PW-Magazine met with the bedroom-pop-poet with the angelic voice Sean Nicholas Savage to talk about big songs, bad singing, the strength and weakness of suits and perfect pitches.
Vienna has them, those days, where the sky just refuses to offer even a glimpse of happiness, people have the collars of their dark coats put up and on the metro there is just monotone silence. How happy can we be to have the likes of Sean Nicholas Savage in our world, who manage to take all that heaviness off our shoulders with just a simple ballad.
Only his appearance, his bleach-blonde hair and his gentle gestures will make the most mundane environment a tad more extravagant, which makes it seem almost thought-out that we find him in the gray-in-gray backstage kitchen of brut Wien over paprika chips and peanut flips. He is already glammed up for the show in a golden button down shirt and a heavily shoulder-padded pin-stripe suit.
“I look like a Las Vegas guy. I wear suits all the time, they are often the most practical and fashionable pieces available, but I hate the idea it’s the men’s costume. It’s the male patriarchy that stains everything, it’s terrible. So wearing suits is both powerful and a weakness.”
When interviewing Sean Nicholas you will find him and his thoughts up in the clouds, circling around questions and taking in some beautiful life-lessons. That does not make it easy to follow him at all times, but when you make an effort to listen, you’ll get a rare glimpse of the beautiful poetry his soul has to offer.
In no way is he too dreamy though, his output is enormous and his most recent album “Magnificent Fist” is the 10th release in only seven years. It sounds a bit lighter than his last albums and he has a perfectly logic explanation for it.
“I tried to do a bit of loosening up and not have as much stress in my life. I wanted to take the mentality of the industry out of my art, just trying to relax it and get really pure and childish. I did not want to get into too deep feelings, which is why I mostly sing about love.”
The fist in the the album’s title is thus strongly misleading, it is not the one of fascism and dictators that he had in mind. “The fist has power, when I make a fist, I fill it with beautiful energy, it’s a pose, much like in a dance and not as in a fight.”
With a steady output like his, does he set himself goals to be productive and does he have certain ideas about what his albums should be like? He would say no:
“If you come up with what you want to make and set a goal, even a high one, you have already set yourself a limitation. You will reach that goal, it’s only a matter of time, because it’s your imagination that you used to make that goal. But if you just work on a process that you really believe in and you are just feeling and feeling, pushing more energy and energy into it until all your energy is spent, that’s how you can make songs very naturally and the outcome is something entirely different.”
He does not think he was a born singer, he grew into one “I always loved singing and wanted to be singer, but I wasn’t very good – and arguably am still not good. But i love all kinds of singing, much like a cook. He loves all kinds of food and so do I love all singers”. But over the years he became a better singer, at age 25 he thinks he became really good, because of his experience.
“I think singing is in your head, it’s not physical at all, it’s all tricks. Over the years of doing shows and touring I learned a lot of tricks. As you get older your voice goes, but you have so many tricks by that time you can perfectly compensate for it. I have done shows where I almost had no voice at all and I could make it sound like singing”. But there is danger to using tricks: “Sometimes I get emotionally greedy and want to give more. But still, if I screw up or if I am good, it’s both in the head. Singing is a psychological, spiritual thing.”
You changed me is his most viewed clip on YouTube. “Because it’s the best. The message is: relationships, whether romantic or not, are about compromise. But compromise is not about meeting in the middle but about both people bending in and taking on the other person, good and bad. It means you are getting better but you are also getting worse, you don’t just change the parts you like. But when you do, it’s a really special thing.“
Would he call his music melancholic?
“Some people say it’s bittersweet. They could call it bummer music, I try to make my music uplifting, but it’s soft and it’s emo so you probably would not want to turn it up at a party.” He grew up in Canada, but lives in Berlin now, “I travel a lot, but mentally and psychologically I live in Berlin”. Asked about the scene there he comes up with one name really quick “I love Molly Nilsson, she is super inspiring.” But he says that his influences do not come from one certain scene or genre.
One strong reference he can hardly deny is the eighties. Does it bother him to be put into that box? “I love the eighties, it was a special time. That was when we got the drum machine and the synth. Suddenly it became a lot cheaper to record music, it was the dawn of what I do. Today you make music on your computer at home and bring it to a show, that’s todays folk guitar, you are a solo-full-arrangement musician.”
Of course he loves George Michael, Prince, Freddy Mercury and Boy George “They had the synths to make perfection, but they didn’t have autotune. Boy Georges singing on “Do you really want to hurt me” is so flat, it’s perfect.” At first glimpse you would suspect Nicholas of being out of tune in some of his songs, too, but there is intention behind it. “People are so obsessed about pitch, but it is not about pitch, it is about the right tone. The thing is: pitch is a quick way to get a perfect tone, because a perfect pitch is a good tone. But if you have the tone, you don’t need the pitch. He (Boy George) sounds beautiful and is out of key. I love bad singing, I love out of key singing, but I also love autotune.”
“Yes, I use it as much as i can, but as I said, I love out of key singing, so I use it to make it more beautiful, not to cover up something. I don’t think autotune has to be unreal or robotic, I think it can be really human, it’s instrumental. Autotune sounds like a bagpipe (imitates playing a bagpipe). What I also like about it, is that you can sing really wild, where there is no way you could hit the notes and then you tune it and it’s got the wildness of someone who doesn’t even care about hitting the notes and the aesthetically pleasing perfect pitch.”
In one interview he said, he likes to play Elton John songs, because people do not make those big songs anymore. “Why don’t you make them?”
“Because I am not Elton John, Elton John is the bomb! I think he is a vessel for pop, he is a brilliant songwriter, he has been touched many times. He came out, it really hurt his career, he pushed through it. I grew up seeing him as those funny guy, not taking him seriously and then I realized he is the best, he is just so tough. His songs are so strong, like the heaviest metal.”
And this is where he has to run for the show, that he finishes equally strong with a surprise interpretation of Can you feel the love tonight.
His most recent album Magnificent Fist was released on Arbutus Records. Stay tuned for his soon-to-be-released book of poetry.
Text & Interview by Maxi Krennmayr
Photos by Alexander Goll