Imagine a forest: moss-pillowed logs, a sky of leaves and perhaps the trickle of a river just out of sight. Now imagine this forest as an image painted solely by sound.
Ghost Lights mastermind Noah Cebuliak, a Concordia student, is new to the Montreal music scene but his talent has the potential to take him to the top. His sound is a unique combination of haunting and relaxing that can’t help but make you wistful — not for a person, but for a state.
“I’d say atmosphere is the most important part of music,” said Cebuliak. “My sound is longing; it’s nostalgic. It’s a state of reverence.”
Saltwater, Cebuliak’s EP, is composed of six songs inspired by the world itself. The first track, “Fog Chief,” lays down the foundation for the melancholic vibe that lingers and traces its way throughout the following singles. Cebuliak’s personal favourite is “The Flask,” which is “a bit edgier.”
“With this music, what I’m really trying to do is look at the relationship between humanity and the wilderness, and the places where they meet,” he said. “Especially where they meet in a very thin way. I love the way nature interacts with humanity in small ways: abandoned places that are overgrown and being reclaimed. There’s always been a vibe there for me.”
“For a long time I thought it was corny that I was in love with nature,” he continued. “I felt like it might get attacked. But then I realized that I really love the wilderness and I have something to say about it.”
For someone so invested in the world’s natural beauty, Montreal is quite a change of pace. Cebuliak credits his time here to his love of Montreal’s “music scene,” while pondering whether being so removed from the west coast wilderness he loves influences his music.
“Sometimes I wonder: do I write better when I’m not there?” he asked himself. “Because then that feeling of longing is amplified.”
While Saltwater was released as recently as November, music has been a constant in Cebuliak’s life for as long as he can remember.
“My mom is a singer/songwriter, too, actually,” he said. “When I grew up, she made a couple of albums in our house in Alberta. My dad produced them. It was a pretty low-key affair. She’s been doing it forever, so it’s kind of been the lineage, you know?”
Not everyone is lucky enough to inherit such palpable talent, but that’s unquestionably the case for Cebuliak.
“When I was three, my parents had all these ice cream buckets they gave me, and I would play them with sticks,” said Cebuliak. “The drums were my first ‘thing,’ and now I play the guitar and piano, too. I always knew there wasn’t anything other than music that I could be doing and that I had to throw my life into this.”
Not only does he provide almost all the instrumentals on Saltwater, he also pours his soul into lyrical poetry that often takes months to write and refine.
“I don’t really understand how people write songs in a day,” said Cebuliak. He smiled before pointing to my notebook and continuing, “that’s just not my style. I have a bunch of these with words, attempts and drafts after drafts of finding out what I really want to say. I could write forever.”
Cebuliak credits his ambition partially to advice he received from Stars frontman Torquil Campbell.
“Don’t give up,” he stated simply. “Believe in yourself. Just keep going and persevere, and eventually all the competition will just fall away. It’s really simple and it’s really cliché, but you know it’s true.”
He related this advice to one of Buddha’s teachings from the Dhammapada: those who have not gained treasure in their youth perish like old herons in a lake with no fish.
“Essentially, just go for it now, or else you will never get it,” he said. “I think I’d live by that quote, because this is the golden age, you know?”
Cebuliak has already come a long way. He even confessed that he’d never consider performing the songs he wrote at the start of his musical journey. The songs he is proud of, though, have received overwhelmingly positive feedback.
“I was hoping that people would like it and that they’d get something out of it, because that’s kind of why you put something out there,” he said. “Otherwise you could just listen to it yourself and be happy. But it’s good that people have responded positively, because this is just the scratching of the surface. There’s a lot more to be said and in a much stronger way from me. I’ll be really excited when I put the next couple things out and see what people have to say about it.”
Now, his eyes are fixed firmly on the finish line.
When asked where he could see music taking him, Cebuliak laughed, pumped his fist into the air and exclaimed “to the top, baby!”