Sean Leon is the Black Sheep Nirvana. Hailing from Toronto and finding security in recording in sunny Los Angeles, the 27-year-old is ready to take his music career to the next level. While some may throw him in the pocket of R&B, his genre is unable to be defined, creating a fantasy world for people to escape to. Read more…
Growing up in a house with 4 sisters and being the middle child, Sean permanently sees himself as the outsider looking in. With his older brother being locked up in the system, he absorbed the pressure to stand up as the male in the house, while trying to find his family’s footing which resided in the lower tier of the middle class.
For Sean, it’s his love for music that keeps him going. It’s his passion and dream of achieving greatness that continues to sustain a living for both him and his family.
For those who don’t know, who is Sean Leon?
Sean Leon is a multifaceted visionary from Toronto, Canada. That’s what I would say in an elevator.
Where do you fit in the realm of R&B & hip-hop?
I don’t fit at all. That’s my obstacle. That’s my cross to bear. Black Sheep Nirvana was an album I’d been working on in 2012. As the years went by, it turned into more of a way of life, more of a philosophy. That movement basically started because my entire life, I’ve been a black sheep. It’s become this thing now. It’s a monster that I don’t try to feed, it just exists. I’m just on the outside permanently. [chuckles] My thing is just trying to make people cross over. I don’t try to fit in. Like when you passed me the blunt and I said “I’m good,” that type of energy. That’s my game, my conversion. Getting people to see things from a different perspective on the outside.
How would you describe your sound then?
Schizophrenic. It’s a word I’ve been settling on lately. I hate to label but if I had to, I would label it schizophrenic because it’s a lot of different personalities.
Like a split ego type thing?
I used to think so because we’ve seen that before, but I think it’s a little different.
I feel like a lot of EDM DJs do that.
Yeah, but I don’t have a random mouse hat I put on randomly.
Being from the 6, how does that play into your life and career?
We really appreciate our summers. Our winters are three quarters of the year, and they’re savage. You just kind of hibernate like bears and shit. That majority of the year, it’s really dark and cold outside. I would sit in front of my computer and just work at my craft. That habit is instilled in me today. I just lock in, and it takes me 45 minutes to reintegrate. I feel like that’s a Toronto type thing. Sometimes, it feels like you have to do twice the work to get half as far. You try to do as much as you can. You try to be undeniable. You branch out. You’re always learning, you’re never done learning. You gotta wear different hats.
How important is it to come to LA as an up and coming artist?
Right now, it seems like everything to me, to the point where I don’t know if I’m going back. I’ll go back for the holidays and then come back top of January, and just try to make shit work out here. Because I’ve done everything that can be done back home, except win a JUNO. I’m going to win that this year, damn it. [laughs] It’s a Canadian Grammy. It’s time to branch out. I love it out here. I almost feel spoiled.
I can be really selfish. I can lock in and just be in this creative bubble. Work in it and work things out in my head: the music, visuals, whatever. Not pay attention to anything that’s going on. I’m not on my Twitter and barely on Instagram. If I’m on Instagram, it’s just for a second to update my fanbase on some things. I love it out here. I want to just maintain that. Keep working and making introductions. Just try to make this thing work.
Are you currently working on a project, or what is it you’re so tapped in for?
I never stop. I just put out Sean Leon(The Death Of) in September, and have some things I’m going to put out first quarter to continue that conversation. Even before that record came out, I was already working on the follow up, and the follow up to the follow up. I’m always in a state of working. It doesn’t ever actually stop. I envision vacation is a scenario where I have some sort of situation where I can make music still. I wouldn’t be able to vacation without at least knowing it’s there. [laughs] I’m working on this winter album. I want to score the Toronto winter in an interesting way, just from my POV.
It’s really a thing. People have traumatic experiences. If you talk to people from back home, they’ll sound like they’re speaking about Moby-Dick when talking about the winter. It’s like the great white whale. It’s one thing we all have in common, bottom line. No one escapes that.
What’s your favorite part about the city of LA.
Whenever I say this, people say I haven’t been in the industry long enough, but it seems like everyone is super nice. At least the natives are some of the kindest people I’ve met in my lifetime.
Do you really know who’s a native or not?
