Sarah Louise :: Transmissions

Guitarist, songwriter, and producer Sarah Louise joins us this week to discuss her new album, Earth Bow. Though Louise is known for her 12-string folks fantasias, her work is wide ranging, evoking the soundscapes of Robert Fripp and the interlocked rhythms of electronic pop. Reviewing the album for AD, Josh Moss writes that while “Louise is an incredibly gifted guitar player…Earth Bow de-centers the guitar, rendering it an integral part of a lush musical environment, as detailed and sensory as a blooming forest looks from within.” Louise joined us for a return visit to Transmissions to discuss being off the grid, the perils of social media, and her spiritual and creative practice. 

Transmisions :: Sarah Louise

Episode playlist: Sarah Louise, “Jewel of the Blueridge” ++ “Earth Wakes Up”

Thanks for listening. Transmissions is written, produced, and hosted by Jason Woodbury. Our audio is edited by Andrew Horton. Visual work by Sarah Goldstein and Jonathan Mark Walls. Our executive producer and top of the show announcer is Aquarium Drunkard founder Justin Gage. Tune into his weekly radio program, the long running, long celebrated Aquarium Drunkard Show, every Wednesday on Sirius XMU, channel 35, at 7 PM Pacific time. Photos by Katrina Ohstrom. We hope you enjoy this one. If you enjoy Transmissions, please rate, review, subscribe, and spread the word. We’ll be back next Wednesday, joined by director, musician, and Jim Jarmusch. Subscribe wherever you get podcasts.

Aquarium Drunkard: Sarah, thanks so much for joining us on Aquarium Drunkard Transmissions. It’s a real pleasure to have you with us this morning. 

Sarah Louise: Thank you Jason, I’m so glad to be here. 

AD: We went back and forth on how and when we were gonna do this. It’s midmorning your time and a little early morning my time. I wondered if, to start off, you could tell me what your morning routine looks like on a typical day?  

Sarah Louise: I have not had a typical day in a very long time. I’ve actually been camping. I’m at a friend’s house right now for the weekend but I’ve been camping for weeks now. So my morning routine has been brushing my teeth in the creek and swimming with my dog and trying to stay off the internet as much as possible, which has only been allowed by living a fairly nomadic, unsettled life for the past year. I just haven’t really had a place of my own. I’ve been house sitting and staying with loved ones and kind of bouncing around. And now that things are opening up it’s just, there’s no new normal for me yet. It has been the year of upending routines.  

AD: Where have you been over the past year? Have you moved around quite a bit? 

Sarah Louise: It’s a little bit in the Southeast. I’ve been camping near North Carolina, very close to where I’ve been for a long time. Which is definitely my spiritual home. I’m just in a zone of being nomadic after being in one fairly isolated spot for close to a decade. 

AD: I think in the past when we talked, you told me a little bit about the place. Did the year present the opportunity for you to embrace a kind of nomadic situation? What inspired that for you?  

Sarah Louise: Losing my housing and job. 

AD: Well there you go! Jeez.

Sarah Louise: Yeah, it’s been a far out year.  

AD: I know when I camp, there are a few things from the normal world I can’t let go of. I always have to have coffee. Do you do coffee every morning? 

Sarah Louise: I don’t actually. I’m so sensitive to caffeine and I’ve never been able to get over that hurdle of feeling jittery for two weeks. But I love—coffee ice cream is my favourite. I love the taste. 

AD: [Earth Bow is] such an incredible record and it’s such an interesting record. I have been a fan of your work for a long time. There have certainly been these moves towards more electronic and a little bit more abstract expressions, and on this album it just feels like, I can’t come up with a better word than “bloom.” It just feels like there’s this thing happening on this album. It’s so joyful and it’s so exciting and it’s so celebratory.  Really, I feel like there’s a magic to the record and I wonder if the word “magic” sits comfortably for you? 

Sarah Louise: Oh yeah, magic is real. 100%, yeah. 

AD: Is your relationship with the land and the earth your primary avenue for exploring the kind of magic that we’re talking about? 

