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Sarah and the Safe Word

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    This past week, I was able to chat with lead vocalist Sarah Rose of Sarah and the Safe Word before the band releases the brand new single, “Lost Ring On Riverside,” out everywhere today. In this interview, we discussed the band’s process for writing songs like this latest single, their love of cabaret and scene bands like My Chemical Romance and Panic! At The Disco, as well as the plans for the one-year anniversary of their last full-length record Good Gracious! Bad People.

    Thank you for connecting with me today, Sarah! Let’s discuss your band’s new single called “Lost Ring On Riverside,” out everywhere on July 29. How did this song come about, and why are you so excited for this song to be released?

    I was walking in New York City a few months ago on Riverside Drive. It was late at night and there were all these beautiful old buildings and homes lit up. And I started thinking about all the different families, different generations that lived in those houses. And right as I was walking, there was a poster on a telephone pole for a lost wedding ring. And it said, “Lost Ring on Riverside.” And right then I knew I wanted to write a song about that, because I thought about all the possibilities of someone losing their wedding ring on this beautiful old street. There was the idea there of Manhattan high society, the idea of perfect posh families that look immaculate on the outside, and all the inner turmoil that probably exists inside each of those beautiful houses that I was walking by.

    So that was the narrative thread that kind of immediately came into my head, I ran back to where I was staying and wrote all the lyrics probably in about 30 minutes.

    Songs don’t usually come that fast, it’s kind of a back and forth thing. “Last Great Sweetheart” we wrote fairly quickly on our last record. We wrote “Scotch, No Soda” in a day during a songwriting session, but some of them take a little bit longer. “Oskar Fische” on our last record took a lot longer to write. We wrestled with how “Welcome to Winterwood” was going to be for a long time before it became what it was.

    But with this one, I kind of knew right off the bat what I wanted to sing about.

    That’s great! Can you describe how your band does most of its songwriting? How has that evolved since your debut?

    Yeah, so when the band started, we put out an EP back in 2016, it was just me and Kienan in the band,. We weren’t always a six piece, sometimes seven piece band. We would just write songs together. And it usually started with him coming over to my apartment writing songs on acoustic guitar and me and him figuring out lyrics. It’s evolved a lot since that first EP, after that we brought in our string player Susy, our keys player Beth and our bassist Maddox.

    It’s a lot more collaborative now.

    Gotcha. How has the stage space been since you’ve been adding so many different people to the band at this point?

    Well, we’re five years deep into being a six piece, and we always joke that we’re the Dave Matthews Band of goth rock. We’ve kind of figured out a system for how to get everything on stage and make it work and still put on a really bombastic, in your face, theatrical show.

    Cool. What did each of you in this band learn about yourselves, as both people and musicians, during this difficult period of time, which was the pandemic? And how did you keep the momentum going there in order to record this new single during this time period?

    I think that all of us learned that we really don’t need to be alone in closed spaces for long periods of time. That’s not a good idea.

    In my day job, I worked as a journalist, so I didn’t have a lot of downtime. Actually, I was sort of in the thick of things, especially here in Atlanta through the pandemic, the election, and the protests we had, so I never really had a moment to stop. There’s actually a point where I was working nights a lot of the time because we just had so much news coming in. So that was pretty surreal. And we also had the weird situation of the fact that our album came out in the middle of the pandemic. We recorded it the year prior, in October 2019. We were getting set to release it originally around like March, April <of 2020> and then we all remember how March and April turned out last year.

    So we had to really figure out how do you put out an album that you can’t really tour? How do you film music videos when you can’t all be in the same place together when you’re a band of this many people? That’s very difficult.

    Yeah, so we have had this incredibly difficult situation of making a record that came out during a pandemic and getting people to notice it. All we had were each other. We had to brainstorm a lot of ideas for making things work. And I think we did okay.

    Yeah, I heard a lot of positive buzz, just in particular, on our site because I wrote the review for it. And not that I have a huge voice or draw, kind of thing, but with the outlet of Chorus, a lot of people were drawn to this project, which is Sarah and the Safe Word. You have the imagery of My Chemical Romance, and the Panic! At the Disco influences, too. But what was your reaction to how the fans reacted when the last record came out?

    I’m always pretty amazed when anyone listens to our music. And it’s been surreal for me, I’ve said this before, when I started this band, it was after I thought I was kind of done with pushing to have a presence in music. Like, this band was a fluke. And in a lot of ways, I’m so glad that it worked out. Kienan and I started this band for fun. And it’s by far our most successful music endeavor that we’ve ever had in either of our careers. I think I speak for the whole band when I say that now. I mean, it’s always amazing now to go on our social media and have people talking to me and telling me what the music means to them, especially for younger queer kids. And I take every message I get from them to heart, and it means the world to me to hear it.

    And I’m so glad that you’re keeping your ear to the community, and specifically the LGBTQ community.

