Sayth and North House take art rap into the future
The video for Sayth’s nostalgic hitter “Rare Candy” shows the Eau Claire native bopping around the Oakwood Mall and different neighborhoods in the summer with friends, sunshine, and his Gameboy. The video amassed a hefty 10,000 views on YouTube within a few days of its release, which was just shy of a year after the song came out.
It first appeared on last year’s Bad Habitat EP, an excellent five-track effort that’s lush with choice samples and chunky lo-fi beats. It was shimmery and playful, while Sayth – the moniker of Eric Wells – cuts through with just as many poignant lyrics as light-hearted ones.
But the rapper’s next video couldn’t be more different. This time it was for a moody new cut called “Pink Pistols.” A crystalline, sweeping, futurebeat by Eau Claire producer North House (Alex Tronson) sets the tone for the black-and-white video, which shows Sayth strolling the streets and rooftops of New York, playing shows, and enjoying time with a new love.
At the end, Sayth kisses him casually.
“ ‘Pink Pistols’ downplays the gesture in a way that’s so neutral it’s lowkey radical, establishing it as just a thing people do,” writer Nina Mashurova wrote for heavyweight music blog Impose, where the video premiered. Sayth ends the track with a searing diss: “Macklemore made a million off of gay rights / thanks bro, this is actually my real life.”
“Pink Pistols” was the first of four songs Sayth and North House dropped, one at a time, in August as a new EP called Body Pillow. From the get-go, you can tell the new songs are a deliberate step forward into something more introspective and stark.
“If Bad Habitat is nostalgia, Body Pillow is broken nostalgia,” Wells told me. “If Bad Habitat is about being a weird kid and embracing that, this record is about what actually happens when you do that – and it’s not always pretty.”
Body Pillow’s four tracks revel in hardship and ache with pathos. The EP’s opening song “under water • under ice” gleams with desperation as Wells decries being just another young adult, struggling under the boot of capitalism. Standout track, “a formal apology to grandma wells” – which hosts a blistering North House beat and a knockout guest verse by longtime pal and collaborator Wealthy Relative – is a track about feeling awkward breaking away from family expectations. “maybe god is afraid of us?” finds Wells filled with dread for the impending doom of a once-lovely relationship.
“Any success that I’ve had as an artist is not chance. It’s all effort. We put a lot of effort into this. If you want people to come to your show, you have to put effort in. ” – Eric Wells, a.k.a. Sayth
“Body Pillow is a lot more honest and more where I’m at right now. It feels like winter to me. It feels like whiskey and sadness,” Wells said. “There’s a lot of optimism in Bad Habitat, and there’s more realism in Body Pillow. That comes from getting older. I hadn’t slept on enough concrete floors in basements to really know what life is about.”
In the last year, Sayth launched out on his own and grew up a lot. In May, he picked up from the comforts of his hometown and moved to Minneapolis where he helps run a DIY house venue called Green Greens with another EC kid, Alex Adkinson, the former drummer of the now-defunct rock band Softly, Dear.
“We throw shows in the room I sleep in,” Wells said.
The opportunities in Minneapolis are vast for a kid like Wells, who has all the work ethic in the world when it comes to his art, the art of his friends, and promotion. He’s on the Internet and on the streets handing out Facebook events and flyers, putting work in to get people to come out to a show. Plus, he attends as many other shows as is humanly possible, usually six to nine of them every week.
“I go to all the shows I possibly can and I try to meet a lot of musicians. I was surprised how many people out there already knew my tunes and knew a lot about Eau Claire,” Wells said. “Any success that I’ve had as an artist is not chance. It’s all effort. We put a lot of effort into this. If you want people to come to your show, you have to put effort into it.”
But there’s some bigger picture stuff at play here, too, with the launch of Lowkey Radical (a nod to that line in the Impose piece). Part record label, part art collective, Lowkey Radical is a group of artists from Eau Claire and the Twin Cities like North House, Wealthy Relative, Baby Blanket, Two Castles, Sniffle Party, Astral Samara, and more. It’s a group of mostly solo artists doing their own thing while collaborating with each other on other things.
There are big plans for the label including monthly tape releases, other physical music releases, collaborations, zines, visual art, video, and all kinds of cool stuff. It’s in the beginning stages, but Lowkey Radical will officially launch in October, with an Eau Claire show at a new all-ages space that couldn’t be announced at press time.
Sayth has built an impressive resume of recorded tunes and high profile live shows with his undeniable skill as a rapper and as a diligent go-getter in every facet of the game. Now, with a little help from his friends, he might just be taking things to the next level.
You can find and download Body Pillow at sayth.bandcamp.com, and follow Lowkey Radical on Facebook and Twitter.