Musical Discoveries: Where are you based these days and where have you traveled since your last three records, most recently, Rain for Roots?
Sandra McCracken: I am based out of Tennessee, and travel a fair amount in the southeast with regular stops out to California and Texas.
We haven't gotten to really tour Rain For Roots since we are all four mom's with young children and lots of other plates spinning. But I do hope we get to do that at some point!
How would you contrast Desire Like Dynamite with your earlier projects and get the inspiration to release about one project per year?
I feel like Desire Like Dynamite has followed a natural progression of art-making for me. I didn't set out for it to be a departure, but I do think it has elements that make it sound like something new. I think art reflects life, and I have been in a season of transition and growth in the past couple of years. I don't write a lot of fiction in my songs, for better or worse. And I hope people find their own voice reflected in these stories.
As for the inspiration, I think it comes from living. And for me, I am more open in my relationships and commitments than I have ever been before. And I think that that vulnerability peeks out through the songwriting.
What would you tell newcomers to your music to expect on the new album?
Desire Like Dynamite is intended to be a slow-cooked meal. I hope for it to have surprises and complex flavors for the listener to discover after many listens, maybe even after many years. That is my hope, at least. These are songs that give voice to longing and wanting something more, or wanting something that is broken to be restored. These are songs that live in a shadow, but point to a sunrise that is coming when all things will be made right.
Were there artists that influenced you on any of your works to date?
I have less time for musical discovery lately, and I hope to remedy that at some point soon, but while making this album, I have been influenced by authors Wendell Berry, James K.A. Smith, John Muir and Harper Lee as well as bands like Bon Iver, Jonsi, and also by traditional hymns and poetry.
What were your musical goals for this project?
I wanted to convey honesty. I wanted the songs to sound almost like instrumental music, only with a stark, vulnerable lead melody. I wanted them to be haunting, to stay with you after the music stops. I also focused back on piano, which is my first instrument. I think that helps me to open up the melodies a little bit.
As a young woman in the recording industry, what kinds of things have you done to manage your image?
I don't know much about image making in that sense, although I have heard people go to great lengths to project that. I guess we all do this every time we login to FaceBook and post the best happy photos of ourselves.
More than image, it matters to me to have a consistent character as a person. That whether somebody is a close friend or a distant acquaintance, that they would see me as the same person. When I'm with people just like me, or people with very different backgrounds, I want to be the same person. That is more challenging that I thought it would be. I feel like I am learning a lot about that lately. You can be an introvert, or be moderately socially awkward--like myself--and still learn to be true. It is not easy. But it is worth it.
In addition to NoiseTrade, how have you used online media to support this release?
Yes, I have been encouraged by the response to this new album. Sometimes I think it is hard to grasp the impact of something digital that is out there, or the response to it when it's not person to person. I think NoiseTrade is a huge help in terms of getting the word out and connecting with people.
And my favorite thing with Desire Like Dynamite is how the album is making a slow wave of impact rather than a sudden burst that quickly disappears. I am grateful for this, hearing about new listeners discovering the album gradually, over weeks and months. I think friends telling friends about music, making mix-tapes and sharing life together is the most meaningful way to experience songs. It is what 'folk music' is all about.
What can you tell our readers about your live performances?
Every show is a little different, and I enjoy most getting to respond to a particular room of people. It is always a surprise. Some folks are reserved, some chatty, some are hard to read. I tend to get lost in the performances of the songs, but I enjoy getting into some conversation with the audience in between songs; requests, questions are always welcome.
The best thing about live music is that it is a unique experience that you cannot control. You can micromanage a recorded version of a song. You can listen on your own headphones on the subway or at the Y when you are working out, but there is no substitute for being together with other people sharing music and life together for one particular evening.
Please tell us about the others you work with and their contribution to the Sandra McCracken experience.
In Nashville, I am grateful for a rich community of artists and musicians. I have benefited greatly from this culture and these friendships. I would not be the same without them. And most directly, my family has had a major influence on my work. Better communication in relationships leads to better communication in writing.
You can't make art in a vacuum. Art comes from life. A life of risk and generosity produces more beautiful art. Generosity takes many forms. And I'm a student of it looking to take notes whenever and wherever it shows up.
Besides the music, what else rocks your world these days?
Nature walks. Dark chocolate. Chopin. The BCP. Board games. Red wine. Coloring books and crayons.