    Music should be communal, right? That’s the whole idea. It shouldn’t be anything other than a collective experience. It’s about taking in an emotion that you feel and finding a way for someone else to feel it. You know, if we’re doing that we’re doing a good job.

    Definitely. Let’s talk a little bit more about your live performance. As you know, it’s a powerful tool for a lot of bands that gain connection with their fans and expand their audience. Obviously, the last year and a half didn’t quite mesh well with touring. So how would you describe your live shows, and what are you most looking forward to when you get back on tour?

    Well, anyone who’s been to one of our live shows knows that we put on a very big, very raucous, very loud, live show. And we really thrive on spectacle. If you come to a show of ours, we try to make it worth your money.

    The last year was incredibly difficult for me because one of my outlets in life has been performing in front of people with the band. It’s been a year and a half since I’ve played a show in front of people. And the first time we’re going to play a show is going to be in Brooklyn, next week, on July 30.

    So yeah, we’re all chomping at the bit to play live. But our live shows are as loud as they are theatrical. If you think that our music is theatrical, I promise our stage show matches what you think it is.

    Is there going to be a full, extensive US tour at some point or later?

    Well, we’re playing it by ear right now. We’ve definitely started talking with some people, but I can’t say who they are. But if it looks like the world is getting back to normal in a way that we feel safe, then we would love to go back on the road and in a longer capacity. But our biggest thing is making sure that we can do it safely.

    So one of the coolest things I’ve always appreciated about your band is the way you mix comedy and cabaret into your recordings. And a lot of things I point to when I talk to other people about your great band is, “The Last Great Sweetheart of the Grand Electric Rodeo.” But there’s a part where you sing, “I’ll never forget what he said to me,” and then the big pause of “ummm,” and then so many great theatrical elements get incorporated into that track. So, does using comedy come naturally in your band’s songwriting process?

    I mean, I’m an idiot in real life. Ever since I started playing music, I’ve always loved a really asinine and absurdist kind of humor. That’s my whole personality and who I am. And I think if I tried to repress it, it wouldn’t be genuine. You know, it’s not just in the music. It’s also the stage presence. If people come to the show, they’ll see how absurd we are on stage. But, I would assume that if I’m in the band, there’s probably a good chance that humor is always going to permeate through in some way. And the cabaret thing, that’s just us! We love vintage sounds. We love the subversion that exists in burlesque and cabaret. I mean, even in the 1930s and 40s, cabaret and burlesque culture was very subversive for its time. We like to think that we’re sort of just taking what they started, and doing a modern version of that.

    Yeah, and it’s great that people are bringing that back to the forefront, from bands like Panic! and I Don’t Know How But They Found Me…

    I will go on record on ChorusFM and say that I think Dallon’s music <from IDKHBTFM> is better than what Panic is doing right now.

    Wow! Bold statement, for sure! But, do you think there’s gonna be more type of comedic material in future recordings?

    Absolutely. I mean, I think that it would be impossible for me to do music and not have my sense of humor.

    Yeah, it feels authentic. And just from talking to you, and getting to know you, as well…

    I mean, we take ourselves seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. You know, I hate artists that are so up their own asses.

    <Laughter> Good Gracious. Bad People! will be a year old on Halloween…

    Oh my god! Yes.

    I think the release date was either the 30th or the 31st, but I have to double check…

    It was close to Halloween, and I forgot if we released it exactly on the day or the day before. But yeah, we tried to time it around Halloween.

    I remember when I wrote that review, I was like, holy shit! People are gonna love this. Are there any plans to release a vinyl or other merchandise designs in the works to commemorate this anniversary?

    I would love to release the vinyl. But, I think that is a question for our label. We’d certainly love to see a vinyl release of our last two records. And we are doing a vinyl re-release of our first album Strange Doings in the Night next year on Say 10 Records. It’s currently out of print, but we’re remixing and remastering it, and making it sound awesome.

    It’s been literally a year’s worth of work from taking the original recordings from that session and fixing them to where we were really proud of them. It’s going to be re-released with new artwork and new packaging. And it’s going to be really great. So that’s been a focus of ours too, for the last couple of months.

    That’s great. And that’s why I brought that point up, because with so much rich imagery that you bring in these music videos. It almost demands that type of…almost box set that the vinyl can give, you know?

    I would love it. I mean, we had a blast. We put out the album last year and I don’t know if you saw what we did with the cocktail kit. I love doing stuff like that. If I could do cool physical releases with everything we make, that would be my dream.

    Even if it’s like an orange color cassette or something like that to commemorate the anniversary…But anyways, what are some artists, both past and present, that each of you admire and look to and for inspiration in your own music?

    Yeah, that’s an answer that varies so much between me and the other members of the band, and you would get completely different answers. Depending on who you spoke to. I know Susy, when she’s not playing in our band, she plays in a Mariachi group. She is a classically trained violinist as well. So she’s very into classical music. She’s also really into metalcore acts. I mean, we are all from Atlanta – so I would be remiss if we didn’t name drop The Chariot. I mean, long live The Chariot! I remember seeing The Chariot in Douglasville, and their show was unbelievable. We all kind of grew up with the Douglasville metalcore scene that came out of Atlanta.

