Sean Nicholas Savage is one of a kind. In the past three years he's released nine albums that crack the essence of human strength and weakness. His confidence is manifested in his sincere vocals and sentimental, folk-infused lyrics; a perfect fit for that intimate time in the morning when you kiss your lover's chin. We’re lucky to share the city he calls home, but we were even luckier to catch up with him in the greenroom of DIY performing/recording space Shea Stadium in Brooklyn, NY as he sipped Remy Martin straight from the bottle, before taking the stage in his socks.
We discussed his prolific history, what’s happening in the Mile-End, and what to expect from his tenth album due out this fall on Montreal’s promise, Arbutus Records.
RW: You’re from Edmonton, Alberta. When and why did you move to Montreal?
When I was 20 or so, a lot of friends I was living with were moving to Vancouver and a few of my friends had moved to Montreal. I was in a few bands when I was younger, one of which was with my good, friend David Carriere (Tops), we had a band called the Silly Kissers. But I started playing solo that year that my friends were moving and I’d visited David in Montreal, and he said the rent is really really good there for Canada, some of the best rent, really affordable, that I could move there and not work too much and really focus on music. So David and I got back together and made more music. A big part of it was music.
Nine albums in the past three years! Where do you find the inspiration to write all those songs?
I listen to a lot of music. I love music. There’s a lot happening in my life, there’s a lot happening in everyone’s lives. So it depends on the size of the thing you’re writing about or how much it means to you. I feel like I haven’t written about that much, but I guess I’ve said quite a bit in those nine albums. Little stories, ya know? A lot can happen in a weekend and you can make a song out of that.
Do you think you’ve developed or changed as an artist over the span of all that work?
Very much. I think my production out of three have gotten a third better, and I think my writing and story-telling have gotten a lot stronger, although maybe my vocabulary hasn’t become too much more complex. You know how I said there’s a lot of ideas in a weekend? The ones that I choose, and what I think about them and my ideas on life continue to grow because I’m 25 now, I’m getting older and I’m just gonna get smarter and smarter, wiser, I mean, not smarter. I think the things I’m saying, I’m getting better at having more ideas and being more entertaining with my lyrics and getting a strong, moving message across that someone can learn from, less big brother stuff.
On sounds changing throughout the albums…
Flamingo was really chill. I thought, 'nobody listens to music that’s loud, everybody’s making dinner or getting up in the morning and putting on music to chill out to.' So I want to make something very chill on the next one too. But now I’m finding myself sometimes putting on things like The Cure, Talk Talk, or some Puff Daddy, or ya know, something that does pump me up before I go out. I want to make some music that doesn’t really pump you up before you go out, but that you can put on when you’re having friends over for drinks and you actually do want to be a little bit excited.
What can we expect to hear from your tenth album? I heard you’ve been sampling with soundtracks from classic movies…
Well, I’ve been studying, I have also been sampling too. The one thing I realized the other day is I think I’m gonna sample them before I release it and try to recreate the sound that I sample so there’s not any problem with legal stuff there or other people using the same sounds. But I have been studying soundtracks so I can create a greater instrumental album. I’m highly influenced by Bernard Herman (Psycho). The thing that’s so amazing about Psycho is that if you listen to it walking down the street or something, it’s really scary. I think its so incredible; any other type of music can make you sad or happy, sad like a ballad or happy like some reggae or something, but Bernard Herman’s music, especially for the Psycho soundtrack, it really is frightening. And it’s so inspiring when I find myself being frightened, I’m like “wow, he created a scary feeling in my world. He made the world scary.” Soundtracks are cool like that, and I really wanna be influenced by that, it’s just really difficult to do that especially in pop music…But I don’t really know what you can expect from the next thing that comes out. Obviously I get all jacked up and I think these grandiose ideas, likes its gonna be this or that, but you can’t really plan it. Whatever I just come out with, obviously you are what you eat, but just still eating your favorite stuff all the time even if you’re sampling.
Your label, Arbutus, was born out of the art/loft space, Lab Synthèse. What were you doing at Lab before it became the Arbutus label?
