Musical Discoveries: Could you tell us a bit more about your musical background?
Sarah Spencer: Hey there! Thank you so much for the interview.
Music has been everywhere in my life for as far back as I can remember. My dad is a guitarist and a songwriter, while my mom is a music enthusiast, so there was always sound happening in my home. I started taking piano lessons when I was six, which really got me into songwriting. I was a horrible student, and when I didn't take the time to learn the pieces I was supposed to, my wonderful teacher was great enough to let me play my own compositions for recitals. She is a saint!
Around thirteen I started taking classical voice lessons from another amazing teacher who changed my entire outlook on singing and vocal health. She was the whole reason I was even able to sing a lot of the more challenging pieces we recorded. My dad also introduced me to the joy of recording, something I'm still constantly learning about from him. Whenever I had two seconds I would be upstairs in the studio to mess around, sing, play, do anything.
How did you get together with Steve on the Angelfire project?
Steve and I started collaborating when I was about sixteen, after my dad had reached out to him for some advice about music. He liked my voice enough to want to see if we could make some music together, and after a couple years of writing when he wasn't on tour, we suddenly had an album's worth of material!
What exactly has been your role in the Angelfire project?
We co-wrote everything on the album together, but I mainly put down the lyrics, and Steve mainly did the music. Of course there were times where we would both put down some lines, and one song on there ("Feelings are Overrated") was an old track of mine that Steve resurrected, so it wasn't split right down the middle, 50/50. But for the most part, Sarah = lyrics, Steve = musical genius, arrangement/production.
How would you characterize your vocal work on the Angelfire project?
Vocals are a trip on this album! When we started sketching out ideas in the beginning, I just assumed, ok, one vocal singing the melody, maybe some harmonies here and there. But Steve brought it to the next level by adding all sorts of harmonies, to the point where it sounds like choirs, really beautiful and totally unexpected.
The first track we did, "What Made You Think," there's this part right before the chorus where voices are reversed and upside down and it's absolutely awesome! Throughout the album you can tell there's a lot of play with the vocals, just seeing what could be done, all the while keeping with a sound that's easy to listen to, kind of relaxing at times.
Who are the artists that have influenced you?
My influences are many! I know I'm surely leaving some people out, but John Williams. He's the reason I started writing at all, because I wanted to score movies like he does. Celine Dion is the vocalist I aspire to. I've always listened to pop music and mainstream rock, and now a days I'm listening to a lot more folk artists, songwriters, some off the beaten path kind of music. I love Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Ingrid Michaelson, Bob Dylan, Iron and Wine. Plus gillions more.
Where can we hear some of your other vocal work?
I've had the joy and the luck to work with songwriter Paul Weston, songwriter / composer Al Steele, and songwriter Nigel Jenkins on lots of material. Al set one of my songs to a beautiful orchestral arrangement. It's an earlier song, one I wrote probably when I was about fourteen, called "One Day".
Paul has written many, many beautiful pieces that I've the pleasure of singing on, some of which you can hear on his MySpace, "Shine" was an epic piece to work on! Also, please have a listen to "My Desire", it's a fantastic, absolutely moving song. It's in production right now, getting finalized, but you can hear a snippit of it on Paul's MySpace.
The song is an eleven minute story, with the first seven or eight minutes full of lush orchestral instrumental. It's Al's arrangement / composing with Paul's song, and it's my favorite piece of theirs to date. The third song that I sang with Paul is called "One More Last Goodbye." It is also available at his MySpace.
Nigel is another fantastic songwriter that I had the joy of co-writing with. I'll see if I can get a streaming link for you, but I don't think it's anywhere on the internet right now. Nigel is another accomplished guitarist that you can hear in some of Al's recordings. He's also written on the track "Baker's Street" by Gerry Rafferty.
What opportunities have you had to perform in front of live audiences?
I've spent a lot more time on stage than it feels like, probably because I get terrible stage fright! Really, my palms sweat, my legs shake, I loose the feeling in my hands. But it all starts to get a little better when the first applause happens and people are actually having a good time!
I've sang a lot in my hometown, mostly for charity events, singing popular material with some originals mixed in. After that, it was an open mic night then I suddenly found myself in LA playing with Steve, opening for the Steve Morse Band! Really, I have no idea how that happened. Those were the best shows ever, the three we did in California and the three here in Florida. Awesome people!
What value is there on "image" for a female recording artist in these times of delivery via the internet?
Interesting question! Image is everything, female or not, but probably especially so for us ladies. Everyone's aware of the double standard. Sometimes women are automatically judged as not being legitimate artists like our male counterparts, that our songs are all about love and romance and cute boys and puppies when that's not always the case. And I think these days having an image is even more demanding.
Our society is saturated with visual excitement stemming from instant gratification; people like to take one glance at something to figure out if they like it or not. These days people are less inclined to listen to a song all the way though before they decide to trash it. Artists are forced to have a "pretty face" on the cover of everything.
What else piques your interest and rocks your world these days?
Well, I'm a graphic design major at Florida State University, so I've been trying to inundate myself with all sorts of visual artistry as well! I paint a lot, mostly digitally in photoshop or with oils. Even more recently, I've been making books. Weird, yes, but totally fun. It's very satisfying to bind your own sketchbook!
Looking into the future a year or so, what are your plans, hopes and dreams?
In a year? I'll probably still be in school. That's what I get for changing my major! But I definitely plan to graduate with a BFA in design. After that, everything is wide open! I'm still writing, never going to stop writing. I just hope I can find a good outlet for my music where people will hear it and enjoy it. And its a bit early on to say for sure, but Steve and I would like to work on something together again.
Is there anything else you want to tell our readers?
Nope, awesome interview! Thank you a million times for your interest.