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Interview: Sarah Gargano

Sarah Gargano
3 November 2019

Photo by Amanda Book

Up-and-coming indie pop-punk singer-songwriter Sarah Gargano is fast making a name for herself with her quirky, catchy acoustic-based songs, following along the same path as performers like Ingrid Michaelson and Kate Nash – but there’s also a hint of ‘90s cool-girl artists like Lisa Loeb in the mix (although, at 21 years old, Gargano wasn’t even born yet when Loeb was having her heyday). Gargano readily acknowledges these influences, though she’s also determined to carve out her own identity. She did just that on her 2018 debut EP, “Paper Girl,” where she brings an insightful, empathetic voice to lyrics that discuss the unique challenges that she and other young women are encountering as they navigate the current tumultuous social climate (though she does so without seeming self-pitying). She displays a maturity well beyond her years, which can perhaps be attributed to her New York City upbringing. After starting to write and perform songs at 16 years old, she decamped to Oberlin College in Ohio, where she is studying creative writing and sociology (which makes sense, given her lyrical style). Recently, however, she has taken time out to travel; she recently moved to London, England, where she will play on November 14 at Ninety One Living Room in Brick Lane. Here, she discusses her plans to ramp up her music career efforts even more, as she releases a music video for her single “Second Chance,” and is hard at work on another EP.

Can you tell us more about the EP you’ll be releasing soon? And how is this next release going to be different from your debut EP last year?

SARAH GARGANO: This next EP is travel based, though each song comes from a very different experience and shares a different message. There are three songs; one based in Vienna, one in Verona, and one in London — and each song has a specific story. The song based in Vienna is inspired by my grandma’s experience fleeing Vienna because of the Holocaust, so that is, of course, very different than anything I’ve done before. Wanderlust is probably an understatement for all the traveling I’ve been doing the past few years; I seriously can’t seem to sit still without thinking about how there’s always another place I’ve not seen or experienced at all yet. I’ve only got these three songs recorded for now, but hope to make a part 2 as there’s a lot more where these came from. Most of the songs on my last EP were written in high school or very shortly after high school, whereas all three of the songs on this EP were written within the past year, so hopefully my style and writing will have noticeably evolved a bit. After going through the production process once, I came into this EP with many new ideas that I’m very excited about. No spoilers, but there will be some fun and, maybe a little bit trippy, background monologue stuff.

Your music sounds like a continuation of the type of catchy acoustic-based pop, reminiscent of singer-songwriters like Kate Nash and Ingrid Michaelson, and even Lisa Loeb – were those artists indeed influences on you? And how are you differentiating your music from the ones whose work inspired you?

SARAH GARGANO: I’m a huge fan of both Ingrid Michaelson’s and Kate Nash’s music, and am discovering Lisa Loeb’s more recently but also really like what she’s doing, and I’m flattered that you compare my music to theirs. I actually didn’t discover Kate Nash until my friend shared her songs with me in the very beginning of college, right around when I recorded my first EP, and I immediately related to how poignant and sassy her lyrics were, while also being fun, cutesy, and catchy. Because I’m from a different generation than them, I’d like to think that I’m adding a fresh perspective while still honoring the inspiration they’ve given me. My favorite artist of all time is Conor Oberst and I listen to a lot of other dark underground music as well, so I think my incurable teenage angst goes into a lot of the music I make – probably not the ukulele tracks as much, though, which are often my favorite to perform.

Your lyrics explore themes of relationships, good and bad. What made you decide to focus on this type of subject matter?

SARAH GARGANO: At the end of the day, I think all we have is each other. To me, what makes humans special is that we have this incessant need to find meaning in an ultimately meaningless existence. We don’t just eat, sleep, and breathe – though in ruts, it does sometimes feel like it, but we want to matter and we care! A lot! It’s so cool that we have this power to care. And as an artist, I just want to bottle up every memory I’ve made into pieces of art to honor each one and scream to the empty void that human interaction and relationships do matter!

What do you feel is unique about your music, and how did you come to find your own “voice” musically?

SARAH GARGANO: I have a wide range of musical influences and I hope that comes through in my music to an extent. I’m very honest in my lyrics and lyrically focused in general and I think with the facade of social media these days, it’s hard to find stripped honesty. All I can do is write about my own experiences and truths – lots of which have to do with common experiences such as heartbreak and anxiety – but each story is still mine, in both its content and structure.

