Montreal’s Homeshake On R&B Influences, Songwriting and Anxiety

Peter Sagar makes ambient R&B that’s so chilled, it’s hard to believe it comes from someone who experiences any sort of anxiety. Indeed, it’s rattling to uproot one’s life and move away from the comforts of home — Edmonton-born musician Sagar is currently based in Montreal, and spent a number of years in between as the touring guitarist for Mac DeMarco. Thankfully, though, for anyone who’s listened to his music, the deft songwriter has been channeling the nervous energy into his art. Recording under the name Homeshake, Sagar released two full-length albums (2014’s In The Shower and 2015’s Midnight Snack) to widespread acclaim for their bedroom vibes and slinky production. Now, on his newest effort, Fresh Air, Sagar has found himself more settled and soothed than ever, delivering a honeyed collection of songs that are relatable, poetic, and, of course, incredibly easy on the ears.

Listen To Homeshake As You Read Along >

YOU’VE CITED SADE AND PRINCE AS INSPIRATION. DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST ARTIST THAT REALLY GOT YOU HOOKED ONTO R&B? It would actually probably be Sade. My dad had this mixtape that had “Hang On To Your Love” on it and it would play all the time when we were driving around. I don’t know why, that song just sort of stuck in my head. And I really didn’t like most of the songs on the mixtape I don’t think, and I remember thinking that I was surprised that I liked it because, I don’t know, I was probably listening to Limp Bizkit or something at the time. And it was just so good and undeniable.

SHE HAS THIS AMAZING, INTOXICATING VOICE. Yeah. I mean, I don’t know what it was exactly, but now I’m pretty convinced that she has invented love. And we all have to thank her every day.

YOU’VE OFTEN SAID THAT FRESH AIR FEELS LIKE PART OF A TRILOGY. WHAT STORY ARE YOU TELLING AND WHAT IS THIS PARTICULAR CHAPTER ABOUT? Everything I write is fairly introspective, so [it was] just the third part in that story since I moved away from home. I don’t know. I spend a lot of time on the road and then I stop doing that and then I have a lot of anxiety and stuff. But, for Fresh Air, I guess feel like I found more balance or something. It’s all a little calmer and clearer.

WHAT KIND OF HEADSPACE ARE YOU GENERALLY IN WHEN WRITING AND COMPOSING? Work. I feel fully driven to work really hard, actually. I would post myself up in my recording space at home and try to write at least one song everyday for weeks, maybe a couple months. And I was just trying to get enough songs that I could cut ones that I wouldn’t be pleased with later — because usually I just make an amount of songs and then record them and then later I’m like, ‘nah, that shouldn’t have been there.’ And I guess I still feel that way — there’s no really avoiding that. It’s kind of the only time I really feel like working. The only work I really like. I get pretty serious about it.

SETTING ASIDE TIME TO WRITE OUT YOUR FEELINGS AND ANXIETIES CAN REALLY BE THERAPEUTIC. DID YOU FIND THAT HELPED YOU, IN YOUR PROCESS? Yeah, that certainly takes your mind off whatever — well, it helped me take my mind off whatever trivial thing I was worried about. I don’t know, dumb shit like that. [It was] calming and a good escape, and then after you start working and I found myself more of a functioning person. You know — you got a problem, write it out. You can feel it out into the song and then feel better.

YOUR BIO DESCRIBES FRESH AIR AS BEING CREATED TO CLEAR YOUR LISTENER’S MIND OF NEGATIVITY. I think I wrote that after I made the album. I wasn’t considering it at all. [laughs] They just ask for little blurbs and stuff on your record. My music is not so thought of in advance. I find, for each album, I’ll make it and I’ll be surprised afterwards at an overarching theme that I did without really thinking about it. And, for this one, the same thing happened at the end of the album, but then also it fit into an arc, in my mind, with the other ones. And that’s sort of where it fit in — going from the most anxious to the least anxious. The most stressed out and worried about everything to not really worried at all and feeling pretty nice. It’d be really nice to help other people with their problems. It’s the best thing I can hope for.

