Sarabeth Tucek's nomadic lifestyle probably accounts for the diversity within her musical palette. Having already spent her life flitting between Miami, New York and Los Angeles, the variation of styles and sounds embarked on over this time have seen her filed under several genres, from shoegaze to ambient folk and melodic country.
Having first come to the attention of UK audiences via a brief cameo in the notorious but highly enjoyable Brian Jonestown Massacre/Dandy Warhols documentary Dig!, she can also count Smog's Bill Callahan as an early associate and undoubted gateway into a musical career that looked unlikely from the outset. Initially a budding actress, it was through the influence of both Callahan and Anton Newcombe that she changed her focus and direction towards recording her self-titled debut album in 2006 for independent label Sonic Cathedral.
Last month, she released the long-awaited follow-up Get Well Soon, attaining a more than respectable 8/10 on these very pages. Chronicling the period around the tragic death of her father, it's a truly poignant yet unnervingly remarkable collection of songs that looks set to feature in many end of year 'Best Ofs', so when DiS was offered half an hour in Ms Tucek's company post-soundcheck at Nottingham Rescue Rooms the other week, we were naturally quite excited.
DiS: Initially you set out to be an actress. What was the defining moment that made you change direction towards ?
Sarabeth: I didn't enjoy the auditioning process. It made me very nervous. I guess I was very naive in just thinking that whole process was just about acting, when y'know, it isn't. Walking into the office and having a conversation and selling yourself in a certain kind of commercial way that I wasn't able to do. I always hung out with a lot of musicians anyway, even back then, so I just thought one day I should try and do something musical instead. One of my musician friends taught me my first three chords, and that was that.
DiS: You've worked with some accomplished musicians and songwriters from the outset like Bill Callahan, Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Peter Hayes from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, to name but three. What did you learn from those and did it provide a focus for your own songwriting to develop as a result?
Sarabeth: With Bill, I'd always been a really big Smog fan, and his way of writing inspired me greatly. It's very honest and straightforward. To me he's a real original. He gave me a lot of courage actually to start writing, and also his songs are very simple structure wise.
DiS: He's very ahead of his time as well
Sarabeth: I think he is very underrated too, as well as he is known. I think he is definitely the best contemporary songwriter of the last thirty years, maybe Elliot Smith being the only exception. He gets a lot of respect from other artists and the media, yet at the same time he's never really crossed over to the mainstream, which I guess for me is a little confusing. I remember when he was going out with Joanna (Newsom) and finding it interesting that she was considered to be more successful than him. I mean, I respect her work but to me he's a genius. Why was he not getting huge reviews in Mojo and the like, you know what I mean?
DiS: I guess she became more popular over here in the UK after 'This Side Of The Blue' was used in a television commercial.
Sarabeth: It was the same in the States too. I guess they're both very different in what they do, but Bill (Callahan) is someone who I really look up to.
DiS: The first time many UK audiences would have been aware of you came courtesy of your brief appearance in Dig!. Was that period as fraught and chaotic as the film portrays it as being?
Sarabeth: Yes, it most definitely was! Just non-stop actually. I lived in the BJM house and there were people stabbing each other, hitting one another with pots and pans over the head...every day was really like an episode of 'The Three Stooges' except more violent. You didn't know whether to call the police or just fall over laughing. It was so absurd all of the time. I watch that documentary now and I guess I can enjoy it in a way that I kind of didn't back then. I was onstage when he kicked the guy in the head, and it's kind of gruesome watching that back afterwards.
DiS: Maybe that's why you find solace in Smog so much because it's almost like the polar opposite to the Brian Jonestown Massacre?
Sarabeth: I have to say that I was never a huge fan of the Brian Jonestown Massacre anyway. I was more friends with them than any kind of hardcore fan of theirs. I understand that and I guess it is a part of me but I don't really connect with it. Anton isn't one of my favourite writers.
DiS: Did you have any reservations about releasing your records with Sonic Cathedral, particularly with the label being predominantly linked to the shoegaze genre?
Sarabeth: No, because I like shoegaze. I like it when it's done well. I just was never a fan of BJM. Anton has a very rock and roll attitude and I appreciate that, because there aren't a lot of characters like him in any more. When you go to one of their shows you're on tenterhooks because you don't know what's going to happen, and I find that exciting, but the problem I have with them is that too much of what they do is about the spectacle. If you break it down, how much of the attention they receive is based on the music and how much is based on the spectacle?
DiS: Looking back on your first album which came out five years ago, is there anything about Sarabeth Tucek which you'd want to change or do differently?
