EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE: Sarah Belkner returns with new single 'Animals'
Sarah Belkner released her debut album But You Are, But It Has in 2017 and has worked with a number of high profile Australian artists such as Olympia, Sarah Blasko and Missy Higgins in roles both onstage, including backup singer and keyboardist, and offstage, including producer and engineer. She has now returned with the single ‘Animals’, her first new music in two years, which exclusively premieres today on Women In Pop. A glorious, alternative pop track with hints of jungle and synth, Belkner says the song is about “being very deeply in a relationship but navigating the general day to day things.”
Listen to the song below now, and then read on for our interview with Sarah.
Hi Sarah! Thanks for chatting to us. First up, how is everything in the life of Sarah Belkner?
Yeah pretty good overall thanks! It’s feeling really great to be back with new music of my own and actually starting to answer questions about it is making it feel more real, so that’s really nice, thanks!
Can we take it right back to the beginning and talk about your very first memories of music?
Well here’s a good one…My dad sent me this picture the other day I’d forgotten about. I think I’m about four years old, wearing this pink, shiny, very classic late 80s little girl’s formal dress with white stockings and black shoes. In front of my face is a microphone with one of those black foam wind socks on it and it looks giant compared to my tiny face at the time (laughs). I’m singing at my auntie’s wedding and I remembered straight away I was singing ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’. My very first show! My dad is accompanying me on a DX-7 and he’s wearing yellow socks. My great aunt Dorothy is fondly looking on behind with a beautiful look of pride and classily having a cigarette. She was a total hoot. I did post the photo on instagram actually for those that want to go check it out!
So this is a pretty strong memory. I was always singing from when I was little and it made me happy and people seemed to enjoy me doing it.
Was there a point when you decided you were going to make music a career?
Yes, at high school really. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else so I’ve just always done it really. But my challenge, and I think a lot of musicians find this, was that I got a bit confused about what my personal music career would look like - which things to do and which not to do. I’m still learning this every day.
I had a very classic dream of writing songs and having a recording and performing career but I was already quite aware of the pitfalls of the music industry as my dad had been signed to CBS in Australia in the 80s. So I think I have always approached everything with an air of caution which hasn’t made me super attractive to the classic industry. But I’m quite settled into just doing it my own way now! (laughs)
I was also heavily involved in choirs and writing and arranging music in a variety of styles and a music academic too so this was all a bit un-rock and roll. And then also I’ve always been very into the back end of studio work and putting music together and spent a lot of time teaching singing. Too many things really.
Doing many varied things in music at times has annoyed the shit out of me but I now see it’s been a really great thing to be able to be diverse and have a variety of skills. I’m a weird combo of being institutionally trained but I also believe heartily that you really don’t need to study music formally to be an incredible musician. A lot of my favourite aspects of myself as a musician are the natural and undeveloped parts.
It has been two years since we last had new music from you, what have you been up to in the interim?
I have been touring a lot with other artists as a backing singer and keyboard player which I love. My style of writing has always been I collect as I go and then more formally curate after, so this round of writing my own songs I actually ended up writing a lot of lyrics whilst I was travelling. I couldn’t physically sit at a piano or make little crappy beats or anything so it forced me to think about words and finish whole lyric sets first and then set them back to music.
So yeah, writing and then I have been in the producers seat too, I co-wrote and produced Brendan Maclean’s album And The Boyfriends that was just released and am super proud of that, I hope people go and check it out - he’s amazing.
Your new ‘Animals’ is a brilliant song, can you tell me a little about what inspired the track, and the creative process behind it?
Thank you! This one I actually did have that main riff as a voice memo and would listen to it over and over on planes knowing there was something in it and then just started forming the lyrics together.
It was a bit of a palaeontology process this one, where it kept revealing itself as to what it was about bit by bit and I kept having to clarify it. Then when the basic song was finished I took it to my band and we did old school band practise style pre-production in between tours which was so satisfying.
