A Brit in Vancouver: how Iamtheliving is building his musical foundation in Canada
The B.C.-based R&B singer is nominated for a Juno Award this year for his debut EP
When asked about his move from the U.K. to Vancouver, Rian Peters often says it wasn't a matter of him discovering the Canadian city — "Vancouver found me."
Peters, an R&B singer who performs under the moniker Iamtheliving, has been in Vancouver for nearly five years now, after a friend recommended it to him for its beautiful scenery, vegan eats and, of course, its thriving music scene. (Peters' stage name actually stems from his healthy lifestyle, to which he has dedicated an entirely separate Instagram account called @livingplantfoods.)
While Peters says his initial trip to Canada was "pretty random," he fell in love immediately and thought it would be a good place to lay down some musical roots. "There's so much talent in Canada as a whole," he explains, "but in Vancouver and on the West Coast, there's so much talent to a point where I feel like it's a bit overlooked in a way. It definitely needs a bit of light shone on it, which I feel is happening."
Peters grew up in London, England, where he says he was exposed to a diverse range of music, from pop and rock to garage and jungle. At home, his mom mostly played R&B, soul and reggae staples: Anita Baker, Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye and Prince. But Peters says his ultimate influence was Michael Jackson: "I just fell in love with him, and he continues to inspire so many."
Songwriting came to Peters at an early age, as he recalls singing and dancing around with his cousin and grabbing pieces of paper to scrawl down "silly, small lyrics." From there, "being around other amazing artists, musicians and writers, I just continued to fall in love with, and develop the craft of, songwriting."
Peters, who didn't adopt his Iamtheliving name until he reached Canada, dabbled in the music scene in the U.K. to some success, though he admits it was "nothing major." But in order to make it as a musician, Peters wanted to set his eyes on other — i.e. bigger — music scenes.
"I didn't want to just be stuck in my city," Peters explains. "The world is such a big place. I wanted to just connect and network with other talented people." That, to him, meant hitting up U.S. cities like New York and Los Angeles, where he explored first. It was actually in L.A. that he made a Canadian connection with musician and producer Chin Injeti (Drake, Kinnie Starr, Bedouin Soundclash). When Peters later landed in Vancouver, he made sure to hit up the B.C.-based Injeti, who invited him into the studio to collaborate.
When Peters showed up to the studio, Injeti was already in the midst of putting together a track for him. "He was just in his zone," Peters recalls. "Chin's a beast, things just come to him and you're like, whoa, that's crazy." That song turned into "Two Trips Around the Sun," a swelling break-up anthem that was based on Injeti's own experiences but resonated with Peters so much that he felt confident delivering the vocals. "We been growing in different stages/ but somehow we can't seem to meet up," Peters sings with a sweet sincerity over a fluttering guitar riff. While it's not a traditional-sounding R&B song, Peters' vocals, conveying layers of hurt and heartbreak here, brought a soulfulness that became his signature on later releases.
That one-off track sparked an entire project, as Peters and Injeti moved on to making an EP together afterwards, iamtheliving's 2019 debut, In This Thing Called Life. "We really fell in love with the sound we were creating and the direction we were going in," Peters says. "We just decided to move forward with that, and it was great to have his support. We worked really well together and he pushed me as an artist."
In This Thing Called Life digs deeper into a classical R&B sound, with minimal instrumentation leaving space for Peters to shine, like on the warm glow of "Them Days." That song was co-written by Vancouver musician (and Hey Ocean! member) Ashleigh Ball, who was introduced Peters by Injeti. Ball also appears on the EP's track "Could You Be?," which Peters describes as "a really cool old-school duet."
"She's super, super talented," Peters says of Ball. "We had a lot of fun writing that song together, and the energy was great."
Collaboration is key for Peters, who is a big proponent of co-writing: "I think just being on a team, whether it's just the two of you, or three, or four, or five, you can really bounce off each other. I think it benefits me as a songwriter and I think it just benefits everyone in the room. As I always say: dreams are born from collaboration."
This particular collaborative effort is now paying off as In This Thing Called Life is up for traditional R&B/soul recording of the year at the 2021 Juno Awards, something that Peters didn't grow up following, but through hearing about it from other artists understands the enormity of such an honour.
"I was just so over the moon," he says, of finding out about the nomination. "To me it's a big deal because I know what it means to Canadians. And it means a big deal for me because this is where I live now. You know, coming from the U.K. and moving here, finding my foundation and building it…. To get that nod just really changed everything for me."
Even though Peters sees himself as an R&B/soul artist first, and continues to dedicate his solo efforts to developing the sound heard on the EP, his love of collaboration has taken him out of his comfort zone. This past year, he teamed up with B.C. artist Teon Gibbs for an upcoming EP that blends electronic, funk and pop together into something that sonically feels like a spiritual cousin to the stylings of Kaytranada.
"We were just having fun," Peters explains. "It's so different from what I do, it's so different from what he does, but we kind of just found our little lane of Iamtheliving and Teon Gibbs. We just wanted to raise people's vibrations, especially with all the stuff that's been happening. We didn't want to bring anything down."
Building not only a network of collaborators, but a community of artists in general, has been a big goal of Peters', who believes that a scene like the one in Vancouver can only grow stronger if people worked together more. "It's such a small scene here, especially for Black artists," he says. "More Black artists need to come together, whether they do rap, hip hop, folk … we should all be collaborating and pushing the scene together. There's not much infrastructure in the music scene in Vancouver so as a community we just have to come together. Genre bending is good."
While Peters, and by extension his Iamtheliving project, admittedly have some even bigger goals in the future — Peters says his dream collaborator would be Pharrell Williams, and his dream home would be "in the tropics where the coconuts grow" — he's perfectly content calling Vancouver his home for now.
"You get the mountains, the beautiful scenery and fresh air — it's good for me right now."