Sarah Louise: Yeah, my relationship with the earth goes back from my little childhood and I always had this sense that there was something that was not evident from our phenomenal world. That there was more to it. And just having experiences in nature. Basically, there are so many energies coming at us continuously that are very strong and forceful that keep us separate from the earth. A smart phone for example. That’s a very strong energy. Social Media. It takes over your brain. And when those strong energies are coming at you, the subtle energies of the earth and our bodies just completely get lost. We’ve been told this lie that magic doesn’t exist and that the spirit world doesn’t exist. That the earth isn’t conscious. Those are all lies that are perpetuated by capitalism and yeah it’s the survival mechanism. It both allows it to exist and it’s a result of it. Nature is amazing and really I’m in a place of being in collaboration with those energies. And just practicing every single day reorienting myself towards those energies so I can be in a deeper relationship with them. 

AD: There’s so many directions we can take things from here. I’ll start off by asking, you mentioned that part of what you’re up to is staying as far away from social media as possible. When it comes time to promote a record and talk about a record and do interviews about a record, it requires engaging with that side of things. Having removed yourself a little more from it, how does it feel now when you’re sort of engaging with let’s say something as benign, well it’s not always benign, but Twitter or whatever. How does it feel to re-enter that and have to use it as a tool for explaining to people what this work is? Which is obviously rooted in things that are more tied to those subtle energies that you’re talking about. 

Sarah Louise: For album release week I was literally sending these posts from my tent. I think I just wanted to put myself in a situation where I was surrounded by the loving presence of the earth and have that be as strong of an energy as possible as an antidote to it. But I love people too, I love connecting with people. I love this, I love talking. Social media, I’ve had to realize, it’s not a good platform of engagement. 

For a couple years now, I’ve tried to have the courage to just get completely off of it and I’m starting to lay some groundwork of wanting to build something that can be a better way of engaging with people and building community. Because I think it’s so essential for us to support one another and have conversations through this shift that the world is going through right now. Again these systems, these toxic systems that are embedded in our life, that we are surrounded by, are strong energies and social media so often it’s what people turn to when they’re uncomfortable. It’s what people turn to when they’re bored, and I speak from experience, so I’ve had to try to bring awareness to like, “Did something happen that’s upsetting?” and “Where am I orienting that energy?” Is it to social media? Or is it towards my body and to the earth or something more nourishing? I think we just have to realize what social media is good for and what it’s not and I think it tries to present itself as everything and it’s not. 

AD: It’s a very limited way to have conversations and it typically does not reward nuance or deep reads or make a lot of space for learning sometimes. It’s a weird thing we’re in. But nonetheless I’m glad that you were able to announce this to the world. I think you’ve put some other stuff out on your own but was this your first full length that you’ve released independently? 

Sarah Louise: Yeah not since I popped up Field Guide on Bandcamp for free six years ago. 

AD: Well after a string of great releases on labels like Thrill Jockey, what inspired the decision to go purely independent? It sounds like that’s almost a theme of your last year, you striking on your own. You’re like, “I’m gonna go camp, I’m gonna put this record out.” What inspired that shift, or what necessitated that shift?

Sarah Louise: Yeah I think it is very in alignment with where I’m at. Just wanting to move at my own pace, which is very slow. I’m very detail oriented and like to have a lot of spaciousness to reflect on things. I love Thrill Jockey, they are a fantastic label. I love everyone who works there. They’ve been really fair with me. I may work with them again, I don’t know.  So it’s nothing personal as far as that goes. It’s really just where I’m at. Wanting to do things myself. I think in some ways I knew that I was interested in exploring music in a noncommercial context, which obviously, this is not completely, but I was able to have control over what went up on streaming sites and what didn’t. I’m doing a film collaboration and just not having to ask anyone about how I use it. I just had this intuition that that was going to be important. And it’s still unfolding. I don’t totally know the boundaries of that yet. But yeah recorded music is so young actually and the vinyl format is, gosh was it the ‘20s or ‘30s? Definitely the ‘30s. When did wax cylinders end? But yeah it’s a technology, that is a great technology, but there are a lot of new technologies and also a lot of ancient technologies that relate to music and so that’s really what I feel I’m moving into. Exploring what music can be outside of these formats that we’re sort of expected to exist within. 

