Peter Sagar comes from a background of playing in bands, most notably alongside Mac DeMarco. Nowadays, though still very much involved in Montreal’s vibrant scene, he prefers to lock himself away from the world to birth his music. Droney ambient music and classic R&B both feature heavily, combining to create smooth pop laced with moody introspection. His latest album Fresh Air is more upbeat in both tempo and subject matter, but Sagar hasn’t lost his propensity for melancholy. We spoke about his creative process: quick and instinctive, without questioning motives or being too precious. Although he’s not prone to theorizing or pontificating about what he does, in his own matter of fact way, Sagar sheds light.
It’s clear from your records, particularly the new one, that you’re heavily influenced by R&B. Who’s the number one R&B act in your life?
There’s such a wide range of music that fits into R&B but let’s just say Sade.
Good answer. Are you just into the classic stuff then?
Oh no, I’m also a huge fan of Jeremih. He did that Christmas album with Chance The Rapper, that was great. I like a lot of the modern R&B. Mid-2000s stuff brings me back to when I was a teenager. ‘90s R&B, I remember waiting for those videos to finish so I could watch really bad nu metal videos. I look back now and I’m like, ‘man! I was into the wrong stuff.’
I look back now and I’m like, ‘man! I was into the wrong stuff.’
Have you ever thought about collaborating with an R&B artist?
That would be so cool. It would have to be someone that I shared a mutual respect with. Hasn’t come along yet but I’d love to do something like that. I’d love to not feel the need to sing. Most musical things come pretty naturally to me but singing never has. I tried to polish that up on the new record.
Who would be first choice?
Mariah Carey. I’d do all the production, she’d do all the singing. It would be so twisted.
What music were you listening to when you made the new record?
I listen to a wide range of music. My computer is overgrown with it. I’ve been a really big fan of Oneohtrix Point Never for a while. His album Replica was what brought me into the idea of an album full of music without any ‘real’ songs, in the way people expect songs to be structured. I was definitely listening to a lot of Japanese pop music from the eighties, too – but I always am.
Do you think you’re naturally a melancholic person?
Yeah, it’s left over from being an angsty teenager. Music has always been very therapeutic for me. I have a problem, I write a song about it, I feel better. There’s plenty of sad things going on right now in the world generally. No shortage of sadness.
I don’t know if happy is the right word. I think it’s the most positive record I’ve ever made.
So are all your songs based around sadness?
It was that way for a really long time. I was writing pretty much exclusively sadness-based music but I don’t think it’s the same way anymore. I get asked this question a lot and I used to just give the same answer as always. I think I used to use sadness as a crutch for getting into an emotional state so I had something to say. I don’t feel the same anymore. Obviously there’s still a lot of sad things to write about but I’m trying to move on from that a little bit. I spend a lot of time trying to clear my mind and calm down and centre myself, pretty much everything short of actually meditating. I’m trying to find a nice balance inside. Trying to change positively.
So the new record is a happy record?
I don’t know if happy is the right word. I think it’s the most positive record I’ve ever made, although it’s probably still quite sad. It’s also quicker in tempo than the other ones.
Is it important for you to be isolated when you’re coming up with the initial ideas?
It has become that way but once it comes to the recording process, a second set of ears and a sympathetic mind is very important. I recorded this album and also Midnight Snack with my friend Jackson MacIntosh (Sheer Agony). We work really well together. My friend Mike who recorded In The Shower is also a really good guy to work with.
Obviously you come from a background of being in bands. It must be a very different kind of process coming up with everything on your own.
I just wanted to be better at everything.
When you’re writing in a group you need to have a lot of confidence in everyone else’s ideas. It takes the pressure of I do miss that sometimes but when you’re on your own you can do anything you want; it’s more limitless. You don’t have to worry about making anything fit into another person’s equal part of the view.
It sounds like your solo writing process is very instinctive.
There was a little stretch last winter when I was trying to write a song every night. At two or three in the morning I would finish it up and then the next day I would see how it sounded. So with this record, I had a lot more material to work with.
The new stuff sounds a lot more polished and even synthetic compared to the earlier stuff. How did you arrive at that sound?
I just wanted to be better at everything. In the studio Jackson and I both had a much better idea of how to record what we wanted. We just did a better job I think. Whatever record I’m working on, whatever’s up next it will always be what feels natural. I never really force anything.