The Summer Sounds of Sarah King
“If there’s anything in your life that is just not worth the whisky that it takes to put up with it, let it go.”
If you’re thinking that these words sound like a song lyric, you’d be half right.
This candid grain of wisdom was delivered by FY23 Creation Grantee Sarah King during a pause in the singer-songwriter’s recent outdoor concert at Middlebury’s Lincoln Peak Vineyard, as an introduction to the electric single “Not Worth the Whisky.”
Friday’s event was put on in partnership with Town Hall Theater as a part of their Women in Music series, which offers free monthly concerts throughout the summer. In addition, attendees had the opportunity to wash down the music — and food from vendors like Thai at Home — with Lincoln Peak wine.
That said, King’s powerhouse vocals, backed by a four-piece band, were the undisputed star of the evening. The audience was sprawled on camping chairs and blankets across the yard, stretching from the red barn porch all the way back to the leafy green vines. The air smelled strongly of citronella, and croaking frogs sang backup throughout the night.
At the start of the set, spectators perched demurely, nodding heads and tapping toes, but by the last song, the crowd had surged to its feet, dancing. Those who remained seated were mesmerized first by a trailblazing older woman swaying in a long red dress, then by a younger couple of professional dancers who improvised in perfect sync.
King, the 2021 Songwriter of the Year at the New England Music Awards, lives in Ripton, Vermont. Her 2021 EP “The Hour” is available now, and listeners can look forward to discovering the 12 songs of King’s currently untitled full-length album next spring. The creation of the album was supported by a FY23 Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council.
Read on to find out more about King in her own words.
Please note that the following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Could you start by briefly introducing yourself to our readers?
I’m Sarah King. I am a full-time musician, singer-songwriter Americana musician based in Ripton, Vermont.
How would you explain the Americana genre to those unfamiliar with it?
I think that Americana is kind of a blend of American traditions. Blues music, folk music, country music, rock and roll, soul — everything kind of melded into one. There might be leanings of those different genres in Americana, but not going too far in any particular direction. For me, personally, my music definitely pulls from all of those areas of music.
How has this recording process been similar to or different from your EP experience?
In the record that I did before, we worked very, very slowly and very diligently on everything. And with this record I kind of wanted it to feel a little bit more like a live show. And so everything happened really fast, so fast to the point that my producer actually said, at the end of, of the recording, […] “I’m never gonna allow anyone to work this fast again.” [She laughs.]
How would you describe the tone of the album as a whole? Do you see it as being more cohesive or varied?
We had band rehearsal last week and the guys were like, “You know, Sarah, this new record, you’re going to have to market it as both sides of Sarah King, because there’s a little bit of both in there.” And I think that that’s true. There’s definitely a lot more of that peppy, excited, full band, full energy, rock and roll type stuff. But there’s also a straight up piano ballad. There are some more dark and doomy songs. I personally tend to write most often or most frequently when I’m going through something. When life is awesome and I’m living my best life, I want to go out and enjoy it. I don’t want to sit and write about it. But when I’m going through it, I want to sit down and write to process what I’m feeling.
For me it’s cohesive because it’s all-encompassing, like this is all sides of me, whereas my previous record I feel was Sarah when she’s going through a tough time [laughs]. So, in that regard, I think it’s a much more […] true and authentic expression of my creative expression.
Once recorded, how do you go about ordering the songs on the album?
That was actually one of the things that was my task personally to do.
Since the record doesn’t come out until next spring, I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that that the first song starts [with] a lot of southern, soul-type references, southern gothic stuff with a lot of themes that you may hear in that type of music. You know, God, the devil, betrayal, that sort of thing.
The first song starts, the song title has Lord in it, and the last one has the Devil in it [laughs]. And so it gives the story kind of a unique arc. But it wasn’t written as a concept album. So there’s no specific storyline as I wrote it, but when I put it together I was like, there could be if I went digging for one [laughs].
When I listen to it now, I feel like there’s a good flow of energy from the start, you know, [it] kind of builds, gets big — again, that rollercoaster. But I always say in my live shows, I’m like, “We’re going on a journey.” I don’t want to keep you at one tempo, one pace the whole time. I think that that was definitely what I’ve accomplished with this.
What does this summer look like for you? How do you prepare for an album release?
There’s a lot that goes into it. That’s a great question because so many people are like, “Well, it’s recorded, when do we get to hear it?” [But] if we want to release it properly, recording is only part of the process. So I’m actually here in Vermont for another couple weeks and then I head out on a big tour out to Montana and stuff.
Between now and when the record comes out, I have to get album artwork done, get corresponding press photos that go along with that, get music videos done, secure radio promotion, publicity, secure regular media publicity [and] promotion, look at advertising, look at all marketing campaigns. I got my merch ordered, I have to set up pre-sales for the record. I actually will be launching a Kickstarter to help pay for a lot of this because it’s a lot of money. So there are a lot of steps that go into a successful or the best attempt at a successful release. You know, you can just release music and hope somebody listens to it, but right now a hundred thousand songs are uploaded to Spotify every day. So in order to stand out and really make a splash, assembling your assets and your team is really, really important and just takes so much time and money.
I saw on your social media that you’re teasing some of your new music at the Lincoln Peak concert. How does that feel?
I’m excited because, again, it’s so hard for me to sit on these songs, so if I can play them live and [have] a fleeting moment of new music, that’s one thing. But it is also a little nerve wracking because, being the first summer playing the songs, we won’t be playing all of them. [For] some of them we’ve got a lot that we want to figure out how to arrange. When you’re in the studio, [for] one of the songs on the record, I’m literally playing eight guitar lines at one point in the song [laughs]. That’s a little hard to replicate live. So trying to figure out how we want to do that. But yeah, it’s always exciting to see the songs take shape in the studio and then how they take a life on the road, too.
What was the Creation Grant application process like for you? Do you have any advice for future applicants?
I actually did attend the webinars that talk about what they’re looking for. And I would strongly recommend that to anybody else who’s considering.
As far as the application itself, I had to dig deep, obviously showcasing what you’ve done before, like, here, check out my album. And then I had to make an educated guess about the timing, which of course changed as things went on. But then recognizing that the application was looking for how are you taking risks? How would this grant really impact you?
For me and my project, my most recent album had been very specifically very dark and brooding and contemplative. And I knew that with my next record I wanted to be a little bit more fun and have some more energy. And that’s a risk because I’ve just built my audience based on that one record. And so being able to take the risk and add in some of the more fun stuff. There’s still definitely some dark and brooding stuff in there — I feel like that’s my best work [laughs].
Being able to articulate why that was an artistic and creative risk for me, I think, was helpful. But I had to dig really deep for that, and I had to think, why should the Arts Council support this particular project? And it was because of that creative risk.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share before we wrap up?
I mean, just that I am so thankful that the Vermont Arts Council appreciates and supports contemporary music, as well. Oftentimes, you know, arts councils will kind of focus on chamber music or orchestral works — and I love classical. I mean, I’m a trained classical singer, but I also love the fact that the Vermont Arts Council is supporting contemporary artists living in the contemporary world, creating contemporary art.
Don’t miss Sarah King’s upcoming performances in Ripton, Middlebury, and beyond!