AD: That’s really interesting. I think about how you really drew certain kinds of lines in the sand with the release of this. On Bandcamp and the actual physical version of the record, everything is sequenced and presented in a certain way. Side A, Side B, with all the songs flowing into each other and sort of existing in a tied format. And then with streaming services, you’ve got single versions of some of the songs, and it feels to me like there’s a big emphasis on rewarding the person who is going to engage with it the way you intend it. I think that that’s so beautiful. I love the way it flows together, the way that it feels like it’s tied and of a piece. 

When we’ve talked in the past we’ve talked a little bit about traditions and the solo guitar traditions and folk and blues and that being a big part of your work, but this kind of jets off into other territories. It feels like an extension of DJ sets, the way everything sequences and flows together. I wanna ask a little about that celebratory quality because it does feel to me like there’s something celebratory to this record about being in your body and being in the world. And in a year where it has not always been so easy to find joy, it seems to me that this record is a little bit of a document of this kind of sustaining joy. Was the record was mostly done before the pandemic started? 

Sarah Louise: Some of it was, a lot of the songs were done. By the way, there are five extra songs that I am just waiting to get mixed and mastered one day. I had to cut a lot of material for this but the shaping and the weaving of this. A lot of it did happen after the pandemic started but there was a really good foundation to it. Money or time is not real, so I don’t know exactly where everything landed, but it was both. 

AD: I love how you just casually toss out like, “Money or time is not real but in terms of my record.” There’s a quote you said, “Sometimes I can feel the energy of a song within me and the words come out,” and that’s something you credit towards your meditation practice and I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about the intention behind this record. Was there sort of a set of things that you wanted this record to put out energy wise? Or was it more of a process of you figuring out what that was while you were making it. 

Sarah Louise: I think music as it spontaneously arises is necessarily a document of where we’re at and what we’re embodying and what matters. When it’s done in that way. I’m not sitting down and being like, here’s the one here’s the four here’s the five. Which is cool too, I mean I love a lot of artists who might write songs in that way. But my practice is channeling, and when that is the practice there’s no sort of hiding what is present. And what is present for me is that I love nature, I love the earth, it is my religion. It has healed me immensely, and that’s one way I’ve started to think about my discography. I’ve been healing a lot over these years through each release and so I think with this record, I feel so well and whole and healed and just nourished so much by my relationship with the earth that I feel stable and secure enough to not need to express anything else. 

AD: I’ve already alluded to the fact that magic is real and there’s a spiritual component to what you do. Would it be too weird to talk about maybe the Cliffs Notes of the journey of your religious life? Were you raised in any particular tradition by your family? 

Sarah Louise: It’s really interesting, because my dad studied religion but I think has this sort of resistance to it. I went to church camp once as a kid, just because my friend did. My parents didn’t force me or need me to or anything, but I was like, “Oh my friend is going to be there and there’s horses.”  It’s really funny because I came back, and they were making us memorize Bible verses before you could eat breakfast which, looking back at, is so messed up. But I was out in nature and I really connected with nature and I just remember having these experiences basically camping and just landing with the idea that there’s more, there’s more to it, and I came back after church camp spouting things like “God is real!” I have this memory, I don’t remember exactly how it went down, but my memory was my dad sat me down and was like “Sarah, God’s not real.” But my mom is also kind of a mystical person in some ways and would do the leaching growing up and things like that. I’m being so detailed and rambling. I told you about my random church camp experience! 

AD: No I love it, that’s great!

Sarah Louise: Buddhism has been a touchstone for me starting in tenth grade, but I wasn’t able to meditate, my brain couldn’t do it. So I had to have some experiences that foster that and allowed that to happen for me. 

AD: Did music and meditation always coincide? Or overlap for you? 

Sarah Louise: I think music used to be the only space I could meditate. It  was through the music. It was the only way I could calm or still my mind. Those early records, I did not have a medication practice, so it was just by playing that that locked me in, to allow myself  to be very present. Starting with Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars. The experience that resulted from also was the beginning of my meditation practice. And this past year I’ve had a lot of time to practice and that’s really what I’ve used it for. 

