Interview: Sarah Solovay on her comeback EP, Madonna & going to Yale

Indie-pop singer stops by the Popdust office to chat about her return to music and plays two songs, including her new single "Rough Draft."

Five years can feel like a lifetime in the music business. "I feel like a totally different person than I was five years ago," says singer-songwriter Sarah Solovay, a promising vocalist who has gone from wide-eyed teenager to strong, independent woman ruling the world. She last issued an EP called Superhuman way back in 2012, but when she turned 18, she had to make a life-changing choice: to attend Yale University. While there, she took on American Studies, narrowing down her focus to pop and Hollywood culture. "I did a class in country music in the South, and I did a class in hip-hop music and New York City culture and all these cool things that other people were taking as their [electives]. I took the curriculum that was available and found the thing that the nerd in me was most excited about," she shares with Popdust.

Upon the drop of her new single "Rough Draft," featuring a Taylor Swift-wallop on the hook, Solovay--along with her trusty sidekicks (Jeb Roberts and Gerard Canonico)--makes an office visit to reflect on her journey so far. "Ages 17/18 to 22/23 is a huge transition. I think the number one way as it relates to my music is I never really experienced a lot of the things I was writing about back in high school," she says. "I'd never fallen in love; I'd never had my heart broken; I'd never even really had a boyfriend or anything like that. Then, I went off to college and just had infinite life experiences that I feel like I can draw from. I had a bunch of different friendships that really taught me a lot. As a songwriter, I think that the personal journey makes all the difference."

"Rough Draft," which samples a forthcoming, yet-untitled new EP, was originally written four years ago, but it was a no-brainer to record. "Throughout the years, [this song] was one I kept returning to and was like 'this feels very true to me and who I am as an artist," she explains. "I actually haven't released anything new in five years. The awesome thing--but also the terribly daunting thing--about this new EP was I got to pick from five years' worth of material. I was writing the whole time and had all these different experiences that I'd captured in a bunch of different songs that are very important to me. So, in picking out the few songs to start with, [the song] seemed like an obvious choice."

"Baby, reach out and touch me, no reason to like me or love me today," Solovay coos, blending a hip-hop lift into her folk-pop concoction. It's a bold move but the size of the chorus and the cutting specificity more than pay off those dividends. "I'm very much a work in progress. I think every 22, going on 23, year old feels that way. It just felt very honest to where I am," she says about the song--which shines even brighter during her exclusive acoustic set (check that out below). She juxtaposes a work of art to her own personal evolution, a 20-something as fearless as she is talented.

"The initial inspiration [for the song] was two-part. I was thinking about it as a relationship song and a 'take me or leave me' kinda song. But then I also was thinking about different art, drafting, writing, creative themes," she says, "and it seemed like a really nice way to talk about relationship dynamics through this lens that I find so interesting. Then, over the years, it's come to be more of an [empowering] kind of song, and in a way, what I think about my own relationship with myself. So, whenever I sing it now, that's what's on my mind. I think it's really cool that songs can shift for you like that and still be every bit as true over time."

On the song's R&B edge, she says experimenting in the studio was crucial to pinpointing how high the song could fly. "I was fortunate to work with some amazing producers, who were down to try out cool different things like that and people that I really jived with in terms of stuff that we like to listen to. We tried out a few different things – tried to just add to what it felt like the song wanted and needed, instead of being like 'today we will try it out as this genre, and tomorrow…'

The music video (currently in the works) promises to intensify the song's message. Solovay teases, "We're working on something that I think jives with the song very well, because it's artistic and visually resonates with the theme of a draft of something, or a work, a piece of art that you're working on."

The singer plans to drop the new EP by summer, but "I'm trying to not overthink the plan and let the music dictate what happens next and see who each song resonates with and go from there."

You also performed another new song called "Trick Me." How did that one come about?

I started it with the producers that worked on the core of the EP with me. They're these guys [James G. Morales, Matt Morales, Dave Rodriguez] who themselves The Eleven [who have worked with Bebe Rexha, Meghan Trainor and others]. We started writing it in a session, and we got the gist of the melody down together. Then, I just took it with me and sat on it for a few days and was in this ambiguous confusing thing with a guy and just sort of let that inform the lyrics. I sent them what I'd written, and everyone was like "this is really cool! Let's run with it." I rarely write my songs like this, but the way this one started was that they had a track already fully produced which means that the musical part of it was already there. We laid down a melody on top of that; we ended up totally scrapping that track and redoing it for my own project, but it was interesting to start with something that was already half-baked.

