An exclusive interview with Musiqtone
Despite calling New York City home, singer-songwriter Sarah Tracey is still a Chicagoan, like fellow New York denizen and South Side native Kanye West. And now, she is about to use her close and direct connection to the Windy City to continue Chicago's reemergence in the music world. Now she is gracing the proverbial cover of You Gotta Know and Musiqtone's Alan Ho sat down and put the transplanted New Yorker into the hot seat.
Alan Ho: For our readers, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Sarah Tracey: I am a singer/songwriter who has been living, working, playing, writing, and singing in my adopted home of New York City for the past couple years. I am a Taurus, my favorite movie is Amelie, my favorite books are Eloise and Gone With the Wind, my favorite color is pink, I love coffee and Spanish wine and chocolate. Music is my greatest passion... even more than chocolate, which is a big statement coming from me!
AH: Was music something you've always wanted to do and what was your first memory performing?
ST: I have been performing basically since I could walk and talk... probably even before that! My first memory 'performing' was imitating the moves from the movie Flashdance for my entire preschool class at age 4. I think my teachers were a bit concerned that I was doing such scandalous and provocative dancing. Of course I had no idea. My first memory performing music was probably my first piano recital in first grade. I don't remember much of the performance, but I do remember we got to have ice cream after. Funny, I see a theme here involving music and dessert!
AH: Who are the influences in your music and in your own career?
ST: My 'influences' are all over the place--- as an artist, all music I have loved and embraced has been influential in some way. Like most every girl who's a child of the '80's, my earliest musical heroes were of course Madonna and Cyndi Lauper. I'm not afraid to say I was obsessed with movie musicals as a child; anything with Ann-Margret or Olivia Newton John; and I obsessively played the soundtrack to Les Miserables. My grandfather was a cellist and had a passion for classical music, so of course that has been passed on to me- I love everything from Frederic Chopin to Phillip Glass to Verdi and Puccini, Brahms, Barber, Bernstein, Copeland; I studied opera through high school and college. Carole King--- of course as a female songwriter, she's the Grande Dame. I fell in love with my Dad's jazz albums when I was really little, so I have been most deeply influenced by that. I really soaked up Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer; I knew all of the standards by heart at a very early age. I really admire the great classic female jazz vocalists and the way they connected emotionally with their lyrics and melodies: Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, Nina Simone. I would say they have influenced my goal for my own career in that I hope to always be able to express my heart and soul through my music--- whether I'm singing jazz, or rock, or pop, or blues, or folk. Real soul is timeless.
AH: Being from Chicago, are there any Chicago music acts that have influenced your music?
ST: Of course the Blues! Whenever I hear great Blues it takes me right back to Chicago. Smashing Pumpkins for sure, Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. I heard that Liz Phair actually went to my high school--- it would be cool to follow in her footsteps. She's a cool lady.
AH: Where in Chicago were you from and what drew you into New York City?
ST: I was born in Evanston, and raised in Evanston and Winnetka, in the north suburbs. I lived in the city in a cute apartment in Boys' Town for a time before I moved to Manhattan. In terms of what made me move to New York- I have to say it's always been my dream, ever since The Muppets Take Manhattan. I am the kind of girl who likes to be in the center of it all. Plus I'm really a horrible driver- so New York is perfect for me! Everyone else should be glad that I'm being kept off the streets of your city!
So far I have not been disappointed by NYC: it's everything I thought it would be, plus a lot more I never expected. In a good way.
AH: We ask everyone this: What is your philosophy on music???
ST: My grandfather always had a saying hanging on the wall of his music room: 'For heights and depths no words can reach, music is the soul's own speech.' For me that's so true: music expresses something in a way that sometimes words alone cannot. It is the universal language.
AH: What inspires you to just get out a piece of paper, a pen or pencil and start writing music?
