Behind the Music: Interview with Sarah Williams White

‘As much as I may intend to keep things simple, when I’m in the studio an instinct takes over.’

Following the recent arrival of Sarah Williams White’s second album ‘Unfathomable’, I chatted with this genre-blending new artist about compositional processes, the surprising journeys the tracks went on, and where her music is heading next.

Hi Sarah, thanks for taking the time to chat. Please introduce yourself to your future listeners. 
Hi thanks for having me. I’m Sarah Williams White, a singer-songwriter, producer, and mother from SE London UK. Making songs and recording sounds are my passion and I’ve been told I make a kind of Psych Soul / Dream Pop.

Who or what would you cite as your biggest influences? 
My family, and musical artists who really kickstarted my desire to sing and record such as Fiona Apple and Erykah Badu back when I was about 16.

What 5 words would best describe your sound? 
Songs, rhythm, layered with love.

Who is involved on the musical and non-musical side of things? 
The music is all made by me in my home studio, except the drum kit is by Timmy Rickard. He also mixes my records. I run the non-musical show too but have a very small team helping on my latest record campaign via First Word Records.

‘There’s nothing like getting lost in the recording process of a song.’

Congratulations to your phenomenal forthcoming album ‘Unfathomable’, what is the story behind the title and the release? 
Thanks! It’s about escape. It’s about deflating the ego by looking up to the endlessness of outer space, connecting with the greatness of mother nature, and loving how unfathomable the universe and life itself is. I wrote a lot of it while I was pregnant with my daughter Leah.

So why was now the right time to release your second album? 
I finished ‘Unfathomable’ a year or so before it’s actual release but didn’t have my head in the ‘game’. Honestly, it was difficult for me at first to switch from the hiatus of becoming a new mother to being a solo artist with the confidence needed to reveal my new work to people.

Throughout the album rhythms and textures alter in unexpected ways – for example Oh! and Green. How do you approach creating these compositional elements? 
By nature I like to create change throughout my tracks. As much as I may intend to keep things simple and enjoy a straight ahead groove, when I’m in the studio an instinct takes over. I get too much fun taking each song on a longer journey, weaving in and out of sections and layered textures. The drums on ‘Oh!’ were actually totally unplanned and down to Timmy, he heard the ‘1’ beat in a completely different place to me and started this wonky pattern which I loved!!

The lyricism we hear appears to be filled with symbolic references – ‘prizm, show me how I break apart’ (Spectrum of Light) and ‘another storm over’ (364). To what extent did this impact the narratives you wanted to tell? 
I love fantasy and science fiction and grew up on a lot of 80s/90s fantasy films and animations. That still influences me lyrically and especially with these last two albums. I guess they’ve both been quite influenced by epic scenes and apocalyptic dreams I’ve visualised whilst writing.

Reflecting on the creation of the album, which tracks took you on the most surprising musical journey? 
‘Spectrum Of Light’ was one that started humbly on the piano. I never expected it to end up with such a crescendo arrangement, a disco beat, and an outro that keeps changing key. It’s a great example of once I get Timmy involved to track drum ideas, the journey evolves and sparks off even more arrangement ideas for me. Honestly, his input is priceless. ‘Oh’ as mentioned before is a great example of this too.

‘364’ was a long musical journey for me, started a good 6 years ago I reckon. One New Year’s Eve I was by myself in the studio, with a bottle of whiskey, and the bones were laid down. I was fascinated by it but couldn’t get it quite right and kept coming back to it in pieces over the years, instruments changing in and out, the lyrics changing too. It always kept its general 5mins long arrangement then finally it all seemed to fit!

‘At first it was difficult for me to switch from the hiatus of becoming a new mother and back to being a solo artist.’

Other than the opportunity to create music, what role does it play in your life?
It’s my escape. Music takes me out of the day-to-day and I can get totally lost in its creation until I lose all sense of time. Apart from being a mother, it also gives me purpose and is something that fulfils me. There’s nothing like getting lost in the recording process of a song and then listening back to this strange piece of you captured in time.

Being a multi-instrumentalist as well as a producer, what are the blessings and/or curses of this? 
I enjoy the freedoms; not having to explain and interrupt my path to anyone else as I create. It is free flowing and entirely in my own voice. The only sadness is not being proficient in every instrument. I know an instrumentalist could bring more flavour and expertise than I can, so I’d like to bring more instrumentalists in. The biggest curse is that once you release the music, it’s all on you! You have to be the face, voice, confidence, and the driving force. That can be hard because I’m a more humble soul and don’t always love the performance side of being an artist.

How does it feel to have received praise from highly regarded members of the music industry? 
Great! I think if we’re all honest when you show your work to people you’re hoping for praise and positive feedback over the negative right?! Even better if it’s from a fellow artist or musician, that’s the one that gives me butterflies. Knowing people enjoy or better still have been inspired by my music, honestly helps make all the extra time and effort of releasing it feel worthwhile.

And finally, what does 2022 have in store for you musically? 
A new project! I’m excited to get back into the studio as I should have more time opening up after this album is out. Well, it will have to fit around the arrival of my second kid this summer..! I’m not sure what or how the music will shape itself but I’m anxious to get creating! I’m also looking to collaborate some more outside of my solo artist work and would love to try more composing for visuals.

Thanks Sarah Williams White for chatting with Listen to Discover
Photography Credit: Tom Skelton

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