I played shows there because it was a venue, much like this one (and a living space I don’t know if this is a living space). I started performing there about a week after I got to Montreal and I was living in an apartment that was inconvenient and kind of expensive alone, so I moved into Lab Synthèse, started living there, and we all became good friends. I recorded a lot of albums with Sebastien, the guy who runs Arbutus Records, and I would tour around a bit in Canada until Lab Synthèse came to an end, but Sebastien already had a label with myself, Claire Boucher (Grimes), and a few other bands on it. We were slowly picking up bands, and Silly Kissers joined the label eventually, then slowly turned it into Tops with a few different members, so it’s evolved a bit. I lived in my next apartment with Sebastien which was right nearby there when we had to move out of Lab Synthèse, and now I have a different apartment. A lot of valid, driven music came out of there.
Favorite memory from Lab?
It was a really calm place, lots of good sunlight in the afternoon. There was this graphic artist, or 3D artist, his name’s Jason Harvey, he’s a pretty well-known visual artist. He threw a party with another guy, Michael Farsky called Demon Night at Lab Synthèse and it was this heavily themed, like themed themed all night party, and I think I’ll always remember that party, it’s one of my most fond memories. It was so special, it took so much planning that it was basically a performing arts piece, but a real one. It had a séance, and a giant worm, and clokes, everyone wore tie-dyed clokes, hundreds of people.
What's the creative exchange like between label-mates and those outside the immediate circle?
Everyone in the Arbutus family lives relatively close on the same block in the Mile End. So, we’re hanging out all the time, going to the same parties, playing music at these parties…same influences. And I think it’s all relatively young people. I think there’s a lot of music around North America that fits the Arbutus sound, it’s a pretty broad sound. It’s a strong label, I guess with Claire doing really well, which is super inspiring, and the subsidiary of Arbutus, Moviestar Records has had a few artists on it that are really really special, and have more coming too. But we can’t just put anyone on the label, there’s no room and we don’t have any power to offer them, so the label is sort of full up. But people are gonna be sliding to different other, obviously American labels or something. Chris d’Eon is amazing and there’s Mozart’s Sister, just tons of great acts putting out things. And what’s exciting also on Moviestar Records is people putting out albums where they don’t even play live. I know people who are just making great art, and its not some hot new track that they’re gonna go out and perform, tour around, and promote. But it’s maybe seeing a bit of attention because of the label hopefully, if people go and look at some of the stuff on the site there’s some free albums on there that are really inspired and not trying to be popular or anything like that, and that’s also something to be said for pop music, because obviously Arbutus is a pop label.
Remember when you performed at Tokyo Bar for the LOOKOUT BBQ? You were the only live act to play that party on a club rooftop amongst DJ's. How did that performance go over in your mind?
I pride myself on the fact that I’ve played a lot of shows where I was sort of an inappropriate act and I think I have the ability to make myself as appropriate as I can, and sometimes it’s a little difficult. I judge sort of what these people need to be listening to right now and I think to myself, well not quite what I should be doing, but I have a bit of pride in my work, so I’ll try to focus their attention towards it or if they won’t, I can back off a bit. I’m not afraid to play to the audience and do what’s appropriate. So I think I’ve dealt with some pretty difficult situations, some of which are just plain impossible, but I do enjoy my music myself so it’s not total garbage.
What exactly is going on in your video, "You Changed Me?"
Angus, the director wrote a pretty big script. It certainly has to do with the different aspects of my personality battling each other. There’s the happy go lucky, the loose, go with the flow, chill guy, and then there’s the business sort of fancy guy, he’s pretty insane. The chill guy hears something the business guy doesn’t and that really frustrates him. At the end, the free guy realizes he’s in danger when the crazy/intense guy loses his shit, so the free guy throws this magic powder at him that makes the other one freeze and disappear. The image of me singing in the bedroom is just me singing, no big meaning to that.
Ready for the next Arbutus, LOOKOUT, UNO party?
Absolutely, I’ll be there.
Sean Nicholas Savage releases his 10th album on the same label, Fall 2012.