ST: My inspiration comes for so many different places; it's tough to know when it will strike! I will often suddenly get struck with an idea, usually it's just a few words or a short phrase or two, and so of course I have a million little scraps of paper and cocktail napkins all over my apartment with almost incoherent scribbling on them. I like to let them accumulate for a period of time, and then usually when I feel especially reflective or contemplative I'll sit down with them, lay them all out in front of me, and see if there's any kind of common theme running through them--- usually there is! It's like my subconscious is always building an idea, and these phrases are the words that leak through. I start vibing off that and making rhymes, and usually the song takes shape really quickly. That's how it is with me: a long gestation, a fast birth! I love to write when it's very late at night and I everything else in my day is accomplished. It's the only time I can find the peace of mind to really create freely.
AH: Why is music important to you?
ST: I really am fascinated by the ways music is connected to memory. how a few bars of a song you hear can just open the door to your past and take you right back again. What a cool career it is to be a songwriter, and have your music help people create their own memories! I also really believe music can heal. a lot of my songs may be rather melancholy and reflective, but those kinds of songs allow people to make sense of their own feelings and feel like they're not alone in having those emotions. The highest compliment I can receive from a fan after a show is 'I have been there, I've experienced that, but I never knew how to express it, and what you sang was exactly how I have felt.'
AH: Out of all the songs you have out, which song defines you the most?
ST: All three of the songs on this website, and on my EP, represent completely different parts of my personality. I do consider myself to be a very positive, together, and well-adjusted person (and I can hear my friends laughing as they read this!), but in my writing I can express the uglier or more insecure sides that I don't show everyday. I create music from those ugly and insecure sides, and then I show them to hundreds of people onstage! But that has been a big part of what I've learned- not to be afraid to expose my flawed self to my audience. 'Perfect' people are no fun and not real--- the Jessica Simpsons of the music industry. I am not about image like that.
But I digress--- back to the question--- outwardly, 'Nina Simone' is the most literal and the most like what people know of me. It's upbeat and breezy and very descriptive of my experiences in my neighborhood, the East Village. 'After the Rain' is about having wild, crazy, self-destructive impulses and wanting to break away from the constraints of your life and just FEEL everything on the most base, visceral level. That would be the inner me, most of the time! 'Remember to Forget' is the broken me.
AH: What is the best fan experience you ever had?
ST: Hmmm., well, the worst was when I played this kind of dive-y bar, and it was full of totally drunk, obnoxious meathead guys. they were screaming through my entire set, things basically like 'YEAH! TAKE IT OFF!!!' and 'SARAH, YOU'RE HOT!" and right in the middle of the most emotional song of the set, one of them jumped up on the stage and tried to grab the mic to sing along! I kept playing and kind waited for someone to do something. The bouncer or the bartender or someone! My best friend Rachel ended up jumping up there and dragging him off the stage herself.
The best fan experiences are any time someone tells me my music gave them chills, or tears, or made them laugh or clap or dance--- being able to move people physically with music is the best! You're reaching them on a level that's not just intellectual.
AH: Finally, what are your goals, short and in the long-term?
ST: My goal always: to reach as many people as possible with my music! In the short term: to be able to quit my day job and work on music full time. In the long term: to be able to make a few great albums, collaborate with other musicians I admire, and hopefully get some industry recognition to reward my years of struggle--- a Grammy or two would definitely be nice! Make my mom proud!
AH: The thing or things you'd be doing if it weren't for music.
ST: If I had no musical talent whatsoever, I'd probably be some kind of 'domestic diva and entrepreneur' because I am really skilled at cooking, decorating, and entertaining. Friends call me 'The Rock N Roll Martha Stewart'. I always thought someone should have a lifestyle empire geared towards young urbanites who want to be fabulous but have no time, space, or money. I definitely have some good tips I could market!
AH: What's spinning in your music player right now?
ST: New Order, 'Blue Monday'. Also in heavy rotation lately: Feist, The Postal Service, Rilo Kiley, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, Keren Ann, Sam Phillips, Goldfrapp, Eva Cassidy, Amos Lee, Sade, Seal. I actually have started publishing some playlists on iTunes of a lot of my favorite songs; I love making mixtapes for friends and I think it's really cool that now you can share them with the world due to the miracles of modern technology! You can check out a couple:
A sexy one for winter hibernation:
And a fun, inspirational one for spring:
Listen and enjoy! My gift to all of your readers!
