Toronto musicians YASSiN & Sean Terrio — a genre-crossing duo who tread the line between country, R&B, soul, and pop — toured Calgary’s Studio Bell on a recent concert stop and departed with a thought that must go through the minds of every rising musician: How great would it be to see yourself in here one day?
For the moment, YASSiN & Sean Terrio are one of Canada’s most buzzy acts. The duo recently recorded their debut album, “Just Try”, and are looking for a label partner who can market their album globally. They have released nine singles, won second place in Canada’s Walk of Fame RBC Emerging Musicians Program in 2021, and this week announced a headline gig at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto on December 22.
With your star ascending, a stop at Studio Bell can be grounding. YASSiN & Sean Terrio toured the premier attraction of the National Music Centre (NMC), taking in the vast history and stunning musical artifacts on display, as well as learning more about Canada’s greatest artists. Of Studio Bell, Terrio says, “It has so much and covers a lot of bases in terms of notable people we all know, and pioneers you’ve never heard of.”
Whether you’re a fan of Nickelback, Celine Dion, Joni Mitchell, Rush, or any other Canadian icon, “You’re going to find a section that would interest you,” YASSiN notes. “The interactive nature is so fun. It’s such a unique space. There’s a whole room about mental well-being and music, and how they connect — and that’s a really cool thing.”
Among the coolest aspects of the museum dedicated to music is its ground-floor establishment that celebrates what’s new and hot. The King Eddy, Calgary’s venerable blues hall features a view of one of Studio Bell’s most irreverent and largest exhibition pieces — the Rolling Stones’ former mobile recording studio. Fans can gawk at it through a window and musicians who take the stage might aspire to the stardom it represents. On a sweltering smoky night in mid-August, YASSiN & Sean Terrio were the headline act at the King Eddy. (The show was ably and electrifyingly opened by Calgary hip-hop artist K-Riz & The Family.) The vast majority of the songs the duo performed at the King Eddy were their own. The partnership is a true collaboration and meeting of the minds for YASSiN — the duo’s primary songwriter, who plays keyboard and acoustic guitar, and produces the shows — and Terrio, the main vocalist, who also plays electric guitar, currently a Stratocaster.
Their Calgary show, presented by Gateway Events, saw fans give them a standing ovation — rewarded with an encore. It was an evening of everything from up-tempo music to slower, more reflective songs. YASSiN dedicated “Take My Time” to a fan in the audience who had walked down the aisle to the tune at his wedding.
For YASSiN and Terrio, the evening and the day’s tour of Studio Bell exemplified the growth of Calgary’s music scene. Just a few blocks to the south of where they performed, Rod Stewart, with special guest Cheap Trick, blasted the rafters off the Scotiabank Saddledome. And around town other venues hosted a diverse range of performers. All of that talent, in the vicinity of Studio Bell, underscored why Calgary placed in the Top 5 of the Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Travel in 2023, a ranking dedicated to the best music destinations in the country.
Musicians are among the travellers who get the most out of a journey, as experiences abroad often trigger creativity and inspire songwriting. Or, in the case of YASSiN, it has helped spark his career. When he set his sights on a profession that wasn’t as “an engineer or accountant”, he ventured to Los Angeles. “I learned so much from being there. I learned a work ethic. Everyone is always ‘on’ down there. I got to bring that back and do that in Toronto, and now all over Canada,” he says.
For Terrio, travel and music are “about making your community bigger, to make the community more tight-knit, and to find your community across the globe.”
Travelling through the country not only gives them the chance to connect with fans, but with other musicians. “We try to lift each other up,” YASSiN says of the nation’s indie music scene. In comparing Calgary and Toronto as musical destinations, the duo say they are fans of both cities. “Both have done wonders for us. A lot of our fan base is in western Canada — Calgary, Edmonton, and the west coast,” YASSiN says.
The pair met in Oakville, a suburb of Toronto, during an open-mic night at the Moonshine Café. “I had a song I knew he would sound good on. It was this wild moment,” YASSiN recalls of their first encounter. The two 29-year-olds grew up just a 10-minute drive from each another but had never met until that 2019 moment.
Terrio, who hails from a musical tradition, was originally from Massachusetts and lived overseas before the family settled in Ontario. YASSiN started playing piano and writing songs at age 14, and has stayed devoted to his musical path.
“Now that I’ve found my place, it’s not at all what I had imagined,” he says. “I wanted to be behind the scenes, write music, produce and market. Now, there’s nothing more I love than being an artist on stage, in control of every aspect of what this business entails.”
Another important motivator is his cultural background. “There’s not a lot of people of colour like me who are doing what we do. It’s very important to me to be able to represent that,” says YASSiN, whose parents immigrated to Canada from Guyana and are part of India’s diaspora (his full name is Zack Yassin). “I saw how hard they worked to make my life better and easier. Now, because of what they’ve done, I’m able to dream these extravagant things that let me carry that legacy forward.”
Terrio offers a final thought for the dreamers out there.
“If there’s something in you, it could be there for a reason. People can help you, and it’s a balance of finding the right people and also putting yourself out there,” he says. “You have to show up and you have to be ready when you show up. So much of pursuing anything is showing up prepared.”
That’s no doubt a philosophy that rang true during their tour of the NMC. Both members of the duo said their long-term goal is to have a wall in Studio Bell with their names on it. “We want to be a Canadian band that everyone knows,” YASSiN declares.
Editor’s Note: YASSiN is a cousin of Vacay.ca Co-Founder and Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi