This article appears in FLOOD 12: The Los Angeles Issue. You can purchase this special 232-page print edition celebrating the people, places, music and art of LA here.
BACKSTORY: Popsmith whose youthfulness and fierce artistic spirit have inspired some of the most truthful indie pop around
FROM: Born in New York, partially raised in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and now based in Los Angeles
YOU MIGHT KNOW HIM FROM: His TikTok mashup of Harry Styles' "Watermelon Sugar" with his own “seaside_demo” garnered millions of listens, yet it obscures his own gifts as a musician, which are readily apparent on his radiant debut EP, IT'S OKAY, WE'RE DREAMING
NOW: SEB’s recent single "god of the sunsets” stands on its own as a refreshingly truthful pop song while pointing toward even greater creative heights
SEB makes pop that you can cry to. His shimmering debut EP, IT’S OKAY, WE’RE DREAMING, is already pulsing through headphones in cities across the country, with the 24-year-old cooing in a deep timbre about the losses, longings, and loves that comprise modern life. One of the most compelling young independent musicians around, he layers raw lyrics over a wide palette of sounds, melding hip-hop and dance with traditional pop.
Born in New York but raised in Port-au-Prince, SEB (short for Sebastian) would hear traditional compas music around the house. “I don’t know how much I try to pull inspiration from that,” he says from his home in Downtown Los Angeles, “but maybe subconsciously the rhythms and the grooves are just things that I put into my music.” “daniel*,” the first song off DREAMING, pleasantly marries jubilant pop and melancholic indie rock. In a way, SEB recalls Shamir, another artist who notably leaned more into raw guitars after more disco-influenced earlier work. The chill-dance of Channel Tres may also come to mind when listening to SEB, especially with a song such as the bouncy “Coney Island,” but SEB tells his own story.
Much of SEB’s prowess, in fact, lies in his incisive songwriting and his knack for couplets that cut to the very core. On “daniel*,” for instance, he sings, “The life of the hopeless / I can’t even focus,” as he laments the loss of his titular grandfather, while on his EP’s standout track “THEY DON’T LIKE ME” SEB serves lines like, “Baby, baby, do you like me / In my white tee?” and “I got my new friends / They don’t like me.” The guitar-girded song is essentially SEB’s “Creep,” conveying his blues with naked vulnerability and an authenticity that’s incredibly refreshing in the current era of flashing screens and buzzing phones.
“There’s no point in trying to recreate certain moments. I really focus on what I’m going to do next artistically and then how to best convey that.”
SEB’s songs have been streamed millions of times, and his track “seaside_demo” became a sensation on TikTok once he mashed it up with Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar”—yet he remains unfazed by all the clicks and likes. He says that when he sought his own space amidst the teeming musical landscape, having a video-sharing service such as TikTok at his disposal “was a huge positive in the sense that it really helped my career and it really helped build my audience, which is pretty tough to do on any other platform.” Although he admits that a phenomenon like his TikTok smash can be overwhelming due to the sheer speed at which it happens, with scores of people flinging to a song in a flash, he doesn’t chase the hype and instead takes a more intuitive approach to his music. “There’s no point in trying to recreate certain moments,” he says. “I really focus on what I’m going to do next artistically and then how to best convey that.”
SEB moved to Los Angeles around the time the coronavirus struck the world, and immediately went to work on DREAMING. Although the six-song EP is only 15 minutes long, as with all enduring pop it lingers like the smile of a crush. From “THEY DON’T LIKE ME,” the album proceeds to the breathy ballad “thrift shopping_pitched” and then to “killer lover boy,” a simultaneously beachy and dark standout. Despite lyrics like, “You don’t have to ask Alexa if I’m wrong or right,” and “If I’m in your nightmares / At least I’m right there,” the track is nonetheless playful and cements SEB’s reputation as a mercurial yet truthful songwriter.
According to SEB, DREAMING is the story of someone navigating the many psychological and societal pressures that arrive as high school ends; but while the album bubbles with anxiety, it ultimately radiates optimism. Talking about this period in his life, which he had been musing on while making the record in his LA bedroom, he says that the goal was to confront “all these wild dreams that we have” and carry the belief that, “While we’re still in this period of our lives, let’s just come up with whatever we want because there’s not much yet strapping us down.” The album closer “seaside_demo” appropriately ends the story with near-crushing joy as SEB sings, “Cupid hit me with her bullseye so hard I wanted to cry” over guitar strums.
But SEB has only begun. With its refrain of, “Mix your lemon with my sweet-ass lime, baby,” his follow-up single “god of the sunsets” wraps the artist in a purple robe of new swagger. It’s not that SEB has gone on an ego trip; he’s too grounded, too attuned to the travails of youth for such hubris. Rather, with his “head deep in these beats,” as the song goes, he’s just sounding out the heartache. FL