I’ll be sparking up random conversations. It’s way easier to do than with people back home for some reason. Musically, I like that I’m out of my comfort zone. Some days, I know exactly what I’m doing. Other days, it’s completely brand new. But I live for that brand new experience, it’s cathartic for me. I prefer that than to go back home and everything just be the same.
Talk about the camp out with the Toronto people. How often are you splitting your time in house or outside the house?
I call it off campus, because it feels like a scholarship. I feel like a really important student athlete. [laughs] It’s been great. It’s been able to cater to each individual’s wants and needs. You want to go do something, we go do it. Come back, hit the studio. If somebody else is in the studio, I’ll go swim. [laughs] Make some calls, check on work at home. Overall, it’s an escape.
At what point did you realize this music thing was forreal?
The first time I recorded and heard my vocal back. I heard everything I was doing wrong, but also what I was doing right, or what I could potentially be good at. I just sat down long enough and thought about it ever since.
What was the inspiration behind your name?
I was tired of the games. It’s crazy, the game we’re in right now is even more antics than ever. As far as my peers or just pop culture, it seems like it. When I started off, I had other names. One was Lil Wayne inspired, the other was Dipset inspired.
You released your album Sean Leon (The Death Of). Talk about the creative process and how long it took you.
I made it in my basement apartment. Parkdale is the setting of that record. I’m pretty much scoring my lifetime in that area. I moved from there. The Death Of was essentially me saying goodbye to this underground basement apartment, goodbye to being the underground artist. The death of those last 4 years. It’s where I met the love of my life, then we moved on and had a daughter. It’s where my daughter took her first steps, where she went to school first. Parkdale was my home. Once I was old enough to make decisions for myself, it’s where I decided to stay.
Does she know what daddy does?
Oh yeah, she knows my lyrics. I’m her favorite right now. I try to put her on different sounds, but she just wants to hear my stuff. She’ll be 4 on Christmas.
I was listening to your record “Gold.” Talk about working with Wondagurl.
That was really easy. That was later in our relationship, at the point where she just trusts me 1000%. She sends me stuff and lets me do whatever I want. We’ve been working for a little while. I made 2 records today on her beats and they’re so crazy. I’m amped. I’ll probably jump in a pool after this. Shout out to Wondagurl, I love her to death.
Did you know her after her name blew up?
We met through music, by natural habitat. Music was going to be the only thing that brought us together.
Talk about linking with Daniel Caesar on “Paradise.”
Me and Danny go back, he used to sleep on my couch. I’ve known Daniel since my mom’s basement. I had been kicked out my mom’s crib so many times. I finally moved back in and got the basement apartment, that was the beginning of the basement lifestyle. I set it up kind of nice. I used to have girls over and we would play house. He used to come through, we would make songs. I made the IXXI Initiative and was like “yo, it would be awesome if we worked together.” At that time, he was dying to be in the group. [chuckles] I just always knew and envisioned where they’re at now, and where they’re gonna be in 5 years.
What was it like seeing his career blow up?
It’s a confirming energy because I saw that the same way I see it for myself. I understand the different paths and trajectories, just simply off our names. I believe there’s so much power in a name. It’s why I stay strongly on my government name. Deciding to be the black sheep and adopting that, it’s essentially saying my path is going to be a certain way. Whereas I look at Daniel’s success, their path is very much the trajectory of the golden child. It’s just confirming my time is coming.
What’s the best creative advice he’s given you?
We were in the studio a couple weeks ago. Whenever we do that, we end up talking for hours. In that conversation, there’s a lot of things being said. We definitely smoke. He told me a lot about the game.
Talk about the IXXI Initiative & what your goals are.
It’s IXXI because of the Porsche 911. When I was a kid, that was my dream car. It was created to be the vehicle to get us where we want to go, wherever it may be. It varies from person to person. I also wanted to keep it open-ended enough that I could go into film, or go into tech at some point. It’s not necessarily just this music thing, but it’s larger than that. Currently, I’m actually looking. I’m going through applications and checking portfolios that they send me.
What’s the criteria to be in the group?
