Shaunn Watt may be the textbook definition of someone who doesn’t keep all of their eggs in one basket. In fact, Shaunn has quite a few baskets, each of which are filled to the brim with an eclectic mixture of passion projects. Shaunn’s career is a wild medley of hairdressing, musicianship, festival organization, and professional nice-guy. Seriously, there isn’t a bad bone in this guy’s body.
Upon meeting with Shaunn at his new Hastings-Sunrise hair studio, Big Joy Barber & Salon, I was instantly calmed by the combination of the studio’s aesthetic appeal and Shaunn’s easygoing nature. He is soft-spoken and portrays emotional intuitiveness, a quality which likely contributes to his success as a hairdresser. Shaunn and Big Joy Salon itself both exude inclusivity, a trait that Shaunn strives to reinforce in his various endeavours. Specifically, the salon offers an identity-neutral approach to hair-cutting, a refreshing take on the conventional norms of the trade.
“The industry is traditionally very gender-polarizing. I get that those spaces exist, but I just felt that there was such a divide— this is a man’s haircut and this is a woman’s haircut. Even prices reflect that…I want it to be a really inclusive space— a safe one, where people, regardless of their orientation can feel taken care of and that they’re paid attention to. They’re in an environment where however they want to identify is respected and if anything, celebrated.”
To give you a quick (well, maybe not so quick) snapshot into the life and times of Shaunn Watt, this is a man who has been involved with the Vancouver music scene for quite some time now. He used to play the bass with Red Cedar, a folk psychedelic rock group. He played drums for Siskiyou, whom he subsequently toured with in Europe. He is also the drummer for Dralms, who just released their debut album, Shook in the infant days of October. All the while, Shaunn currently plays guitar in the band Failing. And if that doesn’t have you convinced that Shaunn is the reigning champion of musical copiousness, then the fact he has also released three collections of his own demos over the years should do it.
Shaunn has an effervescence to him, a dimension which becomes most illuminated when he speaks of his passions. When talking about hairdressing and music, he becomes more engaged in the conversation.
“I love cutting hair. It’s been a really nice way as a young person to get to know so many people I would have never gotten to know. You learn about different jobs and different outlooks on life. It’s also a nice way to just not talk about yourself all the time. It’s nice to learn how to have a vested interest in another person. I think there’s some value in that, just as a person in the world, to not just talk about yourself all the time.”
Although they may seem like mutually exclusive undertakings, Shaunn has managed to combine his hairdressing and his musical career in an unlikely way. He has recorded quite a bit of music in hair salons, including recording portions of his full-length solo album, Foil in Kokopelli, the Commercial Drive salon he used to work at. Shaunn attributes the balance he was able to strike between music and hairdressing to his former boss at Kokopelli, Lorri, since she was incredibly supportive of his musical career, allowing him plenty of time off to tour.
While Shaunn’s main focus lies presently with Big Joy Barber & Salon (he farmed out his drum gig with Dralms to another musician for their upcoming tour), Shaunn certainly still has time in his schedule to satisfy his musical cravings. Namely, this fulfillment comes in the form of Big Joy Festival, an experimental music festival that Shaunn organizes with his friend and local musician, JP Doucet.
Big Joy Festival was launched back in 2013 to showcase local, obscure talent and give audience members an alternative approach to festivals and live music in general. Genres vary from ambient noise to electro-acoustic to freer jazz music.
“There’s definitely a desire for it. It’s not just like going to a rock band where you can just kind of stand around and talk over the band. They’re much more immersive and they demand something from the audience as well. Because it’s not as ‘instant-gratification,’ you need to let it wash over you. It demands a bit more patience. So it’s not for everyone, but it’s so cool to see 300 people in a room dead silent. It’s pretty powerful. Those are the moments that keep me going, when you put all that time and energy into it, and people are here because they give a shit. People have a good time, and they’re there to see it and hear it and experience it.”
The name ‘Big Joy,’ which Shaunn has doubly used for the festival and his salon, stems from a place of openness and well, joy. “I consider myself a pretty happy person, and it’s pretty neutral. It’s not overt. It’s not alienating you because of your class, or your gender, or the demographic you exist in, or the lifestyle you lead.”
The theme of acceptance and inclusivity deeply transcends into Big Joy Festival, as it does into Big Joy Barber & Salon. “All the events, they’re very much safe spaces, regardless of who you are and why you’re there. There’s zero tolerance for any sort of discriminatory behaviour. It’s a very sensitive thing— how you look and how you feel and how you present yourself. So I think it’s nice if it can be a relaxing and inviting and open experience.”
Big Joy Festival takes place from December 2-5. The first two nights are at Selectors’ Records, while the last two nights are at Remington Gallery. Tickets for the festival are available at local record stores, Big Joy Barber & Salon, and may be purchased at the door.