Normally recognised as part of folk-pop duo The Sweater Set, Sara Curtin has made some real headway with her solo pursuits, having recently released her second album outside of working with Maureen Andary. Her solo work has drawn comparisons to Sade, Sharon Van Etten and Nick Drake, whilst Curtin herself has admitted to being influenced by hip hop artists such as D’Angelo. We got to speak to the singer about her mixed influences, working outside of a band and the new record Michigan Lilium.
You’ve just released your second solo album. What makes this project different to your work with The Sweater Set?
The primary difference in Michigan Lilium is that I am the sole songwriter and vocalist on the album. I also used different instrumentation focusing mostly on the arrangements of the electric and acoustic guitar. This was also the first time that I incorporated synthesizers and electronic drum beats into my arrangements. It was a really fun project and I’m excited to keep experimenting with the new techniques I learned.
You’ve cited D’Angelo as an influence on the album’s lead single, Summer. Are there any other influences on Michigan Lilium that we wouldn’t expect from a folk artist?
I don’t think anyone would be surprised that I’ve listened to a lot of St. Vincent, Joni Mitchell and Grizzly Bear (or maybe they will), but as far as unexpected influences go I have always listen to a lot of different types of music and think that they all express themselves eventually in my songwriting. I have sung and listened to a lot of choral music, the influence of which I think you can hear in the way the vocals are arranged. I also like to go see more experimental types of composed and improvised jazz and am really inspired by unconventional rhythms, time signatures, and dramatic dynamics.
Do you miss being part of a duo or is solo the way forward for now?
I’m still a part of my duo and am fortunate that it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. Also, even though I wrote all and recorded most of Michigan Lilium on my own, I perform now with a wonderful band so it doesn’t feel like I’m just heading out and hitting the road all by myself. It is substantially more work doing all the digital and social media work on my own though! It’s no joke being a musician in 2015. I’ve learned so much on the job and am pretty sure I could be hired tomorrow to be the Director of Social Media and Marketing at a major corporation.
Are you going to be touring the album?
I played a series of release shows with the band on the US east coast this July and August to support the release and am planning on continuing to play out (DC, Baltimore, NYC) this fall.
Your music often has a spiritual, ethereal essence to it. Do your live shows reflect this eccentric style or are they very much stripped back affairs?
Thank you! When I play live it’s usually with a 5-piece band and we absolutely try to recreate that ethereal feel in the live shows. Lots of harmonies and lots of space in the songs to breathe. The guitar tone that I’ve settled on over the years – the dreamy reverby electric guitar you hear on the album in songs like Summer and Old House – is the sound I play with live. You mentioned “spiritual” which makes me think back to your question on influences. I have sung my whole life in the church choir and have really deep roots in spirituals and gospel harmonies, so I’m sure that peaks out from time to time as well – intentionally in the choral arrangement of Garden of Ghosts.
Have you ever performed here in the UK? What were your experiences?
YES! I loved playing in the UK. Back in 2011 my duo The Sweater Set toured the UK and Ireland with folk musician Michelle Shocked. It was so beautiful to drive through the countryside and the hospitality at the venues was incredible. We were often made to feel like part of the family and given handmade sandwiches before the shows. One of my favorite places to play was Bush Hall in London – those chandeliers!
What does the next year or so hold for you and The Sweater Set?
I hope that this next year continues to be an exciting and busy one. I’m really pumped up by the release of this album and am already getting started on writing and recording some more songs.
Thanks so much for supporting new artists and for your thoughtful questions.