Nashville-based artist Casper Sage makes music that defies, and blends, genres fitting in equally on playlists labeled alternative R&B, “lowkey” indie soul and, most appropriately, “genre-less.” But it was a classic biopic that first pushed him to play. “My first biggest inspiration was from the movie, Ray Charles,” Sage remembers. “I started learning his songs on piano. I was trying to learn to ‘Mess Around’ and couldn’t quite (get it) so, I got piano lessons. Soon as I got that though, it was like I stopped doing lessons.”
That sense of exploration and restlessness remains on Synthesis+, Sage’s new EP and our Record of the Week. It shows off his gifts as an experimental sound scientist and effortless melody maker taking his professed love for artists like Frank Ocean (Sage has a song called “Frank Ocean Playing in Heaven”) and Dijon (whose song “Rodeo Clown” Sage covered) and mixing them in the spirit of the project’s title to synthesize something new.
Before he landed in Nashville to attend Belmont University, the Oklahoma native tried out Los Angeles. “It was so easy to find inspiration everywhere, but it could almost be like too much noise, and it was oftentimes overstimulating,” Sage recalls. “But Nashville is perfect because you can find your pockets. You can go and be isolated and drive for 45 minutes and go to a park or go to a lake and it feels like Oklahoma. And then you can go into the city and be downtown and move around a little bit and it can feel a little bit busier and a little bit more stimulating. It has both sides of the coin.”
Shortly before starting his first semester at Belmont Sage was back in L.A. where he would first encounter a kindred spirit who would have a direct impact on his musical fortunes. While attending an exclusive Nike event where, apparently, Soulja Boy was riding a Peloton wearing a Gucci headband, Sage spotted a young kid with blond dreads and a red varsity jacket. Sage says he was too shy to say “hi” at the time, but he saw the same kid again a few weeks later eating Wendy’s outside a Belmont dorm. That began what Sage calls a “crazy bond” with the artist known as Midwxst. Sage credits Midwxst with making important music business introductions and being a “huge changing point in my in my career.” Midwxst also asked Sage to open his fall tour.
Below, Sage shares some specific thoughts on a few standout tracks from Synthesis+.
“I’ve been reading a lot of the Tao Te Ching and had been reading a lot of different philosophy, and I had never kind of bridged that with songwriting before. So ‘Flow State’ was my first time trying to do that, and it was also with new friends that I had just made and we had just all gotten to Belmont. We were coming out of COVID, so it was like all these different things that allowed for what had been a long time of overcoming to kind of be alleviated and to, yeah, try and find flow again.”
“So I have a voice memo in my phone of me, like, beatboxing the drums, ‘dum de dum dum’… Yeah, the feel was the drums first. The drums usually aren’t a hook, except for some very distinct cases, like the Isley Brothers song that became the Thundercat song. I like that those drums are a hook. And in ‘U4EA,’ it’s kind of a similar situation. And then I put the clavinet on top of that, and after that, everything took care of itself. It was so easy because it’s just, yeah, the drums and the clav just meshed so well that I was in a very distinct place just from those two instruments. And at that point it’s just about filling in the gaps.”
“I knew exactly what I was doing with making it ‘FML’. The stigmatized FML matches the mood of the song perfectly but it really stands for ‘Forgive Me Love,’ which is like the whole premise of the song. I was just making a mess and getting it on to people who didn’t deserve any of it. It was no one’s fault except mine that they were having to deal with what I kept on just having trouble with. And sometimes the cycle that I’m obsessed with, it’s not a good one. And it’s about breaking that and breaking through and finding it in myself to make my way back to where I want to be and taking my own agency with the whole thing. Because we all have our downfall and our way of alleviating the pain of it. A lot of what I’ve learned about love is that it’s a lot of the time about understanding rather than anything other than that. I’m complicated and I don’t always get myself (laughs). Without music and the people who are closest to me I would be a mess.”