In Conversation With Saya

To put it plainly, Sugarcoated, the moniker for Toronto R&B sensation, Saya’s second EP couldn’t be more perfect. Akin to its official definition, on their exterior, her songs are juicy and sweet for consumption–sonically bouncy and poppy in tracks like “Played Out” and “Flowers” with inflictions of entrancingly groovy, uptempo tracks like “Slow Burn.” She deviates only slightly and impassively with slower, colder songs such as “The Moon,” in which one can (coupled with the help of the music video) envision her floating off into what is perhaps her own headspace, or another dimension entirely. In this project, Saya retains her usual demeanour–forthright and unapologetic, yet blatantly aloof. It is just when you think you have seen the full side of her, does Sugarcoated remind you that there is always more to someone than just what you see on the surface.

Hi Saya! Congratulations on the release of our new EP, Sugarcoated. Besides the whirlwind that comes with putting out a new project, what have you been up to lately?
Saya: Well, right now I’m managing myself so I’ve currently been focussing a lot on business right now and the business side of the music industry. But, I’m also looking forward to getting back into the creative side and creating new music this fall!

Newly managing yourself must be difficult. What have you learned over the past few months navigating that territory? Are you surprised at how much you’re able to take on?
Saya: Yeah, I’m actually really surprised. I’m proud of myself because I’ve been doing a lot of things [I didn’t think I could do] on my own. I”ve produced my own music video this year, I styled it, I’ve been doing all the business side of things. I’m generally just more involved with my music videos now. Like for my last video, The Moon, I sourced and pulled most of the props.

Do you think being this hands-on has resulted in a better outcome–Music video wise?
Saya: Being more involved just means what I want actually happens. Just the outcome is different like if you want something done, you can just do it yourself and it’s a lot easier.

I have to say, the Moon is aesthetically and visually breathtaking. You oscillate between ethereal 50’s style Hollywood glamour, to something George Lucas would have approved of for Star Wars back in the 70s. Thematically, what were you trying to convey in this?
Saya: I was definitely going for a level of corniness that vintage futurism had in that scene. I chose a Halloween costume on purpose to exaggerate that cheesiness. There were a lot of retro-futurism photos that we referenced for the scene as well

So what can we expect from Sugarcoated that’s different from your last EP, Chills and Thrills?
Saya: I think my sound is more refined. It’s a lot poppier. I’ve been working with a team that’s really helped evolve my sound. There are a lot of older songs that were reproduced to fit the sound that I want to pursue.

And what exactly is the sound you want to pursue?
Saya: Well, Flowers was one of the first songs I wrote, and it sounded a lot more indie before. And I got that song reproduced. The production is definitely where I always hoped it would be, now. I think sugarcoated is a lot more vulnerable. I talk about breakups and self-sabotage. I’ve always been scared to talk about my weaknesses because I didn’t want them thrown in my face but I still wrote everything from an empowering standpoint. So it’s kind of nice to be able to talk about your vulnerabilities in an empowering way.

How important is vulnerability and transparency as an artist?
Saya: I think people can tell when you’re not being authentic to yourself and if you really want to connect with the listener there needs to be a level of vulnerability and transparency. I was excited to show that and connect with old or new fans on this project because I’ve never really spoken about heartbreak in music before.

When do you feel most vulnerable?
Saya: I guess I feel most vulnerable when I’m expressing my sexuality or when I’m experiencing any type of new extreme emotion whether it’s in the realm loneliness and sadness or intimacy. Personally, I think it’s important to understand that it’s okay to feel and more importantly that it’s okay to talk about it. We as humans try to be so strong and put up a wall. But, I’ve been trying to just accept myself and my insecurities, things that cause me to feel uncomfortable and vulnerable at times and grow with it in a sense.

You’ve said in the past that you’re a “fusionist of sound and imagery”. What do you think is the precursor to the other. For you, does your music come first and then your visuals? Or do you have an idea in your mind about something you want to curate or a feeling you want to evoke, and then, as a result, you match that sonically?
Saya: I think the music comes first and then I kind of create images in my head as I write. As I write I put little stories together. Or sometimes I see it like in a movie in my head. Writing is very colourful and visual for me in a way. But sometimes I am very inspired by movies, or stories, or poems that I read or even just art that I see.

What is inspiring you the most right now?
Saya: Nothing.

Nothing? Why is that?
Saya: Nothing is inspiring me right now because I’m really overwhelmed. And that actually sucks. I feel like I’m not able to create right now because I’m so busy with the business side of things. I’m really eager to start working again though. And I really do want to do more sessions but I don’t really have the time at this very moment. But, when I do, I think I’ll definitely still be writing about previous relationship stuff that’s still lingering. Because I process my emotions really slowly over time. Especially with writing it takes me a while to, like, write about things that I was feeling. I’m kind of in a state of shock when things happen so it takes me a bit of time to figure out what I want to say and how I want to say it. I think my relationship right now inspires me. I mean, I did say that nothing inspires me, but that’s not exactly true. My relationship inspires me to be better romantically….that’s always good content I think.

If we’re talking about content and creating, you work a lot with artistic, creative friends you have in Toronto. How does working with your close friends that are talented in non-music related disciplines help your creative process?
Saya: Well, it’s really easy working with people that respect your vision and know what you want. Because It kind of just makes it easier. They kind of just extend your ideas. And if you’re working with someone that has their own style but understands what you want, it brings the idea further and makes it better. My friends and I that work together, we always are sending each other things that may inspire [the other person] or may spark a cool idea for a video or shoot for the future. And this can be anything–sometimes it’s a movie, a visual installation, a song. It’s just nice to be constantly pushed and challenged, I guess.

A lot of artists write projects over the course of a few years, so when it finally comes out, a lot of the songs don’t feel as new to them as they do obviously to the listener. That being said, what is your favourite song off this EP that’s freshest to you and that you’re most excited about?

Saya: There’s so many! I’m so excited about all of them. I was really excited about Played Out, but that was released as a single. I think I’m excited to release the song I talked about earlier: Flowers. That used to be a song I honestly didn’t really like, because of the production. I felt like it was too Indie as I said, but the top line was always strong and I think it’s a really relatable track. But then it just came into this place production-wise where I felt super confident about it. It was really cool to see it come to life, in a way that I want, sonically. Especially because it’s completely different. It’s a sad, more vulnerable song but the production kind of makes it feel bigger if that makes sense. It has a lot of character. A lot of attitude.

In conclusion, what can we expect from you post-EP release?
Saya: I’m hoping to find proper management. I’ll definitely be working on new music and hopefully, perform at a lot more shows.

Sugarcoated is out now, stream/download here:

Apple Music

Interview by Andrea Gambardella
Photos by Zhamak Fullad