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Pink Sweat$ talks his quick rise to fame and disproving stereotypes

The Philadelphia up-and-comer shows confidence and promise as he wraps up his first-ever tour

Pink Sweat$ is tired- and justifiably so. The R&B singer is curled up in a ball on the cement floor of L’Astral, recognizable only by the heap of pink hues that make up his figure. He is sound asleep despite the sound check for guitar and drums happening feet away from his toes. As the Montreal date marks the second-to-last show of his Pink Beginnings Tour, the up-and-coming talent recoups his energy where he can, harvesting it for when the lights dim and all eyes are on him.

The Philadelphia-native may be new to touring, but his wide-scale exposure came quick. The former songwriter garnered a buzz with the release of his 2018 debut EP Volume 1 and the success of its single “Honesty,” only to carry on with the momentum with its successor, Volume 2.

The acoustically-driven R&B sound that distinguishes Pink Sweat$ from the rest of the league’s top contenders is not his only differential. The artist describes himself as a brand – encompassing everything from his music, his stage name, the pink aesthetic that surrounds him and the barriers he’s trying to break in a hyper-masculine dominated industry.

“We’re just trying to break the toxic masculinity vibes,” he says, draped from head to toe in his own pinkgang merchandise and fuzzy sandals strapped over his pink Cam’ron high socks. “I think it starts with one thing and leads to another, so like, how men view men, versus how men treat women. It’s all a trickle down effect, y’know? Pink, at the end of the day, is just a colour. If you have an issue with someone wearing a colour… you’re assuming someone’s this way or that way, based on the colour of their hoodie or clothing. That’s kind of weird.”

Pink Sweat$ performs in front of a floral display to a sold-out show on June 12. Photo by Jacob Carey.

Apart from dealing with the connotations associated with the colour pink, Pink Sweat$ also notes that his brand struggles with stereotypes that come along with being a black male artist.

“Literally, people be thinking I’m a rapper,” he laughs. “Or they’re just like, ‘what kind of music do you make?’ And then they hear the song and they’re like ‘this you?’ It’s not even a racist thing, it’s just programming. That’s how you’re programmed.”

A near-death experience with achalasia, a serious condition that affects the esophagus, was the turning point in Pink Sweat$’s career where he would transition from songwriter to singer. However, he says he wishes that he hadn’t needed to rely on such a traumatic experience to push him to follow his passion and that more black male artists would readily embrace their talent.

“You don’t have to follow every trend to be successful,” he continues. “That’s not being an artist. Behind the scenes, a lot of black male artists are always compromising because they don’t believe that there is a monetary value in their art… Once people find their confidence to just ‘do them,’ and they’re actually talented, usually that’s when you win. It’s just that inner thing. Once that key goes in, it locks, and you feel it.”

Hours later, Pink Sweat$ demonstrates that aforementioned confidence on stage as he performs to a sea of pink hoodies and pink bandanas. Despite performing only six shows before heading out on tour, the showman shows no signs of being a rookie on stage. His vocals sound as raw as they do on his projects, while his impromptu drum kit solos show that he was a musician long before being a singer. However, Pink Sweat$’s most magnetic characteristic may be his onstage charisma, shown most evidently when he asks two fans from the audience to get on stage and sing a song of their choice to the crowd in front of them, encouraging them to shout out their Instagram handles to give their singing careers a boost.

As Pink Sweat$ performs the entirety of his two EPs, the artist promises that new material is coming soon, despite being on the road.

“Now we’re trying to get the production to the optimal level,” he says. “All the writing, foundation production, I think I did most of it already… I don’t want to be stagnant just ‘cause I’m on the road like ‘Oh, I’ll get to it in two months.’ I’d rather someone be working on it now so by the time I get back, I can make the critiques and do the things I need to do.”

With an upcoming debut album and the recent release of the music video to “Coke & Henny, Pt. 2,” Pink Sweat$ shows that he likes to stay busy.

“I’m just looking forward to getting these notches under my belt,” he says. “Experiences. Every show. No matter it’s small ones, big ones. It’s like ‘Alright cool, let’s do that, boom.’ I’m just trying to get as much experience and knowledge as fast as possible so I can be the best at what I do.”

With all his recent experiences and knowledge being absorbed in such a short time, Pink Sweat$ remains a prime example of how quickly confidence, faith and self-love can propel one to fame. However, he knows that staying busy and releasing content is essential to longevity, as one can easily be forgotten just as quickly as they were discovered.