AD: You mentioned that you feel like you’re channeling and I’m always so fascinated by that approach and belief because I feel like there is a certain, maybe it’s not for everybody, but certainly music can be a mystical and a magical practice. You are conjuring things out of the unknown. Even if the unknown is just your subconscious or a part of you, you don’t necessarily know what it looks like in that corner of your mind. Stuff kind of pours forth from that. I wonder if, as a channeller, you feel comfortable expressing any notions of where the music comes from for you.

Sarah Louise: I think it’s about relationships. I think it’s about relationality. I think it’s about connecting with things both internal and outside but I cultivate relationships with my ancestors. I cultivate relationships with plants and the earth and unseen beings who wish me well. And so I think it comes from a web of relationality, of being connected and nurturing those relationships, it’s reciprocal. 

AD: Does that tie to the way the album is presented, where these songs are all presented in relation to each other and even the elements musically are sort of all counterpoints? 

Sarah Louise: Yeah absolutely, I wanted to present an interdependent ecosystem, a web. 

AD: This record features field recordings and there’s electronic layers and really great rhythm and you’ve got people who work with you on it. I think Cooper Crain from Bitchin Bajas is on it. Go Kurosawa, Tom Nguyen. Given that this music comes from such a spiritual place for you. What kinds of conversations do you have with your collaborators about where this stuff comes from? Or do you not need to do that necessarily? 

Sarah Louise: Yeah, I didn’t need to. I think the beautiful thing about music is it speaks for itself and I wouldn’t ask anyone to be a part of something I make if I didn’t trust their ability to pick up on that. 

AD: This is obviously a solo album but it does feel like it’s deeply collaborative in the presentation. I wanted to ask you a little bit about the influence of, you were recently featured in a New York Times article about the expansion of the post-John Fahey post-whatever that kind of more narrow world is. You and people like past guests Marisa Anderson and Yasmin Williams. People whose work I really, really love. But I’m interested in the way you have kind of departed from those traditional things and gone in various directions. But listening to this one, I definitely hear a strong affinity for R&B music and for almost, I’m thinking like ‘90s R&B? 

Sarah Louise: You got me! I can’t believe it. [Laughs] That’s really funny because I never know if anyone is going to hear that, but I’m obsessed with ‘90s R&B 

AD: Whenever I get bored, I sometimes turn on—we have a channel on our TV, MTV Classics, and at night a lot of times they’ll just show, it’s called “‘90s Block” or something. And the other night I watched it for 20 minutes and it’s just like my childhood memories on shuffle. But I was getting ready for this interview and listening to the record a lot. And they showed this TLC video and I thought, there’s some interesting commonality in the melodies. So were those some of the first songs that you connected to? Like radio jams? 

Sarah Louise: Yeah totally. I grew up in Atlanta as a kid. Yeah I mean Boys II Men,  TLC D’Angelo, Aaliyah.I listened to that so much growing up. To me, the most interesting music being made right now is in rap and R&B. That’s where the boundaries are being pushed, that’s where the innovation is. To me that’s where it’s at. 

AD: I’m trying to pinpoint one of the things. It’s not just the melody. When I listen to this record in the context of those kinds of music, there’s what just feels to be such an emphasis on almost like the sensuality of existence. Maybe sensuality is the wrong word. But it just feels very full and it feels very lively. I read a review that refers to “Earth Wakes Up” as like a love song. And I love that. And it made me think like, Is Sarah making slow jams for the planet? And to me that just seems so interesting. Cming from the, let’s call it cosmic guitar, or maybe we could call it—New American Weirdness, or new/Old American Weirdness. Coming from that world, was there any hesitancy in the past like “I don’t want to embrace my Motown Philly roots when I’m presenting myself as a 12 string guitarist?” And I wonder if for you a big kind of the appeal of striking out on your own is being able to shake loose the detritus of what you’re allowed to do or not allowed to do as a musician. 

Sarah Louise: I don’t think so in that case. I think I would have felt free to do whatever I wanted in any case. I mean if you’re making something creative, do what you want. Don’t try to be anything other than what you are and who you are. I think the sensuality really was a result of my healing. I think it is very common for people to feel disembodied, whether it’s from trauma or whether it’s just from being desensitized by being plugged into screens all the time. So I think I was in a position of being disconnected from my body. And as I’ve healed, I am so in touch with my body, I’m dancing, I’m moving, I’m running. I just have a completely new relationship with that, so I think that anything you’re picking up in that regard, It’s who I am now, It’s how I am. It just comes out naturally, I’m so thankful to be embodied. 

