Sarah Belkner is currently on tour with Missy Higgins. Back in March 2017 they were touring with Olympia and after a show as part of the Adelaide Fringe spoke about their own debut album But You Are, But It Has.
Also, in this episode introduce a new segment called clear-the-tabs and share a little from Darvid Thor, who has announced a release date for their mini-album I’m Never Really Here.
While recorded back then this is the first time it has been shared, Belkner is our feature guest…
To listen, click the green ‘play’ triangle… [note: may take few seconds to load]
(Transcript of the Sarah Belkner’s chat below, check to delivery in audio)
SHOW NOTES: Sarah Belkner episode
Where to find the show to subscribe/follow:
….and many more. Search “radionotes Podcast” in your favourite podcatcher.
Kate Miller Heidke CONGRATS on being picked to represent Australia at Eurovision
- Zero Gravity (Official Eurovision Footage)
- Official Site
In The Box:
- Ten Tonnes – Better Than Me (Official Video)
- George David Kieffer – Encounters with the Moon (Offical website)
- Meg Mac – Something Tells Me (Spotify)
- Bitter Crush – No Spare Change (Official music video)
- Mahalia – Do Not Disturb (Offical music video)
- Samantha Riott – Bloodletting (Bandcamp) Warning: Adult concepts
- Dave Graney & the mistLY – Baby I Wish I’d Been A Better Pop Star (music video) off Zippa Dee Doo What is/Was That/This? (Cockaigne Records)
- Caitlin Sullivan – A Page From out through New Amsterdam Records
- Hannah Gadsby using Yondr for audience’s mobile phones, during her coming Douglas shows
- LANKS has announced final dates
- Ange Lavoipierre (ABC The Signal) is doing ‘Final Form’ their comedy show at The Wine Centre (Adelaide Fringe)
- Eve Karydas latest video/song is Wildest Ones selling out headline shows right across the country
- Sasha March has a Pozible happening, to support their new Single ‘Ten Days’
- Yumi Nagashima’s My Name Is Yumi out thru 604 Recordings
- Former Justice Kirby getting married on February 11th, 50 years after he first met his partner
- NPR Tiny Desk story on photos taken in during their performances
- Ego Mondo featuring Rachel Eckroth within the group – Justice Part One
- Official music video for Jealous of the Birds’ Blue Eyes
FEATURE GUEST: Sarah Belkner
- Official Page
- Free Energy Device Studios
- Tim Minchin’s 15 Minutes
- Cellophane – Sarah Belkner (music video)
- Matt Keegan (official page)
- Olympia (official page)
- Sarah Blasko (official page)
- Brendan Maclean’s And the Boyfriends (iTunes Pre-order)
- Missy Higgins & Friends LIVE (Belkner on keys, BVs and more – ABC)
Preview Future Guest: Darvid Thor
Future feature guest will be Darvid Thor, this episode has a few moments of a more extended chat.
- I’m Never Really Here (Bandcamp Pre-Order for mini-album)
- Anything (Official Music Video)
Theatre – worth seeing from where I sit:
[Radio Production – notes: Feature chat SARAH BELKNER In Q: 8’53 (Sting) Sarah Belkner… Out Q: 45’42” …March 2019 – Track selection, your pick off – But You Are, But It Has]
Theme/Music: Martin Kennedy and All India Radio
Web-design/tech: Steve Davis
Voice: Tammy Weller
You can make direct contact with the podcast – on the Contact Page
(for direct quotes check to audio, first version of transcript by Somerley C at REV)
Tammy Weller [Introduction]:
Sarah Belkner was seen on New Year’s Eve rocking out with Tim Minchin, they also have been touring in Sarah Blasko and many other notable performer’s bands.
Though – Belkner is a name in their own right – as a producer, composer and musician.
But You Are, But It Has… is the acclaimed solo album released in 2017.
That provides sound pictures across 9 songs, 35 minutes.
Lapping up their Classical knowledge with modern pop sensibilities.
With collaborations on the release with Elana Stone, Brendan Maclean, Ngaiire and Billie McCarthy
John caught up with Sarah just after it’s release – in 2017 – during the Adelaide Fringe in The Garden of Unearthly Delights…
John Murch: Sarah Belkner. Welcome to radionotes.
Sarah Belkner: Hi. Lovely to to be here.
John Murch: We’re in the back of the Garden of Unearthly Delights. Give us a word picture of what we’ve got going on.