People that show initiative. Again, words are really important. Everything is in the name. In this day and age, that’s what separates the people who have some sort of success and the people that don’t. It’s a generator of dope things. Generate really fantastic content that lasts 100 years. Things that aren’t necessarily trendy, that aren’t following the herd or mob mentalities. It’s about the creation of things and whatever it is you want to do.
How are you sustaining yourself as an artist? Are you writing songs for other people?
I write songs for other people, but not any major artist that isn’t bankrolling the Sean Leon movement. Without saying too much, I’ve hit licks before. I know what it’s like to be up for a bit and then go crazy, and be broke again. Now in a scenario when I’m up, I’m very smart with my money. Instead of buying kicks like I used to, I go invest it into a music video. Essentially, I can get more kicks off that music video at some point.
What is it you want fans to get from your story?
I live very selfishly. With my art, it’s the only time I can be selfish. Driving on the street, I’m letting that old lady in. If I’m on a plane and someone needs help putting their bag up, or there’s only one spot left, I offer that spot. That’s how I am. In music, in my art specifically, I get to do whatever I want. I can say what I want. I’m making it very much for myself. I’m scoring my life. These scenes, these feelings, these moments, because they’re genuine and real. They translate and people connect with them. That’s how I’m able to maintain this lifestyle.
Back in January, I converted my old studio into a museum. I had fans come in and see where the records were made, the environment where I was inspired, the setting where these stories took place. All the while, I’m still selling merch. I’m selling these vinyls for $500 a pop, not $25 because there’s a sanctity and a sacredness with my shit. ‘Cause I’m on the outside. Not only that, but people are buying them.
That reminds me of Nipsey and his Crenshaw movement.
That’s part of the inspiration. I get compared to Nipsey a lot and I love it. He’s an independent machine. That’s essentially the energy I want to keep. I want to own all my shit. I want to be able to do what I want.
How important is social media for your career?
It’s a tool. It’s one of the arms on the machine that’s going to propel someone into superstardom. It’s a good tool to use to educate people to the vision. A good tool to use to convert these minds and get people to believe in the brand and artist.
How often are you on it?
I direct my social media, but I’m not on it personally, because it takes a lot of time. Within my staff, I have people that run it for me. If I say something in conversation that’s dope that I feel like sharing, then I’ll send it to someone to post it.
That’s a tweet! You can post that on your own.
It’s not only that, it’s the information you’re taking in. I believe in keeping certain things pure. You hop on Twitter and you’re on there for an hour. I’m seeing every single devastating thing that’s happened in the world in 5 minutes. I’m seeing people literally argue over anything and nothing, all the time. I’d rather work on a song. I’d rather keep my energy positive.
Also if you’re really into your craft, how much time do you really have? If you’re really working. The people that I look up to barely use it. Jay-Z isn’t really on Twitter like that, neither is Beyonce.
3 things you need in the studio?
I really don’t know, I feel like an animal. You can drop me in the jungle with my laptop, a tiger, a sandstorm, and I’ll make a fucking banger. I feel like a monster.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
Corny answer is I probably wouldn’t be alive. If I never took the leap, I would’ve stayed in sports. Would have gotten a D1 scholarship, played in Europe for a bit. Come back, open a physical therapy practice. Run that for a couple years, open another one. Crop a crib. I got it mapped out.
Favorite song to perform in a set?
I love performing “81.” I’ve had that song for years and it still sounds brand new. Automatic high energy. I love performing the song “DVP,” it’s not even out yet. I’ve been testing it out. I like performing “If I Could be With You” a lot. Sometimes, I bring out violins, guitars, and keys. I love it when we break the show down and get emotional with it.
What’s the best encounter you had with a fan?
I’ve had some really crazy encounters. When I opened up the museum, it was a tight space. Only my super dedicated fans came. They’re right in my face and we’re all together in this room. Some days I’m sitting there, it’s like 20 people and it’s a TED talk. Some days, we’re sitting in this almost a meditation room. People take turns taking the floor having different conversations.
Who’s the most played artist on your phone?
Besides me, Daniel Caesar.
Bob Marley, Ronald Isley, Prince.
Someone alive so we can make it happen.
Hov. Hov is the whole reason I started rapping. I need a Jay verse for sure.
Anything else you want to let us know?
I had a great time being interviewed by Shirley. I appreciate it.