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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Phonte – Pacific Time EP

Phonte, a velvet voice and frontman of Little Brother, one of the most important underground rap groups of the 2000s gave fans a treat to get them to summer. Pacific Time is a four-track waterslide in the sunshine. While Phonte is known for his whip-smart bars and folding flows, he has always impressed with his R&B persona, and this tape has him singing at his smoothest. The opener, “Can We,” is a gorgeous ode to a lazy day with a partner. It’s the most fleshed out idea on the project, and the longest track at four minutes. The other standout moment is a classic Phonte verse on the Kaytranada-produced closer, “Heard This One Before.” Pacific Time could have been an excellent R&B album, but its 10-minute length makes it feel inconsequential. Still, that opener is a must-add for your bedroom playlist.

7.5/10

Trial Track: “Can We”

Star Bar: “’Cause life’s a B when your E-Y-E’s can’t seize the intangibles
It’s like stumbling and tumbling through a drum machine
So kids, read the Lin-Manuel
Miranda Rights, no plans tonight” – Phonte on Heard This One Before (feat. BOSCO & KAYTRANADA)

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Music

Montreal indie staple Homeshake delivers a performance more vague than entrancing

Lo-fi lethargy

“Feels like a loosely-packed living room in here,” said Peter Sagar, Homeshake’s frontman. The crowd didn’t know whether or not to take it as a jab. It didn’t matter.

Homeshake, for those who don’t wear Vans in the winter, is a project started by Sagar, former Mac DeMarco guitarist. He left the band when Homeshake started to gain traction. Based out of Montreal, Sagar’s brand of concerningly chill, stumblingly smooth indie-rock has become omnipresent in the city’s lo-fi circle. Fresh out of DeMarco’s band, Sagar’s sound started similar to his prior squad’s, but has gained gained a more hazy and abstract R&B bent with each of his four albums since In the Shower in 2014.

That distinction could have been refreshing if the haze hadn’t obscured any clear direction or trail for the band to blaze. Melodies never quite get fleshed out and Sagar’s lyrics rarely stray from the mundane and the faux-profound. The result, in the form of their latest Helium, is an album that knows it wants to be chill but not much else. Critics of DeMarco have levelled kindred complaints with his music, but his live shows are notoriously raucous. He got detained by the police at his own UCSB show in 2014. Sagar, emancipated from DeMarco, arguably toned down his set for Wednesday night’s Théâtre Fairmount crowd.

Sagar was set behind a buffet of effects, an SP-404 sampler, and a pitch shifter for his voice. His falsetto vocals wavered between what felt like two notes. The bassist was centre-stage most of the time and provided some movement to an otherwise standstill set. The drummer, equipped with a kick, two cymbals, a snare and a drum pad, was on point, but the percussion was expectedly sparse.

Sometimes though, a woodblock on the 2 and the 4 is all you need, and Homeshake posted deep in a groove, locking the audience into a real trance at moments. Everything coalesced into something tangible that the band should have showed more of; music that was inconsequential by design but served a very specific purpose to a select group of people on a single Wednesday. Mostly though, the melodies were vague and Sagar’s R&B crooning lyrics even more so. Even some of the band’s more musically defining tracks like “Give It to Me” and “Call Me Up” lost some of their character; the lack of animation and Sagar’s bizarrely quiet stage presence revealed how similar all of the songs really were. The main riff on “Give It to Me” was still hard as nails.

Photo by Simon New.

The audience was riding a thin line between vibing and boredom. Sagar was aloof to a degree that his level of fame doesn’t usually allot for. After an opening track, the audience applauded and he visibly shrugged. “You’re fuckin’ quiet, I like that,” he said. But they weren’t in some deep reverie as much as they were just looking for something to latch onto onstage. Homeshake could be excellent as a house band; people in the back of the venue were catching up and talking shit. This show could have been a 5-star Off The Hook employee networking event; Homeshake was a stellar soundtrack to chat with acquaintances to. Unfortunately, the music was just as surface-level as some of those catch-ups.

Homeshake closed with “Every Single Thing,” and just as they started to bring the energy up, they left without a word. “Peter! Peter! Peter!” A group of girls started a chant in the front row. But Sagar is known to be anti-encore. It might have been the strongest stance he took that night.

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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Kehlani – While We Wait

Kehlani stuns with her vocals and tuned harmonies in her new mixtape While We Wait. Cheers to this woman, who while pregnant with her first child, created a bubbly yet, musical R&B gem. With appearances from Musiq Soulchild, Dom Kennedy, 6LACK, and Ty Dolla $ign, the Oakland native continues to impress with her bouncy choreographic-worthy melodies. Tracks like “RPG,” “Nunya”, and “Too Deep” lyrically express the abruption of desire in a digital atmosphere. While the queer artist prolongs her soulful sound into 2019 with her fourth project, she hesitates lyrically on tracks like “Feels” and “Morning Glory.” Overall though, she does not lack in vocal and melodic range. Kehlani, despite her well-earned fame, still carries a humble approach to her music.