With reintroducing yourself, what are some emotions that you've gone through?

Honestly, the number one emotion has been excitement. I am so pumped that I am finally at a place in my life where it makes sense to sing music again. I've gotten pretty impatient from time to time because it's hard when you wanna get it right and you feel like there's this pressure to put out stuff that you feel amazing about. I have taken time to really fine tune everything. I know what it feels like to actively be out there as an artist, and I've just been craving that. It's very exciting to finally be back in the swing of performing and releasing things...but pretty much any emotion you can think of I've probably felt about coming back. The only one I haven't ever really felt is doubt about whether it's the right thing to do.

How have you fine tuned your songwriting?

I want the ones that are the most honest and the ones with the lyrics that are very deeply grounded--things that I went through and things that I still connect with. That's been the number one focus: the lyrics and thinking about how to make them as true as possible to the things that I've gone through. But also, I think my sound has shifted since I last released things five years ago, and I think that's a reflection of a slightly different emotional quality to the music and of the ways that I've grown and changed over the years.

Do you think having pursued music so resolutely as a teenager was essential for your artistic growth?

Yeah, I do. I started writing a lot about relationships, and a lot of those songs are about romantic relationships, and then sometimes the inspiration was also my relationship with music and where I've been and what that journey's been like. I do think it has shaped in important ways who I am as an artist.

Was higher education always really important to you even though you loved music?

Yeah. Even the whole time I was doing music in high school and very actively putting things out and performing, I still was in school, so every day would be in classes from eight to three, then I would go downtown to do a soundcheck, then sit in a corner and drink cranberry juice and do my homework, and then go on. My friends would make a lot of Hannah Montana jokes, and it would be funny but not wrong!

What is another standout on the EP you're excited about most?

This one song called "If You Want," which is a ballad, is one that I wrote a few years ago and also shelved and completely forgot about. I was going back through all my old songs with my manager, and we found this one. It just instantly clicked that this needed to be part of the EP. I'm really stoked for people to hear that one, because I feel like we almost left that little guy behind. Now, I've resuscitated him.

What was life like growing up in the lights of New York City?

Growing up here was just incredibly inspiring. I think what was really cool for me was that any musician I looked up to played here regularly. So, there were always fun concerts but also just a lot of really cool art. My parents took me to museums most weekends and stuff like that. I think if I'd lived anywhere other than New York, I wouldn't have been able to have the dual life of student and musician that I did starting at 13 when I played my first open mic night at an inner-city music venue. Living here affected me profoundly in a million different ways. I think moving back to New York after being away for four years has allowed me to appreciate the city in a totally new way. I do feel a lot of the time that I've just moved here, and it's this new city that I'm discovering now as a young person. I had access to these music venues growing up, but I'd get these huge X's on my hands. My mom would be with me; I'd go up and do my set and then I'd be gently ushered out of the venue pretty quickly. Now is the first time I'm getting to really sink my teeth into the artistic scene here, in a way that I always wanted to growing up.

To potential new fans, what is the message you hope they get from your music?

Since I write about relationships and I write about my day-to-day experiences and the things that are on my mind, my hope is that new fans will be able to hear things in my songs that they've been through and feel a little less crazy because of that. I think the music, and especially pop music, is supposed to just be uplifting and fun. So, I try to not overthink it and be like "this is the very specific message I want everyone to take." It's more just I hope people find the songs in my collection that they really click with and feel validated by.

I read that Madonna was your first concert. How do you think she has ultimately inspired you and influenced your music?

I love Madonna because she's such an empowering woman. The way she thinks about her music is very multi-dimensional. She's not just writing songs--there's a whole vision for the entire project every time she makes an album. Also, just talk about a crazy performance to see as your first live show – just wow. I still remember it. In a lot of ways, she's definitely been one of my biggest influences. I got lucky with that one.

You've seen a lot of other shows at Madison Square Garden over the years. Who would you say has been your favorite concert there?

My favorite was The Eagles. I just think the songwriting there is unparalleled. Or Tom Petty, maybe. Probably those two.


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