By Jeff Kingsbury
Many know Sarah Bradley from the dreamy, soaring vocals she contributes to staple Ottawa electro-pop band Fevers, who have played on most of the city’s biggest stages to critical acclaim. On her upcoming EP For The Kill, Bradley offers a collection of impressive tracks, narrow in scope but diverse in their influence, with hints of R&B, soul, and mainstream pop.
The award-winning singer has been stunning audiences in Ontario and Quebec with her impressive voice for a number of years, and will release the EP, her recording debut, on January 18th at Pressed.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: Having spent some time with the tracks on this EP, I find the collection to be a very harmonious mix of R&B, pop, and even a bit of mo-town influence. Who have been some of your biggest influences as a songwriter and performer?
Sarah Bradley: Pop music had a huuuge influence on my tastes and development as a songwriter. When I was a kid, I listened to a lot of mainstream pop, partly because pop was so accessible but also because I genuinely enjoy the vocal style of the 90s and early 2000s pop music. I grew up singing along to divas like Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, and Christina Aguilera.
As a teenager I started to care more about what an artist was trying to say with their music and I began to focus on the poetry of a song. I listened to a lot of Death Cab – the simple and melancholic imagery that Ben Gibbard created in Transatlanticism and Plans fascinated me. Regina Spektor, and other anti-folk artists like Laura Marling and Feist resonated with me.
I still listen to top 40 radio. I don’t really like everything I hear but I like to study the science behind it. What’s really popular right now, and why? Who wrote this song and how was it written? I’m trying to find a space where I can write accessible music that reaches people without compromising on my authenticity.
What music are you listening to lately, new or old?
I feel like I go through phases of absorption. Here’s some of the artists and bands I have appreciated or studied over the years: Anderson .Paak, Chance The Rapper, Caribou, Neko Case, James Blake, LCD Soundsystem, Lianne La Havas, Lupe Fiasco, Megan Jerome, Stars, Solange, Sufjan Stevens, The Tallest Man On Earth, Ariana Grande, Radiohead, Mitski, Tom Misch, Jill Scott, Leif Vollebekk, Emily King, Dirty Projectors.
How did this EP come together? Where and with whom did you record?
I’ve been sitting on these songs for years. I explored different styles and arrangements and I have probably have like 20 demos of “Place and Time”. When I finally put For The Kill together I decided to just record the songs live off the floor. I’m so so so so happy I asked Martin Charbonneau, Ben Di Millo and Stephen Adubofuor to accompany me – they immediately got what I was doing and contributed their own voices to the project. It felt like a perfect fit for me.
We recorded with Dean Watson who is a dream to work with – he was accommodating, generous and reassuring. I felt comfortable asking for what I wanted and am really happy with the results. I should also mention that “Oh” was co-produced by Adam Saikaley. The EP is being mastered at Bova Sound.
The themes you explore in these songs seem to point toward specific things but remain somewhat interpretatively vague. Is this a conscious decision or just a natural part of your process?
I wrote these songs from the ages of 19–24 and there are lot of interconnected themes of struggle and self-growth. I think navigating your early twenties is difficult for lots of people – you’re definitely not a kid but you don’t really have a lot of life experience. It’s like a weird transition into adulthood and you have to figure it out yourself. You’re making big life decisions, often big changes, learning about yourself.
For me, this involved a lot of inward thinking and that meant uncovering traumas and facing parts of myself I didn’t really like – not an easy thing to do. I struggled a lot with my mental health and well-being during this time. Now, I’m in a much healthier place and I can look back and see how these songs were a good part of my healing process. For The Kill represents this time in my life – struggling to understand where my pain was coming from and deciding to heal my wounds by facing them and fighting them. I felt pretty lost when I wrote these songs, and maybe the ambiguity of the lyrics represent the confusion I felt? I don’t know – this is just a theory I’m coming up with now.
You’re also a member of Ottawa electro-pop band Fevers. How has your time in that project influenced or informed your experience writing and recording for your solo project (if at all)?
There were a lot of opportunities for me to learn and grow with Fevers. We were able to get a FACTOR grant and work with a producer in a professional studio setting. That was an important experience in learning importance of pre-production, the basics of sound engineering and mic/vocal recording technique. We played festivals like Bluesfest, NXNE, POP Montreal and that was a good way for me to learn a bit about industry and networking.
My bandmate Martin has been generous in offering his rehearsal space and gear for me to practice and record with, and he’s always teaching me weird things about synthesizers and electronic music… he’s been an amazing source. I don’t really have any administrative roles with Fevers so there was a bit of a learning curve when it came to booking a venue, finding support, organizing a press release and all that super fun stuff. It was all good.
I see a lot of realness and authenticity in Ottawa. That shit’s hard to come by.
Having spent some years watching the city’s music scene ebb and flow, what keeps you as an Ottawa-based artist?
I was just thinking about this the other day. It’s true that Ottawa’s music scene is smaller in comparison to Montreal or Toronto’s scenes. Some may think that’s a flaw but it’s what I love about Ottawa. There are a lot of magical things that happen in smaller scenes, and one thing I appreciate is the warm sense of community.
Ottawa is so eclectic. I have friends who are poets, singer songwriters or free jazz musicians, who play in punk bands, who are in experimental vocal choirs, who play traditional Celtic music. If you dig just a little bit, you’ll find something for you and you’ll see that there’s a lot of unique and creative stuff happening in Ottawa. And if what you’re doing isn’t already happening, you have the safe space to create it.
Because Ottawa is so small we’re forced to support each other, and it’s healthy to listen to music and absorb art that’s unfamiliar or outside of your own world. It makes me a better artist. The community here is supportive and nourishing, and good things happen when you feel like you belong. I see a lot of realness and authenticity in Ottawa. That shit’s hard to come by.
Any big plans in the works for the rest of 2018?
Sarah Bradley’s EP release show takes place at Pressed (750 Gladstone Ave) on January 18th at 8:30pm, and features Mack & Ben and Cynthia Tauro as support acts. Cover is $10 at the door. Pressed Cafe has a portable ramp and is wheelchair accessible. Washrooms are located on the main floor but are not wheelchair accessible (one step up, small/tight space).