If there’s anyone who is taking the “do it yourself” mentality seriously, it’s Toronto’s Sage Harris.
The R&B up-and-comer has been steadily releasing track after track, and slowly growing his fanbase from the ground up, with his label and artist collective, Saturday Life Records. It’s the drive to succeed, combined with the sometimes less-than-welcoming nature of the music industry that’s gotten him this far, and has also served as the inspiration behind his latest EP, Figure It Out.
“It kind of stems from I guess the relationship I have with the industry and the world, where I feel like my music and talent is… I feel like it’s not being presented the way I would like to be to be presented,” he says of the themes behind the EP. “I was working with other individuals who kind of always wanted to control the vision that was being put out. It was always, ‘You should do this, I think you should do this.’ Or you know, ‘If you don’t do this, then you’re kind of hard-headed and you’re not listening.’ So it turned into this project where I want to portray to my listeners and my followers that I was able to now do things on my own terms.”
Luckily, so far, so good. “Since I’ve been doing this my own way, things have been working out,” he says.
Spanning six smooth tracks, Figure It Out is Harris’ callout to others who are waiting to take the first steps to take charge of their futures. Having spent time thinking about music in places outside of Toronto, the diversity of opportunities has not only provided him with inspiration but also allowed him to network and also embrace growth as an artist.
“Since I’ve been doing this my own way, things have been working out.”
L.A. is where he attended a songwriting boot camp with Georgia rapper Kap G, who features on the songs “Tell Somebody” and “Love in Atlanta.” “I pulled up and banged out like three or four records on the spot,” he says. “And then Kap G and I just kind of connected. I went to Atlanta, he showed me around, and everything was just very organic.”
Organic is also the word he uses to describe classic R&B hitmakers Jagged Edge, who he worked with last year on the track “Let Me Know.” Being independent and not having copious amounts of money laying around to clear a sample, he decided to flip one of their songs to create something new. And to his surprise, less than two days later he heard back from Brian Casey that things were a go. “I didn’t expect him to, you know, react like that,” he says.
Although he has the Kap G, Jagged Edge and Preme collabs under his belt, that hasn’t stopped him from reflecting on who his dream collaborators would be. In the R&B world, there’s Brandy, but when it comes to Canadians, it’s the king of easy listening, none other than Michael Bublé, who he’s itching to work with. “Michael Bublé is like one of my biggest inspirations,” he recalls. “I listened to him as a kid, I love his tone,” he says.
Despite generally enjoying the musicians he’s been able to work with, Harris explains that his favourite song on the project, from which the EP takes its name, is the ’90s-sounding “Figure It Out.” This is because the track showcases how he operates when singing without any features, putting the focus on his songwriting and vocals.
Although music is always at the forefront for Harris, he has other things that keep him busy. Like most artists, when the pandemic hit, it forced musicians to slam the brakes on touring, releasing music and more. But for Harris, he was feeling it doubly with his other business venture, Saturday Life Barbershop. The Scarborough-based shop was forced to temporarily close when COVID-19 cases soared across Ontario, and Harris recalls the toll the situation took.
“I want this body of work to be a reflection of the risks that I took in order to get this done.”
“It [was] honestly very stressful, the reason being [that] there’s still the operational costs of running a business,” he says. “That whole process with it being closed was like a horror movie in itself and… there were so many times where I was I just like, ‘OK, let’s just let the shop go. We can’t hold on to anymore.’ [But then] I was like, ‘No, I can’t do that. [I’ve] got to do it for the people. I’ve got a point to prove.’ So yeah, it was very hard.”
It’s the adage of not being able to have a rainbow without a bit of rain that feels applicable—the barbershop functions as a way for him to be able to focus on music, which he’s able to do right now. And although music is top of mind, for anyone listening to Figure It Out, Harris hopes people take away more than some catchy new songs. Specifically, he wants people to know that despite setbacks, being independent “allows you to be free to move at your own pace.”
“There are obviously risks, but I want this body of work to be a reflection of the risks that I took in order to get this done,” he explains. “And [it’s] a sign of success because what the project has already done so far with the first three singles has done has surpassed a lot of expectations. And, you know, I don’t mean to sound cocky, but the project so far, with the first few singles, has done better than singles that have been released around the same time from artists [on] labels, and we’ve done it independently.”
With that said, it’s Harris’ hope to be an “inspirational beacon” for those who might think there is only one path to putting your music out in the world. And anyone who listens to Figure It Out, can tell he’s put time and energy into crafting something that is sleek, sultry and, at times, incredibly danceable, proving that he’s accomplished exactly what it is that he set out to do.
With the EP finished, Harris is keeping his attention on the future of Saturday Life Records, which he says stands for is living every day like a Saturday. Basically, it means to “work hard, and play hard.” He’s also already looking ahead to what’s next. “I’m releasing 20 songs this year,” he says.