Sarah Belkner: We have a lot of lights. Something called the Kamikaze that I think we might be treated to hearing some people vomit at some point in the background. It should be great. There go some people now going up on … What’s that one called? The Fury? There’s some people spinning around the Fury. That air mattress blowing up sound you can hear are some giant balls on water that … A small boy is being put inside the ball and they’re blowing air into the bowl that he will be suspended on top of water. Says it’s all happening here. There’s a sky diver over there. Some bungeeing. Yeah, it’s beautiful.
John Murch: And we’ve got the factory, which is the home of The Magnets, Lawrence Mooney, and Puppetry of the Penis. And right above it, please, if you can, describe the moon tonight because it is pretty much … Once you get over the color and light of the carnival atmosphere, it’s dark and then the moon’s-
Sarah Belkner: Well, the moon is shining. It’s three-quarters, which is one of my favorite. It’s waxing, so it’s on its way to full. Almost full. Probably about three days away, I reckon.
John Murch: We’re going to wax lyrically over the next little while. But before we do, I’m a bit cautious how we actually deal with this. So let’s go through this together. There’s been different incarnations of your musical monikers over the years, and you have now settled on your actual name of Sarah Belkner. I found out earlier today, you were in the west side choral. You used to actually write choral music, young lady.
Sarah Belkner: I did. I love that you called it west side.
John Murch: What was it?
Sarah Belkner: West side, oh my god. Westlake Girls School is a high school in New Zealand that I went to. That’s where I grew up. West side, like West Side Story, like Biggie Smalls. All of the above. So I was in the Westlake Choir. That’s where I learned a lot of things. And then I was also in the National Youth Choir in New Zealand. So I sang choral music for years and years, and also started out writing choral music for all sorts of things growing up. So as a 16-year-old, weirdly writing songs and also writing choral music at the same time, which I realize now is quite strange.
John Murch: The actual writing of choral music at such a young age as well. Quite unique in New Zealand?
Sarah Belkner: Yeah. I mean, they were encouraging schools students to write, which is something that the kiwis should definitely be commended for. And there’s a big choral festival that happens in New Zealand that’s a big deal to high school students, and they have a prize for the top choral work of a high school student. And I was the first person to actually win that, which is really cool.
John Murch: So when you were starting out, you were one of the first people doing this, obviously to be the first one to win the prize. Or did you get a sense there was a going on at the time in that area?
Sarah Belkner: I felt like it was … I don’t know. It’s hard to tell when you’re that young. There’s a huge tradition of choral music in New Zealand, so I thought it was … No, it felt like it had been around for a long time, the tradition of choral music. And I definitely had composers that … Even at that age I was looking up to composers like David Hamilton and Eve de Castro-Robertson, who I ended up actually learning under. Yeah, there were already composers around that I was looking up to.
John Murch: Musically, grew up with the sounds of Peter Gabriel as a family favorite.
Sarah Belkner: Yes.
John Murch: The excitement enlightened your face on the mere mention of this man.
Sarah Belkner: And you mention Peter Gabriel, I do blush.
John Murch: I definitely owe a couple of gin and tonics to Jack Colwell who told me to tell you about that.
Sarah Belkner: Did he really? That’s really funny.
John Murch: I asked the young man for advice and that’s all he could tell me.
Sarah Belkner: And he said, “Just talk about Peter Gabriel for half an hour.”
John Murch: Yeah, well, Peter Gabriel arrived where in your life, and how has that traveled with you?
Sarah Belkner: So I was listening to … Well, I guess in context of not just talking about him, but my dad had a vinyl collection, which is quite a classic … That seems to be such a classic sentence, isn’t it? For songwriters often it’s like, your parents had this vinyl collection. It was the 80’s, so Chicago, Toto, Peter Gabriel. Earth, Wind And Fire was a big one. James Taylor. My dad’s a huge James Taylor fan. But Peter Gabriel’s album So was one that we all … The whole family really liked that … There’s some screaming in the background. Anyway, back to PG. So we would listen to that album-
John Murch: PG? Seriously?
Sarah Belkner: That’s what people call him. Because I actually got to go Real World Studios in Britain. That’s something I haven’t told anyone yet. So his album was a big deal for us as a family. We just listened to it a lot and it kept cropping up for me. And then I hadn’t listened to his music for a long time, and then around the making of my album, when they come back to you at some point? And so, it was one of those records that, as I was starting to go into the studio, it came back to me and I started listening to it a lot more as an adult, and as a person who’d been making music for a long time now. I came back at it with a more analytical brain, which was really interesting.
