It is a rainy fall afternoon in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and someone on set at the historic Warsaw Theater has just offered Sean Nicholas Savage a fuchsia lighter—the same shade of fuchsia as the rolling paper he’d carefully built a cigarette out of just moments earlier. He grins, turning his head from one side to the other presumably thinking of a joke, but hesitates. Instead, he excuses himself, slips on a long black coat and steps out into the cold.
It’s not like Savage to hold back. In fact, if the Canadian-born, Berlin-based singer-songwriter’s output is any indication, he hasn’t held back much in the last nine years. He has released almost two studio albums a year—13 in total—since he began recording his intimate, wispy pop tunes on Montreal’s Arbutus Records in 2008. He also writes poetry, a small book of which he released last year entitled Magnificent Fist (he has also released an album of the same name). Every project is a hard, introspective look into Savage’s own existence, from relationship postmortems to musings on the ways of the universe. “I have this big belief that some of the best work you can do is when you’re trying to humiliate yourself as much as possible,” he says. “A book of poetry, for example, is one of the more humiliating things you can do, but what’s the worst that can happen?”
For Savage, there is little distinction between life and work. He is always creating, always on. “I usually wear a suit and tie,” Savage explains. “And I keep a notebook and a voice recorder with me, so I’m writing all the time. When I’m out and about, or when I’m bored, on the bus, or whatever.” These moments—the process of making something—is what Savage savors.
“I think if you’re focused on the results of something instead of on the process of making it, you’re in trouble,” Savage continues. “You’ve imagined an outcome, so you’ve already limited yourself. The work will be limited to something within your own imagination or within your own experience. For that reason, I’m very process-oriented.”
As he admits, where things go from there is basically left to fate. “I figured this thing out with my poetry lately, and I’ve had this with my songs before too,” he says. “The best lyrics I write are when I’m just going super fast, hammering it out, making up everything. My brain is going ‘This doesn’t even make sense,’ or ‘Stop, you’re out of ideas!’ And I have to say back, ‘I never had any ideas, it was always bad!’ Or ‘Yeah it is bad, I’m going to make it worse,’ so I keep going, further, further. I guess I’m always trying to twist it around and fight my own brain. And then later, or in a while, I’ll look at what came out of it.”
For someone who philosophizes as much as Savage does, you might expect a list of references, a carefully annotated bibliography of influence. But Savage makes no such statement. “I don’t really read much these days, or listen to much music,” he says with a half shrug. “So I’m not an expert. Or am I? Depends who you ask, right?” He laughs and stands. As we walk towards the door he says, “Certainly don’t ask me.”