Also making a welcome contribution on keyboards for a couple of tracks is Michael Beasley of Manchester band Folks whose album Luther has produced and who are themselves someone to look out for. With the set drawing largely from “Get Well Soon” and the welcome addition of “Ambulance” and “ Something For You” from her equally stunning eponymous first album the atmosphere is never less than captivating. In truth, the ability to write any song is a skill – being able to create a body of work as powerful as this is an art. Between songs conversation is kept to a typically polite minimum with appreciative words of gratitude to the attentative listeners. Showy displays of attention seeking dialogue are just not Sarabeth’s way and in all honesty when you can hold an audience in the palm of your hand with words and music of beauty such as this then there really is no need. Sarabeth was kind enough to take the time to speak to us after her set.
PHIL: Has the tour been good so far?
SARABETH: Yes it has though I wanted to play more churches. I had asked to do all churches this time because I played at Union Chapel in London on the last tour. That sound is good for my music, the high ceilings and such, so I wanted to do a whole tour but somehow we only did two then it just went back to bars. But it’s been good, all the places we’ve played have been good and this place has been pretty good. But I just thought it would have been interesting [to play churches] and it would have been a nice history lesson as well because when you go around all the different churches you get to see a little bit of history
PHIL: What kind of places do you generally play in America?
SARABETH: Just regular clubs. We don’t have any crazy old churches y’know, so just regular bars. It’s not terribly exciting. America’s not so much into the introspective, the more melancholic side of music, unless you’re indicating that all the time and you’re very earnest and over the top. They like that because it’s kind of safe. But for the most part they like bombast and they like uber-confidence. There’s much more appreciation here for the troubadour type, and obviously folk music is much bigger here than it is in the States. It’s just very different.
PHIL: I really enjoyed the show tonight. The last time I saw you play was at the Night and Day Café when you had a full band…
SARABETH: Oh that was a while ago. I think it’s very different now. I was very uncomfortable then because I wasn’t very good. I thought the songs were good and that record was good but when I look back on those performances I know they weren’t so good. I feel different now, I feel I can really project in a way I couldn’t then.
PHIL: Is that an art you’ve learnt?
SARABETH: I’ve learned to take better control. I can control myself better on stage now, the nerves thing I can push it away. I used to be so nervous, I was terrified all day long. Now I can actually get lost in it in a way I couldn’t do then. It’s hard to be on stage and it takes a while to get used to that, unless you’re someone who’s born to y’know (launches into song) ‘Gotta sing!’ You feel responsible for everybody’s night and enjoyment.
SHAY: Do you enjoy the experience of playing live?
SARABETH: I’m starting to more and more. Initially I didn’t like playing live, I just didn’t have any experience doing it really and it made me very uncomfortable.
PHIL: Is it harder for you playing on a small stage like tonight with people close up or is the experience just as traumatic working on a big stage?
SARABETH: (laughs) Tonight was nice, it was dark. A lot of times I’ve played where there was no stage so there’s someone sitting right in front of you and that’s hard because if you want to open your eyes y’know. So in those instances I keep my eyes closed most of the time. But no, it’s fine. I mean playing in a huge place like the Royal Albert Hall, when I opened for Ray LaMontagne that was pretty terrifying. It was a different terror (laughs). And then when I played with Bob Dylan that was a huge, huge place. It was a huge outdoor venue and it was daytime and it was bright and I was just shaking.
PHIL: Did you get to speak to Bob (Dylan)?
PHIL: Did he give you any tips?
SARABETH: He told me to get a drummer. It was me and Luther and a keyboard player and he said you need a drummer. I said “Yeah but I can’t afford to bring one because I’ve flown to Massachusetts from California” and he said “Oh yeah, tell me about it”
PHIL: You should have said “I might not have a drummer but I can still sing better than you”
SARABETH: He chain-smokes. When I played with him, like at sound checks, he was one after another, one after another. That’s why his voice is shot.
PHIL: The way I see it with music there are two distinct parts; writing and recording your songs and then playing them live…
SARABETH: I like the writing and recording. I mean I like meeting people sometimes, you guys are really nice, I like that. But I’m not the most outgoing person so I prefer to write.
PHIL: Do you have a concept in mind when you write?
SARABETH: On no. The first record wasn’t a narrative or conceptual it was just songs. And this new record wasn’t meant to be but when it was finished I just tried to structure it so it would be kind of a narrative. The next record might be more conceptual.
PHIL: The lyrics on your latest album, ‘Get Well Soon’, are intensely personal, how do you sing them every night without dredging up the emotions that inspired them?
SARABETH: Well you don’t. For this record the goal was to lessen whatever the experiences are on the record, to have some sort of therapy. So to do it on a nightly basis and to feel those things, you’re feeling them in a safer context. It’s good though I wouldn’t want to do it continually like a never ending tour of this record (laughs).
PHIL: Did you use the record to close a chapter on your life?
SARABETH: I wanted to try and make something from all of that misery I guess. I wanted to say goodbye to somebody.
PHIL: So the next album could be a happier?
SARABETH: I don’t know that I have a good grasp of that kind of language – ‘happier language’. I just don’t see the landscape that way; to me that’s not what I see when I look at the world. I see things that are touching and moving, but to me it’s just a short step over into melancholy, so I don’t think I’ll ever write a joyous record because for me music is not that. For me music is working out things out that I can’t work out in my day-to-day life. I’m looking for a common experience. I think that all art or anything that speaks truthfully about the human condition; those are the things that last longest because people never really change. I started writing music because I was unhappy and lonely and I wanted to say something to myself. I wanted to help myself because I didn’t feel that I could get help from anyone else so that’s why I started writing music.
PHIL: Do you look for that in other artists?
SARABETH: Yes, probably - Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Big Star and recently Elliot Smith. I found Deerhunters last record really moving. What I want is to be hit over the head and cracked open. I like the experience and that’s what I like from my art.
SHAY: That’s what I find appealing about your music. You’re the kind of artist I like to listen to when I’m not feeling one hundred per cent, to listen to lyrics that other people might think would drag you down, but actually they lift me…
SARABETH: I had a whole life before I did this, with all kinds of experiences and events. Y’know we all have our childhoods and the way we were raised and that sort of informs us unfortunately. I mean I’m not a down person, I see all facets of life, but what I need to address and what I need to analyse are the things that are disturbing to me and that stick in my brain. I need to find a way to make peace with those things and that’s how I use art and that’s why I make music. If I didn’t have those things that haunted me or troubled me I would be in business or I would have been a doctor or something else. There are many aspects of life that I completely love and enjoy, but they’re what I chose to focus on. I think that music, when I was a kid and a teenager - it really saved my life. Music was my friend and my companion and I would listen to a song and if it made me feel better I would keep putting the needle back on it over and over and over again, until I was rescued. I mean it’s very, very, very powerful when it’s done truthfully, it better than medicine. I had a woman that wrote to me, her husband had passed away and she had an experience after he’d passed away with some gardeners cutting trees down in the backyard and she was so disturbed by it because she was in a vulnerable state and couldn’t handle the loss of these trees. She wrote me; something that was so moving, and I had written a song about the trees. That’s just amazing to me. It’s incredible to me that somebody can have the same experiences. To me that’s the essence of art, you feel loss and you can find yourself in someone else’s experiences and you feel joined and you feel united.
Following the Sony warehouse fire which destroyed the stock of “Get Well Soon” – released on London based indie label Sonic Cathedral – a new pressing has been made which also includes a second disc of demo versions making what is already an essential purchase even greater value.