AD: I’d like to ask you a bit more about dancing because dancing is a big part of your social media presence. As the pandemic came in, it became more and more apparent that if we were gonna see live music, we were gonna need to watch it on our phones or laptops. Nothing comes really close to capturing the feeling of being in a room with people with live music playing. But nonetheless your presentation did feel very exciting and again very joyful in a time where it was hard to find much joy. What does your relationship with dancing look like? Have you ever been a club attendee? Is that something? Tell me about your dancing life. 

Sarah Louise: Well I’m a failed ballerina, that’s where it all began. Yeah I have done a little clubbing and I’m just so interested in that experience because it’s this liminal space. It’s this ecstatic space where boundaries dissolve; it’s very ritualistic. I would say a club is one of the few places you can have this communitas, this probably isn’t the best word, it’s like some anthropological word coined by some old white guy, but this ecstatic experience. That was definitely an influence on the record. Getting more into techno and house music. It’s all about the body. The body is this vehicle of communication. The body is where we get in touch with our intuition and this deep rooted knowing, and that knowing is an antidote to these systems which impinge on the whole planet. 

AD: Yeah I think that we touched on this a little bit before we started the interview proper, but the last year has served as this huge disruption of everybody’s routine and everybody’s set understanding of what the world is. Obviously it has come with immense tragedy and last year was a terrible year, there’s no way around it. But I do think that people are in a position of finding themselves open to the notion that maybe this isn’t the only way that things could be. As an artist, when you’re putting a record out you’re almost presenting your vision of how you think things could be more like. I guess that’s a little vague the way I phrased that, but hopefully the idea comes through a little bit.  

Sarah Louise: I think, again, it’s not my job to convince anybody how they should be or how the world should be. I’m just making what’s on my heart and I think when that happens there can be this—again music is so amazing because it’s beyond words—it’s this very direct form of communication that speaks to the wholeness of the mind and body and the spirit. So yeah I deeply want the world to be different, I’m deeply invested in the emergence and the nourishing of new ways of being in the place, in these systems that extract power by severing our connections with each other and with our sacred plane.And so I hope that my music can connect people with the earth, but I’m really just making what’s on my heart.

AD: You alluded earlier to trying to figure out ways to utilize the systems of the internet and the way we connect to sort of have a side, a tributary that’s off to the side that’s maybe not tied to Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. But I also read in at least one piece where you expressed the idea where you might like to also start offering meditations and things like that. Is that sort of what you’re talking about? Where you can utilize the technology to connect with people on a deeper level without some of the distractive or even destructive qualities inherent in some of the existing spaces? 

Sarah Louise: Yeah so one thing that I’m working on is this space that is not on social media, that is this virtual room that can be evolving and changing, where I want to gather people together. And in that space I’d like to do meditation. Also I’m very interested in group singing. Group singing is so ancient and so healing and I want to create a safer space where people who maybe don’t identify as singers can come and feel the power of voice coming out of their bodies. And I fully expect to do this in person but I’m also intrigued by the possibilities – what’s great about the internet is it can aggregate likeminded people who don’t have to live close together. I’m working on a lot of things. I feel like my practice is shifting a lot towards facilitation. Of just wanting to help hold space, not as a leader but as someone part of a community. And that will not be happening on social media. That will be happening in my own digital space. 

AD: That’s fascinating and really exciting to hear because it’s clear that there are really deep ideas and really deep pathways to thought within this music. One of the things I liked most about organized religion was being in a room with people singing and everybody’s voices gathering together. I even remember having this one experience as a kid where I was just, we were singing a hymn in church growing up and I was listening for all of the different voices in the room. And not looking just being like “I can hear so-and-so, I can hear my uncle, I can hear these voices,” and I remember being young, so slightly goofy and dazed, and at some point I probably stopped paying attention. But noticing that the imperfections in people’s voices are what made them sound so cool. Layering the imperfections of voices together, there’s nothing so human. But it almost sounds like what you’re talking about is, when people are gathered in community, there’s something else that happens. It’s not just about you or me in a room, it’s about both of us joined in something. And I think that that is certainly what I miss about live music. As somebody who has certainly spent a lot of their time playing live music, has it been a weird year not having that on stage, or just being in a room with people playing music, have you missed that a lot? 