Can you tell us more about the music video you’re releasing for “Second Chance”?

SARAH GARGANO: It’s a scavenger hunt in New York with a lot of my favorite places across the city. The hunt leads to a new friend, which to me symbolizes allowing yourself to let new people in and start over after being ostracized and heartbroken and feeling like there’s not much to live for – being in a low place but finding more beauty in the world and that wonderful new beginnings are always on the horizon. And this video is my way of wrapping up that [“Paper Girl”] EP to introduce the next one. Another second start, if you will.

How did you first get interested in becoming a musician?

SARAH GARGANO: I always loved music and analyzing lyrics of songs – I remember analyzing all the lyrics to one of Avril Lavigne’s first albums when I was ten and crying to songs like “When You’re Gone,” swearing it was written about my fourth grade crush when I was away at summer camp. In classes, I would write lyrics from her songs on my notebooks to try to get my crushes to notice and understand that the lyrics were about them in my head, so I guess you could say I’ve always been a bit dramatic. When I was in seventh grade, I was severely bullied and so my struggle with depression was pretty early onset. Taylor Swift just so happened to release her album Speak Now with the song “Mean” right around this time, and it truly kept me waking up. I was floored when she performed it at the Grammys and changed one of the lyrics to “Someday I’ll be singing this at the Grammys / And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.” I couldn’t imagine how empowering a moment like that must’ve been and would be, and I knew that I had to at least try to give others, even if just one person, the emotional support that music like that has given me. When you’re that convinced you need to do something, it’s still often hard to figure out where to even start or how to be okay with sharing the art you’ve made when it’s not as perfect as you’d like it to be. But I’ve always loved writing in general and, growing up, excelled in my English classes; so it was only a matter of time until my words and melodies made an alliance, and for the girl who desperately wanted her crush to see her lyric doodles to take these songs to stages.

These days, it’s easy for anyone to put their artistic endeavors online for the world to see, making it harder for artists to get noticed. How are you going about getting attention on your work and setting yourself apart from everyone else?

SARAH GARGANO: So true, it’s a struggle. Something I’ve noticed about celebritydom is that fans don’t just like people’s work, but often get really invested in their lives and who they are as people. Though music is what I’d like to do as a career, I also have many interests outside of music. For instance, I’m very into fashion and photography and complaining about the patriarchy. So, I like to post about that stuff as well and really engage with the people who are following me and make sure they know how much I appreciate them taking their time to listen to my music. I follow a lot of musicians on Instagram, but I don’t usually watch their videos or check out their music unless there’s something else I’ve noticed on their profile that’s caught my eye or made them stand out in some way. So I spend a lot of time curating my social media to showcase who I am and my personal style, which, hopefully will catch some people’s attention. And, I like to make sure I connect with the people who are following my music as much as possible and have conversations with them about the things they relate to in my music.

Sarah Gargano Paper Girl album art

You were born and raised in New York City, correct? But you’re going to college now – how has living in those different places shaped you and your music?

SARAH GARGANO: I was, and, I’d have to agree with Lin Manuel Miranda – it’s “the greatest city in the world!” I think being from New York City is very different from visiting or moving there when you’re older. I deeply romanticize my relationship with the city, but in a very different way from the romanticization of it depicted in movies, TV, and books. It feels like I have at least three very formative memories at each corner and crevice of Manhattan — which is both beautiful and haunting. And there are no football games and cheerleading teams like you see in all those coming of age movies; it’s just a different world, that often never felt well-represented to me. I go to college in middle of nowhere Ohio and have spent a year of my college experience abroad in Europe. This past year, I haven’t lived in the same place for more than three months, so I’m constantly meeting new people and having to reframe my life and habits based on my new environment. This constant traveling and tourism leads to lots of possibilities that never actualize and lots of instability and insecurity. With each new environment, though, comes extensive personal growth and learning – and, sometimes you do form relationships that will last a lifetime. In the middle of nowhere, there isn’t much to do but hang out with people and because of that, I’ve met some of my best friends in the world who I know will be in my life forever. Those kinds of intense connections inevitably lead to poetry and songs as well.

Sarah Gargano will play on November 14 at Ninety One Living Room in London.