Sean Nicholas Savage is the new 'King of Pop'. You just might not know it yet. In pockets across this great nation Savage is a celebrated performer. Amongst his following you might even hear things like 'the best singer-songwriter this country has produced since Neil was Young'. Alongside notable acts such as Dirty Beaches, Makeout Videotape, Nu Sensae, Jennifer Castle, The Weeknd, Grand Trine, Slim Twig, Gobble Gobble, and Grimes, Sean Nicholas Savage is leading the brigade of a new wave of Canadian music. These are musical performers divorced from the all too common history of Canadian music mimicking what's hot or trendy in the United States or England. These are the performers inspiring the next set to burn the manual and start from the heart.
For Sean Nicholas Savage the creative pursuit began both as a musical performer and writer in his early teens. Inspired by 1970s UK Punk such as the Vibrators, and the seminal twee of the Vaselines, Sean began to carve out his place in his hometown of Edmonton, bringing his magic to punk-y local bands. Around 2007, at the age of 21, Sean began making trips between Edmonton and Montreal, where he co-wrote and recorded the debut Silly Kissers record with David Carriere.
"That gave me the confidence I needed, and I did my first solo album Summer 5000."
Still calling Edmonton home, Sean created the first of a run of eight astonishing records in three years. In the early summer months of 2008, ‘Summer 5000’ would see Sean write, record and produce at home on a digital four track. The album was quickly discovered by CJSR music director, and later Weird Canada creator, Aaron Levin.
"(Aaron) was a key point, they were playing my music like crazy. I got ‘real cool’ real fast!"
Like a number of his contemporaries in Edmonton, to continue to make music and to grow the audience, Sean had to make the decision to go with his friends to Vancouver or Montreal. Cheap rent and an already established recording history with the Silly Kissers made the move to Montreal very logical. Following the move, Sean would also begin a fruitful relationship with rising Independent label ‘Arbutus Records’.
'Little Submarine' and the double album 'Sunshine Melodies/Weird Daze' were released following the move and led to arguably his best-record-to-date and masterwork 'Spread Free Like a Butterfly'. As in Edmonton, Sean again found the attention of Aaron Levin who had moved his efforts from the City to the nation with his (later awarded CBC radio 3’s ‘best music site in Canada’) Weird Canada dot com. November of 2009 reviewing ‘Spread Free Like a Butterfly’ Levin writes:
“After witnessing a devastating croonappelic version of Mr. Savage’s hit Kisses Like a Girl, I opted out of waiting for the 12″ vinyl version of Spread Free Like a Butterfly (December 2009 on Arbutus Records) and copped the CDR for hasty highway blastery. And sure enough, within moments Savage’s Orbisinian vibrato and fetching harmonies had me rolling the windows and screaming all the lyrics; pop drive-byes delivered to unsuspecting underage women Edmonton-wide. Sean’s writing has never been better, with his charismatic strangeness texturizing the relationships around him; awkward memories hidden beneath sun-bleached family photos and obscure grad quotes (or at least that’s what it conjures in my mind). It’s a landmark album refusing to languish in any genre; basement lonertude, campfire balladry, dreamy soft-psych, and, most importantly, hit-making. There is a reason I chose Sean Nicholas Savage as the first Weird Canada review.”
Following ‘Spread Free Like a Butterfly’ Sean would record the roots based ‘Movin Up In Society’ with his then signature 12 string guitar to further acclaim. But for roots purist, the next recordings proved to be a challenge. Returning to the new wave/disco pop of his earlier work with the Silly Kissers, Sean would record a trio of pop masterpieces starting with the front to back classic ‘Mutual Feelings of Respect and Admiration’ and the Spring to Summer 2011 releases ‘Trippple Midnight Karma’ and ‘Won Ton Jazz’ (with Kool Music).
"I like the idea of recording all the instruments on one keyboard. Just following the rules of one keyboard! The different sounds on the keyboard have a continuity together, and if you use them the way they were meant to be used then it can be a pretty high result.”
As accessible and pop based as the recordings are the choice to move through various sounds and genres can be very testing to a listener focused in on boxed genres:
"I try not to get lost too much in how I'm saying something and more lost in what I'm saying. I've always had these two extremes (Pop and Roots) going. There's too many types of music I wanna make and it's changing every other day."
The recorded performances offer a strong starting point into the strange world of Sean Nicholas Savage, but the stage is where he truly comes alive. At a recent ‘Fringe Pop Festival’ performance in late June in Montreal, as I’m told by a number of Sean’s peers is as per usual, he begins with a crowd that laughs awkwardly perhaps uncertain of the sincerity, and ends with an uproarious ovation. Sean deliberates "I'm typically not trying to be funny but then maybe some people think I'm weird and they think that's funny. I'm not trying to make a joke.”
When asked about his stage persona Sean reflects:
“There's being theatrical which comes from singing out and stage performance, but it’s not a character so much as just trying to be engaging or being in the moment or mood of the song."
Sean says he is influenced by his friends and peers in the neighborhood in Montreal. Roommate Arick Woodhead aka Doldrums, Grimes (who performs backing vocals on the 'lost Hollywood' Savage classic 'Dreamers Die Hard'), D'eon, and Majical Cloudz are just a few names Sean mentions. He also finds inspiration online:
"I've been really inspired by Youtube. I've been able to watch many Jacques Brel, younger Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan performances. Anything I can think of, I get a new record and I look it up."
Somewhere between Michael Jackson, Orange Juice, the Bee Gees, 1960s French Pop, Morrissey and Scott Walker there's a niche being carved out by Sean Nicholas Savage. Have a listen below, and be sure to check out Sean Nicholas Savage on Sunday August 14th at APK Live at the corner of York and Wellington. That night Sean will play alongside Edmonton post-Surf/Garage rockers (and Summer entry for best album of the year 'Secret Girlfriend') The Group Sound and locals the Sinkholes, and New Zebra Kid - the new Avant-Pop project from Aaron Simmons, formerly of A Horse and His Boy.