Singer David Myles in it for the distance

David Myles. Handout

TORONTO – David Myles looks long.

That’s not just a physical assessment of the tall, gangly 32-year-old singer-songwriter, who cuts an atypical figure for someone who has won one of Canada’s top hip-hop music honours. He wears thick-rimmed glasses, hails from New Brunswick with a home base in Halifax and, on this balmy day, he’s just completed an intimate set in Toronto for the lunchtime Bay Street set wearing a large-brimmed sun hat and white linen suit.

It’s also a reflection of Myles’s approach to his music career. It’s been a wild year that he described as “the best of my career,” spurred on by the massive success of “Inner Ninja,” the earnest rap tune with Halifax MC Classified (the alias of Enfield, N.S.’s Luke Boyd) that has soared to the top of Canadian charts and last year won the Juno for rap recording of the year.

But he’s taking it all in stride.

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“It’s been the coolest thing. It really, really has,” said Myles. “But I’m not a superstar by any stretch. I’m out there on the road — and everybody is. You play shows, a certain number of people say, ‘I love this,’ they get the CD: that’s how you build your career. There are breaks or whatever, but ultimately day by day, it’s incremental building.

“It takes years, man, it takes years. And if you think it doesn’t, then I think you’re probably in the wrong game.”

To those who have tracked Myles’s career, this move from singer-songwriter roots crooner to hip-hop might not be that surprising for the musical chameleon. He says he’s been a longtime rap fan — particularly of Canadian pioneer Maestro Fresh Wes — and has always been influenced by other genres.

In the same breath, he names Willie Nelson, David Byrne and Sam Cooke among his inspirations; he’s collaborated in the past with opera soprano Measha Brueggergosman and bossa nova singer Bia; he says, with a laugh, that his next album might take its cues from country legend Merle Haggard.

“I like the idea of having a really varied career, and I hope I have a long career that’s really diverse,” he said.

Nevertheless, this recent dip into the hip-hop waters did provide for some new challenges. Myles says he learned music in the “traditional” way — practising scales, learning chords, playing in the school band, training with the Royal Conservatory of Music — which evolved into songwriting. The odd-couple partnership with Boyd, which began five years ago after the two Maritimers met at a music conference, has provided new insights into an unfamiliar frontier, where chords and melodies play second fiddle to drumbeats and samples.

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“I’ve learned more in the last year than I have since I started playing music when I was eight,” says Myles. “For (Boyd), it’s all about what moves where, and how it makes him feel. That’s such an amazing strength. I think he hears music the way the average person hears music. It’s hard to hear that when you’re far down the traditional musical education wormhole.”

Much of that comes from their shared home, with the rich music scene in Halifax — once hailed as a “new Seattle” for indie rock — promoting that collaborative spirit. The city has produced a wide range of talents, from folkster Joel Plaskett to indie songbird Jenn Grant to oddball rapper Buck 65, many of whom have partnered up and swapped genres like clothes.

“You’re in it together. You’re an outpost, to a certain extent. That’s why St. John’s is great, Winnipeg is great. There’s a certain amount of isolation there, and you’ve got to hone your skills before you head out into the wider world,” he said.

“There is the tradition of kitchen parties. There is the tradition of singing in public. It’s part of the culture, and that ends up trickling into a bunch of other worlds of people just being open and excited about music.”

The collaboration should in itself be unsurprising, too, as both Boyd and Myles are in their 30s and share a work ethic and music-making approach. Boyd has released 15 records. Myles has released seven, with his latest, In the Nighttime, split up as a two-disc effort that features both his crooning balladeer side and his newer, drum-driven poppier sound produced by Boyd.

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“(Boyd) is hardly an overnight sensation. He’s grinded it out all over Canada, over and over, back and forth. That’s how it’s done,” said Myles.

“And that’s been exciting for me. It’s, ‘OK, you’ve got to put your time in, you’ve gotta be into it, you’ve gotta be sincere, you’ve gotta put on a good show, and focus on the really important things.'”

And so while “Inner Ninja” has indisputably proven to be a major coup for Myles’s career, it isn’t just that single’s remarkable explosion that has made the past year the best ever. In July 2012, he and his wife Nina welcomed a daughter, Maria, into the world — just the kind of important thing he wants to focus on.

“I think before you have a baby as a musician, you think, ‘This isn’t going to work. I’m going to be just a terrible dad or I’m going to have to quit music.’ I grew up with two parents that were around, and I want to be that kind of parent,” he said.

“But just like everybody else, it’s about the balance, and after this year, I’m more encouraged than anything that I can be balanced about it. My priority is my family, and that’s part of playing the long game. It’s part of not necessarily thinking I’m going to just smash worldwide now and disappear for four years.

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“I like it. I like being able to make the records I want to make, I like the fans that I’m gaining, and I like the shows that I’m doing.”

Myles’s cross-country tour in support of In the Nighttime kicks off Wednesday in Winnipeg.

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