John Murch: Did you get a chance of getting a closer encounter with the works of Peter Gabriel?
Sarah Belkner: I did. When I was in the UK last year, I happened to be in Bristol, which is close to Real World Studios. And I’d met Mike who’s the manager for Real World Studios the year before … Actually, in WOMADelaide, because he runs WOMAD around the world, and I’d met him through a mutual friend of ours. And he said, “If you’re ever in the area, come to Real World Studios.” And I was like, “What?” And I’d made my album at this point, which is very heavily influenced by Peter Gabriel’s album, and here I was with his … Who is literally his offsider saying, “If you’re ever in the area, come to the studio.” It’s just ridiculous.
Sarah Belkner: And so I did. I ended up very close so I called him and he said, “Come for a coffee,” and I did. And he showed me around the whole studio and … Peter Gabriel wasn’t there, which I don’t think I would have coped with anyway. But he showed me into his personal writing space and I got to see the linndrum that they used on the record, the original gear that they used on that record, and yeah. It was crazy.
John Murch: That personal writing space sounds like it’s within the studio. Can you give us some insight into that?
Sarah Belkner: Yeah, it’s actually behind the main studios. So you walk up into some trees and there’s this … Its own space there. So it is a more private space that he’s got at the back of the property.
John Murch: Did you get a sense of views or of items on there?
Sarah Belkner: Oh yeah, totally. It was crazy. He had, just like any writer, had a lot of ideas on the wall and works in progress, and his assistant was literally dubbing off cassettes of demos from decades of work. So they was just going about their daily business. Yeah.
John Murch: Let’s directly now relate it to Sarah Belkner who’s our special guest, and your writing space and some of those inspirations. Because I’m not asking you to give away that of Peter Gabriel, that’s his personal space. But for you though, can you maybe give some insight to where your space is, and what’s there?
Sarah Belkner: I’ve written in various places over the years, but currently … So we’ve got the studio and then we actually live directly opposite the studio, which is great.
John Murch: This amazes me.
Sarah Belkner: Yeah, I love it. It’s door to door, so it’s really … And that’s just serendipity. It’s just how it’s worked out.
John Murch: So there’s traffic in between.
Sarah Belkner: Yeah. Very leafy lovely street, but I can literally walk across the road and use the equipment and then … But then in our apartment, that is where I do a lot of my writing. I’ve got my own room and I do put a lot of stuff on walls and just muse.
John Murch: Is there a particular photograph that comes to mind or a particular object?
Sarah Belkner: No, not really. I’ve been looking at a lot of painters recently. So I’ve got like Joel Rear who’s a modern Australian artist that I really like at the moment. Marguerite Some Frida Kahlo. Yeah. Lot of painters at the moment.
John Murch: You mentioned Our Studio, that is yourself and your husband Richard Belkner. What’s this creative partnership about? And if we can pry, how did it all start for you two kids?
Sarah Belkner: Okay. Yeah, I don’t mind being asked about it. And for me, it’s very normal so it’s been interesting to see that people do find it fascinating. And I don’t mind talking about it … The professional end of it, I don’t mind talking about. Well, we met making music. We made music together before. And then now that we are romantically involved, and we have been for a long time, we make music together for other people as well. So we’re in those production roles for other artists, and yeah, it’s just something … I dunno. We just have a musical communication that’s very special and we have complimentary skills. So where he’s very much … He’s an incredible engineer. He’s really the mouthpiece to people’s ideas, so you can give him any idea and he can just find a way to actually make that happen, which sounds … It sounds like, “But isn’t that an engineer’s job?” It’s not actually that straightforward sometimes. To do that well takes a lot of skill.
John Murch: Well, its the articulation you’re talking about. About an artist who may not be very articulate having someone else who can bounce it back.
Sarah Belkner: And understanding that everybody has different language in the way that they communicate what they want in music. So for an artist … I am trained, but I don’t believe that everybody needs to be. I don’t believe that everyone needs to have a degree in music to be a fantastic musician. We’ve got so many examples of that’s not the case that we need that. But then what that means is sometimes trying to communicate ideas, you don’t have a written language, so then people have their own way of explaining things. And good producers and engineers are really good at unraveling what they’re really trying to get at and what they mean, and helping them to communicate with other musicians or just unraveling what they want in the studio.
John Murch: That’s the way you see Richard Belkner’s part in this partnership. So what do you bring to it? What’s the complimentary aspect that you might wish to refer to?
