Authentic is the word most often used to describe Sara Syms. She has performed all over the US with various bands, but she is most at home with her Americana roots music, captivating audiences with her bewitching performances. Her raw and organic sound combined with her heartfelt and honest lyrics reveal an artist willing to be intimate and vulnerable with her fans. Sara has been influenced by artists such as Ryan Adams, Patty Griffin and Ray Lamontagne.
Currently putting the finishing touches on her upcoming album, Fade to Blue, recorded with engineer Matthew Cullen (Ray LaMontagne, Rachael Yamagata, Martha Wainwright, Madeline Peyroux, My Morning Jacket) at the historic Dreamland Studios in upstate New York, Syms joined us for an interview from her home in New York City.
Did you write all of the songs on the album?
I wrote all the lyrics and music on this album. I worked with my incredibly talented artist development coach, Lynn Verlayne, on song structure and unifying the album as a whole to create a story.
What inspires you to write?
Music is the air that I breathe. It’s what gets me up in the morning. I write everywhere! Living in NYC, there is inspiration around every corner. Music relaxes me and writing is the best way to unwind from a stressful day.
How would you describe your music?
I am inspired by artists such as Ray LaMontagne, Ryan Adams, Patty Griffin, Norah Jones, Brandi Carlile, Jeff Buckley, Buddy Miller and Laura Marling. There is a realness and vulnerability in every song and performance delivered. I try to be honest with my music, and I write from my heart and from life experiences.
What instruments do you play on the album?
Initially I wrote everything on piano and guitar. Aside from the strings, we recorded the band live so we could all vibe off one another. I played guitar on the title track “Fade to Blue,” but all the other instruments were in place, so I could concentrate on the vocals in the moment.
Who/what inspired you to become a musician?
My parents were very supportive of my interest in music, especially my mother. She got me involved in piano, violin and singing at an early age. She was a folk singer and some of her favorite musicians were Judy Collins, Eva Cassidy, Carol King and Joni Mitchell. My mother was my best friend and biggest supporter. She passed away when I was in college, and it shattered my world. It took me a while to get back on my feet, but through music I learned to connect with her again in an incredibly special way.
Where are you from? Where did you grow up?
I am originally from Chicago. My dad got a job in Boston when I was young, so my childhood was spent on the east coast. We moved back to Chicago when I was entering middle school. Living on the east coast and in the midwest has made me a very well-rounded individual, though my heart has always connected to the east by the water.
Where did you record it?
We recorded the album at Dreamland Recording Studios outside of Woodstock, NY. It is a beautiful 19th century church, which has been host to such legendary artists as Pat Metheny, The Band, Herbie Hancock, 10,000 Maniacs, John Hall and recent artists Beach House and Fleet Foxes. It was a truly magical experience. We lived up there for three days and tracked the entire album live.
Who performed on your album? Any special guests?
I couldn’t have asked for better musicians. They brought such an organic, genuine sound to the recordings. I had Andy Stack (electric guitar), Nick Africano (rhythm guitar), Brett Bass (Bass), Misty Boyce (keys) and Spencer Cohen (drums). Last but not least, my string players Lorenza Ponce (violin) and Dave Eggar (cello). Lorenza is the violinist of Jon Bon Jovi and has toured with Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Hall & Oates, Ben Folds and John Tesh. Dave Eggar has performed with such artists as The Who, Coldplay, Josh Groban, John Denver, Pearl Jam and Evanescence to name a few. Both played on Ray LaMontagne’s Til The Sun Turns Black, an absolute influential inspiration to my album.
Can you give us a song by song description of some of your favorite tracks?
This album is very much about my life, the love and the loss I have experienced. A lot of the songs are centered around the death of my mother, but in a positive way. “Dance on My Grave” was written from the perspective of her talking to me, letting me know not to be sad when she is gone. How she would want me to celebrate her life and always remember the good times. “All We Have is Now” is a hybrid of the way I see my dad holding onto the past, and the way I tend to worry about the future. It’s about letting go and living in the moment. “Someday” is a song about the loss of my mother, and my wish to see her again. As sad as the context is, there is a light about it that we will all be reconnected with our loved ones again. And “Devil Came Around” is simply a porch stomping good time.
What is one thing people are surprised to learn about you?
I was an internationally competitive figure skater from age five through college. Performing is in my blood. The discipline and drive I learned as an athlete is an essential part of the work ethic I possess as an artist. Giving up on my dreams will never be an option.
New single "Dance On My Grave" available on iTunes. Stay tuned for full album release Spring 2013.