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.
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.
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.
By Yasmine Shemesh
This interview has been edited and condensed.