An Interview With The Singer-Songwriter SARAH WHITE On Her New Album, ‘High Flyer,’ Working With Stewart Myers and Dave Matthews and More!
Posted On 01 Aug 2018
This Friday, August 3rd, the Richmond, VA-based singer-songwriter Sarah White will be releasing her new album “High Flyer.“
This collection is a testimony to varied influences in White’s life and in music. A wandering soul who didn’t pursue a music career so much as create a solid body of work between day jobs, High Flyer marks a new phase for White – one of an artist ready to break through to a national audience. Recorded with producer Stewart Myers (Lifehouse, Jason Mraz, Liz Phair) at Montrose Studio in Richmond, VA and funded by a fan-supported Kickstarter campaign, the album features eleven of White’s best songs, performed with a slew of seasoned players including Daniel Clarke (k.d. lang, Ryan Adams) on piano and keys, Charles Arthur (Slaid Cleaves) on guitars, and Stewart Myers (Agents of Good Roots) on bass. As a whole, the album offers the listener an intimate glimpse into White’s heart through smart, honest songs that reflect both hopefulness and heartbreak, cut sharp through glittering wit.
White grew up on a Christmas tree farm in West Virginia with hippie parents who exposed her to a wide world of music via an extensive record collection featuring early old time, bluegrass, country, and 60s folk psychedelic and 70s rock music; ubiquitous music festivals, local music jams, and a songwriting father. Her two albums on the early Jagjaguwar label post-University speak to a wide range of influences and a tendency for experiential learning. Deemed back then “a diamond in the rough,” White says that High Flyer is the gem she’s been working toward all these years. As she says, “This one feels like the one I’ve always wanted to make.”
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Learn more about Sarah White in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you now? What’s on tap for the rest of your day?
Currently sitting at my kitchen table, Church Hill, Richmond Virginia. In a while I am headed to Historic St. John’s Church where I will put on a lovely colonial gown and petticoat and work at Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!” speech – it’s an historical reenactment of the event – which we put on every Sunday.
All Access Music is currently compiling a list of our artists favorite songs this summer so what is YOUR song of the summer?
Dare I say ‘All The Reasons’ from my new album? I’ve not had much time to listen to new music lately. I don’t have a car radio or CD player so when driving I listen to what’s in my phone — Bloom or Teen Dream by Beach House and Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. I never get tired of those albums. Other than that ‘All The Reasons’ is my current favorite song right now.
Overall, how do you think 2018 has been treating you and your music career? What has been one goal that you have had this year and how close are you to reaching it?
2018 so far has been fulfilling. My goal was to complete an album I was proud of, and to have it get heard by as many people as possible. So far it’s getting some press and fans are listening and responding to the album. And getting to play the new album with the band is so much fun. On that note I’d like to get out and play more shows so let’s see what the second half of the year brings.
Growing up, was music always a big part of your life? Can you recall your first ever musical experience?
Absolutely. Not sure I can recall the exact first, but my earliest memories are Franklin George, a WV fiddler playing at the house; Tex McGuire, a WV banjo man/entertainer playing in town; Bob Martin, a folk singer / recording artist who “dropped out” and lived on the mountain; seeing Hazel Dickens (my hero) at a folk festival up the road, and of course my dad singing and playing on the deck. All these music experiences influenced me from a young age.
And then there was Top 40 radio. My first music crush was Hall & Oates, and they were my first concert hall experience at the Roanoke Civic Center. They opened for ELO.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? Has there been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all?
Calling music a career sounds strange to me because I’ve also always been working. So I’m not sure what my career is. I’m a songwriter with a band, and It’s just something I love to do and want to do more. Perhaps it’s a calling, for better for worse; I’m not sure I could NOT do it.
How do you think you and your music have been influenced by your hometown and where you live today? What is the music scene like there these days?
Charlottesville is where I started playing out. First in high school, and then a little bit after college. I definitely wanted to play in the clubs and on stage, even though I needed to get my chops up – fortunately I didn’t know it at that time and kept doing it anyway. C’ville has a strong folk/bluegrass tradition so I was able to fit right in with that, given my background. There are a lot of really talented players, and it feels to me like a very chill place to get started, and try to find your sound. But then you need to go elsewhere — it’s sort of a bubble.
How would you say that you have grown as an artist since you first starting making music? What has remained the same?
I have developed as a player, and mostly as an performer. I’m much more comfortable on a stage, and I have fun, and like to be funny. I think I used to be more shy and scared and worried. I lost that feeling and now instead of feeling terrified I am excited to play. One thing that hasn’t changed is my incredible perfectionism — not always a beneficial trait. I have to fight to let go and let something come out that’s not perfect. My songs and lyrics truly sometimes morph for years, turning into what they become. They change as I change. It can take me years to finish something.
Let’s talk about your new album, “High Flyer.” What was the inspiration for this collection of songs? What was it like working with your producer Stewart Myers? Was it intimidating at all working with him knowing all the artists that he has worked with over the years?
