Rihanna's Anti felt like it came out of nowhere, even with months (years?) of anticipation surrounding the project. The 13-track album included guest appearances from Drake and SZA, and production from Travi$ Scott, Jeff Bhasker, the-Dream, James Fauntleroy, PARTYNEXTDOOR, among others. People dissected the album in and out on Twitter, and we broke down everyone involved on the project. But there was one name people weren't familiar with, and that's Chad Sabo.
A quick Google search led us to a Roc Nation artist page with a brief bio on the New Jersey born and bred singer/songwriter, who performed at a Tidal showcase last year with his band, the Cold Seas. Sabo signed to Roc Nation a few years back and has been pursuing mostly solo music since then, with the exception of “Never Ending,” which made its way onto Rihanna's new album. We hopped on the phone with Sabo to chat about his start in music, signing to Roc Nation, and what to expect from him within the next year.
How did you get into music as a kid?
My dad was always playing music. Even when my mom was pregnant, he would play acoustic guitar to her. I’ve always been listening to music since I was literally in the womb. He had a band, too, that would practice at our house, so I was always exposed to it. When I really started getting into music and playing on my own, I was 5 years old and I brought home this handout from school—there was a teacher who wanted to teach either Polish or piano lessons. For some reason, I thought I had to do one or the other, and I went home crying. I was like, “I don’t wanna do this!” and my parents are like, “You don’t have to!” I was like, “Fine, I’ll do piano lessons.” That was the first instrument that I started playing.
You're from New Jersey?
I lived in a few different places. I’m currently living in Asbury Park, I was born in Trenton, and I grew up just south of Trenton. Where I grew up there really wasn’t much going on, so that’s why I moved to Asbury Park because it's an up-and-coming town in New Jersey and it’s one of the best music towns. It was mostly because I had a few friends that I played music with in the past and we all wanted to start a new project. We ended up renting a house together here and working on music for our band, the Cold Seas.
When did you start making your own music?
I tried to make music when I was younger. I didn’t really have a recording setup at home. When I was like 14 or 15, I just recorded stuff to tape recorders and overdubbed it. When I played in bands, I did guitars and harmonies, I never did the songwriting. I was in a band—Great Big Planes—we were doing decent…we had label interest. We were kind of an acoustic act that became a full band, and when we became a full band that’s when I quit, I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I thought I was gonna give up on music at that point, but the first thing I started doing was writing my own stuff. I was 20 when we started, and when I quit I was 23. And then I went back home and lived with my parents and was working and writing music by myself, building my catalog. I was writing these lo-fi acoustic songs at home on an 8-track recording studio, just doing everything myself. And then I started demo’ing music periodically.
What happened next?
I really just stayed quiet and would post songs online and just share with my friends. I didn’t really have expectations. I just wanted to write music that I loved and put it out there. I didn’t play shows or anything. I was just writing in my free time. Then I have a friend, Stan Greene, who used to live in New Jersey and moved out to L.A. He had heard some of my songs, and he kept telling me, “You should move out to L.A. I’m gonna show this to my friend at Roc Nation,” who happens to be [my manager] Edith [Bo], and that’s how I got in touch with Roc Nation.
Did you end up going out to Los Angeles?
I was on tour with a band, just kind of filling in—not part of the band—we were out in California so I got to meet some of the Roc Nation people. I had spoken to them in April of 2014 and I was signed by the end of June or early July. I just kept writing my own music because I have my own sound that’s sort of hard to reproduce in other environments. I have my own little setup going on at home and use certain effects and pieces of gear that give me my sound. But I’ve gotten a chance to go out to L.A. and work with other Roc Nation songwriters during the pre-Grammy songwriting retreat. I did that last year and I’m doing that again a few days from now. All the songwriters and producers from Roc Nation get together and work on music. It’s a fun, creative thing that we get to do together. Everyone lives in different parts of the country, so, it was a great way to start building relationships with people.
One of the songs you wrote turned into “Never Ending” on Rihanna's Anti?
“Never Ending” was a drawn out song. I was playing with a band—Basic Vacation—that I wasn’t a member of but was filling in for, and we were in California. One day I was just in the van with them and wrote that intro riff. Then I brought it home with me and it kind of just stuck around. I hadn’t thought too much about it, but it had a catchy vibe to it so I went home and tried to piece it together on my digital 8-track studio. I hashed out the lyrics and worked on the chorus, and then posted it out there. My buddy Stan [Greene] was listening to the music I posted on Facebook. It wasn’t something that hit right away. It was mostly written in November 2013, and then in April 2014 is when Roc Nation heard it and Rihanna was really interested in it and wanted to do a cut of it.
What happened next?
I sent them a lot of the stems for the track. I was based out of New Jersey. Everything was happening in L.A. and I didn’t really get an opportunity to get out there during the recording of it, but they took it and worked on it and made it a Rihanna song.
Is your original still online?
It was online, at one point, prior to all of this happening. But, you know, obviously it’s long gone.
Dido's listed on the credits, too.
There were a few notes that sounded like a similar pattern to “Thank You.” But it’s not really a straight up sample or anything. They decided to clear that as an interpolation so we didn’t run into any future issues. I guess it was something there in my subconscious, but it wasn’t intentional at all.
How would you describe your solo sounds these days?
It’s a little more raw, kind of like a DIY sound. It’s very simple. I don’t like to overproduce. I like to use effects that give the music somewhat of a…I don’t want to say nostalgic vibe but something you could hear coming from an older era of music. I’m not trying to be a revivalist in any way, but I do like to bring those sounds that kind of make you feel a certain way, rather than a nice clean vocal. I kind of like to mess things up a little bit.
What did you spend 2015 working on?
Mostly a lot of music for my band, the Cold Seas. That’s my focus right now.
How did you link up with the Cold Seas?
The drummer was playing with me towards the end of my run in Great Big Plains. My guitar player now, Eric, actually joined Great Big Plains after we had left, but they started going by a different name. We all knew each other from the music community around Asbury Park. We were all playing here, we all knew each other and respected each other. We put out an EP last year and did a little bit of touring.
Once you released the EP, were you doing solo stuff as well?
Mostly just focusing on myself. I’ve been open to working with other artists, for sure. I’ve just really been focusing my energy on this project because I have a lot of faith in it. We just need to get the right producers eventually. We do enjoy self-producing. We did our EP all by ourselves, but I feel like for us to evolve a bit more I want to work with someone who gets us. Not sure who that person is, but we’re looking. There’s actually one person we’re trying to reach out to—I like his band a lot. They’re called Tame Impala. I was hoping that maybe we could link up with Kevin Parker. I know he’s a busy guy, but that would be pretty tremendous if we could do something with him.
What are your plans for this year?
Definitely getting on some festivals and touring. We’re gonna be putting out an EP. I think it’s gonna be wrapped up in the spring, and hopefully we can put it out by early spring. And hopefully by the end of the summer we’ll have the album ready. We have a bunch of songs finished, we just need to record them.