Photo: Oliver Pearson

Mike Sabath

Mike Sabath’s groovy and catchy new single, “Who You Are,” is bound to be the number one track on your dance and workout playlists. The artist collaborated with his band, The Moongirls, on both the song and the music video, hoping to empower listeners to be their most honest and truest versions of themselves. This is Sabath’s third single as a solo artist, followed by “Being Human,” which dropped in December 2022. Both tracks serve as teasers for his upcoming album, Being Human, set to release later this year. 

Sabath began experimenting with music at a young age when he learned to play the drums and taught himself recording and producing through Garageband. After moving to Los Angeles as a teenager, he began crashing studio sessions, hoping to wow the artists and producers with his skills. Soon after, he was working with artists like Lizzo, Shawn Mendes, Meghan Trainor, and most recently, Raye, on her critically acclaimed debut album, My 21st Century Blues. Over time, he worked toward a sound and a point in his life where he felt ready to introduce himself as the artist he is now. 

We spoke with Sabath about “Who You Are,” working with The Moongirls, his upcoming album, and more.

Can you tell us about your new single and how it came to be?

I started this song when I was in Brooklyn. I was actually waiting at the studio when I was working with Camila [Cabello] on her last album, and before she got to the studio that day, I was playing around on a piano in the live room. I came up with that piano line and called it Afro 110 BPM or something, and I loved it. And then when Camila came to the studio, I was like, you know, I just made this fire loop. I played it for her and we were like, oh, this makes no sense for her record. But I loved it and I held on to it for a while.

I was back in Brooklyn in December of 2021 to work on some other songs. I invited my family, like my brother and my cousins, and Pete, who plays keys in The Moongirls and I’ve known since I was five years old, and our friend Rex, who plays the drums. We were jamming on a groove that reminded me of that piano line, so I taught Pete the piano line. I was actually on bass and singing, Rex was on drums, Pete was on keys, and my brother was on the trombone. And we were just all jamming while Alex, my engineer, recorded us and I started singing melodies. It was just a euphoric jam, essentially, and I think you can feel that level of love in the record. 

Then everyone pretty much left and it was just me, Pete, and Alex, and we were about to leave. I had Alex play the recording back one time and I loved it. So I did a light arrangement of that recording of the jam session and then I went into the booth and started singing and basically just stayed in there freestyling and shaping the song until the record was written. It literally almost didn’t even occur! It was that last push at the end of the night where I was, like, you know, this is honestly hitting and we made the record. I’m so happy we did because it was a big moment in entering the new sound of what is now The Moongirls. Then over a year or so, I finished the record and flew to Philly to work with Larry Gold to do the string arrangement. We recorded the baseline 100 times, different players, which of course ended up being Aus who plays bass in The Moongirls. The last piece was putting Noah on it playing guitar and then final touches all the way through the mix and master process and then “Who You Are” existed, a song of becoming. 

The track speaks of being your true self this new year. Is that a personal new year resolution as well?

I mean, I’m always trying to become a truer version of myself. That’s the goal every day. And it’s crazy how different places and different people bring out truer or less true versions of yourself. I think that’s something really important to keep in mind as I move through life. And luckily, that’s what’s so special about being in the band because I’m surrounded by family. We all bring out better and truer versions of each other all the time. It’s been beautiful to grow into the person I’m growing into and they help me do that. I’ve been getting called to Paris for the past year. There’s been a magnet in Paris and my heart has been on the other side of that magnet getting pulled. And then finally I just did it and I bought a ticket. I’m answering these questions right now as I’m walking in Paris, and it’s beautiful and I feel like the truest version of myself that I’ve ever felt except when I’m on stage. That is where I feel the most myself… performing, playing, and singing. That’s it.

How was it collaborating with The Moongirls on this track and music video?