Sarah Belkner: Well, I guess for him … He’s in a technical role and he does produce as well. What I was describing there is quite a producer’s role in the communication between … So in my role, I would be the communicator between the artist and the engineer. That becomes that production role, and arranging really. That’s really my other geeky thing that I love to do.
John Murch: Well, I want to talk about BVs because that’s another big part of your life, but before we do … And it is slightly geeky in a way. The arrangement idea, because sometimes you have to be quick on your feet and I guess other times you get time to brew on some things.
Sarah Belkner: Yeah. Yeah, you do. I mean, I come from a background … Again, with the composition and the orchestral and the choir writing and that thing that you do spend time on those ideas. And when I write my songs, a lot of that is already there. When I’m writing the main part, there’ll be counter melodies that I’ll then give to Matt Keegan who’s my saxophone and clarinet player, and then he’ll evolve that or it’ll be exactly what I’d thought of at the start. So there’s different ways of doing it, but I definitely spend time … But I guess in saying that too, I’ll be in the studio and then be like, “We need a keyboard part,” and then I’ll just come up with something on the spot.
John Murch: In that answer, you mentioned one of the legends of Australian jazz who just happens to be your saxophone, clarinet, wind player. I am a huge Matt Keegan Fan. But to have someone like Matt Keegan, literally on tap it sounds like, how does that professional working relationship work?
Sarah Belkner: Matt and I have a mutual love … Well a mutual love-hate relationship with the saxophone. So he is a saxophonist who also sometimes doesn’t like the sound of the saxophone. So him and I mutually-
John Murch: Is Kenny G responsible for that?
Sarah Belkner: Probably. Although, that’s making such a comeback at the moment, so watch out. Next album’s gonna be ripping 80’s sax solos. No, but getting back to Matt, I mean … Him and I have this similar interest in making acoustic instruments sound processed or … I don’t know quite what it is. And finding textures that we haven’t heard before. So him and I really have a lot of common ground there, like trying to find parts and textures and beautiful … Trying to create beautiful landscapes with a clarinet through this amazing synthesizer rig that he’s developed over the years. And he’s spent a lot of time on that electronic aspect. He’s really been developing that for a long time and it’s just been wonderful to have him do that on my clock quite a bit too. And the band’s been seeing those incarnations and him literally practicing that and my band’s like, “Great!” Because you get to hear these sounds for the first time sometimes.
John Murch: Is this a sense of a studio within a studio that’s starting to develop?
Sarah Belkner: Oh yeah. Yeah, we do. Yeah. That’s true. Yes. Studio away from home always. We’re always thinking about process. It’s interesting.
John Murch: Did you first meet him as a jazz musician or at a different point in your life? Where does the Keegan factor-
Sarah Belkner: Yeah, I’m trying to think. He’s a very dear friend of Richie, so I did meet him through the studio. Yeah. I’m trying to think how we actually started playing together, though. I definitely saw him playing a lot of jazz, but I always knew in his tone that it wasn’t … You could always tell that he’s not just trying to rip Coltrane, which is a wonderful thing to do. But he’s always looking for his own … You can always tell that he’s really searching for his own sound and his own type of music as well. He’s not just a traditionalist. I’ve always been around jazz musician since I was growing up too, because my brother is a wonderful jazz saxophonist. So weirdly, I think that Matt’s taken over a bit from growing up with my brother playing saxophone.
John Murch: How important was your brother growing up musically?
Sarah Belkner: Oh, hugely. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s where I heard things like Coltrane and Miles Davis and Bill Evans, and all of that was from him. So in my family there were … Everybody was listening to different music. Mum was listening to more classical music. And then my other brother was into grunge, so he was listening to Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Radiohead and all that. So I got everything. It was a real melting pot.
John Murch: Brand new album. But You Are, But It Has has dropped. It’s out on vinyl. People should get it on the wax. The influences within it, with all your work, you haven’t had to have a prescription of where the music goes, have you? You haven’t had a sense it needed a top 40 or a jazz feel or anything else. Is that true?
Sarah Belkner: No. Yeah, no. I’m constantly looking for my own world, basically.
John Murch: How do you get your own world?
Sarah Belkner: Years and years of searching. No, it is. It’s just uncovering-
John Murch: But it’s about not getting this, what you call, Sunday Brain as well.
Sarah Belkner: Yeah. I really want to make something new, but I’m very aware as well that we’re constantly influenced. You can’t not be influenced by everything that you hear. And everything that you see and do is going to influence you in the same … All the music that I heard as a kid and growing up, it all goes into you. But there’s this other part where it’s like, “I really don’t want to mimic things.” And I’ve always had that. I think that’s that composers brain that’s like, “I want to find my own way of putting that together so I can say something that’s just a little bit different to maybe how someone else has said it.” And I might end up on the same themes or similar instrumentation to other people, but I still want to find my own … Yeah. I really want to find my own way of saying things.
