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Getting under your skin

Sean Nicholas Savage specializes in writing songs you can’t forget

Sean Nicholas Savage writes pop songs so infectious that after a single listen you’ll find yourself humming them in the grocery aisle or in bed making love. His newest batch – Spread Free Like a Butterfly – exudes the same childlike sincerity of past albums, expressed in simple song structures and melodic hooks. But this time around, Savage’s voice sounds more effortless. There are times on Spread Free when Savage sings more like an old-time crooner than a deviant teen. Savage, however, demystifies any notions that he’s grown up: “A month here, a month there, if I have two mature months or more, I might be stuck with a mature sounding record.”

Compared to many artists, Savage makes music at a frantic pace. Spread Free is but the latest of three albums he’s written since he moved to Montreal from Edmonton last fall – and his fourth effort in the past two years. “I work on two or three albums a year. A year is a long time,” says Savage, downplaying his productivity.

While his most recent album was materializing, Savage confesses he was listening to a lot of Yoko Ono. But most of his prairie summer was spent revisiting past pleasures. “When I go through my old records at my dad’s house, I sometimes flip around a lot, just from favourite song to favourite song,” explains Savage. “It’s a trip down memory lane.” And like his time in Edmonton, his new songs are ripe with nostalgia. Stories of heartache mingle with yearnings for blue skies and summer nights.

Traces of Leonard Cohen and Tom Petty can be heard on the album, respectively, in the melancholic “Kisses Like A Girl,” adorned with ethereal back-up vocals, and in the ringing guitars that run through “Heart Wish.”

Savage’s trip to the Arctic in August also found its way into the album: “I finished the words and put together the song ‘Grandson’ while up in the Northwest Territories.” He adds, “I had a lovely time. I drank and ate well, and I fly-fished.”

Savage, who’s known to endorse casual nudity, collaged the album cover with photos of his friends’ naked bodies. It’s his lyrics, however, that catch him at his most strikingly bare – revealing a frustrated romantic life, in which he never gets the girl (and hears her with another guy), or when he does, he can’t love her.

Don’t feel too sorry for Savage, though. He’s got his first vinyl release to look forward to. When I spoke with him, he was just finalizing song selections for the 12-inch, which will feature a combination of songs from Spread Free and his previous release Sunshine Melodies/Weird Daze. The record will be released on local label Arbutus, with whom Sean has worked on his past three albums.

Tonight, Savage kicks off his tour with Vancouver-based Jasper Baydala. They take the stage with local folk act Oxen Talk, before journeying west. “This tour is going to be an adventurous one,” Savage forebodes.