In the Distance They’re Like: EEHHHRRRREHHH! Phone Calls with Sean Nicholas Savage

photo by Jasper Mandus

By Kyra Leib

I don’t like to toot my own horn but I worked my butt off to get this interview, traveling across the great city of Winnipeg with t-minus two hours until interview time to acquire equipment. And even once we did connect, Sean and I were disconnected on the phone three times during the course of this interview. Nothing could faze Mr. Savage’s winning charm, however. Here is what came of our conversation…

Stylus: Motown, disco and funk influences show up very clearly on Trippple Midnight Karma. How have your musical influences changed or progressed since you first started recording music?
Sean Nicholas Savage:
I’ve been really into a few different albums for a period of a couple months and I’m really influenced by them while I’m making whatever I’m working on. I was listening to Marvin Gaye and ’80s rarities and singles. Things like less successful ’80s R & B.
Stylus: Was Marvin Gaye a main inspiration?
Yeah, hugely. Midnight Love, that album.
Stylus: What is it about his music that has inspired you so much?
I love his voice, I love his words, and the production on Midnight Love is unique and cool, too.
Stylus: How long have you been playing music?
Since I was ten. Well, I have been making up songs for my whole life. I started playing guitar when I was ten years old.
Stylus: Is there a story behind the name Trippple Midnight Karma?
I was playing lots of shows out of town and I had been awake for three days. I was playing a set and I started seeing shadows in the room. It seemed like the corners of my vision were really dark. And I said: “Man! It feels like triple midnight!” Everyone around me was laughing and saying, “Triple midnight? That’s crazy.”
Stylus: So where does the “Karma” part come from?
Well, I wasn’t going to include karma. People say that karma can be either good or bad but apparently karma is always a good thing. So it’s like triple midnight… good times.
Stylus: Are you currently touring?
I’ve been doing little tours, I’m going to Halifax. I am going to play in the east a bit, four shows in the east and then Toronto sometime.
Stylus: Any chance of coming to Winnipeg?
To Winnipeg? Hmmm. I don’t think I’m going to drive across the country for that.
Stylus: No? Hopefully sometime in the future?
Stylus: You’ve had a very prolific career. Do you have a favourite moment when recording an album?
I like when I finish writing a song, when I’m recording it. Whenever you get the first part of the idea and then the ball is rolling. When recording and you think, “Aw, I’m singing well” and you think the words sound good or the pieces are fitting together; that is exciting.
Stylus: So what is the biggest hurdle for you when you are writing?
If I try too hard or I’m stressed out in my life I just get creatively constipated. So that can be a hurdle sometimes.
Stylus: What is your songwriting process like?
Well, today I have been working on a split with my friend and I just finished my side of it. There’s going to be nine new songs at the end of May and I wrote most of the words for it. I would have a little bit of a melody and then I would just work on words for a while.
Stylus: So do you mainly like to come up with a melody before the lyrics?
Well, usually when I have written the melody there is a bit of words and then I just expand on it.
Stylus: Do you have a permanent lineup of musicians that play with you?
Well on Trippple Midnight I played all of the keyboard. The last two albums I have done by myself. I have a bassist and drummer that I have been working with. Mostly I just play all the instruments. For my last four shows and for live shows this summer I will probably have a band.
Stylus: You’ve been collaborating with other musicians signed to Arbutus—how did these relationships start?
Well Arbutus is just kind of our friends in the neighbourhood. Some of us live in the same building. I live a little south from everyone else with my girlfriend but everyone else is on the same block, most of our friends. There are a lot of musicians here in my building, not on Arbutus. Mac DeMarco from Makeout Videotape lives here and Michael Rault and there’s another guy named Matt Perri. There are a lot of songwriters around here.
Stylus: Who are the men dressed up as ghosts in your music video “Like a Ghost is White”?
They’re my friends. One of them is another songwriter: Matt Perri. We actually made that video right when I came to Montreal and I was meeting new people and it was really fun. They were all just friends, some were painters and others were songwriters.
Uh-oh my friend is locked out; I have to let him in. He locked himself out the window. [Pause in interview while Sean unlocks the window.] Yeah, I’m still here.
Stylus: If you were any animal, which one would you be and why?
A Seagull! The seagull is my favourite animal. I like how they fly, I watch them all the time and I really like them. They adapt to the city well and they’re very carefree—they eat garbage and things.
Stylus: But you don’t eat garbage, right?
No, but I dumpster dive a little bit. Seagulls are nice-looking though and I like the sounds they make. When you can hear them in the background or the distance and they’re like: EEHHHRRRREHHH!
Stylus: Well I hope to see you in Winnipeg soon!
Look for a new release—it’s called Won Ton Jazz.
Stylus: Looking forward to it! Will I be able to get it off the Arbutus website?
Yeah it will be out at maybe the beginning of June, it will be available for download on Arbutus’s website.

Sean Nicholas Savages’ latest cassette, Trippple Midnight Karma, is sold out in physical form, but you can still donate and download a digital copy on the Arbutus Records website.