John Murch: Are you searching outside your own personal stories?
Sarah Belkner: Yeah, I do. I mean, up until this point it’s always had some connection to myself. I mean, then there’s pure narrative.
John Murch: Talk to me about George in that context of narrative.
Sarah Belkner: So George is a total narrative. There is no George. Sorry, everyone.
John Murch: For those that haven’t heard the record, because we can’t play music on a podcast, it’s that idea of a storybook narrative.
Sarah Belkner: It is. And I’m getting into narrative writing actually much more personally as well. It’s gone back to starting to write some short stories and that sort of thing. So I love a good narrative, and that one and also Violence 0f Summer are two. That just came out front to back as its own story, and I really don’t know where it came from. It’s a very, quite a gothic creepy tale. But I guess it’s trying to get a point across of action and reaction, is what I think George is about. So it’s something’s happened and then it’s the story of how … In this instance, it’s a young kid and how he’s reacting to something that’s happened to him, and his reaction is to go and burn down his mother’s house. So it’s quite an extreme reaction. But I guess it’s a cautionary tale or something like that too.
John Murch: We’ve had those tales over the years. The Doors, for example, talking about reactions to motherhood and how that son mother relationship would be.
Sarah Belkner: Yeah. And I think sometimes narrative is a way to really … You can really spell it out in a narrative through description. Whereas, when it’s a literal story … I don’t know. That can almost be too close to the bone sometimes maybe. If there’s not an example, maybe you have to make one up. Maybe that’s what it is.
John Murch: Is that hard when it is a bit too literal and you’re pretty much have got some people very close to you who could hear it sooner than later?
Sarah Belkner: Yeah. Nobody has said to me yet, “Oh, that song is” … I mean, that’s not true. I’ve got a song called Joanna that’s not on … I haven’t actually recorded that song, but that is literally about my friend Joanna. And I know it’s hard for her to hear that one. I always sing it when she’s in the audience too. She lives in London and I actually only ever seem to sing it when she’s there. But I don’t know. Yeah. And I know that that’s hard for her to hear that song because it is literally about what happened to her.
John Murch: Well, did you write that song obviously for her? And the answer to that is yes. And then to be compelled to want to or happen to sing it while she’s there. Is it your way, Sarah, of helping her as part of her healing process, do you think?
Sarah Belkner: I don’t know.
John Murch: Why do you feel compelled to sing it while she’s there?
Sarah Belkner: It comes from a support place for me. I want to acknowledge … And that’s what I do try to do in all of my songs. I really want to acknowledge what people would describe as maybe some of the terrible things that we go through, or just some of the more tricky things. I really like to acknowledge those things so that we feel comforted in some weird way. Yeah. I’ve always done that with my songwriting. Yeah, that’s really what it is.
John Murch: And how have those songs traveled with you? Some of the more challenging personal ones for you over the years. Have you fell out of love with some of these songs?
Sarah Belkner: Yeah. I mean, obviously at the moment I’m mostly just singing the current album. But yeah, it’d be interesting to go back to some of my really earlier things and see how they sit. I don’t know. Yeah, I haven’t stumbled across anything that I can’t sing. I’m quite happy to be emotional too. So even at a show, if something made me upset I would still honor it and do it. I’m not scared of being upset or sad or .. Yeah. Because it’s more important to do it then to stop emotions. I’m not really one to … Yeah, I wouldn’t stop an emotion.
John Murch: Which then brings up the question of collaborations. Are you keen at this point in your life, now that you’ve got a whole album out and congratulations on that, are you keen to now go and collaborate some of these emotional feelings? A collaborative record of some sort?
Sarah Belkner: Well, there is actually one in the works with … I don’t know if I’m allowed to actually … I can say something about it. A wonderful band called [Castrati 00:20:39]. There’s a guy called Jonathan Wilson, different Jonathon Wilson to the very famous Jonathan Wilson. Anyway, he has a band-
John Murch: There’s a famous Jonathan Wilson?
Sarah Belkner: There’s a very famous Jonathon Wilson, but he has a band called Castrati who are fantastic, and he does a lot of analog synth and modular synthesizer stuff. And we ended up making a record together. So that will be very wonderful.
John Murch: Has it been finished?
