitute to play there.”
Even if he’s forced to stick to all-ages shows or hide away in the corner for two more years, however, Audet knows that his own obsession with music is not going to disappear any time soon. In fact, after high school he’s hoping to relocate to Boston and attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music to study jazz theory.
Whether or not that pans out is yet to be seen, but there’s no question that wherever he ends up, Jean Sebastien Audet will be doing something impressive with his insatiable hunger to make music. After all, he’s the first to admit that it’s his only choice.
“I’m not good at math at all and I’m really not good at science, so there’s really no way in hell that I’m becoming an accountant or a doctor or something in medicine. The types of things that are good at guaranteeing you money in life, I’m really not good at them. I feel like I have to become a musician. I’m kind of nervous about it, because it’s all I can do really.”
With literally hundreds of recordings under his belt, it’s tough to wrap one’s head around how many bands, monikers and aliases Audet has recorded under. It’s such a vast discography, in fact, that he doesn’t recall all of his works — Chris Dadge told me about an early MySpace project called Sands Sands. Audet says he doesn’t remember it, though he doesn’t doubt it existed.
These are the earliest Audet recordings available on the web, though they were initially lost in his house. As Audet explains, “I recorded them in my garage, two tracks onto a tape, and found it under my couch like a year later.” It’s not the best starting point if you’re just getting into his work, but I can almost guarantee that it’s better than the recordings you made in Grade 8.
Audet’s most successful and longest running project, Faux Fur was originally formed as a two-piece called Priests with schoolmate Julian Hampton. Soon after, Audet switched up the lineup to include Dadge for a spell before settling on second guitarist Michael Halls and drummer Andy Flegel (brother of Women masterminds Pat and Matt Flegel). The riff-heavy post-punk trio has played all over Calgary, including appearances at Sled Island and MTT Fest. This summer, they’re planning to start recording with Chad VanGaalen.
This was Audet’s first real solo project, which he started around the same time as Faux Fur. Whereas more current material is all about the hooks, this was his attempt at getting weird with sound. “It was super experimental, I guess in the sense that I was trying to make noise music before I ever even heard any,” he recalls. “Now I focus on pop a lot more.”
THE YOU ARE MINEZ
While Halls and Audet explore post-punk in Faux Fur, they really exercise their pop muscles in The You Are Minez. Audet writes songs for this group by recording a riff over and over again until the rest of the song forms in his mind. You might expect the results to sound mechanical; it usually results in vintage indie pop that’s both timely and timeless.
Somehow, writing lovelorn pop songs with The You Are Minez hasn’t left Audet barren for ideas, as he’s now waxing romantic with the acoustic-driven power pop of Darren Wantz. This is Audet’s current fixation, as evidenced on the brand new Deppy EP, which is a great place to start listening.
Feeling depressed by the winter months, Audet put down his guitar late last year and started listening to Drake’s Take Care. From there, he developed an obsession with Young Money and decided to start making rap. Beginning with some slightly tweaked Madlib instrumentals, he took on the rap persona Zouk Fuck. “I just like talking about shit that I wouldn’t do — like, lots of drugs,” he explains. “I don’t actually do them, but that’s all I talk about. And bitches.” Zouk Fuck will release a cassette on Montreal’s Planet of the Tapes later this year.
When bassist Ivo Musa departed from local bubblegum garage group The Gooeys, many wondered how they could survive without his inimitable playing. Audet stepped in, and has meshed perfectly with the group despite the setbacks of his underage status. “Some might think it’s a hassle and replace the youngster with an adult,” frontman Craig Storm says of their inability to play bar shows. “But he’s just really, really good, and I don’t feel like excluding him would be worthwhile.”
Note: Audet does not play on this recording but he is a member of the band.
When he’s not fronting Lab Coast or shredding through improv sessions, one of Dadge’s many other endeavours is his solo songwriting project Phil Withers. When he was forming a live group with drummer Scott Munro, both Audet and Halls were the obvious choices on guitar and bass. “Those two are basically the best musicians I know,” Dadge explains. “It took one rehearsal and those guys had everything down. It was amazing.”
Note: Audet does not play on this recording but he is a member of the band.