Homeshake's Doing Fine, Thanks
Peter Sagar, aka Homeshake, does things for his own reasons. Sure, he has to eat and keep a roof over his head, but money is not what’s motivating him. If it was, he might have done the usual rock-star stuff—move to LA, maintain a grueling tour schedule, make music with more clearly radio-friendly hooks. He might have continued touring with Mac Demarco, or hit the festival circuits, while releasing his own stuff on the side.
But he’s won a strong following in part because he’s not that type of person, and for making music that is as understated as it is precise. Over four albums (his latest, Helium, recently dropped via Sinderlyn records) he’s sculpted a space within the musical landscape that is completely his own. It’s like sonic hygge for those who dig it—comforting, contemplative, cozy. Like a stoney evening in a warm cabin, spent thinking about the world from a distance. Helium extends his low-key, soothingly understated aesthetic even further, offering some of Homeshake’s rawest and sparest work to date while maintaining the subtle beauty and relatable vibe that his fans have come to love.
Sagar spoke to us from Montreal about the recording process, why he’s not into music for the money, the pains of touring, and being a good neighbor.
What’s the moment like when your album is released? Are you clicking through the blogs or are you sitting back and not worrying about it?
No, I don’t really want to look into what everyone’s saying, on purpose. I accidentally saw a couple things, but I avoid it. You can go crazy living like that.
You’re about to embark on a European tour. What is touring in Europe like versus America? Is there a big difference?
Yeah, in America it’s just us and we have our bearings with America pretty well, obviously. Everything is familiar and easy and smooth and straight. Europe is a little more strange, I guess. We’ve got a tour manager and we’ve got a big thing rented and we’ve gotta spend a lot of money to get there.
How are the economics of touring versus streaming and album sales for a musician like you? Would you say that increasingly the tours are where you pull money together?
Well, we don’t really tour that much, but I feel like if we toured more like normal bands do they would play a bigger role and probably make us more money. But I find it drives me a little bit crazy. I can’t really keep myself together if we were to do like 150 shows a year.
What aspect of touring is sort of maddening to you? Is it the duress of just moving constantly? Is it exhausting, or do you just like to be home?
Yeah, it’s like a combination of a lot of things. Being away from home can be rough. I guess sort of we’re always just moving constantly. I tend to gain a lot of weight on tour because you just eat a lot of garbage [laughs]. It’s hard to keep a diet straight. This year I’m going to try to do yoga on the road. I’m pretty excited about that. I’ve got my travel yoga mat, so hopefully that helps out. Mostly it’s just very mentally taxing.
Do you enjoy being on stage, though?
Yeah, it’s fun to share moments with the people who care, knowing my music means something to them. That feeling—performing for people that you’ve made an impression on, seeing them reciprocating and showing their support—it’s great.
Your albums always seem to have a really cohesive feeling, or “vibe” for lack of a better word, and Helium is no different. Do you set out to create a specific atmosphere when you begin recording the album?
I just make songs and then try to string them together as well as I can. People I think often expect there to be premeditated thoughts in the way that I make music, but it’s really just that I make a lot of songs and then the ones that stick, that stay in my head, I finish, and then I do my best to glue them together in the album.
You seem to have pretty well established your own sort of methodology for making and performing your music. You really do it on your own terms. Do you ever feel pressured to cave in to the broader expectations like, move to New York or LA, or just greater commercial expectations?
No, no—I don’t bother with any of that stuff. I’ve always just been making and recording music this way, my whole life, since I was a teenager. Obviously, I want people to hear it, I want people to like it. The more the merrier, like, that’s all good. But I’m not really going to switch anything up just for that, you know what I mean? This is all good, I’m extremely lucky that it’s worked out like this and for whatever reason what I make has managed to work this way, but I make it primarily for myself, honestly. It’s like a cathartic thing that I need to do. It’s the only thing I know how to do, so you gotta do it. I got super lucky that it worked out.
You’re sort of an unexpected voice that’s advocating for political sanity on Twitter. Your music doesn’t necessarily suggest that strong political identity—has political activism always been something you’ve been involved in?
I always had opinions and stuff, but I never had a platform for them and now—yeah you know, at some point I had to come to terms with the fact that I had a voice where I was able to speak to more people than a lot of other people can, and I feel really strongly about a lot of stuff, and yeah, I don’t know—I feel responsible to say something, and I gotta say something.
How has your relationship with the songs on Helium changed now that you’re well into rehearsal? What’s that transfer like? It’s pretty insular music—what’s it like to bring the rest of the band into these songs?
It’s interesting, it’s a cool thing actually, I really like that part of things because—especially for this album, I made them all alone, essentially in a bedroom. They’ve been in my head and in my computer exclusively for months. But then, over the last week and a half even, I’ve been with my bandmates and teaching everyone the parts and seeing them evolve. Everyone came real strong this time, actually. Everybody knew everything already, they learned it.
They all put in a lot of individual effort, which was awesome and it made putting it all together go real smooth. It’s fun, it’s fun to hear them just change. You have to change, and you have to adapt to everything as everyone's learning and making sure things sound good this way or that way, and making a new setlist that flows well. It’s a cool, pretty exciting thing to do. But as we listen and practice I’ve been kicking myself over mistakes I’ve made in recordings and stuff [laughs].
As an editor, I can relate. Is that always the case?
I can't listen to any of my old records. Once the time is passed, then the only time I hear them is at a live thing. We’re playing them all the time so I don't want to listen to it. Just clips, mixing issues that I can hear, I’m like ‘Oh, I could’ve done it better this way or that way.’ It’s frustrating but also it’s just part of the process, and I’d rather feel this way now then spend so long to try to make it perfect that I just hate every other thing about it.
How did you figure out your role within the live band?
Obviously, I’m singing all the time and yeah I got a sampler, but for the first time on this tour, I’ll be playing the synthesizer a little—we had to add one for one of the new songs on the guitar. Basically, we all have our set pieces that we play in the group. Obviously bass and drums are easy to line up and then it’s just which one of me and Mark [Goetz] is going to do what on the other parts. And make it so I can sing without screwing up.
What’s on the agenda for your evening?
We have a bunch of people coming over later. We’re having a party I guess. We left notes on all my neighbors doors. Hopefully no one gets pissed.
You left notes to tell them that there might be noise?
You’re a good neighbor!
I guess so [laughs].
Do they hear you recording?
No, I’m usually pretty quiet. I don’t really have any guitar amps rollin’ real hard. I don’t know, I don’t think it’s a great idea to record really loud. You lose a lot of details if you have it going really loud so I like to record pretty softly or pretty low volume. It’s better for mixing, I think.
Is there anyone else making music that you're really enjoying or that you’ve been surprised by or that you feel at all in common cause with musically?
Yeah, I’m a pretty huge fan of a lot of music coming out at the moment. I’ve really been enjoying a lot of contemporary stuff. I really love Tirzah a lot. They came out last year—absolutely blew me away. They’re incredible, they really, really, really trip me up—so good. Friends of mine like Jerry Paper, Mild High Club, they’re great. Keith Charles, he’s in New York City right now. He just released a track this week that’s super good. DJ Healer- I really like. He released this LP last year called ‘Nothing 2 Loose.’ It’s like, I don’t know how to describe, like self-help electronic music.
So, you’re a very active listener, it seems.
Yeah, well I got this monthly radio show on NTS and I have like an hour of new music to play every month. So, I hold myself to the standards like I want to have new things to play.
That does seem good for staying abreast in what’s happening in music.
Yeah, it keeps me sharp. Basically every three weeks I realize I have a show coming up and I freak out.
Written by Sid Feddema
Photos by Salina Ladha