Note: This is an older session and may not exactly follow the “3 Questions / 3 Songs” format.
Michael Briggs: You have a new record called Suburban Nature coming out in May on Kirtland Records. Can you tell us a bit about the record and what the recording process was like? Sarah Jaffe: I recorded the record last winter, winter of 2009. And did it with John Congleton again of the pAper chAse. I just love working with him, and I’m very comfortable with him. We recorded it in like a week in November, sometime before Thanksgiving last year. It was a quick process. For the most part, a majority of the record we recorded live. Some of the songs we went back and layered on, but for the most part, everything was live. We got the record done, really proud of it. For the most part, a lot of them are really older songs, and I just wanted to get them out there and kind of rework them a bit. So, in that way, I’m really proud of the record ‘cause they’re kind of songs I’ve dug up from a long time ago. I signed with Kirtland Records I guess it was like five months ago, so the timing was perfect. MB: So do you have a batch of newer songs for any kind of future release? SJ: Yeah, my plan…which usually, planning things never really works out because I kind of work on impulse… I’d like to get any or all of the songs that I have off my chest. I have a lot just kind of sitting there and a lot that I’m tweaking with. Yeah, I think if I can rework them and maybe get Robert’s hands on them, Robert Gomez. He’s very good as far as vision wise, he’s a visionary, I think. He usually hears what I don’t hear. And also, they’re just my songs, so it’s very easy for me to throw them to the curb. Playing them acoustic and recording that and having some new ears listen to them. So yeah, I think some older songs will be recorded in the future. MB: So who all played on the record? SJ: Robert Gomez, Becki Howard plays violin, Kris Youmans played the cello, and Jeff Ryan. And actually John Congleton played bass on a couple tracks. [laughs] I’m pretty sure. Yeah, he did. I forgot about that. So yeah, all the people who play with me live, except for John, played on the record. MB: What state of mind do you normally find yourself in? What’s the process like for you? SJ: It’s different every time, but for the most part, there’s like an overall feeling of kind of…I don’t know. Writing’s pretty visceral for me. There’s a feeling in my chest that I get, it’s like this internal thing that I just feel like I need to get rid of something. Almost purge. That sounds really serious, but I’m not that dramatic or anything. I try not to plan anything, I don’t want it to be contrived. Usually I’ll just sit down and write the song. MB: If you had to pick one song that you’re most proud of or that’s your favorite, which one would that be? Or that you want the most people to hear? SJ: I don’t know. [laughs] I don’t know, I’m proud of all of them like they’re my little children. I want to say like I love them all equally. Songs like “Even Born Again”, they still ring very true to me when I sing them live. There are songs like that that I still feel kind of redeemed by when I’m performing, like I’m even born again. There are certain songs that, when I’m performing live, it feels good, like a sense of relief, and I think that might be one of them. MB: So you’ve played a large variety of venues from large halls on tour with Norah Jones to J&J’s basement and Rubber Gloves. Is there a specific type or size of venue that you prefer to play? And are you ever worried about how your sound is going to come across in a larger venue? SJ: You know, the shows with Norah, the shows that I’ve played so far with her, were wonderful. The buildings in general, they don’t really allow for a bad noise. The acoustics are very organic, and the buildings themselves just send off a certain vibe. In that way, they are two very different things. I love playing the bigger venues and the halls with Midlake and stuff, who play in these very ethereal-looking buildings. But there is just a charm that I’m very much in love with playing Dan’s and playing J&J’s basement. Some of my favorite shows have been in somebody’s living room. They’re two very different kinds of charming, and I love them both. MB: So you recently played the second annual NX35 festival here in Denton. What are your thoughts on the festival, and do you think that Denton music is going to be getting some more national attention in the future? SJ: Absolutely. It was NX35’s second year? I feel like if we can get Denton’s own Midlake and The Flaming Lips to play behind Drug Emporium in our kind of fairground, I feel like anything is possible. Just as an example, when that was going on, the Midlake and The Flaming Lips, I just couldn’t stop smiling. It was just very much like “Hell yeah, hooray for Denton”. It was amazing, and all of Denton was pretty much there. I’ve always been excited about Denton, that’s the very reason why I moved here two years ago, because there’s something about it that’s very humble, there’s a lot of charm, there’s a lot of talent. But there’s never really any kind of bullshit. It’s just a lot of humble talent around here, and that’s what I like about it. Yeah, there’s gonna be some attention drawn to it as the years go by. MB: Do you think that that might create some sort of issue with oversaturation of Denton in the market here? Do you think that’d be a problem, or is that not an issue at all? SJ: I hope not, I hope it doesn’t get to that point. It seems that if it was going to be like that, it would already kind of show some signs. Maybe I’m just kind of biased, but I don’t think so. I just hope not. [laughs] MB: You recently went on tour with Midlake in Europe. What sort of reception did you get overseas? And do you find that people relate the same to the songs over there the way they do here in the States? SJ: The shows were great. I think that’s totally a reflection on the type of crowd that Midlake draws, though. People perceive the songs differently anywhere, but it seemed to go really, really well. Obviously, some nights were better than others, as far as my performance and just depending on how exhausted I was. [laughs] I tried to remind myself every night that I was in Sweden or Paris [laughs], and that would seem to rejuvenate any sort of floundering. I felt like the response, overall, in that month I was with them, I think it was a success for me because, for the most part, nobody knew who I was, and I felt like that was an introduction, to say the least. MB: So what bands have you been listening to lately? SJ: I listen to a lot of current music. I do have a strange obsession with top 40 radio, and that’s mainly because the vehicle that I drive [laughs] doesn’t have a CD player. So, I’m always probably listening to just shit like radio rap and anything that’s on Kiss FM. But I like a lot of electronic music. I listen to that band Empire of the Sun and there’s a band Passion Pit that I really like. I’m always listening to electronic just because I don’t really understand it. I’ve never been able to make that kind of music, so it’s kind of fascinating to me, and I just like to dance [laughs]. Yeah, like The Books, and I always go back to staple bands like Fleetwood Mac and stuff like that. MB: Speaking of staples, who do you most look up to musically? What are your go to standbys for classic records? SJ: Fleetwood Mac is definitely one of them. I’ve always loved Harry Nelson and Edith Piaf. I remember my mom always listened to Anita Baker. Have you heard of her? [laughs] She’s an old jazz singer. Not really old. By old, I mean early 90’s. My dad always listened to Cat Stevens and stuff, so I kind of grew up on the American folk anthology kind of stuff. You know, pretty much any folk music from the 70’s. MB: So how did you come about releasing the new record through Kirtland? SJ: Tammy Thompson. I met her through ACL, actually. I met her through Kris Youmans. Kris introduced us at ACL. Tammy, after a period of a month, after back and forth conversating, just decided this would be a very good fit as far as timing goes and finances and all the boring, boring things that suck the life out of me. She kind of wanted to take that on and decided to put out the record with Kirtland. MB: Any plans to tour with the Toadies or anything?
[both laugh] SJ: You know, I don’t think so. Maybe! MB: That would be interesting. SJ: That would be weird, but weird works.