Plazas: The WL Interview

Purveyor of: Empathetic baroque synth-pop
File next to: Lust for Youth, Grimes, Chromatics, Molly Nilsson
Playing: WL18 Night 1, Friday, Feb. 16 @ The Garrison. Get tickets here!

Plazas is Toronto-based producer Savana Salloum. She’s been garnering buzz for her intimate synth-pop; Silent Shout picked her release Empathy as their second favourite EP of 2016, and her music has also seen attention from Impose, Exclaim!, and Ride The Tempo. Wavelength’s Stuart Oakes talked to her about her new single “The Observatory,” her love for the 1980s, and her desert island records.

The first single off your upcoming debut album Distant Desires is called “The Observatory.” What is the observatory? Is it a reference to an actual place or a metaphor for looking at something from a distance, or both?

Kind of both. It’s definitely a metaphor, but also a totally fictitious place that exists in the world of Plazas. A place where you can watch many moments flash before your eyes without being able to control what is seen. In terms of the symbolism in the song, it’s about looking at the past from afar and coming to the realization that some things just aren’t meant to be and cannot be changed.

“The Observatory” and your 2016 EP Empathy are in many ways stylistically similar — synth-pop that draws a lot from post-punk (and even coldwave). However, “The Observatory” introduces a seemingly new element into the mix; the post-punk sound is used as contrast for a warmer, softer, poppier ‘80s synth chorus. Is this change the sound of you narrowing in on what you always wanted to make, or is it Plazas evolving into something different from what you first envisioned?

I never feel like I’ve fully grasped what I’ve wanted to accomplish with Plazas, but I feel like I’ve gotten pretty close with Distant Desires. I try not to concern myself too much with a genre, but there will always be a touch of the ‘80s sound in my production, whether it derives from a specific synth sound or beat; stylistically I think my music will always fall somewhere into the synth-pop universe. So, I wouldn’t say my songwriting has totally evolved—I’m still influenced by the same artists—but I have definitely broadened the sonic spectrum. I’m interested in telling stories through sound and music, so that’s the muscle I’m always looking to strengthen.

Lyrically, Empathy seems to concentrate on exactly that: the importance of taking the time and effort to understand others, how that time and effort can instigate much-needed change, and what happens when that time and effort isn’t taken. Is Distant Desires similarly focused, and if so, what’s it focused on?

You’re for sure right about Empathy; it related directly to specific situations in my life during that time and the importance of understanding others. However, Distant Desires comes from a slightly different place and is inspired by my move from Vancouver to Toronto; it’s more of a reflection on the past combined with elements of fantasy. Compared to Empathy, there is definitely more of an arc to the story as well because the tracks were partly written before the move and some of them were written while adjusting to a new city.

You are responsible for nearly every aspect of Plazas, including the writing, producing, mixing, and artwork. What’s your favourite part of the process and what’s your least favourite part?

I thoroughly enjoy the whole process, so this is a tough one, but my favourite part of the process will always be writing and producing the songs, they go hand-in-hand for me. I think the visual aspects are always the toughest for me to accomplish (on my own). I always have this idea of how I see the music, but I sometimes struggle with really getting it right. That’s why I have not released Distant Desires yet. Everything is done except for the artwork. The visual really needs to represent both the story and the aesthetic that I’ve visualized while writing and producing the songs. It’ll just take time to get it right.

You’ve released two music videos: a heavily filtered video for “The Observatory” that suits Plazas’ generally URL style — the vaporwave artwork, your “plazas.wav” Instagram handle, and the Internet-aesthetic visuals you use live — and an exceedingly IRL video about a day at a rodeo for the Empathy track “2 Leave U Behind” (unless the latter is referencing the very URL Grimes’ “Oblivion” video). Do you see Plazas as having a very specific aesthetic or is it looser than that?

I’m glad you picked up on that because, surprisingly enough, not a lot of people do. The vaporwave aesthetic was at its peak right before I started Plazas. I got obsessed with vaporwave and also synthwave. What I love most is how they both take elements from the past and place it in their own context. As for the Plazas aesthetic, there are always going to be very specific elements (yes, indeed, Internet) that I will hold on to, but when it comes to collaborating I find someone else’s point of view of my music very interesting. I remember getting a phone call from David [Ehrenreich], who made the “2 Leave U Behind” video, and it was basically like, “there’s this really wild rodeo going on and you’d look really cool in the middle of it all” — I think that Grimes video may have been thrown around as a (loose) reference point once or twice. I’m also planning a couple more music videos with different collaborators that I’m very excited about. The way I see it is as if the music is playing out as the soundtrack to someone else’s dream… or nightmare… so stay tuned!

You’ve only recently moved to Toronto, but you seem to have rapidly immersed yourself in the local scene — I’ve seen your name on a bunch of recent bills. Who are some local acts that you’ve been enjoying lately?

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have been welcomed into Toronto’s vibrant music scene…it’s been very surreal. As a matter of fact, my first show in Toronto was a Wavelength showcase at Bike Pirates [in late 2016]. There are so many great acts in the city, I love playing shows with Loji… it’s always a super fun time! There’s also a band called You’ll Never Get to Heaven; I’ve never seen them live but I really like their music. [And they are playing Sunday night of WL18! – ed.]

If you were exiled to a desert island but you got to bring a record or two, which records would you choose?

I wish I could make a compilation record of all of my favorite songs (from the ‘80s haha), but if I had to choose I’d probably bring International by Lust for Youth and Night Drive by Chromatics. I know I wouldn’t ever get tired of listening to them front to back since I have been for what feels like forever!

—interview by Stuart Oakes