Star Bar:

“And when I walked away

I left footsteps in the mud so you could follow me

You’re so bad at holding water, slips right through your fingers

We’d both end up drowning, it would hit the ground

And then the path would wash away, wash away”

– Kehlani on “Footsteps” feat. Musiq Soulchild

Trial Track: Love Language

8/10

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Music

From Bell Centre to Phi Centre

Sara Diamond is more than an opening act

Montreal’s 23-year-old Sara Diamond is used to singing in front of a crowd of more than 20,000, but on Nov. 29, all 300 eyes at the Phi Centre were there to see the R&B artist shine her own light.

Diamond is most known throughout the city as one of the Montreal Canadiens’ national anthem singers. She began performing the American national anthem throughout the 2013-14 Habs playoff season and has since been asked back regularly, having become a fan favourite. However, Diamond’s lengthy and complex career with music began years before she made her way to the Bell Centre.

“My mom started a label when she was pregnant. When I was 5 or 6, she started recording stuff and writing, and she was like ‘my daughter can sing! Produce her.’” said Diamond.

At 10 years old, Diamond began working with a vocal coach who helped her apply for a FACTOR (Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings) grant, a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to Canadian musicians. After getting accepted, a representative on the board of FACTOR told her that she was talented and that they wanted to manage her.

From a young age, Diamond had a lot of support from the people around her when it came to her future in music. Her manager then brought her to audition in Los Angeles for a girls group that was being formed by Interscope Records. Just four days after arriving in L.A., Diamond was signed and would go on to spend the next year and a half living in California with her mother. While the Clique Girlz group only lasted three months due to management and parental disputes, Diamond stuck around to see what the city had to offer her as a solo artist. However, her shyness, loneliness and lack of organization as a teenager prevented her from growing as an artist so she decided to leave L.A.

“I kept telling myself, ‘I wish I were home. I don’t want to be here,’” Diamond said. “It wasn’t the right time. By the end of it I was like ‘if I’m in L.A., I want to be famous. I don’t want be here. I’m homesick. I’m sad.’”

When Diamond returned to Montreal, she felt like her experience in L.A. had ruined singing for her, at least for the time being. She instead spent her teen years experiencing everything she had missed out on years before. “When I got home, I got to experience everything I wanted to do. The heartache, the love, the high school drama and all that stuff to write about,” Diamond said.

When she turned 19, Diamond was thrust back into music when offered the chance to audition to sing the national anthem for the Montreal Canadiens. At the age of 12, Diamond had sung for the Alouettes and always wanted to sing for the Habs. After auditioning and getting the gig, the singer performed the National Anthem during the playoff season. Once the season was over, Diamond was unsure whether she would be asked back.

“I guess because I wasn’t really doing anything music-wise, feeling that passion again from the Habs stuff kind of brought that back to me and I found that love again,” Diamond said. “I started working on music again. Just recording, and writing.”
Diamond began working with friends who also hoped to help her thrive in the Montreal music scene. However, she was initially rejected after applying for a FACTOR grant. Behind-the-scenes complications, along with more heartbreak, resulted in her aspirations falling apart.

Diamond described her journey with music as a lot of “almosts.” She once had a handshake deal with Universal Canada that almost went through, but management restructuring weeks later stopped them from taking on any new signees. It was not until Diamond recorded a song with Rebel House Records and the Montreal Children’s Hospital for P.K. Subban’s event that the pieces started coming back together again.

“Everything’s kind of happened super organically,” Diamond said. “Ever since I came back from L.A., there’s been this struggle between ‘I don’t want to do music, but something pulls me back towards it.’ It’s cool cause I’m really just riding the wave.”

And riding the wave seems to be what Diamond does best. After being accepted for a FACTOR grant last December, Sara Diamond released her first seven-track EP entitled Foreword. On Thursday night, the artist performed her biggest solo show in front of family, friends, and fans at the Phi Centre. It was clear the crowd had been waiting a long time to see Diamond in the spotlight after years of build-up in anticipation of the musician’s local debut.

Sara Diamond wows spectators at Phi Centre during Foreword’s Montreal debut. Photo by Jacob Carey.

After opening act Toito performed, Diamond hit the stage and sang all seven songs from Foreword. The artist also paid homage to her inspirations by performing covers of “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys and “Thinkin Bout You” by Frank Ocean. Diamond finished the night by singing “Ride,” a track that has yet to be released. The crowd was visibly wowed by her natural stage presence and her radiant smile that she frequently shone to fans.

Sara Diamond may have had a busy 2018, and 2019 shows no signs of slowing down. Her single with Montreal electronic duo Adventure Club, “Follow Me,” was released last week. She just debuted her music video for “Know My Name” on Billboard, and Diamond just finished opening for Tyler Shaw in Montreal and Quebec City. Next week, she’ll be premiering new music. And, she promises more to come in the New Year.

“I think it’s just the beginning, I hope,” Diamond said. “It’s like part two—the next chapter.”

Feature photo by Jacob Carey.

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