Sarah Belkner: Yeah, it’s being mixed at the moment. So that’s why I feel like I can probably say something about it.
John Murch: What’s the vibe on it?
Sarah Belkner: It’s a full record. I probably won’t say more than that at the moment because there’s more to it than that.
John Murch: There’s a concept?
Sarah Belkner: There is. There’s very good concept, and that’s something that I’m more interested in. If someone presents me with stuff and I can hear what I would do on it straight away or it really pulls up something that I’m interested in looking at emotionally, which this was … It was just, “Whoa.” As soon as I heard Jonathan’s tracks, I just started writing on them straight away. And it was really this really quite dark and quite … I felt like I could explore actually darker material on this than my own for some reason during that time. So yeah, it’ll be really interesting for people to hear it. I’m really proud of those songs.
John Murch: I want to ask you about dark.
Sarah Belkner: It’s a funny word, isn’t it?
John Murch: Sarah Belkner and dark. How do you sit within dark and what does dark mean for you?
Sarah Belkner: I think dark is when you’re exploring and … It’s good. I really like that you’ve asked this because I feel like when I read interviews or listen to interviews, that word gets thrown around a lot for stuff that I just … I just guess it’s emotional terrain that people are a little bit scared of going into. And when I go further into that emotional terrain that I think people don’t sing about as much, that’s where I feel like I’ve really done something. When you do that you feel like you’re exploring more interesting terrain. So it’s not necessarily dark, because it’s not like … It’s the wrong word.
John Murch: But there is a depth-
Sarah Belkner: Hefty? Heavy? Stuff that people don’t want to talk about.
John Murch: There’s also depth of understanding, Sarah, with that as well. You need to be well read in what you’re talking about, or at least be well experienced in what you’re talking about.
Sarah Belkner: Or it’s that you can relate … There’s something that you’ve picked up on that you feel like you can relate to the emotion that that person would have been going through, and it’s without judgment. So there’s no judgment in exploring that.
John Murch: Is that called empathy?
Sarah Belkner: It is called empathy and that’s what-
John Murch: That’s a word we don’t use much these days.
Sarah Belkner: And that’s actually what songwriters … I think the best songwriters are exceptionally empathetic. That’s what they’re able to do.
John Murch: Can you give an example of those empathetic songwriters that have helped you through working on some of this darker material, your own or collaborative, that we’re not talking about?
Sarah Belkner: I love PJ Harvey. I’m a huge fan of PJ Harvey.
John Murch: When were you introduced to PJ Harvey?
Sarah Belkner: When I was at university. I worked in a record shop.
John Murch: not the 1991.
Sarah Belkner: No, it wasn’t. It was actually Stories From The City was the first, and then I went back. I worked backwards. I worked in a CD shop so that I could buy CDs, basically. All my money just went back into … I know, it’s funny.
John Murch: Oh, you actually bought them?
Sarah Belkner: Yeah, yeah. At cost.
John Murch: Why didn’t you just borrow them?
Sarah Belkner: No, no. No. I was legit. I saved up and yeah. So I discovered a lot of music at that time too, and that was literally just educating myself in whatever I could get my hands on pre-iTunes.
John Murch: From Stories From The City to now, what’s that Sarah Belkner, PJ Harvey story been like?
Sarah Belkner: Well, she’s one of the few artists that I actually love all of her records. Except the new one, maybe not quite as much. I’ve seen a lot of live clips of that and it seems to translate amazingly live. I couldn’t go to the recent gig, but yeah, she’s one of those people that her whole … All of her work from start to what she’s currently doing, I just think is incredible. She adapts what she does. She’s doesn’t just stick … Okay, I’ve made a record that people like. Now I’m going to do that again. She purposefully tries to do the opposite and make herself uncomfortable to find-
John Murch: Where over the years do you think you’ll sit yourself in that being comfortable doing the same thing, Gillian Welsh style, v the PJ Harvey I’ll do something different every time? Where do you think you’ll sit yourself in that?
Sarah Belkner: It’s hard to know at this point, but yeah, I definitely would … I’m definitely looking to change and to explore new materials, new territory and not repeat myself.
John Murch: What’s your sound palette there?
Sarah Belkner: Oh, wow. Currently, I guess analog keyboards. So there’s a lot of Juno and Rodes and Willetzer and old school vintage keyboards I’ve always been really interested in. And then piano, so grand piano. And then always coupled with some beats. So we use lint drums, NPC, real drums, and then synthesized and acoustic bass as well. So there’s always a synthesized element and an acoustic element, every part of the band.
