Sarah King tells all in new EP ‘The Hour’
What does it take to “make it” in the music industry? That’s the 64-million-dollar question that everyone wants to know. Sarah King, a singer-songwriter who lives up in Ripton, got a step closer to figuring it out over the course of developing her latest album, “The Hour,” which the public gets to see tomorrow.
“What I learned is that it doesn’t matter how good I can sing, people want to relate to something,” she said in an interview earlier this month.
In this album, that “something” that King refers to stems from the dark and unbridled corners of our lives. And for the first time King isn’t afraid to come out of the shadows and explore her vulnerabilities.
“My life had started feeling like a bad country song,” she wrote in her artist’s bio.
King lost her dog; then she lost her first-husband, Tobey, a soldier, to suicide after a struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They were high school sweethearts who got back together after college, where King studied opera. The two were together as a couple for three years as he served in the military, but ultimately King realized that her music-career dreams and his military aspirations were at odds.
“I’ll remember that moment forever,” King said. “He was living in North Carolina temporarily for military training, and our tour van was having a lot of problems. We started talking about trading the van in, and on the phone, he suggested a smaller vehicle, maybe a Jeep or something, to which I asked, ‘Where am I going to put the gear and the guys?’ and his response was ‘You mean you want to keep doing this?’ It took me another six months to get the courage to leave, but I knew it was over from that sentence. I knew we weren’t truly on the same page, that although he thought it was cool his wife was in a band, he didn’t expect that to be part of my life forever.”
Tobey died in 2015 and three short years later King’s mom died of dementia just after her 60th birthday.
“My mom and I didn’t have a tight relationship for about 10 years before she died,” King explained. “When I walked in to visit her for the first time, she lit up like she knew exactly who I was; it was comforting but also weird because she hadn’t seen me in a decade. I sang her a couple songs and she fell asleep — she stayed asleep for more than a week and then passed away.
“Her death terrified me,” King continued. “Grief is the great leveler and we need to own that… I found myself thinking: if I’ve only got a short time to live I’ve got to do what I love. I can’t spend any more time working to pay the bills.”
So she got to it — doing what she loves.
The pandemic didn’t slow her down; actually, if anything, it probably helped. King said that being locked down in quarantine forced her to sit with herself and wrestle with all of “this stuff.”
“Usually I write two maybe three songs in a year,” she said. “But this time I had all these songs popping up… A melody would float into my head with a phrase and then a song would come tumbling out of me. I have to wait for the cosmic songwriting juice to start flowing. I don’t think I’m the one writing these songs — I just happened to pick up the phone and that’s the song.”
King managed to partner with producers Simone Felice and David Baron (who also work with The Lumineers, Matt Maeson, Jade Bird among others) and record her EP at Sun Mountain Studio in the Catskills last summer.
“I reached out to Simone because I wanted some direction, some guidance, on how to make my music better, and I definitely learned a lot,” King said in a press release for “The Hour.” “I am not the same sad, shell-shocked girl I was when I decided I had to start playing music again when my mother died. As David noted, there’s a fierce, powerful, loud quality to a lot of my songs — not saying I can’t dial it down, but that I am no longer afraid to use my voice, to be strong.”
“The Hour’s” five tracks explore finding the strength to stand up to someone more powerful (in the first track “Poison”), confronting the fear of physical violence with revenge (“Nightstand”), finding freedom in death (“Cold Hard Ground”), making peace with your dark deeds (“Not Worth the Whisky”), and the hypocrisy of war (“War Pigs”), which was originally written by Black Sabbath in 1970. Together, they show the evolution of King’s sound from an acoustic blues rock with a side of southern soul to a more brazen, gothic country. The songs are a promise that she will make her voice, and those of women everywhere, heard.
“I didn’t set out to write a political record, or a feminist record,” she said, noting that the album starts off with an alluring piano, pop ballad and then gets darker and darker. “It’s raw, it’s open, and it’s all there… I was uncomfortable sharing all of these deep, dark parts of my story until this year. I used to sing about these things but I wasn’t open about why I was singing those songs. This album takes a huge burden off of me — I don’t have to hold these things so close anymore — this is what makes me who I am.”
Approaching the end of the album, as a listener you may begin to wonder a little more about this Ripton neighbor… is it all true?
“Everything in the songs is true, except what isn’t,” King said in her more comfortable mysterious stance. “For example in ‘Nightstand’ I did keep a gun in my nightstand after my dog died, but no, I never buried a body…”
The final song, “War Pigs,” King hadn’t sung since Tobey’s death. She walked into the studio on the final day and, “I have to sing this song.” Felice agreed but told King she had to sing it live and only had 20 minutes to “nail it.”
“No pressure,” remembered King, who said the mood was actually pretty good at the studio. “There were candles burning and lights and pictures of Jimi Hendrix on the wall… and I dressed like I was going to do a live show, which helped…. The live take came out so well they agreed to put it on the album. The feeling I was able to bring to the booth that day was incredible… At the end of the day, I want people to feel something with this album. I’ve got three minutes to hit them in the heart.”
Though King doesn’t plan on doing much in the way of live performance this year, this is an album that will have you stomp-and-hollering in your kitchen. Check it out at sarahkingsings.com or wherever you get your music.
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