Today marks the release of ‘Who Am I’, the debut solo album from Greek musician Sarah P. We spoke to her to get an insight into the messages within the album, the process of making it, the ups and downs of being a label boss in today’s industry and whether she found answers to any of life’s questions at the end of it all.
Oh, and why don’t you have a listen to the album whilst you give this a read?
Thanks for taking the time to speak with Dash ’n’ Verve. We’re really excited about the release of your debut full length album ‘Who Am I’ and to get some insight into the process, experiences and journey that led to its creation.
A debut album is a milestone for any artist so congratulations. How do you feel now that it’s finally release day?
To be very honest, I feel relieved. Putting out a record is such an insane process. I’m in a lucky position to have amazing partners on board who make sure that everything runs smoothly and accordingly to our plans. From the very beginning, I had a clear vision of how I wanted this album to turn out – from the production to the artwork and the visuals. I’ve been working on this for pretty much two years. This record means the world to me and I’m very excited to finally set it free.
We’re nearly 18 months on from the release of your debut solo EP ‘Free’. Is your new album a continuation of some of the stories you told on that EP or did you set out to take on a completely new set of subjects?
I would say that the themes are quite similar, but what’s changed is the angle. The EP was more about all the memories and feelings that I internalised for a long time. That’s why, sonically speaking, it’s edgier and darker. My full length sets new values for me and hopefully, for those who will listen to my music too. Values such as consciousness, intellect, carefulness and fair judgment.
You share a lot about your own personal experiences and vulnerabilities on this album. On the track ‘To You’ in particular you expose with complete honesty the emotions and hopes associated with a situation most of us can associate with. Was it challenging being that open in the lyrical content of the songs or was it a cathartic process setting those thoughts free?
Whenever I’m writing a song, I try to not hold back. After all, it’s a song – words wrapped in melodies, what can go wrong? Appearing vulnerable and honest is a choice. We live in a world where people try to pose as if they have mastered life, in some weird, TV soap kind of way. You go on social media – everybody is super tall, mega rich, they have their own companies that they run while on holiday at some picturesque sandy beach. And while you can tell that most of it is faked, you still bite it and try to live up to some made up standards and expectations. As opposed to that, what I’m trying to do is get inspiration from simply being human and learning to treasure imperfection. Not in a spiritual, “love thyself” kind of way, but in the sense of agreeing that if we were flawless, we’d be robots and that would be boring. Perhaps my record isn’t perfect – however, I think it is perfectly emotional. If you think of it that way, singing out loud, voicing my thoughts and worries can be very cathartic, indeed.
Whilst the songs come across as very personal, we were definitely able to relate to a number of the topics you tackle on the album. Did inspiration for some of these tracks come from observations of other people (either in person or in the media) and the situations they find themselves in?
Both. For ‘Who Am I’ is about somebody waking up at a refugee camp, as weird as it may sound. The last thing they remember is that they were injured. They don’t remember anything else. All they know is that they woke up in a room. They were surrounded by strangers – nobody spoke their language and so they were very frustrated and confused. When reading about the refugee “crisis” and the “camps” (what terrible wording, really), these were exactly the thoughts that came up to my mind. Existentialism, questions. “Who am I?” “Where am I?” People nevertheless, however, seen as second class citizens by some. Words can’t express my sadness and anger for and addressed to all those who still preach that we’re different from each other. In the safety of our western world, we haven’t experienced the sorrow of war for quite some decades. We assume it to be terrible; we care about it for a moment and then we forget. That’s also the reason why ‘Who Am I’ sounds so distant and strange – almost from a different planet. At least, that was what I was aiming for.
But, it’s not all gloomy and dark. For example, ‘To You’ is about finding love. It’s about finding that one person that you can imagine spending the rest of your life with. That’s a song that is inspired by and dedicated to my husband. It’s very personal and at the same time not, because I believe that many people had similar experiences to me, when it comes to relationships. Real love (whatever that is – each and every one of us has different definitions for it) in contrast to flaky romance – that’s what ‘To You’ is about.
On ‘Millennial Girl’ you start by talking about wanting to distance yourself “…from attachments, [that] have only brought you tears and pain, yet no advancement” before you tell us in the chorus that “[you] buy people’s stuff you see online”.
The thoughts and actions you describe there are quite contradictory but an accurate reflection of the way many people feel and act in today’s Western society. Are there any aspects of the society you have grown up in and you see around you that you believe are main triggers for people experiencing this kind of confusion?
I love to say that I’m making sarcastic pop and ‘Millennial Girl’ is a pure piece of it. My generation tried to think out of the box. Not everything that we came up with was successful and that’s the reason why everybody hates us. We even hate ourselves, to be honest. Yet, we’ve been quite creative and pacifistic – we never started wars like others did. The millennials are likely to be part of a “community”, know what they’re eating and wearing and who to vote for. Do they go to vote? – that’s a different question. Because they could argue for days about the futility of the capitalistic democracy most countries practice, with their focusing on money rather than investing in their own people.
Most millennials are freelancers or self-employed – the exact groups of people that the current political systems beat up maniacally. We were brought up to become great thinkers and make our dreams come true. Yet nobody told us that, to make that happen, we’ll never be able to afford our own house or to retire. I guess all I’m trying to say is that my generation has been fundamentally failed and unfortunately, there’s not much to do for that. Recent studies have proven that one in five millennials suffers from depression and anxieties. That’s a pretty high number, but nobody cares. And that’s exactly where the frustration begins. It’s deeply rooted and well masked with moustaches, big glasses, and funny haircuts. As if we’re trying to hide from what’s chasing us, but always in good humour.
