It's incredibly easy to lose focus — or even a grasp on your identity — when you're swept up in the cyclone of career, even if your career is a touring musician. Sarah Jaffe gained attention with her first, self-released EP Even Born Again in 2008. Over the years, she has released the critically acclaimed albums Suburban Nature and The Body Wins in 2010 and 2012 respectively. The Texas native released her newest LP Don't Disconnect on Aug. 19.
Denton, Texas, where Jaffe lived for five years, has been reputed as a birthing ground for indie rock. The time spent in the humble community was pivotal for her as an artist and a player with access to the pool of musicians with whom to play. As evidenced in her recordings, Jaffe is most confident in her voice. However, she is no slouch on the ol' six string.
Don't Disconnect — like many records — is a journey. What sets it apart is that it's just as much of a journey backwards as it is a progression, and a document of growth. Jaffe translated the turmoil she experienced coming into her own as an artist into a batch of songs that possess the introverted heart of folk and the anthemic spirit of pop.
Metro times: How do you see your evolution as an artist?
Sarah Jaffe: When I made my first EP, and my first full length it was just me and I didn't really have a band at the time. It's also been about twelve years. So, I think it's just a matter of gaining confidence and just getting more comfortable with different instruments. I think there are a number of factors of why my music has sonically changed. I don't go into each record with this prior thought of like, "I'm going to make this so different from the last record." As a person, you ingest a lot of things that inspire and you project those into your art. It's just been a natural progression that I think a lot of people might not see, where I see it from an aerial view where I can understand how you think, "this is so much different from what she was doing," but I just have been doing what I always wanted to do.
MT: What type of mental state were you in writing the lyrical content on Don't Disconnect?
Jaffe: I think with a lot of them, there was a coming down period where I had been previously, like in 2011 and 2012, was touring really, really hard. I was gone a lot and I think I was just tired and it went into a lot of songs like "Ride it Out" are talking about the mental and physical state of being a touring musician. It was just a time period where I was exhausted but also a time period where I kind of lost myself in the technological side of everything and forgetting who I am and where I come from. The one common thread is coming into my own again and again and learning the same lessons over and over, but I try to chalk it up with some sort of sense of humor.
MT: The title Don't Disconnect implies so many things, but it also ties in with how you perceive your own evolution as an artist and how important it is to you to remain loyal to who you are.
Jaffe: Yeah, the title track specifically was talking about the actual physical distance of being away from the ones that you love and how that can be taxing. After the fact, I realized that the word "disconnect" is a technical word. So, it's weird that people use it in a metaphorical sense. I found that it took on a lot of different meanings in that way because I was losing myself in a technical world, the fucking web and the fucking Facebook feeds and all that bullshit. You numb yourself with these things on a daily basis. So, I thought that the word encompassed a lot of the lyrical content of the record.
MT: Was it intentional to point out to listeners that it's not so important to be so connected to technology?
Jaffe: I don't think I had the intention going into the title. When I wrote the song itself, it was about hurting to be close to the people that I love. It wasn't until after the fact that I realized, "Oh, that's weird. How ironic. That makes sense," and it wasn't even something that I realized until afterwards. It just kind of worked. [Laughs] I got lucky with the title I guess. Songs do that all the time, depending on where you are in your life. You find different meaning in them. They become applicable in different ways.
MT: After such extensive touring, how do you find the motivation to be creative?
Jaffe: Well, sometimes it's hard and sometimes are better than others but I think with anything, distance allows clarity. As much as I hurt for the ones that I love, I'm to the point now where I go home and that's the time that I rest and do all the boring shit like laundry [laughs]. It's the time on the road when the wheels start turning. It's the time on the road when that momentum is not only physical, not only in a different place every night but your head's also there as well. The way that I operate now is I get inspired by being in a state where I'm very vulnerable but also very aware. Your senses are just heightened. It doesn't matter how exhausted you are because there's so much happening around you. A lot of the time, you're sitting in a van. I mean, I'm sitting in a van now. There's a lot of time to think. Some days you drive eight hours to play a thirty minute set but you do it again and again. It's all worth it. When I go home, I basically sit with all that. As far as staying motivated, it's really hard sometimes but I wouldn't do anything else. It's gritty and grimy and it's inspiring to me to get to tour.
MT: What was the process of making this album like?
Jaffe: I went in with a handful of songs. I went in with McKenzie Smith, who's a fan and also the drummer for Midlake. Basically, I played him these clips of songs that I had and grander visions of what I wanted these songs to be. We really went in with a collaborative effort. The first week it was me and McKenzie laying down synth lines while he tracked drums and I would finish verses and choruses. We would build shells for these songs. Then, we would texturize them, more synth lines and bring in Joey McClellan and he would lay down an amazing guitar riff. While he was playing, I would get so inspired, I would lay down a guitar riff. It was a really amazing and fun record to make because it was such a collaborative energy.
MT: While we're on the topic of collaboration, how did the track with Eminem come about?
Jaffe: That was all S1. S1 messaged me. He's a producer out of Dallas and I met him through working with the Cannabinoids, who did a remix for me. He messaged me on Twitter two years ago and was like, "Hey, would you be interested in writing some hooks for me?" and I was like, "Absolutely!" So, that night, he sent me a few tracks he was working on and I loved them immediately. I'm a big fan of hip hop and a big fan of his work. The first one I wrote, I sent back to him and I was like, "Let's just call this one 'Bad Guy,'" Six months later, we found out it was going to be on Eminem's record and I figured they would replace my vocals but thankfully, with a lot of S1's help, they ended up keeping my vocals.
MT: Have you had any interesting interactions with fans who would otherwise not know who you are aside from the appearance on Eminem's album?
Jaffe: [Laughs] Yeah, there's been a wide range of commentary. What a lot of people don't know — just I would imagine this is what it's like and what I didn't know either — I figured you hear all these artists like Sia that are singing on hip hop artists' songs and you figure they're in the studio right there with Eminem or whoever else. There couldn't have been more of a disconnect. I've never met Eminem, didn't even hear the song until the record came out. All I knew was what S1 and I had done. I think because of that, people thought that I had a bigger relationship with Eminem. They're excited because he of course is this massive artist with fans from all over the world. Every once and a while, I'll get tweets like, "Is Eminem cool?" or something like that and I have no fucking clue. I did get to meet Dr. Dre though, which is a check off the bucket list. — mt
Sarah Jaffe is playing with Astronautalis at The Magic Bag on Thursday, 25th. Doors are at 8p.m.