Analogue Music | Sarah Walk

Sarah Walk

By Matt Conner

The clichés are true.

If you stumbled upon the beauty of Little Black Book, the debut album of Sarah Walk, you should know the familiar stories of innocence held true about her first release. Consequently, the pressures of a sophomore album also held true as she wrote and recorded the songs for her follow-up, Another Me.

To listen only to the album, however, you'd never know anything was on the line, since Another Me feels like a natural extension of the understated beauty on Walk's debut. The hypnotic draw of "Nobody Knows," the alluring atmosphere created by "Unravel," the slowly-revealed layers of "Flowers Grow," the haunting closer "No Good Way to Say Goodbye"—it all flows confidently, as if Walk was a proven veteran well past such early milestones.

Lyrically, Walk says she's learning to take up space on her latest release, but we can only hope that also applies to her platform. We recently had the chance to ask Walk about her growth, her new album, and the tension revealed in these new songs.

Analogue: The commonly quoted ideas about a first album are about innocence and freedom while the second album is all about pressure to follow it up. How much of that is true for you as you went in to record Another Me?

Sarah Walk: Those sayings are true. Your first album, you have your whole life to pick and choose what goes on there. Then the second is kind of where you're like, 'Oh shit, I have to come up with a whole album now!' My first album came out in 2017 but we finished recording it in 2015, so there was a big gap for me where I could be writing. I had a folder of little songs, seeds, and ideas. I asked Leo Abraham if he'd be willing to hop on board, and he really helped me feel like we could carve out something cohesive. I think that's a sign of a good producer. I sent him over the whole folder, with probably 50 or 60 demos of ideas, and he came back at me with 20 and said, 'These sound like a record.'

A lot of them weren't even finished, but I wasn't as overwhelmed and I was instructed to just hone in on these 20 and finish them. Then that gave rise to lyrical content that had similar themes because I was in a head space when I wrote the record. Just having a group of people reaffirming that this was something that could be sculpted into a body of work that would be meaningful was helpful for me. I wasn't thinking too many steps ahead, so I feel that's important to feel like it's this great daunting task ahead of you. Instead it's just some songs that you see what you can make of them.

"I think that actually helped me to not have any time to be worried about, 'Will this be good or not?' It's figure it out as you go. There's no stopping. For me, who tends to overthink things, that was really helpful."

I will also say that the way we recorded the two albums were very different. The first album was with a band and we just rehearsed the shit out of the songs. We went into the studio with our eyes closed, with emotion, but we each just played our parts and that was it. On this record, we deliberately did something different—but I think it's Leo's style—in that they were all demos I did in my apartment. We didn't know what the production landscape would be. Leo's from London, so he flew out for two weeks. So we had this deadline and we carved out the songs in the studio.

I think that actually helped me to not have any time to be worried about, 'Will this be good or not?' It's figure it out as you go. There's no stopping. For me, who tends to overthink things, that was really helpful.

Analogue: You talk about Leo as a very trusted partner here in the creation process. Did you know him beforehand?

Sarah: Well, I'd written with him. I used to spend a lot of time in London, and my old management reached to him and we'd had a couple writing sessions together. I really liked him. Then by coincidence, one of my friends Abe [Rounds], who ended up co-producing with me in L.A., had played with him on a couple gigs. Abe is a drummer and Leo plays guitar for some artists, so they knew each other.

We both had this mutual friend, so it was the three of us doing the entire record. There wasn't a band of different players; it was divide and conquer. But I think that helped support this really nurturing environment. It didn't feel overwhelming to have the bass player come in and make sure he knew his parts. It was just this discovery process in the studio which I'd never had before. Because it was just the three of us, I think we felt really comfortable to lean on each other. The ego was completely set aside. That was all really helpful.

And yeah, you're right, I really trusted Leo because he trusted me. As a woman in the music industry, in studio settings, quite often it feels like you kind of get pushed aside so that the other people in the room, who are most often men, can get the recording done for you. It's like, 'Great idea. Now let me track that for you.' Leo was really nurturing to the ideas and respectful to the fact that they were my ideas so I should play them. We had this great partnership in that way.

Analogue: When you were describing handing over this folder of raw demos to someone else, that struck me as a fragile transaction for you. Did it feel like that in the moment?

Sarah: Yeah, it did. [Laughs] I'd like to say that I said, 'These are great. Get ready to have your mind blown!' But no, of course I was very anxious. We'd written together but I didn't know him that well. I did know his track record based on other people he'd worked with, and they are people I hold on a high pedestal. I just wasn't sure what he would think of anything.

I'm also not very confident in my production skills, but I was trying to make sounds work from the little small library of sounds that I had. It was just interesting because I think that's what Leo actually liked about it. It put things in perspective for me because even when we were in the studio, which is this amazing, creative space in L.A., it had so much gear and vintage stuff that it's like a playground. But we'd try so hard to find the sounds yet we'd end up sticking with the shitty little plug-in sounds from my demo. Leo was like, 'Well, no, that was actually great what you did.' It's easy for me to feel like I don't know. It's like, 'If only I had more equipment or better plug-ins.' So to be validated for your initial idea was super empowering.

I was super-nervous when I sent him that first email with the songs, but when we got on the phone shortly after, he said, 'I already hear the album. You already have a sound here and you already have an angle of where you're lyrically coming from.' Right off the bat, that was affirming for me.

Someone else asked me if this was a conceptual album. It wasn't intentionally but when you write songs within a period of time, it always gives me great relief to know that your recordings are a snapshot in time. In the moment, that's what you wanted to do and wanted to say, so I think that's why this album ended up feeling cohesive because I wrote the songs while going through a certain time in my life and grappling with certain areas of self-discovery and self-investigation.

'Another Me'
'Another Me'

Analogue: I read this quote you gave about the single "Nobody Knows" where you said, "I felt like I couldn’t muster up the ambition or drive to get through the discomfort needed to get to a point of creation." I was so interested in that idea of creating to get to the point of creation.

Sarah: That song was initally a guitar part and I was just singing "nobody knows" over it. I think a lot of my songs stem from me singing something that comes out of my mouth that sounds okay and then I try to later figure out what I was trying to say. I was chipping away and there was this irony to the fact that I was singing "nobody knows" while I couldn't come up with a lyric.

It's similar, actually, to another song on the album called "What Do I Want," which to me felt like, 'Why would I release a song asking that?' That's a pretty universal question that we can ask ourselves but it seems so trivial. There's no substance to it so why would I take up a whole song asking myself that versus a song that claims what I want. This whole record for me was written during a time of really learning how to take up space and set boundaries in relationships in my life that were not healthy. I realized the power that I have in saying no to being treated a certain way and how that shifts how you're treated by people.

That's the interesting thing in releasing a song about asking yourself what you want and then releasing a song called "Nobody Knows". It's this frustration of 'how do I say something?' In a way, by releasing those songs, I'm making the point that I'm here, I'm taking up space, and I'm asking myself these questions. I'm allowed to do that and I'm allowed to release songs where I'm confused and uncertain.

I think by finishing those songs and putting them on the album, it gave me the agency to be able to then be like, 'Okay, I can take up that space and can now ask myself the next questions like what is it that I want? Who do I want to be in my relationships? How do I want to be treated? What does it feel like to be a queer woman in the world?' These are all questions I asked myself while writing the album.

Allowing the songs to just end at that point was an important part of the creative process that is sometimes neglected. People can relate to that process of barely being able to get out of bed. How can I feel better about myself and get out of this when I can't even get through the first steps to getting there? I think it was weirdly, in a roundabout way, exactly what I wanted to say.

VISIT: Sarah Walk

Photo: Daniel Coleman