Playing with The Moongirls is playing with family. And we formed very naturally. Over a year ago, I was asked to play a show, and I hadn’t played in so long but it felt like a super important thing to do. I didn’t necessarily know why at the time, it was a small show, but it felt very important to play. So I was like, alright, well, I need a band. And essentially, that’s how we formed… that was the seed. It was always Pete. We’ve been playing with each other since we were basically six years old. And then John, who plays drums, I’ve known for about eight years, and he’s just always been incredible. He actually reminded me that when he got his kit, which we call “baby blue”, I was actually the first person to record it about four or five years ago. Destiny…and then Austin and Noah were introduced to me by my friend Sandro, who Pete and I grew up with, and they just are incredible, incredible humans, incredible players and they are my brothers and I love them very, very much. So playing with The Moongirls is family and that’s really what this is about. When we play together, it’s love and whenever we capture that love on records or at shows, we’re able to spread love and that is beautiful. 

Did you have a hand in conceptualizing the video? How was it shooting for it since you’re channeling the ‘70s in it?

The video has a pretty funny story. Essentially, Austin and I do all of the visual conceptualizing together. We’ve been coming up with video ideas for over a year together on other songs and we just had no idea what the budgets were. So we were just dreaming and we were envisioning everything that we possibly could do and the first draft of the “Who You Are” treatment was this giant party where I’m getting kidnapped. There are fighting sequences where we’re fighting our old versions of ourselves to kill the ego, and slow-motion falling sequences, and a beautiful ‘60s Porsche, and we were gonna shoot lasers out of our instruments to turn people into Moongirls. 

We sent it to the label and we kind of heard nothing back for a while. Eventually, we had a meeting with them and they were like, yeah, this is great but like, you know, this video is going to cost over $200,000! We had a budget so we ended up reducing the video. Austin was the one who referenced “Private Eyes”, the Hall and Oats video, and that’s essentially how the seed of this new idea came. We just started going from there. This album is about being human, which comes with the glorious parts and also the difficult and horrible parts, so we were playing with representing that idea with “windows to the soul”. That’s why we were experimenting with having this X-ray effect where you could see through our clothing to see our skin, remembering that we’re human, and then having that suit layer which is essentially like the conforming fit, and then the moon outfits at the end. So the visual was representing a becoming as well. 

We made that video for $5,000 which is pretty cool. Everyone came together and offered what they could and it was beautiful and making the video was extremely fun. I think you can feel it. We were playing our instruments. For that nude effect, we literally had to play in our underwear for part of it, which was a funny thing to do on shoot #1. 

This is the second track of your upcoming LP, Being Human. Can you tell us more about working on this album and what it has meant to you?

Making this album has been a crazy process because it started without even knowing it. I feel like that’s how a lot of albums can be made, or at least albums that I’ve made in the past that I’ve never released. They’ve been super helpful in my journey of making albums and helping me get an idea of what I’m doing. But essentially, the album started with the song “Being Human”. It was during the pandemic and I was going through my own struggles at the time. My brother and his wife moved to their own house on the East Coast that has this little shed in the backyard and I jokingly said I wanted to build a studio back there. 

Then when I went back to LA, I called my brother and I was like, wait, can I actually build a studio back there? He asked his wife and they said yes so I ended up having my brother film a video of the shed. He filmed outside and then turned to the door, put his hand on the handle, and then right before he opened the door, I closed my eyes and imagined what I would want to see in there. I was on Etsy and getting all the materials for the studio, and I just ordered everything to his house before I got there so that when I arrived I could just build it. The second everything was plugged in enough to work, I was on the floor full of emotion and the first song that poured out of me was “Being Human”. I was crying, basically just screaming and howling my pain through my voice. It was a really special moment. All the lyrics came in that one take and when I listened back, I wrote all the lyrics on my chalkboard wall and they’re still in there and it was just a magical experience. 

I ended up making some more songs in there, but you know, it’s crazy, building that whole studio and just making that one song made that entire build worth it because it essentially planted the seed from which this album blossomed. I made half the album by myself essentially and then once I started playing with the boys, we started jamming and coming up with ideas from those jams and that’s how the other half of the album was made. So, the process of the album was me becoming whole again as an individual and then becoming a part of this beautiful family with The Moongirls. The record is me exploring the duality of being, representing that sine wave of life, the up and down, that never-ending duality transitioning between difficult low moments like with “Being Human” as well as the groovy sexy, high feeling moments like “Who You Are” and more records that you’ll hear. 