John Murch: So that’s the paint. Can I now bring you to something I’m sure you can talk about a lot, and that’s the visualization of those paints. What do you see when you-
Sarah Belkner: Oh, wow. All sorts of things.
John Murch: But for this particular record, I’m sure you have particular visions.
Sarah Belkner: I did. I’m trying to think of the landscape. There was definitely a lot of … Interestingly, what’s come out through the cover too. A lot of black and iridescent light. A lot of quite deep landscapes of trees and that kind of thing.
John Murch: If we focus on the cover, not to bring you back too quickly, but you’re really proud of this cover, aren’t you?
Sarah Belkner: Yeah, I am. My friend W.I.L.K. who’s a photographer that I’ve worked with on all of … From the Human EP right through to the album, he’s taken all of my photos. Any photo that you see is his. And yeah, it was a concept that he had of lightness coming out of dark, which I think is really appropriate for the themes on the record of … Getting yourself out of difficult situations has been one of the main themes I’ve found has cropped up a lot. So that idea of finding light in dark. So he chose to use a technique of light painting by Picasso … Well, it’s actually not by Picasso, but Picasso did some of the most famous ones where … So you hold the … What’s it called? The camera lens open. Aperture?
John Murch: Aperture? Yeah?
Sarah Belkner: Yeah. Held open. Oh, my god. I can talk about technical stuff in the studio, but when it comes to cameras it’s not great. So that gets held open and it’s dark in the room. I strike a pose and then he comes in front of the camera literally with a torch and paints light and then … Yeah, so that’s what we did.
John Murch: What analog camera do you enjoy using?
Sarah Belkner: Oh, god. I don’t know. I know nothing about photography cameras.
John Murch: Do you have one?
Sarah Belkner: No, I don’t. Yeah.
John Murch: I thought you might.
Sarah Belkner: No, I don’t.
John Murch: That was the left field question.
Sarah Belkner: Yeah. I love photography, though. I love looking at photography, but I-
John Murch: drummers do as well.
Sarah Belkner: Yeah, they do too. More visual arts, because I through a painting background really. So through high school and university I was always painting, and it’s something I really want to get back to as well.
John Murch: When do you think you’ll get time or when-
Sarah Belkner: Oh, god. I don’t know. I don’t know.
John Murch: We’re currently speaking to Sarah Belkner, and this is where we talk about the wild life that you have. So it’s wonderful that you just have to cross the road from your abode, with your husband, to go to a studio that you get to share. It’s all very close and wonderful. And then, there’s a thing called Australia, and New Zealand recently, where you get to tour. And so, the big wide open road must be a mind-blowing experience even as many times that you’ve done it, and more so with the people you get to do it with.
Sarah Belkner: Yeah, it has been. So I put out a little thing into the world maybe two years ago saying I just want to play more. I want to play-
John Murch: Recently.
Sarah Belkner: Yeah. I wasn’t very specific. I would obviously like to do more of my own shows as well, but I just put out into the world that I wanted to be playing. And more original music. So then that came back to me as-
John Murch: That’s key, though, isn’t it? Because you could’ve got a lot of cover-
Sarah Belkner: Yeah, I used to do that a long time ago. It’s not my scene at all.
John Murch: So what did the universe firstly … Couple of years ago, you send this out. What was the first thing the universe came back with?
Sarah Belkner: Well, initially I was playing with Lanie Lane in her band, and then … Yeah, which was beautiful. And her and I are very different.
John Murch: The music that she does, I find it to be engaging, organic. How do you describe it, for those that don’t know Lanie Lane’s music?
Sarah Belkner: Yeah, definitely. Engaging and organic is a good way, especially her second album was very beautiful.
John Murch: So the universe came back with her?
Sarah Belkner: Yeah. Well actually, no. I was already doing that with her and I really enjoyed that so much, being in the ranks and playing and getting to work on my skills as a musician. I really enjoyed that on that level. So then the first thing that came … Or actually simultaneously, was doing Chet Faker’s tour and joining Sarah Blasko’s band. Happened-
John Murch: At the same time?
Sarah Belkner: Around the same time.
John Murch: Two massive Australian tours where they were following each other?
Sarah Belkner: Yeah, and then I did this really weird … and I’m probably gonna jinx it now. But then it started to just … I just ended up doing these back to back tours and they all seemed to slot in and around each other, which some of my other friends who play in multiple bands were like, “Oh, there’s no way that that’s gonna work.” And then literally from November 2015 till about now, January … What are we?