You have created a fantastic range of soundscapes with some great details on the album (we love the toy box sound that emerges in the chorus of ‘A Letter From Urban Street’ and the “digital fly” that buzzes around ‘ForgetRegret’). Are there any interesting sources for these sounds?
Thank you so much for your kind words. To be honest, all sounds are a result of an impatient twiddling of knobs while sitting on my chair or in bed (where I often write my songs). I wish that I had a better answer to this question, I really do.
You recorded and co-produced this album with George Priniotakis at Artracks Studio, Athens. How long did the whole process take from hitting record for the first time to settling on the final mix?
I’m pretty sure that it took roundabout two months. And that’s because the production of ‘Who Am I’ took place amidst the holiday season and holidays are sacred in Greece. George is the quickest and greatest producer in the world for me.
Was there significance for you being in your hometown to record and produce this album given that it was written in Berlin whilst thinking of Athens?
Absolutely. Artracks was the studio where everything started for me. I’ve been in and out of Artracks for a little less than a decade. I always say that George knows my voice better than my own mother. It was really important for me to go back and record my debut at a studio that I consider my second home, in a city where I’m surrounded by family and friends.
Do you have plans to tour this album and if so do you have a vision for what the live arrangement will look like?
There are no plans for live shows at the moment. And that’s by choice. I feel that I need to clear that up because whenever I mention that I won’t tour this year, people feel sorry for me for not getting booked – so yeah, that’s not the case. I guess abstaining from touring is one of those silly revolutions of mine, that’s harming myself more than those I’m revolting against. I’m willing to take the risk though, mostly for the sake of my mental health and peace. You see, I’m 27 years old. I started my professional career in music when I was 19-20. I’ve reached a point where I simply deny to play live shows that will only pay me with beer, cold catering and / or exposure.
Live entertainment and touring promote a lifestyle that’s eating up most of the artists out there. I don’t know if you’re aware of the study that was initiated and ran by the University of Westminster where they proved that (of the people they talked to) 70% of the British music industry (including artists, producers, music professionals etc) suffer from depression, addictions, and all sorts anxieties. As a person whose mental illness got also triggered by my experiences within the industry, I choose to find different ways to connect with the people who would come to my shows than supporting a sickening system.
Despite some of the challenging subject matters you wrestle with on the album, you manage to maintain an air of positivity and hope that all will be ok. Where do you find hope day to day and what can we all do to share this hope with you?
The people around me give me hope and all those who dig a little deeper. It’s so very important to not fall for the nonchalance of ignorance. I’m always happy to discuss with people that I may disagree with – I want to understand, I don’t want to oppose. When I meet people who are of the same openness, my heart grows a bit bigger. We can all learn so much from each other when focusing on what brings us closer than on our differences.
We absolutely love the sonics on the title track ‘Who Am I’, and the visuals in Oirot Buntot’s video capture the complexity and confusion of the song’s subject perfectly. Can you tell us about the development of the concept for the video and how your collaboration with the director worked?
Oirot Buntot’s video is a dream! It was initially filmed for another song and I’m so grateful to that other band for deciding to go for other visuals. I explained to you that the song itself is about disorientation and feeling that you “don’t belong”. Oirot Buntot’s script fitted like a glove.
A girl wakes up in a creepy place, gets freaked out by all those weird figures, accepts her fate and becomes one of them. I was so happy to work with Oirot – we’re so like-minded and he’s so amazingly talented. And imagine that ‘Who Am I’ is just his first video. We edited it to fit the song and we changed the colours a bit, but it was by far the most relaxed video release I ever had. All because of Oirot’s professionalism and positivity. I love that guy!
You’ve released both “Free’ and ‘Who Am I’ on your own EraseRestart label. Did you always have ambitions of being your own label boss?
Not really. I have to admit that before deciding to go solo, I was pretty spoiled. I was used to always having other people around who were taking care of the boring, business stuff. I decided to set up my own label as part of an effort to have as much control as possible when it comes to my work. It felt more like a necessity than an ambition.
Can you tell us about some of the challenges you have faced in running your own label?
I terribly underestimated the workload and the responsibilities that come with running your own label. Also, people tend to ignore my newsletters because they’re “not familiar with the label and the artist”. What is more, I’m not really connected with people – I don’t have friends within the industry. I lead a pretty quiet life away from parties and concerts where the music professionals tend to gather and socialise. Not being one of them has made it harder for me, I think. I don’t mean to complain though. Everybody seems to be struggling and I totally understand why some artists sign with bigger labels. Although, unfortunately, a signing isn’t a guarantee of success.
Obviously there must also be up sides of not having anyone else to report to and please. What have the biggest benefits of flying solo been for you?
Having control over my work has been the greatest thing. It’s very empowering and fulfilling knowing that my husband and I have worked every single bit of each release. It’s been a very educational process and I wouldn’t change a single bit. I advise all artists to take matters into their own hands – nobody can represent you better than your own self. Plus, financially speaking and after the first years of investment, it’ll pay off for you.
Now the question we’ve been itching to ask you all interview. Has making this album helped you get any closer to finding answers to the questions you had been asking yourself?
I think so. At least up to the point that I accepted that I am an ever-changing being who can’t and won’t be just one thing. We’re always running after titles, why do we do that?
This is a pop record that is different, an ode to the humanly deep need for security and love. It’s an album about fears, hopes, memories, dreams – and love. Inspired by Berlin, her Greek roots and personal struggles.
‘Who Am I’ is out today on Sarah P.’s own EraseRestart record label. Grab yourself a copy and maybe you’ll be able to find your own answers to those big questions in the sounds of her songs.