Sarah Louise: Oh yeah, I miss it so much. As I mentioned before we were recording, this year I’ve mostly just been singing songs into the air and letting them disappear and it’s because my audience, what I’m singing for is my surroundings, there’s no people to sing to. It’s been a weird year, again without the disruption, being able to reflect on “Ok, what are we doing here why are we doing it?”  But yeah I miss it so much, humans are meant to gather together and sing together. 

AD: We probably don’t even have any idea how this last year has affected us in that way and won’t for who knows how long. Something we’re all unpacking. But I wonder if when live shows do resume and we are able to do that safely, hopefully soon. People are getting vaccinated and there are spaces where certain things are probably ok. Certainly outside shows where I would imagine you’d feel comfortable doing. Going back into that level of performance now after being forced to take a year off, what do you think you’ll bring into live performances in the future? If that’s not too daunting of a question. 

Sarah Louise: I think this whole singing songs into the air has been deeply nourishing to my creative practice and I think that’s what I want to bring to shows. I want to bring spontaneity, I want to bring risk, I want to bring the realness of what is in the moment, what is real in that room. One of the reasons I stopped playing solo guitar was that if I wanted to play eight songs I would have to play in eight different tunings. It was just so impractical and really at my heart I’m an improviser. That’s really what I love. This whole year has been about exploring spontaneous expressions of sounds. So that’s what I want to do. 

AD: It makes me think a lot about how singing a song into the air and sort of letting it dissipate is obviously tied to the fact that sounds come and sounds go. And the attraction to certainly recorded music is about capturing that moment. But the more I think about music, I don’t know if “captured” is the right word, because you’re not really capturing that moment, you’re capturing the sort of representation of it. You’re capturing maybe a sliver of it but the ephemeral thing, the thing that goes away after the sound is gone is really perhaps the root. So when it comes to recordings, this record feels like there’s a lot of freedom in not being beholden to the real live moment but almost like you’re evoking the bigger feeling by using this electronic manipulation and the delay and all of that stuff. I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about how as an album you sequenced this and thought about the nature of it. How did you know where to put the songs in order? How did the order present itself? 

Sarah Louise: I want to touch on what you were saying before because I think it’s so well expressed. There’s a difference between ephemeral musical expressions and a representation of that. And one thing that was really important to me was to capture spontaneity within this hyper arranged thing. So all of the loops that I began with were just studio improvisations and jams and I didn’t try to chase those and learn how to play them and get the perfect recording. It was very spontaneous. Jamming on my synthesizer, making a loop, layering it. So there was a lot of spontaneity embedded in it. Certainly the energetics of that spontaneity, I wanted to live inside the album. And so it’s also painstakingly constructed. And the sequence of things. That was really the hardest part because so much of this record is about my belief that music is alive. That’s really my life’s work. Part of it is exploring music as this living entity with consciousness. It’s it’s own thing. 

I got to interview Archie Shepp again the other day and we were talking about how these songs have their own agency and their own consciousness. And so it was really hard to decide to make a set order, because when I was performing live it would be very fluid, very improvisatory. Blending different samples from different songs. I sort of learned the language of my samples so I could improvise with them. And the songs can go in many different orders so just deciding to make a record was kind of a hurdle because it did in some way go against, it felt like making a static artifact out of something that was meant to evolve. And so that part of it was like a rubik’s cube. I definitely had to use my analytical mind and lots of trial and error to find what felt like the best way to make everything sort of touch. 