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IS THERE ANY PARTICULAR ALBUM THAT DOES THAT FOR YOU? All of them, probably. That’s why I listen to music. I can’t have it not on. I get really nervous when there’s silence in the room or something, whether I’m alone or with people. It’s probably a pretty bad habit, actually. When I was a little kid, I couldn’t fall asleep unless there was music on. I can’t remember how I stopped doing that, I don’t do that anymore. I feel like the first album that did that to me was probably Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis, when I was, like, 14. I listened to it every night for at least a year. It calmed me down.

DANCE IS ALSO A CREATIVE OUTLET THAT CAN CLEAR YOUR HEAD. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO USE DANCERS WEN-HAO CHANG AND HAN NING IN YOUR MUSIC VIDEO FOR “EVERY SINGLE THING” AND HOW DO THEY ILLUSTRATE THE SONG’S NARRATIVE? They did such a good job, it’s crazy how good it is. I feel so lucky to have a video that good, I was really blown away when I watched it. But, yeah, they really captured the mood with the tension between the two of them. Good actors, as well as dancers. And the dog is so cute. I sent her [Han Ning] some t-shirts and a record and stuff, and she wanted a t-shirt just for the dog, so hopefully the [size] small will fit the tiny dog.

WILL YOU WORK TOGETHER AGAIN? Yeah, sure. They’re so great. I always had the idea that I would love to have dancers onstage, but that’s a whole other thing. Salina, my partner, she really wanted to do that, but she didn’t know who else to dance with.

YOU COULD HAVE BOTH DANCERS AND THE DOG — EVERYBODY ONSTAGE TOGETHER. Oh, yeah. [laughs] I’d love to get that dog onstage.

homeshake.bandcamp.com

By Yasmine Shemesh

This interview has been edited and condensed.  

Alaina Moore Of Tennis On New Music, Feminism And Fashion

It’s barely 10 a.m. and Alaina Moore, one half of the husband-wife pop duo Tennis, has spent the morning curled up in her pajamas talking to journalists. Female journalists, specifically, which has made it a great day so far, she says, speaking from her home recording studio in Denver. The occasion? Tennis’ fourth LP, Conditionally Yours. The new album — sonically illustrated by lush vocals and glittering, retro-inspired production — was partly composed at sea, much like how Alaina and her partner, Patrick Riley, conceived their 2011 debut, Cape Dory. This time, they voyaged from San Diego into the Sea of Cortez and it was a journey that had Alaina contemplating her feminism. How does it pair with her marriage? With being a female artist, amongst pressures and labels?

“I want to decide for myself how I want to be in the world,” Alaina affirms.

WHAT PROMPTED THE NEED TO CREATE AT SEA AGAIN? We hadn’t been sailing since that first trip that brought Cape Dory to life and we felt like we had really immersed ourselves into our careers — trying to figure out where Tennis could go and how solid and real and sustainable we could make it as a project together. And after about six years, we just started to feel a little bit of burn out and we needed to clear our heads and look at everything we’d been doing in more of a third person perspective. Because we just started to feel so mired in it, if we asked ourselves, ‘what do we want from this, where do we see ourselves in a year?,’ we couldn’t even answer those questions. We thought, ‘okay, it’s been a really long time’ and we both missed it immensely, so we decided to do another sailing trip that was even bigger and more ambitious than what we’d ever done before.

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Photo by Kelia Anne. Lead photo above by Luca Venter.

HOW DID YOU WRITE? We were only able to write for about two weeks out of the whole period of time — out of about five months of sailing — because sailing was so demanding. The environment is really extreme. It’s known for crazy weather. When we finally had 10 days of peace where we could sit down and write on our boat, we finished half of the record almost immediately and I think it was because we had that distance and perspective and we felt all alone in the world, so we didn’t feel any pressure to please anyone with our writing. I felt like we were writing for the sake of itself, just so that it could exist.

IT’S AMAZING HOW PUTTING YOURSELF IN A SITUATION LIKE THAT CAN IMPACT YOUR PERSPECTIVE. It was just very grounding and it helped remind me what was important to me.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE MOMENT FROM THE TRIP? It’s so hard to choose. I mean, the feeling of triumph when you enter a port for the first time after three days at sea. We sailed into Cabo San Lucas and I had never been before, so it was my first time seeing those beautiful, natural land formations at the point of Cabo — those arches where everyone goes for their Spring Break photos. I saw that for the first time, covered in salt and soaking wet from three days of really rough sailing with my husband on our 30-foot boat.

