Sarah June Interview
Listening to Sara June's unique brand of blues-flavoured folk, dubbed "Gothic Folk" by those interested in labels, is like being visited by a benevolent spirit. Her beautiful, ethereal songs, sung in in her distinctive child-like voice, have a ghostly, haunted quality to them. She stares that "hooded man with the bony hand" straight in the face, more than a match for him. Sarah took a moment out for a chat about music, songwriting, and our friend with the scythe.
You started playing guitar and piano from an early age. Are you from a musical background? What inspired you to start creating music?
I was always musically inclined. I remember being around four or five years old. I recorded a song I’d created on a cassette tape player. It was just me singing about the composition of the planet Saturn’s rings – how they have chunks of ice and dust in them. Needless to say, I was a rather unusual child. I began classical piano lessons when I was eight, and was playing in competitions and recitals soon thereafter. I took up guitar when I was 13. I immediately began writing songs. In fact ‘Til You Hit The Pavement’, the last track on my album In Black Robes[/i] was written as a teenager, and I re-recorded it for my new album.
You’re originally from Detroit but now live in San Francisco. What prompted the move?
Music and a desire for adventure. I suppose those two things always were main driving forces in my life. I had played music in Chicago, and had explored several other cities, and was eager to see the West Coast.
Your music is described as “Gothic Folk”. Is that an accurate description? How would you describe your songs?
I never saw my music as “dark” or “gothic” really until other people began to describe it that way. I listened to my first album and realized that the songs themselves sound haunted. I suppose each song is a tiny fragment of a story – but packed with details… like peeking through a window into an abandoned building for a few long moments. I guess simply though, I would classify my songs as spooky folk.
Your songs have an interesting mix of genres - folk, jazz, blues. What are your musical influences?
Soul, Motown, Boroque, and early Blues and Bluegrass are influences. I listen to a lot of Rap music too.
Which musicians do you admire?
Nick Drake, Mary Wells, Al Green, Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell, Sonic Youth, Joy Division, Outkast, KRS-One, Morrissey, Erykah Badu, Robert Johnson, Antonín Dvorak, and Handel.
You seem preoccupied with a certain creepy guy with long black robes and a scythe. You haven’t been down to the crossroads have you? Are you influenced by traditional blues folk-lore or is it a morbid fascination? Or both?
My fascination is definitely of the traditional blues folk-lore variety and not the morbid. I think there is a lot of grit and beauty in those good old universally-understood topics of death and loss. I like writing songs about death that have playful bones in their bodies. I think also that it’s a feat to write original songs that are interesting and new that are about such well-worn topics.
When I listen to your music I feel like I’m visiting a haunted house. Your songs have a ghostly, haunted feel to them. Is that deliberate, or my overactive imagination?
It is not deliberate, however, my songs always come out that way. I tend to crank out a certain sound no matter how I record. My first album was recorded with almost no professional equipment, whereas In Black Robes was recorded on professional equipment (but still at home). Both albums carry that same haunted feel. I feel like I sound that way even when I am just singing alone in my room. My vocal quality is already different and unusual, so that adds to it. I don’t alter my voice at all. All of my songs are recorded with guitar and vocals recorded at the same time into the same mic with some reverb and an amp in the background.
What inspires your song writing?
Everything. Quite seriously I am in an almost constant state of song-writing.
What’s next for you?
I already have many new songs ready to go. I have a LOT of live shows I want to do, and I’m just so very excited to keep on pursuing what I love most – music.
Sara June’s album In Black Robes is out now.