Y'know, I struggled for a while trying to find the perfect way to describe Blue Hawaii. It was going to be perfect; a transcendent revelation on one of my new favorite bands, featuring one of the members of another of my favorite groups, Braids. I poked my head around curtains and through doors of obvious descriptions. There were going to be subtle tweaks of wordplay that would alter the flow and content of the piece in ways invisible to the eye yet inseparable from the comprehension. After all that, I found that I couldn't do any better than the short piece on the Arbutus Records website. Sometimes perfection is right in front of you. Enjoy that, a fully expository interview, and a new song and video below!
"Blue Hawaii tells the story of a lush paradise. The way begins ambient and uncertain, but beautiful white shell beaches and carefree sunshine parties await and nourish those travelers with love in their hearts; their peace thus raised above the arguments found along the rocky road. The duo consists of Raph and Agor; they use voice, guitars, synths, drum machines, and other electronics to create a kind of tropical-pop with love ache melodies and experimental club rhythms."
There hasn’t been much press surrounding Blue Hawaii and your new album Blooming Summer. Who is Blue Hawaii?
Raph: Blue Hawaii is Alexander Cowan and myself. It’s a project that we started when we first met each other. We’ve been dating for the last while, so it’s kind of been, I don’t know, I don’t how I feel about saying it’s like a “love project,” but it kind of is, I guess.
It could be a project of love.
R: Yeah, I think so. The album that we just created is all love songs and revelations I’ve come to with being committed and being good to somebody and respectful of them. It’s a project of love.
Speaking of the album, it was recently released on Arbutus Records, though there’s been very little press behind it. Is that indicative of how quickly it came together or did you decide to embrace the anonymity of the project?
R: We just wanted to release something. Alex definitely had a real urge to finally release something because he was the type of musician who just did it in his bedroom while he was going to university. He had hundreds and hundreds of tracks on his laptop of him just strumming around and some of it was pretty good. He just really, really pushed for us to finish it. At time I didn’t want to finish it, I didn’t really have to do it. I was trying to balance Braids’ album, but he really pushed forth and I’m happy that it happened the way it did. We weren’t really expecting anything to come of it, but now that we have this piece of art in front of us we’re very proud of it. Now we feel the urge to really support it and get it out there. We didn’t know what Blue Hawaii was going to be it was just us jamming around, and now people like it. It’s fun.
I’m not familiar with the timeline of the project’s development. Did it progress fluidly?
R: From the time that we met, we met in January of 2008, we both just started jamming together. He was in the Lab Synthese art studios. He ran it with Sebastian. We started jamming out and doing a lot of improv.. We did a set together and then I left for Calgary for two and a half months. When I came back we wanted to make it more structured and it just went down the drain. We were making such shitty music for like three months or maybe four or five months. We were trying to make it structured. We were writing music on a laptop and it wasn’t going anywhere.
Then we went to Guatemala and we became really close friends and got to know each other really well. When we got back we started fully recording the album. It’s a work that’s been in progress for quite a long time.
The sound you’re producing is quite distinct from your other projects. Was it a decision to move away from that or was it just a natural influence?
R: It was just a natural influence. Every project that I do really takes on its own sound. Except for a few of the tracks my voice doesn’t sound like it does for Braids. It’s such a different art form in itself that I become a part of the music. This one was very romantic and wispy, whereas Braids is very urgent and angsty. It was a different part of me, just like Indiensoci is. Indiensoci is very feminine and ethereal.
From the name of the group, Blue Hawaii, to the veneer of the sound you’re playing to some of the imagery you’ve adopted, it seems like there’s a very specific aesthetic that you’re going for. Do you have a description for what it could be?
R: We spent a lot of time in Belize when we were traveling. We were traveling for about 2 months and it became about seeing as many oceans as possible and going swimming in as many places as we could. I think that really influenced our music, that feeling of happiness that we got by being by water and hot, warm climates and people bustling around and everyone being excited. When we came back we wanted to have something that felt like that, because our trip was so amazing. We wanted the record to feel really tropical and really lush and watery and stringy. I think that’s kind of where the sound came from.
