Meet PLAZA, the Latest Mysterious Artist to Emerge from Toronto R&B

The incognito singer says he doesn’t want to make comparisons between himself and the Weeknd’s early years, but we will.

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Nov 16 2016, 4:29pm

If you live in Toronto, you might have met PLAZA already. Perhaps on the street, at a coffee shop, in a studio. Maybe he's your friend or your neighbour. Maybe he's nobody. Regardless of who PLAZA actually is, you've probably heard his music somewhere in the last few months. His debut EP One dropped somewhat without context or promotion on Soundcloud in September but has since racked up a few hundred thousand plays across the project's six tracks. Just last week, FADER debuted "Personal" "—his first release since "One" dropped. Like much of his music so far, "Personal" is a lusty, hazy-eyed track that's built for a nighttime drive to nowhere with a cigarette dangling from your lips.

PLAZA's Instagram is cloaked in secrecy and an unwavering purple tint. His posts are infrequent, and hints to his true identity are nowhere to be found. Couple the enigma with the content of his songs—often channeling emotion, substance use, and love through a wicked falsetto— not unlike the early sounds of The Weeknd. It's not a comparison PLAZA tries to gravitate toward, but it is one, as I learned, that he understands and respects.

Most up-and-comers I know utilize the connections they have in real life to boost their music. Why do you hide your identity so diligently?
Honestly, I think it's more of a comfort thing for me. At this time, I see myself as more of an artist than an entertainer. In the end, obviously, you need to be both. But for now, at this point, I feel if I can make a dope product, all that revealing yourself can come in time, at a later point. There's no rush to it.

Off the point of identity, where did the name 'PLAZA' come from?
Funny enough, it's all about aesthetics. For me, I'm trying to be the artist that I want to be a fan of. I want to be the artist that I would be intrigued by and excited by. The name is a hard sound—A-Z-A really hits. It's sort of abstract, but it's also short and punchy. There's no great meaning past that.

As a photographer, this idea of creating an aesthetic as an artist intrigues me. This might just be me projecting, but I get a
Blade Runner sound from you. Like, something heavily 80s-influenced.
Do you think it's a Kavinsky vibe?

A little bit, but speaking of an artist Kavinsky collaborated with, there's a lot about you that would make people compare you to The Weeknd.
Yeah—I can see that, but I don't like to make comparisons. I'm really trying to be my own artist. I want my music to feel like a soundtrack for anyone driving at night. That's why [PLAZA's producer] CAMP30 and I have visuals always playing in the studio—city lights or slow drives through the town. It's that late-night sound, something you listen to while cruising. We try to keep ourselves in that headspace.

So you dropped your first project "One" not too long ago, and you're dropping another project in the new year. What can we expect?
Definitely. In what we're working on right now, there's going to be a bit more intensity. Everything is going to be a bit slicker, and the production is getting a lot more involved and technical.  With the first EP, everything was short and sweet and to the point. The vibe was very consistent throughout the songs, and I wanted that. With this second EP, we're going to get a bit more experimental with the sound. We want to keep that late-night vibe there, but also expand the sonic palette to something that you think wouldn't fit into that genre. The beats are very orchestrated and thought out. Everything is meant to hook you in.  

Your music is dark, hazy and drunk on emotion. How much of that is based off your own life?
Well, it's changing. The first EP was much more about building this fantasy world—this sexual, dark, moody realm that I wanted to create. I wanted to make sure people knew what I was putting out as my first foot forward, and what they could expect from there. Now, more and more—with this second one especially—it's getting more personal. It's more about my own life.

For one of your upcoming tracks, there's a line that goes, "They say you hate what you don't know / I don't want to tell her where my money and my nights go." Based off what you told me so far, there seems to be a competition between your love life and this dark character you thrive in. Do they compete?
I've never heard it worded that way, but absolutely, they do compete. I think it's that way for a lot of people, a lot of artists. Anybody who tries to balance both types of lifestyle I think feels like that. You know, if you want to live in the nightlife, you have to give up that comfort zone. Whether it's relationships or stability, they start to deteriorate over time. It's not nice, but it's something I've been dealing with and I think it's where a lot of my music comes from.

When did you start feeling that way—attracted to the night life more than the daytime?
It's when I started coming to the city to see a girl. I started feeling those vibes, that romance of the city at night. Eventually, I just started living here. Now, the thing I enjoy the most, the biggest high, is sitting in the studio and writing new shit. I don't even think about it anymore.

Jake Kivanc is a writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.