Meet SAIAH, the track star turned musician redefining punk
Welcome to AP&R, where we highlight rising artists who will soon become your new favorite.
For SAIAH, new lyrics are like a compass. “Every single song that I make is either gonna tell me about what I'm doing wrong or what I'm moving on from,” they say. “I become the music.”
Before they philosophized about their artistic approach, SAIAH was a semi-aimless track star trying to figure out the rest of their life. When a fraught relationship with their stepfather became too much to bear, SAIAH’s instincts directed them to relocate to Pittsburgh to live with their father, where they used a $40 mic and a lot of free time to become a rock star. Now, they represent a new kind of punk.
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As stylish as they are versatile, the nonbinary Pittsburgh rocker vacillates between isolation and broken love with sullen crooning and spurts of semi-free-associative raps, reimagining the genre in their own image. They flash those capabilities on their latest single, “5 minutes til dawn,” a track that spills out like racing thoughts. It’s a striking glimpse of the talent that’s helped make them a rising force in the world of punk. It’s also a sign that their best work is yet to come.
“I've been making the best music of my life lately, and it’s way better than ‘5 minutes til dawn,'” they share.
So your mom was an Olympian, and you were a track star in high school. But what were you into before you jumped into music?
I was trying to do journalism, and then around the same time, I used to work for a magazine that was really into the hardcore skate scene, hardcore music. I was learning how to make music when I was doing journalism. It helped me have friends because we would be in big group chats, and we would just be talking about stuff that was happening in the scene.
What made you want to take music seriously?
My mom was in an abusive relationship with my stepdad, and I wanted to make it so I could take care of her. My mom has MS [multiple sclerosis]. That's a huge inspiration for me because my mom is not able to do certain things. As she gets older, her health begins to deteriorate. I wanna get her a house one day. I want to be able to take care of her. Even around MS in general, I wanna be able to help people understand what MS is with my platform. Another reason [I make music] is because I'm a Pisces rising, so if someone shaded me, I'm gonna show them up.
You’ve really got a genre-fluid style. Who were some artists who inspired your music? Were they the same people you listened to growing up?
I grew up listening to a lot of pop music. My sister was really into Aaliyah. When Aaliyah passed away, [my sister] threw a whole entire memorial service for her in the crib. So, just pop music and R&B and stuff like that. I used to love blink-182, Gwen Stefani and Michael Jackson. I really got into Frank Ocean and Isaiah Rashad. Frank's aesthetic always inspired me because he always had that Tumblr voice, and I used to be a little Tumblr kid. When I was a senior in high school, Steve Lacy came out with the [Steve Lacy's Demo] EP, and I found out that he recorded all his songs on his phone, and I was just [like], "What? This is dope. You can actually make music without having to go to the studio.” I’ve been keeping Frank in mind, keeping Kanye in mind. I find inspiration in so many things.
What does your music represent?
All my art represents home. My dad brought it up that in “5 minutes til dawn,” I even have my Pittsburgh accent in it. It was really cool for him to say that because I hadn't noticed that at all. [“5 minutes til dawn”] felt like that was home. It sounded like that was a song I made at home, but it wasn't, it just felt like home. And my family's cool as hell. They influenced me so much because I was the black sheep of the family. My music represents my family.
You’ve released some dope projects, and you’ve got more momentum than ever. What’s your next project called, and when are you dropping it?
So originally [“5 minutes til dawn”] was from NB 2. So NB one was my first project, and then it was gonna be Non Binary 2. But since a lot of stuff has happened, I'm not dropping NB 2. I decided that I'm gonna start working on this project, and it's called RUE. I remember when I was a kid, I would watch a lot of Hunger Games with my dad. When we [watched] the first-ever Hunger Games, it really impacted me because of Rue in the movie. I felt like I was her. I honestly don’t know when RUE will be out, but it's coming.
FOR FANS OF: Steve Lacy, Frank Ocean, Omar Apollo
SONG RECOMMENDATION: "5 minutes til dawn"