Being human is a very complicated and confusing experience and in today’s culture, I feel pressure to decide who I am. To define who I am. But that is not in our nature. We are many things and we feel many things and our moods and interests change all of the time. I feel like we don’t let ourselves embrace that. There’s this modern need to brand yourself: this is who I am, I pose like this in photos always, I like donuts, I believe in x, I don’t believe in y, I always wear these types of clothes, etc. Then we feel like once we define ourselves we can stay that way but then when the reality of growth and change strikes, it’s fucking confusing cause you thought you had it figured out, and then it’s all a mess… But we change and change is often confusing and painful and that is the beauty of life. Our complexity is gorgeous and I wanted to try and embrace mine and capture my different emotions and put them on the same album and see what it felt like. I made “Being Human” in the shed in October 2020 and I’m still mixing and mastering everything so it will have taken a little over two years to make this. There’s a lot of love and there’s a lot of care and there’s a lot of beauty and honesty and groove and magic in this record and I’m very excited for people to hear it and begin this journey together.

You’ve worked with a lot of really big artists. Who would you say was one that you really enjoyed collaborating with and why?

Every artist I’ve ever worked with is partially responsible for the artist I’m becoming. They’ve trusted me with exploring their emotions and their sounds, which has helped me explore so many of my own. It’s been the biggest tool in my becoming my own artist. I didn’t end up going to college so my school came in the form of creating with all these artists, and all these other creators who were better than me, and enabled me to develop my own sound and learn about the process of expressing yourself and believing in yourself in that process. 

I think that’s why out of everyone, so far, Pharrell Williams was probably the most important collaboration for me in my development, just because he has been such an idol of mine since I was so young. To get in the studio with him, and then for him to invite me back, and then for him to ask me why I’m not an artist, and for me to respond with, I just made these couple of songs and play them for him and him to be blown away… He came over and shook my hand saying, “Welcome.” Those types of moments, were life-changing because it’s hard to believe in your craft and believe in your own voice. So to have someone like that believe in me in the way that he did at that moment was extremely empowering and propelled me toward becoming who I am now. 

But I’ve really learned so much from every artist I’ve worked with. Different gems to be as great of an artist as possible including handling things on the other side like the emotions and pressures of it. Working with Raye has been extremely powerful for me. That was the first album I executive produced. Raye and I have known each other for over five years now and just watching her go through the struggle of not being allowed to express her true self and then have the strength to say no after working her ass off doing what they wanted, which partially worked, but didn’t fulfill her in any way. She was in a super difficult place in her life at that time and then to get to work together and be as close as we are and get to help her express herself as honestly as possible and watch that work and succeed with “Escapism” going number one in her country… that has been extremely fulfilling to watch and empowering for me to stick to my truth and believe in what I’m saying and what I’m doing and make sure I continue to stay true to that and not get lost. 

As you’re getting ready to release this album, what are some of your hopes and goals as an artist?

I have many but I guess some of the most important ones are I hope I continue to grow, continue to change, and continue to become a more true version of myself. I hope that I become better at expressing myself and better at the craft. I hope my taste continues to improve. I hope I continue to put love in what I do and hold love as the most important ingredient in the art. And I hope that the world feels what we’re doing, feels the love from it, and feels a little lighter, a little more hopeful, and a little sexier. And I hope that our energy helps people feel empowered and believe in their ability to become the best version of themselves and also believe in humanity as a whole because I believe in us. 

Obviously, sometimes it’s fucking hard and confusing, and we’re in a crazy time, but I believe in us. I do. I believe in art, I believe in greatness as a very important ingredient in our species, growing again, and getting out of this discomfort, this dip. That’s how growth works as we know. We’re just in an intense growth period as a global society, but I believe in duality so we’re gonna go up, we’re gonna get out of this. And then we’re gonna go down and we’re gonna go up and that pattern is forever but I believe in us, and I hope that my art and my love and my heart help people believe in us as well.