The concept of home is a peculiar reality for touring musicians, especially artists like Homeshake’s Peter Sagar who has spent a significant part of his career on the road or recording most of his albums back at home in the same space where he lives and sleeps.
Under the Weather, Sagar’s fifth moody indie lo-fi offering as Homeshake, recounts the dark clouds of depression that followed him through a move from Montreal to Toronto, a series of stressful tours, and the subsequent global pandemic that followed. Despite having friends in Toronto, Sagar didn’t have much time to explore his new surroundings in between tours before the world came to a grinding halt. “I still don’t have a great grasp on things other than what my neighbourhood is like,” Sagar says.
The effect essentially turned Sagar into a shut-in. He poured hours into watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (“It’s a fucking good show!”) bookended by hours of ambient music. When prodded to recall some of key artists populating his recent playlists, he draws a blank. “I often find it quite difficult to recall which artist I’m listening to at any particular specific moment, other than those times when music brings you back to the specific memory,” says Sagar. “The only real sure-fire way to figure out what exactly I was listening to is to look at my NTS shows from mid-2019 to mid-2020.” Sagar suggests that most of the music he enjoys is immediately filtered into his radio shows, not dissimilar from his process of creation for Homeshake albums.
In the case of Under the Weather, the material came from the depressive episode that sent him indoors, just about the same time everyone else was sent indoors for a completely different reason. But Sagar isn’t worried that his own individual experience will be lost on his audience. “People can think whatever they want of it. Once it’s out, it’s out. It’s more the listeners than mine,” he says. “A lot of it came from a depressive stage in which I was spending a lot more time away from people than with people. So it’s funny that I had written a lot of it and then suddenly everyone was stuck at home.” Sagar describes releasing albums like a casual mood swing, or more like a pit stop on his train of thought. “Every time I release a record it feels like a piece of a previous time or something in my life and so I feel different. I don’t feel the same connection to it as when I was making it.”
Growing up in Edmonton, Sagar’s parents introduced him to jazz and classical music early on and he still counts Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman among favourites. “There was a period of years of my life when I was really young that I would listen to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue to fall asleep every night.” By the time Sagar was finding his own influences, it was a far cry from his parent’s baroque stylings. “It was loud. I liked loud music,” says Sagar. His high school band would post their Dinosaur Jr.-influenced “noisy shit” on Myspace and perform at local DIY shows. “It was much louder; more angry and angsty than I am now, I guess.” When a teenage Sagar expressed interest in a career in music his parents cautioned him to keep his options open. So, he meandered through three or four history and philosophy classes at the University of Alberta, but nothing really stuck. “I wouldn’t say I studied anything because some people go to school and actually study shit and I didn’t really do that.”
When he moved to Montreal from Edmonton in 2008, he found himself in the mix of a vibrant music scene — a recluse in a new world. That didn’t stop him from falling in with other local musicians, most notably Mac DeMarco, another transplant that Sagar knew from high school. It was the groundswell of DeMarco’s success that led Sagar on the road with him as his touring guitarist. It was also the first time he felt the stress of a superstar touring schedule. But as Homeshake began to take off, becoming successful in his own right, he began to define his own touring schedule. In the past, he’s tried to control the external factors as best he can: preferably summer tours, three weeks max, and no encores, please. But Sagar confirms that season doesn’t make a difference because touring is stressful no matter what (though winter tours are obviously awful). He’s got month-long tours coming up, and he’s even bent his rule on encores in recent shows. “I really don’t like encores but I was doing them on the last tours. I would just do one song with a backing track by myself,” says Sagar. “But only because I had, for years, not been doing them and then I didn’t want to be just always doing exactly what people were expecting me to do.”
It’s not just the constant travelling that gets him down. It’s really the entire process of promotion, and interviews like these are no exception. “I don’t love this part of it. No offense,” he says. “Sometimes it’s a little awkward releasing something and then people are trying to get details about it and it feels a little bit like explaining a joke you just told or something.” The you-had-to-be-there ethos is a natural touchpoint in the creation of Homeshake. Sagar describes his albums as mostly a flashpoint, a response to an immediate feeling at a specific time. On Under the Weather, the need to write collided with the reclusive mindset of the moment.
For some musicians, being alone in the studio can result in an unproductive myopia. But Sagar’s made several Homeshake albums under similar conditions. His previous album, Helium was his first time using Ableton, plugging in synths and pads manually in the solitude of his apartment. This time around he invited fellow bedroom recorder Lucas Nathan, aka Jerry Paper, into his production process. “I felt like I needed to share my creative space more,” says Sagar. They’ve known each other for nearly a decade, and Sagar used their musical alignment to reaffirm their friendship during the creation of Under the Weather. “They’re somebody whose ear I really trust and their sense of music just is really, really solid. So I knew if I had them on the mixing board for this record it was going to turn out all right.” The musical bond sounds like a match made in quarantine. What would have taken a week in a studio stretched into months of updating drafts that Sagar had already been sitting on for a while. “I had already spent so much time with it, recording it before we started the mixing process like that. So it was already really old by the time … it was already over a year old by the time Lucas and I started collaborating on it.”
Now, on the heels of an album that has been gestating for two years, Sagar says he’s ready to let it go, and yet, the obligations still persist. “Putting something out is nice because then it’s complete. My job is done. Now, I just have to promote it and tour it for money so that I can live.” For now, Sagar is warming up for another string of dates, ready to present his inner machinations in front of audiences for the first time in a long time. “And that’s… I don’t know, I think it’s a good feeling. We’ll see. It’s usually a good feeling.”