Flung into a new year, hopefully far and away from the last one, singer, composer, poet and multi-instrumentalist Dain Saint has given his new home, Philadelphia, its first. Kindhearted adrenaline shot with the soulfully melancholic single, “City Don’t Sing,” and its vivid black and white video rendering. This tender, new track is a far cry from how we first heard the vocalist and writer: as the harder-edged centerpiece of the electro-dance focused St. Anytime concept. Make no mistake, though. This new Saint comes with an edge. The lonely message and mood of “City Don’t Sing” just happens to carry a softer stick.
While you can check Saint’s new video on the front page of his website along with his other projects (such as a link to his game company) you can find how he got to all of this, here in conversation with dosage MAGAZINE and I. With all that, Dain Saint makes a perfect first story for 2021. Welcome.
A.D. Amorosi: I know your stuff initially from the Items Tagged Philadelphia joint several years ago. But, you had just arrived here when you worked on that project. Where are you from initially and how and why did you get to the ITP concept?
Dain Saint: I mostly grew up in New Jersey, but, my family’s from Jamaica so we spent a bunch of time moving around. I went to college in Boston, came back down, ended up in Philly, and fell in love with the city. Not immediately. But, more like how one night you just realize you’ve fallen in love with that friend you’ve been hanging out with forever.
A.D. Amorosi: Without confining, define what you do and, or see as St. Anytime’s role within the electronic dance music continuum. What is your singular feel for that aesthetic?
Dain Saint: So I started off in Philly making video games at Cipher Prime. And a lot of my earliest music experiments were in writing soundtracks for those games. So that was a lot of chiptunes, dubstep, EDM, but, also orchestral and funk elements. I was basically making superhero music for myself. Like exactly the kind of music you’d expect from someone who grew up on a steady diet of superheroes, science fiction and Sega Genesis belong to what decades.
A.D. Amorosi: What do you love about Philly?
Dain Saint: Oh man. The food? The people? The music? Definitely the general air of don’t-give-a-fuckery? For real, this town has some of the most talented people I’ve ever met. And the sense of community here is fantastic. I played my first live shows with 8static at PhilaMOCA. I met my videographer through Indy Hall. I’ve been getting promotional and creative advice through REC Philly. There are just so many places built from the ground up to help people reach their fullest potential. It’s a shame those with the deepest pockets don’t see it.
A.D. Amorosi: Let’s name your primary influences and why… a taste, on your music and your poetry?
Dain Saint: Oh, so many. Seal definitely. I started off singing along with his albums. And between his voice and general “we can have a better world” vibe he was a huge influence. Saul Williams was absolutely formative as well, his work just feels like he’s channeling the wrath of an ancient god. I loved Hybrid’s approach to cinematic electronic music. Sade’s complete untouchability in vibe and uniqueness. Janelle Monae’s combination of virtuosity and authenticity… too many to name. I feel like I should put a playlist together or something.
A.D. Amorosi: How and why did you breakdown the positivist joy and joviality of “One More” into something more spare and sad on “City Don’t Sing?” What were you hoping to keep about your 2017 model sound and bring into the new vibe?
Dain Saint: It’s kinda funny because both tracks kind of express the opposite of how I was feeling when I wrote them. With “One More” I had just suffered a series of personal and professional losses, and I was dealing with a really rough bout of depression. So that became a kind of a rallying cry for myself to get up and try again. With “City Don’t Sing”, I was really heartened to see how people managed to come together and really help one another, but I still needed to acknowledge the struggle we were all facing.
So for me, it’s less about the sadness and more… cathartic I guess.
You know, sometimes we’re just driving in a direction as hard as we can. And we just can’t admit that we have no idea where we’re going. In those moments there’s so much power in just pulling over and admitting, like, “I’m lost.” And to just feel no shame in being lost. And so while “City Don’t Sing” was reflecting on 2020, like… as a society, in a lot of ways, we’ve been going super hard for a long time and we’re lost. So I wanted to write something that used this year to kinda talk about all the years that lead to this one. If that makes sense.
A.D. Amorosi: When conceiving the song, were you considering the BLM activists and the frontline C-19 workers that you do in the video?