    But for me personally, my mom raised me on bands like Fleetwood Mac and Elton John. When I was a teenager, I was a nerd and really into visual kei bands. I loved Malice Mizer, Versailles, Dir en Grey. And then I also was into bands like My Chemical Romance and Thursday.

    My favorite band as a teenager, honestly, was Linkin Park. I was devastated when Chester passed away. And hey, I would still love to collaborate with Mike Shinoda. I’ve mentioned in every interview if I had a dream producer for our next album it would always be Mike Shinoda.

    Yeah, he’s a musical genius. Both Mike and Chester. And just hearing like some of the early “breadcrumbs” of Grey Daze just showcases his genius.

    And if you watch Mike’s Twitch stream that he does where he produces a song from the ground up. You can tell how much influence and impact he had on Linkin Park’s music. I truly hope that they get back together and do something again.

    Obviously, the circumstances surrounding the hiatus were tragic. But yeah, Linkin Park are too talented to just sit on that legacy.

    In my opinion, they have more that they can do. But yeah, I love Linkin Park, and I can talk about them forever. <Laughter>

    Yeah, the one that “opened it up” for me was My Chemical Romance. Because I was getting into them right as I was going into college, and the whole imagery of what they’re doing in their music videos, to what they did on stage, to seeing them go from the very first opener at the 9:30 Club to being a headliner all over the world, it was just incredible to see that rise. That’s another one of those bands, where you have so much artistic talent in one group, that they could have formed a couple of other bands, and they did that during the hiatus. So, I was just curious about your take on MCR.

    Yeah, my favorite MCR record is Three Cheers, which I know is kind of polarizing, because a lot of people really gravitate towards The Black Parade. But I love them, I saw Gerard for the first time when I saw the “I’m Not Okay” video, and then “Helena”. I’m sure a lot of people were introduced to the band through that. I knew of MCR prior to that because they were the band that Thursday toured with, haha.

    And MCR…I think you’d be crazy not to acknowledge the influence that MCR has had on rock music in the last 20 years. And I think you can hear their impact on us if you listen to a song like, “You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us in Prison.”

    And also I wrote in my review about how “House of Wolves” is similar to “You’re All Scotch, No soda”

    Yeah, or a track like “Mama.” I’ve always had an admiration for MCR and what they do, and I think they were great at world building, and great at creating a universe within their songs. I can’t wait for them to come back and maybe drop a record.

    You would think with the tour postponed to 2022, it is very curious why we haven’t heard anything yet…So one of the last questions I have for you kind of ties into the last point, which was the early comparisons to huge scene bands like Panic! At The Disco and MCR…But what did you learn about the recording process from the earlier material that you took to heart for leading up to the new single and beyond?

    Our last record was recorded in Cleveland with Jim Wirt, who worked with Something Corporate and Fiona Apple. We had to get it recorded quickly, since we had a limited amount of time in the studio, and we did a lot of pre-production for it beforehand. We had to really come in with a game plan for what we wanted the record to be.

    So for us, I think that we’re always mindful of working on the songs to the point where we feel like we have a roadmap for what we want to do, but also being very conscious of the fact that we don’t want to overthink it. There’s that line, right? You want to pre-produce if you can to the point where you have a sketch of what you want the song to be, but you don’t want to overthink the song to the point where you’re in a box by the time you get to the studio.

    I think that what we learned through doing the last record was that sweet spot where we gave ourselves the creative leverage to go in with Jim taking ideas that we had to build and expand upon it in a way where the record became something we were proud of.

    That’s awesome to hear! If somebody was just getting to know your band, with the last record, which was my introduction to your band…what would you recommend to people if they’re going to do a deep dive through your discography and also your songwriting? What would you recommend they look for, or listen to?

    Um, so a lot of people have said that the “Louisville Shuffle,” which is a song of ours off of Red Hot and Holy, is a good introduction to our band. It kind of encompasses all our different elements and the unique band members on the song in some capacity. That’s a good one to start with. I think that…I’m always a big fan of albums as experiences, I think that you need to sit with a record and listen to it, because if it’s an album, it should intend to take you on a journey from A to B.

    If you can devote about an hour of your time to our last two records, they are about 30 minutes long each. So, give yourself an hour, sit somewhere with either your favorite drink, with the lights low, and listen to both albums front to back. That’s the best way to experience our band, in my opinion.

    That’s great. I wish you nothing but the best in your career moving forward. if there’s any last words you’d like to pitch to your fans at this time, feel free!

    I just want to be Jason Tate’s friend. That’s really all I care about. Tell Jason Tate to be my friend.

    That’s not a problem! Take care, Sarah. Nice to meet you.

    Take care, Adam!


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