AH: The things you can't live without as a musician
ST: My guitar and keyboard, minor chords, coffee, allmusic.com, my iPod (amazing to have my entire music collection with me at all times!), the Tower Records on E. 4th St. and Broadway in the Village, all the people that tell me no, but mostly my amazing supportive friends and family who are endlessly inspirational.
AH: East Village or Chicago's downtown music scene?
ST: East Village! Because so many clubs open and close every day that you can never play them all. And New Yorkers totally and wholeheartedly support the music scene.
AH: Performing at New York's Madison Knitting Factory or The Bitter End or.Chicago's House of Blues or at the Vic Theatre?
ST: Oh, I do love the Vic! I have great memories of the Vic. My friends and I used to sneak into the 'Brew And View' movie nights there when we were underage, to watch silly flicks and drink beer. It would be a real kick to play there! I actually just played the Knitting Factory here in NYC and will be at the Bitter End next month. I can't wait to go back to Chicago sometime and play some shows.
AH: Your three ultimate venues you would love to play in
ST: Central Park in NYC- The Sydney Opera House- Red Rocks in Colorado.
AH: Music none of your friends (or fans) expect you to listen to
ST: Ha, my friends wouldn't be surprised by anything--- they know my taste in music is adventurous to say the least! My fans may not know that I really dig Reggae and Afrobeat music.
AH: Which act or acts would you love to share the stage (or bus) with?
ST: That's easy--- lots of cute boys! I have a huge crush on Amos Lee (he'll never read this, right?) and I would kill to go on the road with him. I have a few friends that are on the road with John Legend, so it would a huge party to tour with them. Damien Rice, David Gray, Coldplay- I could babysit little Apple. One of my dreams is to record and tour with the band Zero 7. I think it could be quite an adventure to tour with Rufus Wainwright.
AH: Where will you be in five to ten years from now?
ST: In a chateau in the French countryside, with no phones or computers, writing beautiful music.
AH: Non-musical talents you carry
ST: I don't know if any of them are printable.
AH: Favorite food(s)?
ST: Chocolate, ice cream, cheesecake, anything sweet. Anything my Dad cooks- he's an amazing self-taught chef. Tapas, sushi, fish tacos, steak frites, oysters, Indian chicken tikka masala, fondue. Vietnamese food bigtime! My absolute favorite is Vietnamese.
AH: Your most embarrassing moment on stage.
ST: So many mishaps have happened to me onstage--- pretty much everything that can go wrong has at some point, so I try not to let myself get embarrassed by it! I usually just try to make a joke about and tell the audience that it's the beauty of live performance. I usually say 'that will be edited out of the concert DVD'. I've never had anything happen that was totally disastrous, like the Ashlee-lip-synching scandal or anything like that. Yet.
AH: Aimee Mann, Beth Orton, Liz Phair, or Fiona Apple?
ST: Oh, so tough- I love them all! Aimee for her lyrics, Fiona for her hypnotically dark rhythmic pull, Liz for her attitude- but I have to hand it to Beth. Beth has been with me through a lot--- her album Central Reservation has been my soundtrack to so many life altering moments. As a musician, for me she has found the perfect blend of really modern production (great stuff produced by Ben Watt and the Chemical Bros., big-time electronic guys) and classic, solid, great traditional songwriting. Beth defies categorization and was a true pioneer in the whole 'folktronica' genre, and that's part of why I look up to her and love her music so much.
Alan Ho is the founder and chief head of Musiqtone and has a playlist that lasts 22 hours, 33 minutes and 34 seconds...and he's not done finishing creating the playlist. Beat that...well in any case he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(C) 2006 Musiqtone. All Rights Reserved. Any part of this interview cannot be used without written express consent from both the representatives of Sarah Tracey and Musiqtone.