I call musician and writer Chris Assaad from a park bench in late afternoon. He’s at his home in Toronto—it’s Friday, and he’s just starting to get into the weekend mentality. There is a calmness and familiarity in his voice, as though we’ve known each other for years. We talk about our day thus far, he tells me he began the day by meditating for an hour, then enjoying breakfast with his girlfriend and having a conversation that inspired him to write “Choose Life—An Open Letter to Anyone Contemplating Suicide.” Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park, had committed suicide earlier this week and the topic was at the forefront of Chris’s mind. Not your typical morning, but if there’s anything we can learn from Chris, it’s his innovation and empathy.
“More than ever, people need to feel supported,” he says. After listening to his music, it’s clear that his art follows in the same vein.
Chris’s songs are upbeat and instill positive messages of self-love and embracing the day. In his newest album, I Won’t Die, he writes, “Every day’s a blessing, and I must confess that I’ve been wasting so many, but now I’m ready to rest.”
The chorus replicates the record’s title, stating “I won’t die with my music inside me.” For the listener, it feels like Assaad is encouraging folks to allow their heart and creative spirit to lead the way.
Assaad also writes blogs for a variety of platforms, including Positively Positive and Face The Current. Each of these publications allow him the freedom to write whatever he is feeling at the current time. Often he writes about the creative process, personal development, and growth.
“Inspiration is a bodily sensation. When I know I need to write something, I’ll open myself up to ideas,” Assaad reveals. “Music, however, is a different beast.”
Assaad elaborates on the process, stating that often times, when working on a song, elements just arise. It could be the melody, lyrics, or a chord progression. Sometimes the song presents itself as a full-bodied piece, and sometimes it’s just a sketch. From the initial inspiration comes improvisation, and then playing around with different elements to see what works.
It’s somewhat like chipping away at a block to make a sculpture. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Chris refers to the melody and lyrics as the “meat” of the song. After developing this much, he then plays with looping and recording, working with collaborators to find a fuller sound. As for his most recent song ideas, Chris states that they “seem to have been created by someone other than me.”
“They feel almost ancient, and perhaps tied to my Egyptian heritage,” he continues. “It’s like puzzle pieces arrive on my doorstep and I have to play around with them to see where they fit.”
Assaad began playing the guitar when he was 21, simply as a hobby while he was in school, and around the same time he began meditating. There was some visceral connection he felt to making music, and could tell that it would become an important part of his life. However, learning to play was equally frustrating, as Assaad was slowly losing his hearing. He thought that he would never be able to play again. And so after undergoing surgery, and realizing that he could fully hear once more, Assaad came across a newfound sense of gratitude. Like many, he turned a deeply traumatic experience into a positive one, and worked to hone in on his music practice as much as possible.
After graduating college, Chris traveled to Europe, where he bought a cheap guitar and began playing in public. Sharing his art with others, and sharing the experience of musical expression, awakened a feeling deep within his soul. Upon returning to the Canada, he started writing music with his cousin, using the work of Bob Marley, Ben Harper, Bill Withers, Otis Redding, Mason Jennings, and Jack Johnson as inspiration. As for pursuing music professionally, Chris notes that the decision to take the leap came without effort.
“Music chose me,” he says. “I wasn’t going to be fulfilled unless I followed my true path.” This mindset comes across crystal clear in his lyrics. In the song “Pass It Around,” Chris writes:
“Music’s my medicine, answer to every question,
Student of truth, follow my heart every day.
The More I let go of “I,” higher my expression,
Instrument of love, that’s the song I came to play.”
“In order to be able to write, one has to give up limitations,” says Chris. “You just have to do it because you love it.” He believes that the notion that one “isn’t good enough” should never hold anyone back from expressing themselves. However, this is a practice in itself, one that Chris is still working on. He continues to ask himself, “Are you judging your work? Or are you grateful that you were able to have inspiration move through you?”
Rather than ignore this judgement, Chris encourages us to approach our internal critic with compassion. He believes that by bearing witness to our criticisms and lovingly releasing them, we’re granted access to their higher self.
“Self-expression is courageous,” says Chris. “It is a form of healing and self-love.”
If I feel connected to what I’m doing, there’s a greater chance that something magical will arise.
Despite his success, Chris still considers himself a student of the world. And music, he notes, is one of the best teachers.
“Music has always been humbling,” he says. “It teaches you to become more embodied and in a flow state rather than caught up in your thoughts. Being one with what you’re doing takes a great deal of unlearning and relearning. I am still learning new things every day.”
Hear Chris live at Wanderlust Whistler on August 3. For more information on Chris, including albums and future concerts, click here.
Jillian Billard is a poet, yoga teacher, cellist and avid wanderer. A native New Yorker, she is often caught daydreaming of sprawling green fields and mountains. She trained and received her ashtanga yoga teacher’s certification in Goa, India and works at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in Brooklyn. You can often find her with her head buried in a book, doused in lavender. Follow her on her (very newly developed) Instagram page for class schedules and updates at @jillboyoga.