It just felt like the most bold, tiny form of discovery.

THE ALBUM’S NARRATIVE EXPLORES YOUR RELATION TO THE WORLD, FEMININITY AND GENDER ROLES. HOW DO YOU DEFINE YOURSELF, BOTH AS A WOMAN AND AN ARTIST? I’m not sure if it’s correct to compartmentalize it, but it’s easier for me to think of it when I parse it out. I think of my relationship with Patrick as a wife, in a monogamous relationship, and then I think about my relationship with an audience as a songwriter and then in another iteration as a performer, one who’s visible and kind of perceived as the frontperson of a band. I notice the ways in which I feel shaped by expectations from the world and a lot of those are governed by stereotypes or archetypes and just conventional assumptions about gender roles, and, in my eagerness to please the world, my audience — that’s partly my personality type, but I think it’s something a lot of women can relate to — I noticed that I almost felt like I was wearing myself down in an effort to become all the things that people needed from me.

On the performative side, for example, I want to be technically proficient and a good musician, but then the criticism — and it’s not these things are unfair, they could be totally true  — that maybe the show is dull because I’m focused on my musicianship. I’m not making eye contact. I’m not engaging directly enough. I’m not smiling enough. I don’t look like I’m having fun.

I’m not trying to be the next Madonna or anything. I just want to be a band that plays the music live for people who enjoy the music.

I’m asking myself where the limits of my devotion [are] to my audience, to my husband, to the way that the world wants me to be as a woman, and establishing some boundaries for myself where I can assert my own humanity against some of these things.

HUMAN BEINGS DON’T JUST FIT INTO SINGULAR DEFINITIONS. You know, even my relationship to fashion — I love clothing, I love makeup. As a person in the arts, I love aesthetics and making something banal a little more beautiful. I’m all for that, but even that’s something I have to continually think about. Resisting the urge to buy clothing all the time because every time I’m photographed I need to be wearing a new outfit that’s better than the last one. Or, in my desire to present the best version of myself on stage, am I inadvertently contributing to every other girl’s daily insecurity of not being good enough in the world? And I think about that all the time, even when I’m just using Instagram. Not like I have some impossible form of beauty, I’m a very plain person, but I just care about that I don’t want to be one more person putting that out in the world.

DO YOU CONSIDER DRESSING TO BE A FORM OF EMPOWERMENT? Yes, absolutely. I know I’m wearing the best outfit if I feel just the most like myself and I feel powerful — and that’s how I want to feel onstage, which is why I almost always wear pants. I have two sisters and we talk about this all the time, that we love to wear pants because I just feel power. I can run or kick and, we joke, I can always escape. I can always run away. Fashion plays an important role in my life, but I don’t want it to dictate my life.

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THE ‘70S ARE A BIG SOURCE OF INSPIRATION FOR TENNIS, MUSICALLY AND AESTHETICALLY ON CONDITIONALLY YOURS. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THAT ERA THAT YOU AND PATRICK ARE DRAWN TO? Our original desire to write music as Tennis came from listening to girl groups and that Wall of Sound, Phil Spector production from the ‘60s. And in the intervening years as we’ve continued to write and your taste just naturally moves on to the next thing, we joke that maybe we’re just moving forward in time.

And then I also just discovered a lot of female songwriters and I found women who composed primarily on the piano, rooted in the early ’70s that really inspired me, like Carole King and Laura Nyro. I feel like that’s another reason why we landed aesthetically where we’re at right now.

THOSE ARE ALSO VERY POWERFUL WOMEN. Another interesting thing that I noticed, that in the ‘60s, obviously Carole King was ghostwriting for some people and there were other female writers, but most music was written by men. And when Patrick and I first started writing, he wrote most of the music. And then as our careers progress, I write more and I contribute more equally to our songwriting. So, I feel like it was kind of natural that I move forward in time to an era where women emerged as their own writers — the person behind themselves was themselves, not a man writing for them.

By Yasmine Shemesh

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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