The name Blue Hawaii came from our friend Trevor. I remember we were sitting around a table and we were playing with some band from New York. We were sitting at the kitchen table at Lab Synthese and we were like, “What should we be called?” Some one suggested the name Black Indian, which would be so bad,
That would be the trendiest name possible.
R: Yeah, exactly, We were like, no, we can’t be called Black Indian. Then we thought of Black India and I was like, “No, I can’t have a ‘Black’ name, I don’t make ‘Black’ music.” Then our friend Trevor suggested the name Blue Hawaii. The album is called Blooming Summer, but we thought maybe we could make another pop reference, like Primitive Vacation, which is an Aerosmith album, but we decided to dump it.
The sound on the album is really unique. What kind of hardware did you use to produce it?
R: We did a lot of it through Ableton. The whole thing was recorded on Ableton and then we brought it onto tape with Sebastian. Sebastian is an amazing producer. He went to school in London, the same school as Aphex Twin, which is pretty cool He graduated at the top of his class and he has a studio at La Brique now, where his studio has been moved to. He has a reel-to-reel, so we transferred everything to reel-to-reel and then we brought it back onto the mixing board. We did really drastic things with compression just to get a sound that’s really unique. A lot of people don’t go so overboard with compression. The sound of the songs are as though they’re breathing. Some of the songs sound like they’re really alive.
The live performances of Blue Hawaii feature stylistic elements that are absent from your other projects. Is that adoption part of achieving the blissful aesthetic?
R: For sure. Especially lately, coming into my twenties and performing for the last three years, I’ve become intrigued by the amount of control and freedom that you have as the performer. With Braids, if I were to put on face paint and stuff like that I would just stand out like a sore thumb, and that’s not really what Braids is. With Braids, everybody is just wearing jeans and get out of the van and play the show. Blue Hawaii is a bit more of an outlet for the urge in me to explore what it really is to be a performer and to have face paint and to bring all the artistic elements into the performance. I’m excited about it. I want to go even crazier if possible. I want to bring projections and jellybeans.
R: Yeah! I really love jellybeans. I love when you put jellybeans in water and the really beautiful way the color diffuses. Luckily, we got Taylor and Austin [of Braids] to wear blue eyeshadow for that Blue Hawaii performance. I’ve never, ever seen Taylor wear blue eyeshadow in all my life, so it was a real treat to see everyone done up in blue eyeshadow for the Blue Hawaii show. It’s been really fun. I want to definitely get some outfits in there at some point.
I recently saw the video some one made for you around the single “Dream Electrixra.”
R: Yeah! Rosie made that and it has jellybeans in it! When it’s a closeup and there are flowers. Rosie Aiello makes amazing sculptures and she takes pictures of it. What is that called?
There’s claymation and stop-motion photography.
R: Yeah, stop-motion. She did a time-lapse of jelly beans melting into the water. There’s an ice cube in there too and it cracks. That was for “Dream Elctrixra.” I tried as hard as I could to write something that stuck in my head for a really long time. Braids is catchy but it’s also difficult.
Blue Hawaii seems to me to be a fundamentally pop enterprise.
R: Yeah, we tried really hard. I really wanted to make a pop album. I really wanted to learn how to write love pop songs, and I tried.
It’s unique in its construction, but the sensibilities are definitely pop-oriented.
R: The songs have all been ripped apart like three times. For “Castles of Clouds,” you know, it’s a really slow song. When we first did it, it was a funk song. It’s the same with “Katie.” “Katie,” was a soul song. We just ripped everything apart three or four times. It’s hilarious listening to the stuff beforehand.
Do you still have the original masters?
R: Oh yeah. I made Katie and Austin listen to it and we were all laughing so hard. Braids has gone through many different stages as well. We have to the recordings to prove it. From our early songs like “M is for Matrioshka” and the Set Pieces EP. Blue Hawaii had to do it very quickly so that we could put an album out that was up to speed.
Obviously you’ll be on the road for the next few months with Braids, but what are the future plans for Blue Hawaii?