Sarabeth: I think when I look back on anything I could probably wish I'd done things a little bit differently, but I think it's a fair representation of that time in my life. I feel lucky that people were interested enough to want to make a record with me to begin with. It hadn't been my life plan to be a musician so to have that opportunity later in my life than most musicians was something of an achievement anyway. Nat (Cramp, Sonic Cathedral) started everything off when he put out 'Something For You' as a single. When I listen to the record now my voice sounds quite raw, so I guess my biggest wish is that I'd recorded more before then. I was quite new to recording studios at that point.
DiS: Why was that?
Sarabeth: I think I was just scared. I'm quite a nervous person at the best of times, so the idea of putting something down on tape, the finality of it all, kind of scares me I guess. Sometimes I'm quite confident but then I have moments of real insecurity and lose control and can't say anything to anyone.
DiS: There's been quite a few stories knocking around that Laura Marling approached you to collaborate on her last album I Speak Because I Can. What's the story with that?
Sarabeth: You know what, I don't even know who Laura Marling is, let alone what her music sounds like! I think there's been a lot of confusion or misquoting going on just because Ethan Johns, who produced my record, also produced hers. Someone said that she was moved by the production on my record and I think certain people within the music industry and the press have put two and two together and come up with the wrong answer!
DiS: Your new record Get Well Soon seems to have some positive angles as well as very disparate ones, despite its obviously sensitive subject matter.
Sarabeth: It does, but then with so much of it being about my father and his passing, there were certain situations that sort of orbited that experience. I've always liked records that have obvious highs and lows.
DiS: I think that shines through, particularly with songs like 'State I Am In' and 'The Fireman'.
Sarabeth: Both of those songs were born out of grief. You have moments where it feels like the shadow has lifted a little bit and then all of a sudden it comes crashing back down again. It goes back and forth.
DiS: What about playing the songs live? It must be quite difficult relaying a song like 'Exit Ghost' for example to an audience that perhaps are unaware of its subject?
Sarabeth: Sometimes it can be a strange experience, because for so long I've remained really private. Then when the record came out and it comes to playing it live, I almost feel like the people in the audience are sitting in my room. I always hoped to get really immersed in whatever the feeling was when I wrote the song. I try really hard to get back to that because it's all part of the process of catharsis I guess.
DiS: Reviews of the record so far have been unanimously positive. Do you read much into what the press are saying about your music and will that influence the way you write in the future?
Sarabeth: I don't really seeing them having any influence that way but I think it's always enjoyable for the ego reading nice things! At the same time, I've read that have been positive but factually incorrect, or where they've analyzed my lyrics a certain way but that's not what I meant, if you know what I'm saying? Ultimately, the best criticism always comes from my mother.
DiS: Has she ever been really critical about any of your songs?
Sarabeth: One time she said, I don't think you should use a word like that in a song. The word she took offence to was "uncharted", and I was like, "Really?" Every time I play that song and sing that part I think "Damn you!" I can't sing those words now without thinking about it! When she reads my she tends to cry sometimes. The guy who wrote the Get Well Soon review for The Music Fix said some lovely things, and she rang me up in tears.
DiS: You seem to have attracted quite a fanbase over here in the UK. Would you say they've been more eager in responding to your music than back home in the States?
Sarabeth: This will actually be the first time that I've had a record coming out in the US. There were a lot of ownership issues around the first record and things got really screwed up, so it never came out over there. Hopefully it will come out one day, so I guess in a way it is almost like brand new territory as a recording artist for me. I think American singer/songwriters are considered more exotic here, whereas in the US, audiences tend to be a little more dated. I find there's a willingness in the UK to be open to hearing new music, and there's way more media outlets and songwriting awards here. It's not like that in the States. If you've not been featured in Rolling Stone magazine at least once a year then you tend to get ignored.
DiS: Going back to your producers, Ethan Johns and Luther Russell, what do they bring to your recordings and do you see yourself working them for the foreseeable future at least?
Sarabeth: I think Ethan brings a certain calm to the proceedings, and also a kind of elegance to the music. I think Luther is more adept at tapping into my edgier kind of side. We're both into various kinds of rock music so he helps bring that element of my personality into the records.
DiS: Have you any ideas on how the next album may sound?
Sarabeth: The next album will be really different. I'm going to try and stay away from acoustic sounds, and hopefully make it more layered and sonic based. I think I've expressed myself enough on the acoustic guitar for a while now, so with the third album I'm going to make a conscious effort to veer away from anything that's seen as folky. I've already started writing songs for the record, and it's taking on a conceptual, continuous kind of direction, but at the same time they're still in the embryonic stages so I guess it's difficult to say how it will end up at the moment.
DiS: Finally, what are your plans for the rest of this year?
Sarabeth: To play more shows really. I'm back over here in September for the End Of The Road festival but apart from that there's little else in the diary as yet.
The album Get Well Soon is out now on Sonic Cathedral.
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