If you happened to catch “Where You Are,” the first song to emerge from Toronto R&B singer Savannah Ré’s new Opia EP when Complex premiered it a few months ago, you were likely struck by her versatile, uncompromising vocal presence and forthright attitude. But assessing her solely from that hasty snapshot first impression wouldn’t be giving you the full picture of her as an artist.
"I've heard the word on road is, you know, that people who don’t know me think I'm a bit intimidating," says Ré. “But once you talk to me, I'm just really like a goof who loves music." Add these personality traits to her music and Ré is refreshingly down to earth. “I'm all about talent. Like, to me, it doesn't matter what clout you have, or, or you know, who you may be associated with. I'm just like, 'Listen, if you're talented, let's work.'” Indeed, it has been Ré’s enviable work ethic which has found her steadily releasing momentum-building singles ("Best Is Yet To Come," "DVP"), writing with Babyface and Daniel Caesar and touring with Jessie Reyez has led her to the point where she is now ready to release Opia today.
While it’s her debut EP release, it comes after years of paying her dues and building up her network in Toronto’s R&B scene. A key member of that network is Grammy-winning Toronto producer Boi-1da who serves as an executive producer on Opia. Ré’s working relationship with the producer began around five years ago when she was given the opportunity to write to a slew of his beats—without meeting him and knowing what he thought of her work. “I met him a couple of years after that,” says Ré. “And he was like, 'Yo, listen, I listened to every single one of the demos you sent and I love them. I'm a huge fan. And let's keep working.' So that was pretty affirming to me. Because, you know, as a writer, when you send out demos and stuff, you don't know if they're even really hearing it, or listening. So that was a big confidence-boosting moment for me, and we just kind of built from there.”
"I'm putting super deep down things you wouldn't normally say to strangers for everybody to consume."
Along with Alan Ritter, Boi-1da co-produced the aforementioned “Where You Are,” featuring Ré’s treatise on maintaining a long-distance relationship. Other key collaborators on Opia include high-profile Toronto producers Jordon Manswell and Akeel Henry as well as YogiTheProducer, who just happens to be Savannah Ré’s husband. The couple directly collaborated on the Opia latest single “Solid,” which despite only dropping a mere few weeks before the EP’s release, has resonated strongly with listeners, probably because Ré is drawing directly on her own relationship for the lyrics.
“What's happening with ‘Solid’ is so amazing because, you know, so many people are messaging me saying I made them cry or really feel the love and stuff,” says Ré. “And when I wrote ‘Solid,’ yeah, it was supposed to be a heartfelt record, but it wasn't like, ‘Hey, we have to go get married’. It was more so like, 'Listen, are we going to weather these storms? Can you just be solid?’ It wasn't like, 'Okay, you got to wife me up,’ but it was just like, ‘Are we going to be loyal to each other?’” While exhibiting the intimate nature of a song like “Solid,” Opia also explores the raw tension undergirding the lack of commitment in a relationship in a song like “Homies,” which is unsparing in its execution.
Some may be surprised that Ré can work creatively with her husband, who also worked as a producer on the track, when it features dismissive lyrics about a potential partner. But Ré soundly counters that narrative. "There's so many stages to a relationship,” she says. “And I feel like people assume because I'm married, it's like, you've never been through anything. It took a long time to get here, you know?"
For the record, Ré is effusive when she talks about her relationship with YogiTheProducer. “We do everything together,” she says. “And people wonder about that, too. Because some of the songs like 'Homies' or 'Love Me Back,' when I'm talking like a whole lot of shit, they're like, ‘And he produced this?’ But, you know, not everything, one, is about him. But, two, it's also like, we're so used to creating with each other. It's been [that way] since we met in 2015. We've literally been working together almost every day, since that point. So it's very, very comfortable. Like, I'm so comfortable being completely honest or vulnerable around him. So, you know, it's easy.”
While the working relationship with her husband is smooth, Ré is quick to say that her own creative process that lyrically puts her emotions on her sleeve is anything but, and the title track of the EP reflects that. While looking up the meaning of the name of R&B singer Brent Faiyaz’s group Sonder, she stumbled on The Book of Obscure Sorrows, which lists 45 new words for feelings. "So I was just scrolling through it and I stopped on the word 'opia,'” says Ré.
"And I read it and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this is exactly how I feel when it comes to making music that’s so honest,’" says Ré. "And what [opia] means is that ambiguous stare when you look in someone’s eyes and you feel uncomfortable because you feel like they can see into your soul. So that's how it feels when I make this music. Because at the end of the day, I'm putting super deep down things you wouldn't normally say to strangers for everybody to consume. So I think it was important with this project and with the visuals to not necessarily make people uncomfortable, but make them think and make them feel things, like that vulnerability. So yeah, it's very difficult. It's very hard, but it's just part of what we do.”