R: That’s kind of hard. We’re going to figure it out. I know that next year Braids is going to be touring an awful lot. Alex and I have gotten some interest from people in Europe. The Europeans love it. The equivalent of CBC in Sweden did an interview with Alex today. They’re digging it over there and we’ve definitely had some interest. Maybe we’ll tour over there, maybe go to Japan or something like that. We’ll make it work. It’s going to be a lot of on-the-road for me next year but I’m looking forward to it. I want to see places.
Are you an Elvis fan? Blue Hawaii was the title of one of his greatest films, and one that would suit the aesthetic you’re going for.
R: You know, my mom is, and she would always sing him in the kitchen. I’ve seen clips from the film. I don’t know how everything came together, with Blue Hawaii sounding like Blue Hawaii, but it’s nice when things come together like that.Read Less ↑
Braids is a band poised. A group of four young friends from Calgary transplanted in Montreal, they make what they call "experimental indie pop." We don't know what to call it, but we know that the sound is at once boldly personal and intimately loud, strung along with unique musical construction and sly pop sensibilities. Does that make sense? Anyone who's caught one of their extraordinarily fluid and involving live sets, including their Pop Montreal show this past fall, knows what the deal is. For those uninitiated, take a look at the beautiful video constructed by the wonderful folks at Blogotheque.
Now, the band stands before both the completion and assumption of a lot of hard work and reward. Having completed their debut full length Native Speaker, out in the fall, they are about to embark on a summer-long tour, including their first-ever American dates along with hopes for a European voyage in the near future. The interview below is an extensive look at the mindset regarding their album, their history together, and their hopes for a future.
Enjoy, this is one of Montreal's finest:
On their new, debut album, Native Speaker…
Raph: It’s done. Finished. Really finished. Mastered.
Austin: It sounds great. We’ve been holding it for quite a while. We’ve been holding it for the past couple months. We’re just shopping it around to American labels right now, going down to New York to play some showcase shows. A good man in Brooklyn named Kip Curry from Tell All Your Friends Promotion, he’s helped us get in contact with a bunch of labels. Now it’s like, they’ve heard it, now they want to see us play live. Now it’s like, we’re just waiting to get down there and play live and see how people like it, how they receive it.
On learning how to record in order to self-produce the album…
Raph: For sure [it was an artistic decision]. We wanted to have as much control over it as we possibly could
Austin: We had a bunch of offers from people saying, “Hey, can we help you do all the post-production on the record, all the mixing,” and we said, “No, we really want to do it all ourselves. We really want to learn how to do it, and now for next time, we’re that much further ahead.”
Raph: It’s just good to know how do something new.
On how learning the recording process affected writing new music…
Austin: We learned a lot about the actual creating process of music, as well. You can tell because we’ve been writing a few new songs since we finished the record where, after having gone through the process of recording, our live writing is very different.
We were always trying to push the boundaries of what we were doing in the live environment, but now we’ve tapped into the recording environment, which is literally limitless. You can tell because it took us 9 months to record our record.
Raph: It took as long as a baby [laughter].
Austin: Yeah it’s actually interesting because the gestation period was perfectly nine months.
Raph: There’s always this problem with people doing something that they don’t know much about and not doing it well. We’ve always heard, “Oh, you should just leave the mixing to the people who actually know how to mix,” But I think, because we took so much time to learn how to do it well, we avoided that problem.
A lot of people were coming up to us and being like, “where did you get this recorded?” and we were like, “oh, in our house [laughter], in our back room that has a laundry machine.” But we really pushed ourselves to make it amazing.
Austin: We didn’t have to constrain ourselves by asking, “how are we going to play this live?”
Raph: We already have songs that we really enjoy playing live and that we’re really proud of live, so we just took it a step further for the record.
Austin: If we head something in our head while we were recording we thought, “I’m not going to do this live, but I don’t care because it’s going to sound really good on the record.”
On evolving musically through their years of playing together…
Austin: Yes [this record is a progression of Braids’ earlier sound], very much so. Especially from our last record, which was the Set Pieces EP, and this is like a complete removal from that.