This song is about being very deeply in a relationship but navigating the general day to day things and in this case being away from each other but just wanting deep in your heart for it all to be quite simple and primal.
What other new music have you been working on? Can we expect an album or EP soon?
Yes it’s an album. It was a definite body of work that came out so that will be what it is. I have no idea when that will be out yet though and just happy to be back with one song at a time for the minute. There is a really nice, different change in perspective in these songs so feels good to let them out one by one to start that shift.
You’ve worked with some of the legends of the Australian music industry including Sarah Blasko, Missy Higgins and Olympia. How does collaborating with these artists inspire your own work?
Yes well it’s actually inspired all of my current work! I really have just written while I’ve been on tour with everyone so the perspective of the record is totally influenced by working with all these amazing artists.
There’s a lot of commentary in my new work about being a creative and holding onto your creative process and identity, navigating feelings of wanting to quit and how it all effects your relationships both personally and to the world.
It’s kind fo simply about ‘creativity’ or if you swap that word with ‘passion’ then that’s the more universal thread of what it’s a lot to do with. Finding, nurturing and keeping your passions alight.
I also feel so lucky to get to rock around and be on the other side of the responsibility a bit and you become a supporter and facilitator to these wonderful people which I’ve loved. Such incredible education. And then coming back to your own songs and environment you feel that bit of scariness of just having nowhere to hide and being really responsible for everything.
Who is on your ‘dream list’ of artists to work with?
Well Neil Finn was always on there and then I got to sing with him last year for his ‘Out Of Silence’ shows in Australia last year and that was a total pinch me moment. I’ve recently been working with Tim Minchin and that was a dream I didn’t even know I had! It’s been incredible. So anything can happen can’t it?! (laughs)
I’m loving following my nose with opportunities more at the moment so don’t have a big list happening, it’s been more fun keeping my head up and seeing what comes along than burying into big hopes that can get smashed to bits at any minute.
When you are creating your music, is there a particular message or theme you like to project with it?
I like to start and then see what I am wanting to say. I don’t sit down and go ‘I’m going to write something about XYZ’. I collect and then put it under the microscope later. I really love that little light bulb process of realising you are thinking of an idea or a little set of words and have to quickly get it down.
When I’m collaborating I do more of a logical process and I love being the person to lead creatives to clarify their ideas which is why I love producing so much, but my own song writing has always been more of a space to learn and see what my subconscious thinks and feels about certain things. Which is why I often end up singing about the grey areas of love and life. I want to express things I haven’t quite heard put that way in a song before which is why my work is always quite clear on the surface but sits somewhere a little odd when you get further into it.
There has been a lot of debate and conversation in the last year or so about gender equality. What are your thoughts on sexism in the music industry?
Well, I feel like we are on a positive change where things that were kind of just weirdly accepted and that everyone would perpetuate are unacceptable now. I think people are feeling more confident to be themselves and not pacify bad situations that they may have in the past in order to not upset people.
I have personally been treated with great respect and work with the most wonderful people but in saying that there’s not actually a lot of women or people who identify differently doing what I’m doing still and that seems odd. Particularly studio roles and touring session musicians but it’s exciting to see in the generations under us that this is changing.
I have never been made to feel I can’t do what I do because of my gender so I’m aware I’m one of the lucky ones.
What’s up next for Sarah Belkner?
Well immediately these shows to celebrate the release of the single. I can’t wait! So Saturday night 11th May at the Red Rattler in Sydney and then the Gasometer in Melbourne on 16th May.
They are going to be super exciting shows. My full band are playing and we are technically ‘supporting’ Brendan Maclean for his album release but wanted to just make it a big family party. I’m playing in his band too who are all great friends of mine and Richie B my crazy talented husband is doing the sound for all of us. He recorded all the music too and our studio Free Energy Device is our hub for our creative life. Grab tickets, there’s a few left.
I’m just so lucky to work with all these beautiful talented people and that’s what these shows will be, a big old celebration of this. Make stuff! The End!