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“I wanted to be the first artist to do this,” it reads at the opening of Sage Harris’ live video for his seductive love-obsessed single, “Meds,” the second video the 25-year-old Toronto R&B singer-songwriter has released from his forthcoming EP, Prince Hills, out on June 8.

In the video, we see Harris standing, calmly, hands around his groin area, one hand folded over the other one clutching the microphone. He blinks rapidly but his face looks blank, if not a little uncomfortable. He breathes out and starts to sing, as the camera pulls back a little and starts to rotate.  

His feet are in harnesses. He is hanging upside down. Mic drop

Turns out Harris is not the first artist to do this. In 2011, a former Indian Idol winner Sourabhee Debbarma sang upside down for 4 minutes and 30 seconds, breaking the Guinness World Record held by New Zealander Rebecca Wright (3 mins 53 seconds). But who cares who was first; this is some crazy shit and certainly not easy.

Besides thinking up crazy things to do during a lockdown, Harris, who grew up in Scarborough, in and out of shelters with his mom and younger sister, co-owns Saturday Life Barber Shop, a community hub for haircuts and networking, but business has obviously been severely affected by the pandemic. “We’ve been closed 269 consecutive days now,” Harris says. 

Meanwhile, he has started acting in TV and film, but that too has had its ups and downs, even though productions have been allowed to go-ahead with safety protocols, while live concerts have not. Still, “every movie or show I’ve been on, we’ve been shut down like 10 times in a month because someone’s caught COVID,” Harris says. 

Music, however, the singer continues to create at home, working with producers remotely. After the release of the four-song Prince Hills—“I Wish I Had,” “Meds,” and previously unreleased “On Top” and “10”—a second EP—which includes “Where The Party At?” featuring Jagged Edge, that was cut in Atlanta before COVID—will follow in the next month or so. He plans to put out 20 songs by year-end, through his new distributor, Believe Music.

Either way, as he awaits the reopening of the barbershop, hopefully on June 2 if the Ontario government doesn’t extend the stay-at-home order, Harris isn’t going to stay cooped up this summer. “I’ve been on Amazon getting my summer gear—my shorts, tennis rackets, volleyball. Whatever happens, I’m outside,” he says.

Complex chatted with Harris about training for the live “Meds” video, how he is making Saturday Life Barber Shop a hub, what’s next for him in acting and music, and well as the depression he’s experienced during the coronavirus lockdown.

Sage Harris hanging upside down
Image via Bradlee Dela Cruz

I know we’ve all had a lot of time on our hands with the pandemic, but what made you decide to hang upside down for a music video?
“Meds” is the first single of the project and to build some momentum, prior to the release, I had this crazy idea, something that’s going to stick out, especially introducing me as up-and-coming artist. What if I sang a live performance hanging upside down? Everybody was like, “What the hell, are you crazy?” “That’s so hard.” “How are you going to do that?” I’m like, “Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out.” So I trained for two-and-a-half, three weeks, then I said, “We need a gym.”

So we went to my boy’s gym, Pursuit OCR, and I sang the song, “Meds,” hanging upside down, the whole song through, the high notes, everything. I’m like, “We need to do this and shoot it properly.” Pursuit OCR, where we shot the “We Don’t Talk Anymore” music video [in 2019], the set that he built was about two stories. So, to sum it up, hung me from two stories upside down and I performed the entire song live. I’m the first male R&B [singer] in history to ever do it. 

Don’t try this at home.
Yeah, we tried to get Triller to support it, but you can’t advocate that. It is a bit tricky. [Laughs.]

Safety wise, obviously there was something underneath?
No. It was pretty secure, but the main thing was we were supposed to qualify for the Guinness Book of World Records for singing upside down. This girl from Indian Idol holds the record. I did it for over six minutes and I submit the footage and they said, “This is amazing. This is great. But our health practitioners said that we could not accept it anymore because it’s unsafe for someone to be hanging upside down for a certain amount of time.” But with or without the Guinness Record, I beat the world record regardless [Editor’s note: The music video is three minutes but he submitted footage for twice that length]. I couldn’t believe I actually did it. Everybody was clapping.

How did it feel physically and mentally?
We definitely did a lot of takes the day of, probably eight takes. That’s like three-and-a-half minutes each take. I would do two back-to-back at a time because it takes a lot of work to get up. But because I was training for so long, after a week I started to get used to inversion. My face wasn’t getting swollen anymore. My veins weren’t popping out of my head anymore. My body has got you used to it. It just became really easy. The only hard part was instead of singing from my head, I had to sing from my stomach.