AD: I love the idea of almost having to negotiate with songs themselves. Like, “Alright where are you going to go, where do you belong in the sequence for what we’re trying to do here.” I was definitely going to ask about Archie Shepp. One of my favourite things that we’ve done is you interviewed Archie for Aquarium Drunkard. I was very struck by the part of the conversation where you did focus on music as a conversation with ancestorship or with ancestors. And Archie was discussing his father’s music and how that was just a huge part of who he was musically. Do you feel like when it comes to musical ancestors that you get to select them? Or at least part of the time that’s the way it works?  You can say I think this person is one of my musical ancestors and sort of enter into your listenership with them with that in mind? How does that process work for you, because you mentioned that you felt like this record is tied to the relationships you have with not just the earth, not just the other consciousnesses but ancestors and I was wondering if you could tell me about that. 

Sarah Louise: It’s interesting I hadn’t thought about it in terms of musical ancestors when I was speaking about ancestors earlier I was speaking about ancestors in my family lineage. But I do think that the concept of ancestors is a lot bigger than that. The world is so deep and mysterious there could be a stone that’s your ancestor. We just don’t know, we can’t know. So when it comes to musical ancestors there are definitely people I take refuge in and who I build relationships with and who help me feel resourced and of course and whose music has had an impact on me. And I think whenever it comes to building these relationships it is really important to think of these as relationships. Not just me receiving something but, what can I do and offer. What can I do in service to these relationships and to carry on what these people were trying to communicate.I think it’s always important to ask how can I be of service as well to these beings I am in relation with. So it’s a two way street. 

AD: It’s more conversational. 

Sarah Louise: Yeah.

AD: The term influence is an interesting one. People will say “who are your influences” and I certainly understand where that comes from. Everyone starts off with “I like this and I like whoever and I have to learn to do a version of what they do.” But it’s in the process of doing so that you become aware of yourself and aware of what your artistic vision is. But the conversation with Archie is so, I listened to it because we presented it as a transcript on the site, and I could hear in your voice the respect and the interest you had in talking to Archie about music as a life practice. As not just “Tell me about playing shows or tell me about recording albums’” but tell me what you did in the studio on this day. You seem much more interested in unpacking, well music as a life. And by the time this episode airs my episode with Wadada Leo Smith will be out. And all we talked about pretty much was what it looks like to build a life with music as the main thing. And as you’ve been putting out records and really digging in do you feel at this point you understand the path musically you are on? It sounds like a lot is about cultivating awareness of what is happening musically. And I just wonder if at this point, how many solo albums in? Five? 

Sarah Louise: I think it might be six, I don’t know. It’s more than I ever thought I would make. 

AD: A thought experiment, if we could go back five years and play you five years ago this album. What kind of take might you have? Do you think you’d be pretty surprised or would you feel like ‘that’s what I hear in my head’?

Sarah Louise: I think I would be really stoked and relieved, because again I think this record is an expression of my own life journey and where it’s led me. I’ve never been happier and I’ve never felt so well and I think that the music hopefully is an expression of that. And I think that five years ago I wouldn’t even have a concept that my life could feel so whole and so good. And so I think it would have been like “Fuck yeah!”

AD: That’s so beautiful to think about. And that energy comes through on this record in a palpable way. I hear that sense of wholeness and I hear something that indicates it. And I love the idea of healing music. A couple weeks ago we aired an archival conversation with Joanna Brouk, a new age artist, and she talked with me about healing music and how for her she started making music to heal herself. She tells this incredible story of walking down the street in San Francisco and hearing music from this house and wandering over and sort of standing at the door and listening in and the person is like “Hey, what’s up” and she’s like “This music just feels, I feel drawn to what you’re listening to” and he’s like “Oh yeah it’s this artist who works over at KPFA, it’s Joanna Brouk” and she was like “It was my music! I was once again drawn!” And I just thought how beautiful is that? And for me it articulated a thing that’s really hard to put a finger on. That you can be surprised by what comes out of you, because we’re vast people and we’re vast ecosystems ourselves. And so I love the idea of: 

“This is good, who’s this?”

“This is you!”

“Oh, I like that!” 

And this record, Earth Bow, makes me think about that because it has a similar energy to it. And I love that this is where things have led you or the path that you’ve embarked on. And I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me about it. 

Sarah Louise: Oh yeah it’s been so good. It feels really nourishing to be able to document this and to share this and yeah thank you so much for being so thoughtful and talking with me.  

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