Sarah Dashew: The Interview

No one swears quite like Sarah. Not even Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano can sing curse words like Sarah Dashew. Listen to her album just to hear her do it. Seriously, it's like a magic trick. You'll ask yourself, “did she just sing the word 'asshole'?” You'll end up working that little slider on Itunes to death. Try not to get hung up on that, because Sarah does a lot more than make curse words fun again.

In her new album, Jealous Girl, Sarah Dashew intrepidly explores a spectrum of complex emotions. She resists the urge to simply sing sad songs. She talks about the shame of jealousy. She discusses her need to feel secure. She muses on the sanctity of the cable box. Every song on Jealous Girl makes you feel something you've been aching to feel. Whether she's expounding on the joys of great conversation in Hash It Out or gently guiding you through the hell of knowing it's over in Dread, Sarah's voice cuts right to the core of you.

Sarah Dashew was kind enough to take a few minutes from unpacking boxes in her new LA apartment and talk with Sinister Purpose about her latest album, life instead of singing, and the secret to her mother's salad.

SP: Why the move back to L.A? Now that you're there, are you looking forward toward playing a particular venue?

Sarah Dashew: Yeah, the Greek Theatre! ;) I guess my favorite club venue in town is Temple Bar, which I played the first week I got back. It’s in Santa Monica and has a kickin’ smooth sound system, wonderful people hanging out and working, good lights, good vibe all the way around. I also really like playing Hotel CafĂ©, though it seems to be getting a bit too sexy for its shirt…

About moving back: I had a great opportunity to spend a year in New York and sublease my cousins’ place in Brooklyn. I thought I’d be crazy not to try it. And I had a grand adventure; I have a lot of close friends there, I made more, I had a lot of fun. But I really missed LA. I couldn’t believe it. But I did. When it came down to it, I felt like I couldn’t quite breathe in New York—everything was so close and dense. It’s just the way I am, I guess. I need more sun and space.

SP: Which of your songs gives you chills when you perform it live?

Sarah Dashew: *Hm, which of MY songs? Well, I really love playing “What You Owe” live. That’s downright cathartic.

SP: There's a noticeable technical difference between your first album, Music for Cruising, and your latest, Jealous Girl. Do you feel like you've grown into yourself as a musician and songwriter?

Sarah Dashew: *Oh yes. Music for Cruising was recorded in my bedroom…Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s sweet. But it’s more of a theme record…And much younger. When I started working with my mentor (Chuck Plotkin—produced Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan), he really schooled me, taught me to go deep and not be afraid of the dark…Taught me not to censor myself on my way to my journal, taught me about why songs work and why they don’t, taught me how to listen…And made me work! So Jealous Girl is the result of two years of that work…And of course the musicians on the album are incredible. And it was recorded in this fabulous engineer’s (Ryan Freeland) studio. Long answer short, yes. I feel like I’ve grown into myself. And like I have a lot of growing still to do.

SP: Talk about making Jealous Girl. What are your fondest memories of making that album? Did it turn out, artistically, the way you thought it would? What song took the longest to get right during the recording process?

Sarah Dashew: *Where do I start? Making that album really is one of the great pinnacles of my life so far. I guess my first fondest memory was the first day…Meeting all the musicians and having them be these people who had played on some of my all-time favorite records (Gary Mallaber, for instance, was the drummer on Van Morrison’s Moondance album, and Jen Condos played bass on Bruce Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad), and having them compliment my songs…MY songs…I spent a good half of the first day in the kitchen sobbing.

My next fondest memory was recording “Hash it Out”. That’s when I first really let go and just started jamming with everyone, and really felt like I was good enough to do it. Man we went to church!! We ended up cutting out over 80 bars of outro jamming on that song…We would end it, and then Gary (the drummer) would shout “One!Two! Three! FOUR!” and off we’d go again…It was so unbelievably fun I can’t describe it.

My other fondest memory was the night Dan Bern came and played cello on “Cannot Make the Call”. He’s sort of one of my song-writing heroes, and a good friend of Chuck’s…And he happened to be in LA while we were tracking… He hadn’t played cello in years, but he agreed to come over and give it a whirl. It was so marvelous to have him be working on my song, when a couple years ago I had just been in the audience at one of his shows…I was all nervous and wanted him to think I was super cool, so I drank too much wine and acted like an idiot, but still it was a really fun night.

The song that took the longest to get right was “Brad Pitt”. I don’t know why it ended up being a problem child. We re-recorded it 5 different ways…It still ended up being different on the album than I play it live…But that’s just a particular snapshot of the song that ended up working for that project.

The album as a whole turned out wonderfully, I think…Of course, now that I’ve had a year to play the songs and listen and keep working, there are things that I feel like are missing, things I would do differently. But that’s what keeps you making records. You learn what you want to do next by discovering what’s missing from the now. My next album will have more rhythm and blues, I think.

SP: Loss is a prevalent theme throughout the album. Is songwriting a cathartic process for you or do painful emotions just make better songs?

Sarah Dashew: *Yes. Songwriting is very cathartic…Best therapy there is. I don’t know if I believe that painful emotions just make better songs, but if you can access it you’re in for a hell of a ride. As listeners we use music to help us feel things we might not otherwise get to feel. So sometimes we connect more to the painful stuff. But yeah, I do have first-hand experience. I find it very difficult to write something I don’t know. Hemingway is my favorite author, and he always said you have to write what you know. Even if you put it in the context of another character, even if you take creative liberties with the knowing, you still have to fundamentally KNOW it.

