The natural crackle of Sainvil’s voice has him sounding like a classic artist. As Alamo Records’ first-ever R&B signing, the Miami-born, LA-based talent stands out on a label otherwise obsessed with Internet-esque bangers. Single “Shoulders” features an attractive rasp, anthemic howls, and gentle vocalizations. In less than three minutes, we get the full scope of Sainvil’s impressive range. With that, Sainvil’s newly-released debut EP, In Bad Shape, promises versatility, adept songwriting, and tricking cadences. Sainvil’s voice is the draw—his writing a close second—and before you know it, you’re melting into the fine details of In Bad Shape.
On “Martin,” Sainvil stretches his vocals, touching the fringes of falsetto. The song is simplistic in structure, but effective all the same. Sainvil, 27, proves his voice is enticing in the most basic of applications. On EP closer “bbygurl,” Sainvil slips into a brooding and somber tone. Dramatic vocal effects and a blaring delivery dunks his voice in a midnight glow. The breathy breakdown of “bbygurl” makes the song an instant standout—easy to sink into, easy to follow along, and so cathartic.
“I was just talking to a couple homies about the goal of being relatable and showing that side I feel like music has lost for a while,” Sainvil tells me over the phone. “Everybody’s too cool, you feel me?” Thankfully, Sainvil doesn’t front. He presents himself exactly as he is, and hopes to open the doors for more artists to feel secure in their sensitivities.
“That is me as an artist: I have no shame within the art I’m trying to present,” Sainvil says. “I used to hate sounding like I was sensitive… But yeah, I am! You want some love, or not? Going through therapy helped me understand a lot of the stuff I’m feeling is okay.”
Across In Bad Shape, Sainvil taps into the lessons the teachers in his life—mostly women—have taught him about emotional availability and openness. Though the title strikes a nerve, the material is not somber. Rather, the EP is an exhale of understanding, is Sainvil hearing himself and, consequently, hearing us.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: What about R&B makes it such an enduring genre?
Sainvil: The fact that anybody can do it. With other genres, you have to look and be a certain way to fit into whatever genre you’re in. In R&B, because it’s one of the purest forms of singing, you can literally be anybody and translate your story. Once upon a time, you had to look tough or be tough to be a rapper—with R&B, I feel like you were always able to be yourself.
When did you first start recording your own music?
Depends. My first experience recording myself was on those old boombox/CD players that had a little mic on it. I used to record my melodies. The first time actually recording myself over a beat and it being a track I could share with my homies, I was 21. I used to record on this broken laptop. It had no screen. I used to hook up an HDMI cable to it and go into a corner in my room because nothing was soundproof. It sounds pretty trash, but we here now, so… Look at God!
Talk to me about the debut EP, In Bad Shape. What inspired the title?
It’s just about where I was; the title, to me, already strikes a nerve. People who are listening [are] going to be able to take a deep breath and go, “Ugh, I’m not by myself.” That’s what it’s supposed to be. Anybody who sees that title or feels like they are or have been [in bad shape], that alone lets them know where I’m coming from and how much of this music is not about saving face or looking cool. The people are gonna feel exactly what it is. It probably clicked with you, because you heard the music. The way you spoke about it—it makes me feel like you heard the lyrics because you said it was dramatic. That was the goal.
I was just talking to a couple homies about the goal of being relatable and showing that side I feel like music has lost for a while. Everybody’s too cool, you feel me?
Which song on the EP is the best representation of who Sainvil is as an artist?
“Shoulders,” by far. I was just honest. There’s a secret verse on that [song] that never [saw] the light of day because it was a little too much. But it’s honest. It’s me. It’s exactly what I’m going through—and was going through. It had no shame. That is me as an artist: I have no shame within the art I’m trying to present. I stand behind it. I said a couple things that, a couple years ago, people would’ve perceived as weak… I was so comfortable with it; I felt like everybody else had to be comfortable with it.
On “Shoulders,” you allude to feeling a lot of pressure. Where does that pressure come from? How do you battle with pressure?
The pressure in my life comes from the people I love. I have this weird clock in my brain—I feel like I’m battling time. I have things in my past where I’ve lost people, and I was never in a position to be able to change that. I’m just trying to get to a place where I could directly affect every situation, so I don’t feel helpless. Helplessness is the worst feeling in the world. That drives me the most; that’s what drives [“Shoulders.”]
A majority of the EP also has to do with love—why are you attracted to love as a topic?
That’s the thing I want the most. I recently started therapy, and I figured out I have a fear of being alone. I’ve lost people in different ways—some people have died, some people have moved away—you know how that goes. I’m a protector. I love hard, and I do everything based out of love, all my decisions. Once I love, it’s hard for me not to love—it’s hard for me to let go.
Therapy is amazing. I’ve been in therapy for 12 years. It’s so important to help yourself.
Facts. Honestly, I could tell you have. Once you take that route, there’s a whole side of your brain that’s opened up. Honestly, it has helped my writing. I used to hate sounding like I was sensitive… But yeah, I am! You want some love, or not? Going through therapy helped me understand a lot of the stuff I’m feeling is okay.
When did you become comfortable in your vulnerability in your music?
When I started having more friends that are women. Women make me feel safe. Hanging with women… They uproot your brain. You can’t communicate the same with your homegirls; they will call you out. They will give you the good advice, not the prideful thing. Men, we go either tough or prideful. I got more connected with my homegirls. I grew up and realized there [are] more elements to [relationships]. I started to value more mental relationships than physical relationships.
I’m a mama’s boy. My mother was my father. There [are] certain women in my life right now [who are teaching me], and I’m learning. My manager, she’s fire. I felt super emotional about business, and she was like, “Yo, you gotta play chess, and I need you to stay focused.” It’s like, “Yo, you’re right.” So, my teachers and all their walks of life have nurtured my mental to be something greater than even I can understand.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned while making the EP?
How to get more tapped in with how I’m feeling and being honest with how I’m feeling. A lot of the music was my escape. I had to get my mind going on different things and being able to speak to the women I have around me in my life? They helped me see. “Shoulders” is a conversation. I’m talking to someone who was connected with themselves and knew how to feel and how to express [their emotions]. Since having that conversation, it was so easy for me to express how I felt. Women make me feel safe. When I feel safe, I can speak freely. So I’m saying things out loud I wasn’t saying out loud [before]. That’s the power of therapy, in a sense: You’ll say things to yourself that help you.