Dain Saint: Absolutely. I mean there’s not much to do in quarantine but think. And so I was just kinda on my couch picking out this bassline and thinking about… not just what I would be doing, but this whole city of activity that would be happening. And the loneliness inside of that. But then also… there was still so much activity, between hospital workers, and essential workers, and the protests So many people fighting to just keep everything working.
There was this statement going around that there was never “really” a lockdown. It was just middle-class people hiding while people on the verge of poverty brought them shit. And I really felt like I had to acknowledge how lucky I was to be in a position to write a song about what was happening instead of just fighting to survive it all.
A.D. Amorosi: You mentioned your videographer above. The video is luminous, truly a gorgeous look. Who lensed it?
Dain Saint: The video, man, that’s all Adriano Martino (martinobranding.com). He’s a genius. We had been talking about shooting this video. So we’d discussed the general vibe and what sort of clips we wanted to use to illustrate, and it was kind of an “in the future” thing. Then we found out with like one night’s notice that we’d have an opportunity to shoot at Franky Bradley’s. And he just came in with his lights and his iPhone and got it done. In, like, a half-hour. Absolute boss.
A.D. Amorosi: What can you say about being Dain Saint as opposed to St. Anytime?
Dain Saint: St. Anytime for me is kind of an out-of-body experience, yeah? I think every artist goes through this alter-ego phase where you need a different place to put all this stuff that’s too big for your day-to-day life. You show up to something called St. Anytime, you’re not going to be shocked by crazy sci-fi-afro-future-time-travel-orchestral-dance or whatever the hell it is. St. Anytime, in my personal mythology, is kind of this lost time-traveler. So I always wanted it to sound like someone who didn’t know what genres are. It’s a place where I can really go nuts.
But Dain Saint is just me. It’s a lot more in my body. A song like this, I didn’t want to hide behind production and spectacle. And like… it’s terrifying. Cause it’s just my voice! And there are so many spots on here where I’m hitting bum notes and odd phrasing, and mic pops, and I had to fight with myself to not clean it up too much. I’m still working on unifying the two sounds. Who knows, maybe I won’t need the St. Anytime cape moving forward?
A.D. Amorosi: What can you tell me about the vault, repository of your website? I love that it touches on your work. Its aesthetic values and the stuff you’re doing for the Inquirer.
Dain Saint: So my website, I call it my garden. That came out of this thing where online… it just feels like we’re all yelling, about everything, all the time. And some of it’s good, and a lot of it’s bad. Even more of it’s just unimportant. And it’s all being screamed at maximum volume at all times. And I just can’t maintain that level of volume about my own work. But then, if I don’t share, I end up where I’m at now, with hard drives full of work that no one ever gets to see.
So I stumbled on this concept of a digital garden, this place where you work in public so to speak. So like “City Don’t Sing” has been available on my website since probably July? And if you “walked through my garden” so to speak, you’d be able to see it. And there are drafts of stuff. There are poems on there that might turn into songs. Songs that might become EPs, whatever. It’s my online notebook.
And I designed it so there are no ads. There are no “click me” banners, no infinite scroll, every piece of content takes up a whole page. All with the intent of just creating a nice little corner of the internet where you can pull up and check out some poems and stuff, then go about your business when you’re done. I’d love to see more artists do something similar. Could you imagine walking through, like, Tobe Nwigwe’s garden?
A.D. Amorosi: So what works for you?
Dain Saint: The best part for me is, there’s no barrier to sharing. Just about everything I make, you can experience for free on my website. And sure, there are ways for you to engage in commerce, and support me financially… and please do! But the money isn’t a barrier to experiencing the ideas. And I really feel that’s the only way I can share what I create authentically.
A.D. Amorosi: What’s next?
Dain Saint: I’ve been writing a lot of poetry since George Floyd was killed. That’s being compiled in a book early next year called “Freedom Is Non-Negotiable” which you can read in my garden. I’ve got a ton of tracks in the chamber. I’m just still figuring out how to best release things to a broader audience. I’m still working at the Inquirer, and I’m super proud of the work I’ve been a part of. I really hope to do as much good for Philly as I can in that role. Beyond that, just continuing to try to show up and give my best. And just be there for the people in my life that need me.