John Murch: March, 2017.
Sarah Belkner: March 2017. I’ve literally done back to back tours with different people. So from Ngaiire supporting Sufjan Stevens, which was the most ridiculous tour to … Actually a year ago around now. Oh, it was because it was-
John Murch: WOMAD.
Sarah Belkner: Yeah. Because it was WOMAD. No, but we were here for some reason, and that was one of the best tours I’ve ever been on.
John Murch: What an interesting combination, though.
Sarah Belkner: It was beautiful.
John Murch: Because Niari, at the time, would have been just … She’s always been on the rise, but at that stage-
Sarah Belkner: Well, no. Her album had been doing really well about that time, so it was a really good time for her to do something a little different to … Because she’d been doing her band thing, which is all with beats and stuff, and then actually her MD was going to be overseas and she said to me, “Can you musical direct this tour?” And I want to do … I know. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?
John Murch: You weren’t just on key. You were the MD.
Sarah Belkner: Yeah. I did that tour, which I was really proud of because we came up with some really beautiful versions of her songs. And I know her as a friend as well, so I know what she’s capable of in an emotional realm to sing beautiful and more stripped back then, and quite a female element of just having her, me, and Alana Stone on stage together. So the three of us. And then Natalie from Melbourne, from Ainslee Will’s band filled in for Alana.
John Murch: So having these people as part of a sisterhood or a collective, a musical mob, so to speak. How has that grown you, Sarah Belkner, as a musician, producer, musical director even?
Sarah Belkner: I just get so inspired by people who write great songs. So Ngaire and Olympia and Sarah Blasko and these women that I’ve been around who are just … Just writing incredible songs, and again, just not being afraid to tap into emotional sensitive material. And I think women … Men obviously have that ability as well, but these particular women really are delving into that territory and it’s just being around that is just incredibly inspiring and getting to play parts that I wouldn’t necessarily write that they’ve written or whoever’s played on the record has written, and then getting to play those parts and play things that I wouldn’t usually choose. It’s been the most incredible education.
John Murch: What emotional development has that been for you as well? Has it made you a stronger person doing this?
Sarah Belkner: I don’t know if stronger … Yeah, I guess so. Clearer. More clarity around everything, about why I do what I do and what I’m trying to do. Yeah, so just more clarity I think around everything. And bravery. Yeah, definitely, like in Blasko’s case, she’s really brave. She’s got this really incredible streak of clearness and she knows what she wants and what she wants to do and she does it, and I think that seems so simple, but when you’re trying to do that-
John Murch: What is called the music industry is completely away from where you musicians are right now, isn’t it?
Sarah Belkner: Yeah, it is mentally. It’s definitely a different thing. So then when you’re promoting your music and doing all of that, it’s so far removed from why you write a song or why you pull up-
John Murch: Which must be healthy though because there are some people that do music to live in that bubble.
Sarah Belkner: Yeah. I don’t know why you would do it to live in that bubble.
John Murch: You guys are so far away from that.
Sarah Belkner: It’s something that I really can’t relate to. And I guess actually being around professional people who have been doing it for a long time too, like Blasko, and being on Chet Faker’s tour and those sorts of things. You realize that it’s part and parcel as well. So you really need to put a lot of effort into that side of it so that you can make more songs. So that’s really important that you do both.
John Murch: Our time is short because you need to leave.
Sarah Belkner: It is, I have to leave. I’m so sorry.
John Murch: But before you do go, we need to talk about this one song. John Lennon. Are you reaching out to Yoko Ono? Speaking about strong, powerful women.
Sarah Belkner: Am I? No, but I was thinking about putting it in the John Lennon songwriting contest. Is that funny? Would that be good? I don’t know if she’d like it. It’s actually a joke. I don’t think I will put it in there.
John Murch: Sarah Belkner. What’s the next couple of years got in store for you then?
Sarah Belkner: Well, currently writing-
John Murch: What are you telling the universe you want?
Sarah Belkner: I would like to make my next record as soon as possible, finish writing that and just get that together and be able to do that. And tour as much as possible and go overseas more and just continue doing what I’m doing.
John Murch: Well, congratulations on But You Are, But It Has. Sarah Belkner, a pleasure.
Sarah Belkner: Thank you.
Tammy Weller [Outro]:
Sarah Belkner. ‘But You Are, But It Has’ is out through Free Energy Device Records.
A tune featuring Sarah Belkner – called Layer on the Love – is to appear on Brendan Maclean’s ‘And The Boyfriends; album out in March 2019.