I learned a lot working with Stewart. I’d never really thought too much about instrumentation/ presentation other than how a band and I did something. Stewart approached me about making the record. I played him a lot of my songs and together we chose the best — some I had recorded before, some are new — but the idea was to make an album of great songs done right. I hadn’t had national exposure for many of my releases over the years, so it didn’t feel like repeating work I’d already done. Also the recording experience was so much improved and exploratory that I really dug it. It was new people with new skills and new ideas.
Regarding Stewart, no, I can’t say I was intimidated; I really wasn’t aware. But I knew he had good ears and I wanted to give myself a chance to let someone else take the reins.
How did you go about choosing “Carry Me Over” to be the album’s lead single? What was the inspiration for it and how did it get to be on this collection?
Carry Me Over was one of the songs that I played for Stewart that made the cut to track. I had demoed it differently but I really like how it turned out. We chose it because it was upbeat, it was track #1, it seemed like it would have a good response. I don’t really know how to gauge that.
I wrote it several years ago. It was a beautiful summer day. I was floating on my back in a pool, surrounded by sky and trees, ears underwater, and I was singing, and the lines came to me, about the birds and the sky and the moon, which may well have been rising, and I liked the image of the birds flying higher than the moon, and taking me with them. I got out of the pool to get the words into my phone. I can’t put a finger on it exactly but the feeling was just a little wish, to be free from the confines of body and time, and rise above it all, especially above darkness or sadness, and be like a bird, and fly above it all.
As a Dave Matthews fan, what was it like having him sing on your track “Sweetheart”? How long have you wanted to work with him?
It’s amazing! Having Dave go to bat for me by singing on the track absolutely helps open doors, and people will listen because he’s on it. The song stands on its own – I don’t have any doubt about that – but him lending his voice and his name is a true asset as far as getting people to listen.
I’ve been in Dave’s orbit for years (or he’s been in mine). I worked at Miller’s just as he left and was getting big, we crossed paths over the years and we have many same friends and circle of people around. He checked out one of my earlier albums and gave it some props; then at one point I played on the DMB Caravan, he’s supported me in ways that he can.
What do you think makes for an ideal show for you? What has been a favorite performance of yours so far? Do you have any upcoming shows this summer?
I love a full band show. I enjoy performing solo but with the band and the full sound behind me I am truly transported, I love it, to feel it. I love a big stage, I do better under pressure I think. Then again, I’ve learned to make the most of small shows and try to connect with the crowd, even if it’s a crowd of one. I’m playing two shows this weekend to celebrate the new album on 8/3 and then some shows in WVA/ Southwest VA in September.
A favorite performance has to be opening for my girl crush Hall & Oates at the Fillmore in San Francisco. That was 20 years ago and I can’t imagine how I did that but I did and it was awesome.
We are currently living through a very trying and politically charged time right now so I am curious to know how your own music is reflecting this time period? Would you say that other musicians are making music that has been influenced by this climate? Do you find that at your shows you have to say something about the political climate?
I can’t speak for other musicians. I think my fans know what I stand for, and they know what side I’m on. I feel my goal – or my soul – wants me to bring people together with music and connection, so I don’t tend to talk about politics on stage. That being said I’ve played fundraisers for politicians or causes working for things I believe in, like universal health care, gun control, living wage, voting rights, schools, etc. Things that help people, not hurt people. Things that open access, not deny access. Most of my songs are about relationships, or hitting the road. I have one song about a Vietnam War veteran from my hometown in WV. That one almost always touches someone in the audience and they tell me so. That’s enough for me.
What has it been like keeping up with your social media accounts and all of the different platforms? Is it hard to stay up to date on it all? What would you say is your favorite way to connect with your fans now?
It’s impossible. For me. I do not want to spend the time on the computer or phone. I find it very depressing. Mostly I use Facebook and Instagram. I do what I can but I always feel I’m coming up short. I’d rather read.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
Pretty much the same folks that inspired me when I started: original bluegrass or string music, the folkies, the Beatles, Dylan, Janis, the Byrds, Gram Parsons, Prine, Blondie, Tom Petty, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmy Lou Harris as song interpreters, Johnny Cash, Steve Earle, all albums I listened to — there’s so many I know I’m forgetting so many.
Some of my favorite artists are Beach House, Sparklehorse, the Impressions, Lilys, Neko Case. I’d love to work with the Heartbreakers.
If you were going to be stranded on a deserted island forever, what musical item would you take with you and why?
I’d take my baby guitar, so I could play little tunes and sing songs all day.
If your music was going to be featured on any TV show that is currently on right now, which would you love it to be on? Or if you prefer, what is a movie that you love that you wish your music was featured in?
I am loving Sharper Objects on HBO right now. Makes me want to cut a Patsy Cline style album. With the creepy knob turned up to 8.
At the end of the day, what do you hope your fans take away from your music?
I mostly hope that a song might take them away from some sadness or loneliness, or into some new place of hope or light, to some joy, some weightlessness, some forgetting of the human condition; basically whatever it is that music, or a song, or a lyric, does to a heart, to the gut, to the soul, I like when that my music does that. I want them to feel like it’s honest. And real. And that I am too.
(All photography provided by https://rebelcoastmedia.com/)