2020 was supposed to be a big year for Sean Leon. Coming off writing for Kanye West, a tour with fellow Toronto native Daniel Caesar, and a new start-up venture PUPIL INC., it felt like the multi-hyphenate was primed for a major breakout. Then, well, COVID happened, and like many artists, Leon was forced to pivot.
Since then, he’s been steadily amassing a wealth of material, from albums—yes, plural—to short films, movies, apparel, you name it, and his fans are beginning to get antsy for Leon to finally drop some of it. Luckily, they won’t have to wait much longer to get a glimpse.
That’s because today (September 23), Leon will be unveiling some new music in a virtual performance on LG Canada’s Instagram. It’s all to celebrate the LG VELVET 5G Time Capsule Collection, which saw three notable Canadian designers—George Sully, Hayley Elsaesser, and Beurd Clothing—create custom apparel and accessories inspired by the phone. Complex spoke to Leon about how the partnership with LG came about, plus his post-COVID pivot, and upcoming release plans.
I know you just talked to us back in May. We’ve gotta keep this going, have Complex check in on you every couple months, for as long as this quarantine thing goes.
For sure. I love to keep the dialogue open.
How was your summer? You released your first single in a while, “Guillotine,” plus the video for it.
Good summer, man. It’s getting colder now. And whenever it gets colder, I start to reflect on the summer, because they’re so romantic in Toronto, because it’s cold eight months out the year. So I was just thinking about it, and all in all, with everything that happened this year, I still have to say that it was a good summer. It was a productive summer, both in my work, but I think even more importantly, on a personal level, and I’m excited to use this information and this experience in 2021 and beyond.
Totally. I know you had big plans for 2020. It’s always tough to lose that time.
Yeah. Especially as an independent artist, it’s important to have a plan and it’s important to have a map of what you’re going to do each quarter, because you’re playing with smaller budgets. Everything you do has to be spent wisely—and that’s not even just money, but time as well. When you’re an entrepreneur, you work 24/7, 365. I never stop thinking about work. I don’t punch in from 9 to 5 and then clock out. I’m in it all of the time. So it’s important to have an idea of where you’re going. And what COVID did was, take that idea and flip it on its side. It made it very difficult to plan ahead, because everything was so in the air.
I had a lot of plans to travel this year. I wasn’t going to be home too much. I was going to finish wrapping up this movie that we began shooting about two weeks before everything got shut down because of the lockdown. And after that, I was going to just be migrating from place to place, because I was finally in a position where I could do that in my career. Obviously because of COVID, I had to pivot and change that up. But it did allow me to take a really hard look at home. Acting locally and coming up with solutions to some of the problems that we’re facing directly in this ecosystem here and providing the solutions to repair some of the damage and replenish this ecosystem.
So things have changed, but there’s always something to do if you can reprogram your mind, and your approach. That flexibility and that talent to adapt is what’s going to separate those who will be here for an extended amount of time and those who will kind of fizzle out, especially with this whole last year and the way the world is moving.
“The industry [in Toronto] is still fairly young. The Renaissance, it’s been about ten years. And sonically and visually, we were creating striking work, but we were missing the infrastructure.”
At what point did this partnership with LG come together? Was it a recent thing?
Yeah, very recent. My company at PUPIL, we’ve already been experimenting with technology and experimenting with new, innovative ways to create not only content, but these art pieces, these substantial art pieces, but in a much lighter capacity. What I mean by that is, we have a live show on September 23rd that will be broadcasted on LG Canada’s Instagram page, and that entire experience was captured via the phone. These are certain things that we might not have been able to do a decade ago. And I’m really interested and excited to see where we’ll be a decade from now. So I’m happy to be working with LG for this experience.
This has to be your first “live” performance in a while, right? How long has it been?
Last year I was on tour with Daniel Caesar through the U.S. and through Europe, so I did a lot of shows last year. And we had been planning on a pretty epic show at home for fourth quarter of this year. That was going to be like my homecoming show. We were going to push it creatively, visually, aesthetically, in conjunction with this record that I’m working on currently called Full Technicolor. We were going to make it an entire experience. Obviously because of COVID now, we’re going to have to rethink what that looks like, maybe postpone it, or maybe do something virtually. We’ve been looking into that and researching that. But it’s been a while since I’ve really performed at home and done the full set at home. So I’m excited for people to see that performance on the 23rd.
What can fans expect to see?
Well, this is in partnership with LG, so expect to get a glimpse into the quality of the video and how well it was able to be documented using solely the phone. But musically, I performed an unreleased record. So there’ll be some new music for people to hear as well.
So I know part of the idea behind this is celebrating these Canadian designers, rising Canadian talent like yourself. Why do you think it’s important to celebrate homegrown talent like this, and through the work you’re doing with PUPIL?
At PUPIL, our local mission is to create and export more success stories. It’s funny. The industry [in Toronto] is still fairly young. The Renaissance, it’s been about ten years. And sonically and visually, we were creating striking work, but we were missing the infrastructure. We were missing the platforms to inform the world of these amazing projects and artists. And we’re slowly starting to see now more opportunities are coming in, like this partnership here. And hopefully what I can do is take it and then pay it forward to the next artist. And Complex can not only do this with me, but go and do this with somebody else that is also doing something that’s worth noting.
The whole “Time Capsule” idea got me thinking about what we’re going to take away from this time when we look back at it. Has there been anything to come out of this pandemic that you think you’ll be able to take with you going forward?
A thousand percent. I mean, last year I had one of those movie moments, my life changed. I was in these rooms now with people that I looked up to and have idolized for decades. And being in those rooms, all I wanted to do was get better at my craft. All I wanted to do was become more even more self-sufficient and be able to, from beginning to end, make a masterful work with my own two hands. Just myself in front of that computer, in front of that equipment. So what the pandemic afforded me was the time to be at home, at my home studio in front of my computer, doing research, taking classes, doing tutorials off YouTube, and learning how to become better at what I do, in the form of an engineer.
For those who don’t know, the engineer is the person that usually is in front of the computer, pretty much quarterbacking the artist’s vocals and making that into the song. And for a long time, I needed an engineer to make these records. I could do maybe a bit of the recording, I could do maybe a little bit of mixing, but nothing too substantial. But the pandemic allowed me the time to experiment. The time to stop and research and learn new tricks, learn new skills. And I’ve become a much better artist because of this year. And for that, I’m extremely grateful.
I was going to say, at this point, you’re just torturing your fans on social media about when you’re going to release the new album, new music. But it sounds like you’ve got some coming on September 23rd.
[Laughs.] Yeah, I got to perform a couple of songs, and I thought, ‘Let’s hit them with at least something they haven’t heard before.’ As far as the music and the releasing, I’ve been able to work on so many projects that when it’s finally go time, it’s just going to be a consistent release. And that’s the point I wanted to get to. It’s such a difficult and uncertain time that when I think about it logically, from the business side, there’s a lot of reasons why it’s much more important to be doing this interview right now than it is to be releasing music.
So the plan is going great, and I told my fans the other day when I was on Instagram Live, just trust in the plan. Because I feel healthy, things are clear, and everything is going according to plan. And it won’t be long for sure. It definitely will not be long from now.