by T. Cole Rachel
I first heard about Sarah Jaffe when I was interviewing Midlake back in 2010. When asking the band to recommend any other interesting acts from their hometown of Denton, Texas that were worth checking out, Sarah Jaffe was one of the first names that came up. I would have forgotten about it completely if a promo of her sophomore release—2010’s Suburban Nature—hadn’t passed across my desk shortly thereafter. As a person with an admitted bias against earnest singer/songwriter types (and a person who gets about half a dozen blandly forgettable records from singer/songwriters sent to me on a weekly basis), I was surprised by how much I immediately enjoyed Suburban Nature and the generally unusual point of view from which Sarah Jaffe approached her songs. Last month Sarah released The Body Wins, an excellent record that all but ditches the folky vibe of her earlier work in favor of synthesizers and programmed beats. Produced with John Congleton (who has worked with everyone from The Walkmen to David Byrne) and Stuart Sikes (known for producing both Cat Power and Loretta Lynn), the album is a weird amalgam of beaty dance-friendly tracks and more subdued, string-filled tracks that wouldn’t be out of place on a Feist record.
I sent Sarah a few questions for our Soundgirl readers and here’s what she had to say.
What is your earliest memory of making music? And what was the first instrument you played?
I remember playing a plastic guitar my parents had gotten me for Christmas when I was 5 or 6. I remember asking for musical instruments all the time. Drums, violins, guitars..I always wanted to play.
Do you remember the first song you ever wrote? What was it about?
No don’t remember the first song ever. I’ve got stacks of journals going all the way back to when I was in junior high, but I have no idea what the first song was about.
At what point did you realize that you wanted to be a musician?
I’ve always known. I remember daydreaming about playing before I could even play the guitar.
How did you professional career get started? In retrospect, what moment felt like your big break?
I started sending out demo packets to clubs when I was 16 in the Dallas area. Some I sent out of state, in hopes of going somewhere else to play. I was my own booking agent. I miss those days badly. The days I would send out home recorded demos with a picture of myself to clubs in Dallas and the feeling of joy I would get when I club would book me or get back in touch with me. That’s how I started playing around Dallas.
Do you remember the first time you felt like a “professional” musician?
That feeling has never existed in me.
You’ve toured a lot in support of your last two records. What are the best/worst things about being on the road? And what do you think are the biggest misconceptions people have about being on tour?
I miss my family on the road. I miss being at home with them. Some people may think there’s a bit of glamour to touring, but I don’t think I’m on the glamorous side of touring just yet. It’s a ton of driving, little sleep, and a feeling of displacement pretty much non-stop. It’s just a total and constant giving of yourself that’s completely worth it.
Your new record, The Body Wins, just came out. What will the rest of this year be like for you?
Your new record shows off a bold new direction for you. How was the experience of making The Body Wins?
It was an absolute blast. The most fun I’ve ever had in the studio and it was a huge learning experience.
Tell me something you did during the making of The Body Wins that you’ve never done before.
I didn’t play the acoustic guitar this time. Actually, just on one song.
What advice do you have for young girls—and boys—who want to be songwriters?
If you love it, do it. Go for it. Never stop working for what you want. And don’t listen to people who tell you you can’t do it. It’s simple..if you love to play, and write, and sing… then do it.
Sarah Jaffe’s The Body Wins is out now from Kirtland Records