“Meds” isn’t actually your latest single. “I Wish I Had” came out May 4. What can you tell me about that song lyrically?
“I Wish I Had” represents the things that I wish I had in adolescence. If I could go back in time and tell the younger Sage Harris certain things, like money and things of those natures don’t matter in life, I would. It’s a song to myself. I’ve learned now, growing up, that love and money don’t really amount to happiness per se. 

What does amount to happiness for you? 
Self-love.

You’re only 25. Still young to be looking back on your “younger” self.
I’m an old soul. I’m just so focused on getting to the goal that I don’t have time to even do the young things that I should be doing at 25. 

Your EP is titled Prince Hills. You have a great name, but I understand Prince Hills is a nickname. Who gave you that?
Growing up, all the guys in the neighbourhood called me Prince because, I guess, I was a pretty boy. My clothes were always ironed. I carried myself really well.  And then Hills I added because it represents the uphill battle that I faced growing up. It came from the reference king of the hill. Always trying to make my way up. 

How has the pandemic affected that climb? 
What it restricts you from doing is being in contact with people who are usually easily accessible because they have work hours where they have to answer you; they’re in the office. But I also had to find a way to grasp my creativity because I can’t be in the studio sessions with people so we’re doing it online. It’s just not the same vibe, but right now I need to write it.

You opened Saturday Life Barber Shop with your childhood friend [and head barber] Akram Bekri in December 2019 just before the pandemic. It’s obviously been tough the past year with opening, then closing. It seems like a cool place, not just for men and women to get haircuts, but you have what you call on your website “perks”—entertainment, non-alcoholic beverages, in-house custom jeweler, networking opportunities. If it wasn’t a pandemic, could someone come and just hang out? 
Essentially, we want it to build the barber shop so it’s a place where you come to and get a haircut, and the experience you had while you were in the shop would carry on when you leave the shop. In regards to networking, we have a lot of artists and NBA players that come in there and get their haircuts. I’ve seen it happen right in front of me where a producer is in one chair, and you overhear one guy talking, “Hey, you’re a producer? I’m an artist. Can we connect?” And then everybody starts talking about music and exchanging numbers. It becomes a creative hub. So in that aspect, I really love how it turned out. Our place is multi-gender and you have every race you can think of that comes into our shop. 

So it’s like some of the barbershops we see in untouched neighbourhoods—or in old movies and TV shows—that have been around for 50 years and everyone is chatting and knows each other and hangs out. Was that the inspiration?
A hundred percent. I was always a community kind of guy growing up. I’ve always been doing community programs, like tutoring kids. For example, if the kids in the neighborhood, especially young Black kids, come by and want to see what we’re doing, we show them what’s going on. “Hey, this is something that you could be doing, aside from doing something stupid on the street.” We’re actually moving into doing an after-school program as well for kids, especially minorities, teaching them for about an hour about buying home and stocks and investments, because growing up, I didn’t have those things. I had a lot of money, a bunch of cars and I got $40,000 [from a lawsuit he won at age 19] and I shut down Foot Locker and bought like 40 pairs of shoes. If I had known at a younger age, I would have done something better with my money. 

What film or TV show have you been on set for? 
I started in the acting industry officially November last year, so not too long ago. The first gig I got was a standing position on Sneakerella, the Disney movie that’s coming up [with Chosen Jacobs, Lexi Underwood, and one-time Toronto Raptor John Salley]. I got to learn a lot. And then that transitioned. I got a gig on a movie, the Christmas Explorer [starring Humberly Gonzalez and Ronnie Rowe Jr.]. And I just got offered a lead role for another show. Can’t say too much about that yet. It has allowed me to be out of the house and to regain the creative mindset that I was missing the past year.

It does sounds like you’re being productive. Music, film, barber shop. Some people are just fed up and have no motivation to be creative.
I’ll be honest with you. I’m not gonna sugarcoat anything. There’s been times where I’ve been super depressed during this process. I suffer from severe anxiety. So just being cooped up in the house—I live in a condo with two pets and a woman. Every space in this house is over-ripe. It’s stale, especially in the winter months. As an artist, you just get depressed because your whole life has revolved around a vibe and energy and you just can’t create that. Sometimes we need those other things, like just being outside. The acting has really helped me get out of the house because I was always upset. So I’ve been dealing with severe depression. It’s been really tough, but the ambition and determination in me allowed me to push through.