SP: Take us through the process of one of your songs. 'Psychobabble Junk' for instance, how did that song coalesce?

Sarah Dashew: *Ah, good one! Psychobabble is a very particular song, which came together incredibly quickly. My favorites usually do, if I can just get out of the way long enough to let them out. I was having dinner with my producer and his wife, who happens to be a psychoanalyst. She was talking about her concern for her aging mother, how she worries about her losing it…And Chuck said, “Well, I think it’s great…She really seems to be relaxing finally.” And Wendy, his wife, said “Oh sure…You could call it relaxing, you could call it coming unhinged…” Everything just kind of zoomed out and I knew I had to write that. The song is about how full of absolutely everything, beautiful and horrible, life is…And no matter how you try to label it or deconstruct it, you still have nothing you can do but go through it…Live, you know. The song says it better. But anyway, I wrote it after dinner. Took about 1/2 an hour.

SP: What music have you listened to today?

Sarah Dashew: *Wilco’s new album, Sky Blue Sky, Jackson Browne “The Pretender” (though I have to be really careful when I listen to it. Otherwise I’m likely to end up curled up on the floor sobbing…), and that’s all. But it’s only 8:30 in the morning, so the day is young.

SP: How diverse is your music collection. Do you prefer CDs, Vinyl, mp3s?

Sarah Dashew: *Wellll, back in the day, when I was a toddler, I had tapes, vinyl and Cds…Now I just have Cds and mp3s. There’s a part of me that really regrets getting rid of all my records. Honestly, I don’t even remember how it happened. I guess when I went to college I just thought it was time to purge. And it’s sad, because I had all my records, plus my parents’ collection. And they had a fantastic pile of stuff—everything from the Beatles to Tito Puente, Chuck Berry, Mingus, Led Zeppelin…Plus records are sexier. You get that scratch and whirl, you get to move the needle. Mp3s have got to be the least sexy format for music ever. But still I’ve got a big iTunes library. I’ve got lots of Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Gypsy Kings, Bob Dylan, Patti Griffin, some Paul Simon, James Taylor, Janis Joplin, Justin Timberlake (don’t laugh!), Pink Floyd, PJ Harvey, Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, lots of Puccini, Keb Mo’, Miles Davis…

SP: I searched for your name on YouTube and Revver and couldn't find anything. You've made the leap to podcasting, any plans to start video blogging or producing music videos?

Sarah Dashew: *Huh. I haven’t even heard of Revver. Guess I’d better go check it out! I actually just uploaded my first YouTube video yesterday…A snippet of my show last week. I love video blogs and music videos…Just have to get focused and get on it

SP: Speaking of your podcast, how do you like podcasting? What do you think of it as a medium?

Sarah Dashew: *I love podcasting! I’ve been terribly remiss in doing it the last few months, but I blame the move. :) I always loved acting like a DJ when I was a kid, so it’s my chance to play radio host.

SP: Do you find MySpace a useful tool for self-promotion?

Sarah Dashew: *More or less. I think that Myspace has become bigger than itself or its original purpose, which tends to happen with lots of great things…They’re great, they get mega popular, they sell for $580 million to Rupert Murdoch, and then they become a venue for advertising and the server’s down half the time. But I do still think it’s useful. I have some wonderful fans in Turkey now! And, you know, Wisconsin and stuff…And it’s become a verb, like Google, so it’s easy to get people to use…

SP: What would you be doing if you weren't a musician? What are your other passions?

Sarah Dashew: *If I could do something else, I would probably do it. I do love doing lots of things, but I have a degree in Sociology from a liberal-arts college, so that’s pretty useless. I am very good with boats, and every year or so my dad tries to get me to join the family business, but I’m only truly happy doing music. Also, I love gardening. I love traveling. I could be a travel writer…Oh—and if I could be a professional tennis player I’d do that! But I’m mostly good at watching it on the couch.

SP: This might be the most important question of the interview. Will you share the recipe for that cake you made and the salad your mother made? Please. I have dreams about that salad.

Sarah Dashew: *Which cake? The lemon cake? Yeah, that was wonderful. That’s courtesy of the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook. You just have to get the book. It’s got such great pictures…I love Martha Stewart! True love always! Oh! I could totally be a baker! I make fantastic yummy granola. If music doesn’t work out, I might actually try that…Let’s see, my mom’s salad…Well, she always starts by rubbing a clove of garlic in the bottom of the salad bowl. Then lots of fresh romaine lettuce, red onions, hard-boiled eggs, avocado, carrots, fresh parsley, red and yellow tomatoes, kalamata olives, some feta cheese I think, and some roasted chicken…Now I’m hungry!

If you listen to Sarah Dashew's music there is the distinct possibility that you might tear up, laugh at nothing in particular, or just smile. You might call an old friend and giggle about a bad decision or two. You may also solve the mystery of why everyone's parents had at least one copy of Tapestry.

Raging Titter thanks Sarah Dashew for taking time for this interview. Both her albums are available from CDBABY and her website. Her tour dates are on her Myspace page as well as on her website. You can find her official bio here.

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