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The DNA of Sean Nicholas Savage’s new album: ‘Bermuda Waterfall’

We go in deep with Canadian folk singer on the different elements that went into making his new album.

Sean Nicholas Savage’s career is still in its relative infancy –his debut record was written in 2008. Yet he has clocked up ten full-length efforts on either cassette or digital download, the last of which, Bermuda Waterfall, has just been released through Montreal record label Arbutus, home to fellow Canadians Majical Cloudz, Grimes and Braids.

Savage’s psych folk has been a product of his life on the road, with his incessant touring for the past two years breeding a perpetual desire to write new songs, most of which don’t end up on his albums. In our interview, we got in-depth on the constituent parts that made Bermuda Waterfall, but at the end Savage told us he’s already finished a couple of demos for his next album, which he reckons will be finished by the end of next month.

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The travelling

“I’d always be writing in a van or a car - I’ve been touring constantly for like two years now. But when I do stop at places for a period of time, I’ll be able to set up a little workstation and record demos. I’ve been living everywhere; it means that I’m constantly motivated and refreshed. You have to catch ideas anywhere and anytime as they’re happening, whether that’s recording or writing or whatever. Whenever I lived in one spot, I was always writing as I was walking down the street, or right in the middle of a party I’d go to my room, or at work. I’m never sitting at a desk at 8pm after I’ve had my dinner to write, because that’s just not how it’s done.

I don’t write to come up with ideas; I take them from the world. The more my world is changing around me, the more ideas are going on. It’s not like I have to tour to wind things up, I’m pretty wound up already. I’m a dramatic guy, and actually the reason I started touring was because things in my life blew up. I just took off on the road. There was already a lot to write about, things were getting pretty heavy.

The writing process

I’m pretty observant. I’ve had a pretty dramatic life. Absolute curveballs. Really terrible and really beautiful things have happened to me. If I tried to write the same album as before it wouldn’t have worked. I let a lot of things fall into place. I had the poems that I was pretty set on - there are a lot of dreams on Bermuda Waterfall. I’ve written a lot of songs, and I don’t see that as a feat, because I do that all the time anyway. I’m really into constantly touring – what’s going to happen if I just keep touring? Something special, right? It’s going to be a unique experiment. What’s going to happen if I keep making albums? Everyone will just tell me to shut up, but I’m going to keep going. Then what’s happens after that? What the hell am I going to be talking about? I want to know, I’m so curious. So I’m going to keep going, all alone here.

The toaster

There was once a great painter who hadn’t made his name yet, but just ate a load of toast as he worked. He flipped out one day and invented this new faster, better toaster, which made him really famous. So his whole meaning wasn’t that he was a painter, it was that he invented a toaster. That might be the case with my music at some point. The songs on Bermuda Waterfall are a real mess, and I think it’s great to put out a real mess. The whole meaning of the title is that life is like a Bermuda Triangle, we don’t know what’s going on, it’s a big waterfall. And the waterfall is fertilizing.

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The instrumentation

I listen to a lot of music and I really love it - I usually set aside some time and just listen to the instrumentation on a bunch of songs. With my own music, I have like a million ideas for how I want it to go, but it just goes a certain way. You make the best decisions with what you’ve got, but I don’t want to get stuck, I want to keep going. Often there’s a lot of compromise, but I don’t see compromise as a negative thing, it’s just collaboration. I’m collaborating with my life and that’s just what it sounds like.

The vocals

With my voice, I try and follow romantic singers. Sometimes I’ll stray from that and do something different. You can try and put a different effect on it but then it’s the wrong effect. Demis Roussos, I’m a big fan of his. There’s him, then Elvis, and other 70s stuff, Aretha, people like that.

I wanted my voice to be more like an instrument. I think I got better at singing, but I don’t know if I succeeded on the instrument front or not. It’s pretty close; the album’s only just come out so I can’t really hear it at this point. I’ll know more about it in a couple of months, but then I’ll be working on the next one. I was inspired by Radiohead’s Amnesiac. I feel like Thom Yorke really hated his voice on that album so he found a lot of different ways to make his voice sound really different.

The videos

I’ve worked with Angus (the director) a bunch of times, we do a lot of takes and talk about what we want from the takes and we read each others minds and get into a zone. We wanted to do something super nuanced – I think we did 14 different takes for “The Rat”. I couldn’t do it any more, it just became an act. I couldn’t replicate the first one, that one was the most natural. It was a humiliating video to do. Putting a lot of my body into it, exposing the ways that I move and am free in front of my peers. There’s a lot of me in it. Whenever we tried to get it perfect it took some of me out of it, and it lost some of the juice. The finished product is like the album; the album is very juicy.

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