SEAN NICHOLAS SAVAGE IN NEW YORK, JUNE 2016. STYLING: VITTORIA CERCIELLO. CARDIGAN: PRADA. GROOMING: TAKASHI YUSA.
Perched atop the back of a park bench in Toronto, Sean Nicholas Savage prefaces our talk with a warning: “I’m a little grumpy today,” he says resolutely. “I’m mad about white suburban dudes.”
A native of Edmonton, Savage came to prominence in the vibrant independent music scene that exploded in Montreal a few years ago, alongside the likes of Grimes and Majical Cloudz. Now 30, the singer-songwriter resides mostly in Berlin. His new album, Magnificent Fist (Arbutus Records)—his 13th release since 2008—was recorded entirely solo and self-produced there. “It’s common for people to trip out toward the end of making an album,” he says. “But I haven’t been tripping out about this one. I feel pretty centered about it. I’m in a good place right now. It’s sincere.”
In the course of conversation, Savage darts restlessly from subject to subject—what starts as a point about pop music segues to a bemoaning of Brexit, a note about the astonishing potential of nature, and a rant about said white suburban dudes. His work is similarly manifold. “I’m a poet,” he says. “I always have been, but the poetry I’m doing now is different from the lyrics to my songs. I’m excited about how the different things I’m doing don’t connect.”
Among those things is an interest in fashion. In 2014, he performed live at Maison Martin Margiela’s New York Fashion Week show—a seemingly far cry from the DIY approach to artistry he’s come to be associated with, but he sees parallels. “Fashion is about aesthetic and design,” he says. “A lot of music is about aesthetic and design—composition, chords, structure. You can express a lot with that. The cool thing about the fashion industry is they take it so fucking seriously. It’s a bit of a joke, but it’s also nice that there’s still an art form that is taken so seriously.”
On Savage’s previous releases, his despairing vocals paired with halcyon melodies could be described as eerie adult contemporary or tender pop with a sinister twist. For Magnificent Fist, he’s lightened the mood. “Lyrically and melodically, it’s light,” he says. “I try to make things optimistic. I don’t want to put negativity into the world.” So what are we to make of the album title’s violent connotations? “The fist is about energy. It’s about the swing, not the hit.”