Skateboarding is not a leisurely activity for Kyle Mischiek, it’s a way of life. When he drops in — for lack of a better skateboard term — to his interview with RANGE, the jittery Nova Scotia-born singer, songwriter, and producer otherwise known as Sunsetto (stylized: sunsetto) is wearing an oversized orange hoodie and a slick beanie that covers his long windswept hair. In this outfit, it’s hard not to picture him cruising effortlessly back and forth on a half-pipe. In fact, the music video for his 2021 breakout single, “downtown,” finds him pulling a classic trick known as the “rock to fakie,” traveling through his hometown of Cape Breton as if he were hovering in thin air over the catchy slow-burn alt-pop anthem.
“Skateboarding is an essential part of my life. The first skatepark I went to, the Florence Skate Park in Cape Breton, is also where I had my first rap battles,” Mischiek says, hinting at his beginnings as a junior emcee. It’s telling that Sunsetto mentions music and skateboarding in the same breath. The two cultures have been long intertwined in pop music; from the surge of skate-punk bands in late 80s/early 90s to graffiti art in hip-hop folklore, riders and musicians have a long history of co-existing and creating together.
Sunsetto’s nocturnal R&B beats might have little to do with the thrashing, breakneck speed of skate-punk, but his commitment to both of his lifelong passions is on the same priority level—and he seems ready to do anything to make either come to life. A couple years ago, propelled by growing attention towards the demos he was self-producing in his bedroom—“a passion project I did for the sake of it,” he says—Sunsetto was offered a record deal. The catch was that the Nova Scotia native had to sign the paperwork in Los Angeles, requiring him to cross an entire continent. He didn’t think twice. In early 2021, he sold his car, covered the costs, flew to California and signed the deal. It’s all been building up to his debut EP release, which Sunsetto is now putting the finishing touches on after relocating once again, this time to Toronto.
Last year he dropped three singles: “downtown,” “good connection,” and the uptight, high-pitched “don’t leave,” which evokes a garage R&B spirit. “I guess alternative R&B is something I’ve been saying a lot to describe my sound,” he says. Sunsetto’s latest track, “drugs are for fun,” is another hypnotic, synth-powered alt-pop tune that unfolds in an unconventional, percussion-free structure before wrapping up in today’s typical pop timespan—under three minutes. Sunsetto performs a call-and-response with himself before a climactic drop that dabbles between synthwave and disco strikes.
From its solemn subject matter—cloaked under his sugary falsetto vocal—to its unforeseeable outcome, “drugs are for fun” sounds like a bold new direction for pop music. The song’s influences might be hard to pin down, but it’s crystal clear that Sunsetto admires the trend-setters from indie circles who were able to cross over and start upending pop music, like Tame Impala, Frank Ocean and The Weeknd. “I really look up to those guys,” he admits. “I have a big picture of Frank Ocean in my home studio, above my desk.” Sunsetto isn’t shy about some of his less traditionally cool influences either.“This could be embarrassing, but when I was a kid, someone gave me a VHS tape of NSYNC at Madison Square Garden for their No Strings Attached album, and it blew my mind,” he says. “It’s crazy since it’s a bunch of white dudes influenced by classic R&B, like Boyz II Men, but the pop aspect of NSYNC sat well with my child’s brain, and I soaked that all up.” Sunsetto likes to define his music as an accumulation of all of the tendencies he picked up along the way, “like 90s R&B and pop mixed with alternative,” he says. “And a bit of skateboarding, of course.”
Ahead of his new EP, Sunsetto will release his next single, “late to the party,” on August 26. Built around foggy loops and drowsy homemade beats, it appears like a track off a lost mixtape from the drug-fueled Toronto R&B scene in the early 2010s. Based on a single listen, it’d be easy to shrug the rising artist off as a rehash of a very successful strain of alt-R&B that once grew out of the city’s underground. But a critical difference between Sunsetto’s work and that scene is that his songs are less about spiraling into the dark realm of addiction and more about grappling with the sad afterthoughts of letting someone down. Despite all of his skating antics, rap battle accounts, and general tales of mischief, the most prominent takeaway from Sunsetto’s music is that he’s a perceptive, well-minded twenty-something guy. And whether in LA, Toronto, or Nova Scotia, his sound and message seem like an audacious and alternative route for pop that will continue paving the way for a new generation of music lovers.
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