Raph: I didn’t even have effects on my vocals when we did Set Pieces. I didn’t even know how to go “AHHH.” I didn’t know how to do that. It’s a total evolution, especially from older songs like ‘M is for Matrioshka,’ where all of us were trying learn how to play together in time and I didn’t know how to play guitar yet.
Austin: That was a different time in our lives.
Katie: We were very excited. We’re not jaded now, we’re just very used to everything.
Raph: It was like, I’m going to play the guitar as fast as I can, but now it’s different.
Austin: I guess we have a little bit more restraint and maturity in our writing now. There’s been a continual progression where we realize that we write really long songs, like a 7 or 8-minute average track length. For working on things past Native Speaker, we’re trying to make things even more poignant. We try to write, like, let’s keep it down to a one or two-minute track and now it’s like, 4, but still, that’s short for us.
On their extensive tour schedule, including their first ever American dates in New York and Boston…
Austin: We’re very excited. We’ve got basically two months on the road in Canada throughout the whole summer through August and then, after that, there’s not even one show in place but we’re hoping to just tour as much as we can.
All of us through our friends, like the band Women, that have toured Europe have instilled this “GO TO EUROPE” vibe in us. So we really want to go to Europe. We’ve been getting emails from people and little bit of interest saying, “your music would be well-received here,” and all our friends that have toured Europe say that our music would suit audiences in Europe. Hopefully in the spring or something like that we can go to Europe.
Raph: Say Europe again.
Austin. Europe. Europe.
Katie: We’re up in Europe!
Raph: For sure, Animal Collective is a huge one for all of us. That one was big for us. I think Animal Collective was huge for us last year, definitely. It changed the way we think about how to make music, for sure. We started out varied in terms of musical taste, with everyone showing each other music and we came together with Animal Collective. Now we’re spreading out again. Like Katie’s really into New Wave, like New York No Wave, New Wave. Taylor’s starting to get into a lot more electronic based stuff.
Austin: Every once in a while, Taylor and I throw out the idea of starting a micro-house band, with live drums and effects.
On life after the album:
Austin: It’s kind of nice to be done with the album. We’re starting to listen to so much music. I found that when I was recording the album I was forgetting to listen to music. I became so saturated with my own music.
Raph: I didn’t listen to any music.
Austin: I just don’t want to hear that album for a while. Now it’s like I’m listening to a lot more new stuff and it’s nice.
Raph: This was the first time [that we got so immersed in the recording process]. We had only done one day recording before, like live to 2-track at a radio station.
On integrating new material into the band’s fluid live show…
Raph: For sure, we have a couple new songs
Austin: and a couple tweaks to our old songs
Raph: There are tweaks with the endings and I have different ways of singing the songs now. Still, the album is very fluid and the live show is very fluid. All the songs that are on the album, we’ve played live a million times and we’re very happy with them. It’s pretty similar, but you know, the album is like nine months of playing the same songs over and over again, so it’s just a little different.
Katie: I know that most of us really want to kind of move past the album a bit. We want to write as much new material as possible and really try new things. We want to try new sounds and not just do new things like Native Speaker was.
Austin: For sure, to keep pushing the boundaries on what we can do physically and emotionally and as friends, in terms of how much we can beg of ourselves. We’ve spent some time already sitting down and thinking, “How do we want to progress?”
We found that it was best to not talk about it so much (Laughing).
Raph: Yeah, you just dig yourself a hole when you do that.
Austin: we got kind of heated a couple nights talking. Now it’s kind of like, let’s just see where it’s going and it’s going in a nice direction. I think we’re going to come back to it and speak a little more about it. It’s just a balance of how can we remove ourselves from what we’ve done before without losing our cohesive sound.
Raph: It still sounds like Braids. We just want to challenge ourselves because we’re 19, 20, and 21 years old and we’re full of energy.
Katie: We get bored easily.
In addition to the new album, Braids will be releasing a split cassette with Raph's other group Blue Hawaii to promote their tour. For a full list of tour dates, check Braids' myspace. They will be playing in Montreal on May 21 at the Savoy with the Holly Miranda.Read Less ↑