Sarabeth Tucek - Interviews - Soundblab

Sarabeth Tucek

by Al Brown Rating: Release Date:

Sarabeth Tucek has recorded one of Soundblab's favourite albums of the year so far; the haunting, minimal Get Well Soon. Al Brown caught up with her on tour in Leeds' Brudenell Social Club to talk about supporting Bob Dylan, giving up acting, living in New York, and writing an album as a means of saying goodbye.

How are you finding touring with The Leisure Society? I don't know much about them, did you know about them before the start of the tour?

No I didn't know anything about them. I really like them, they're a great band. It's been good. [looks at a poster on the wall] What's with that band tUnE-yArDs? Why do they write their name that way?

I don't know, I've seen alot of reviewers complaining about it. It must be a pain in the arse trying to write it out that way each time.

Is it just to be kind of eye-catching?

I suppose. It seems sort of counter-productive.

Maybe I should do that.

An Interview with sArAbEtH-tUcEk: So when did you record the new album?

I recorded it in Philadelphia, two years ago now.

I've read alot of stuff about how it's about your dad dying. How much of it actually is about that and how much is about other stuff?

Well it's all directly or indirectly about that - either about situations that arose from that, or my reactions to those situations. You know, that's sort of the centre and everything else orbits around that.

I think when people are grieveing they can look back on that period and feel like they don't remember much about it. Do you feel like you were going back to it to try and figure out how you felt?

I think there was just a huge chunk of time where I thought I was in control of what was going on in my life, but when I look back I can see that no-one was really manning the helm. I think you just go into a kind-of dreamlike state for a while.

Do you feel recording it has been cathartic in any way?

I think it was. Because when my father passed away there wasn't any kind of a service, because the person he was married to was... insane. So I think when I recorded the record that was my way of giving him a memorial.

What was your songwriting process?

Luther (Russell, producer) and I had four-track demos of quite a bit of it beforehand, in our apartment, so we had a fair idea of what we were going to do. But then once you get into the studio, you're like "Oh, what's this", with some gadget or instrument.

So did you know the songs fairly well before you went into the studio?

Yeah I did, well I wrote 'The Fireman' and 'Get Well Soon' the week before. Actually I finished writing 'The Fireman' the day I recorded it. So some of them were new, and those are always interesting to record because you get a real, kind of... immediacy.

And did the producer have a lot of input? It doesn't sound 'over-produced' but it definitely sounds like someone was suggesting new instruments or thinking a lot about when the vocals should be double-tracked.

We both handled it together although he's got a lot more experience in the studio, so he kind of knows what the outcome will be better than I do. We argue, actually, a lot, about the whole double-tracked thing because to me it's kind of emotional, more powerful; kind of alone-sounding. So when do I want to sound like I'm alone?

It's difficult because I suppose you can get so involved in your own songs and kind of lose perspective, but then there are counter arguments to that too...

I try to say that to myself in the studio sometimes - because you're kind of in this dark cave, you know? Rolling around in your feelings. So it is good to be able to say, "Just listen to the person that you asked to produce your record" sometimes.

It's almost like the first Leonard Cohen record where apparently he told the producer "I just want this to be me on my own with my guitar". And the producer said: "Look, no-one will really notice the stuff I put on but it'll sound really good."

Exactly. And actually what I wanted to do was just make this record with just myself and a guitar, on the four-track. And Luther was just like: "Er...". But everything was chosen very cautiously, I didn't want anything to obscure the emotion.

Is there a coherent narrative to the album or is it more like a series of images, looking back on it?

I didn't set out to construct a narrative but I think that when you sequence a record it's kind of interesting because it feels like you are creating a bit of a narrative.

You wouldn't really write songs thinking: "Oh, and this will lead on to the next song." But when they're all from the same kind of place; the same mood, there's going to be some kind of coherence.

Yeah, definitely.

There's been a long gap between the first and second album. Why?

I think I just had some personal issues to address. I moved back home from California, to New York. And also I'm not a really prolific writer; I don't write a lot of songs. And I feel I have to have something that I need to write; I can't just write something every day. I don't have a lot of discipline, which kind of stinks, because I'd like to. I sometimes feel like I'm not a 'professional' because I don't do it every day.

But is that how it's meant to work with songwriters? I mean, I know with writer writers, you're meant to sit down 'til something comes out then do it for eight hours...

I know so many people who sit down with their guitars every day, even just to noodle around on the guitar; I don't do that either. I've gone for a month without touching my guitar. I kind of look at it, and I feel guilt, and pressure.

You've collaborated with some big names in the past (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Bill Callahan, Brian Jonestown Massacre). Who would you like to work with in the future?

You know I'm not really that good at working with other people because [laughs] I have no work ethic. I don't know… I mean, I really like that Bradford Cox, from Deerhunter.

I read an interview with him the other day. He seems like kind of an odd guy.

Yeah. He's really sweet. I used to work in a vintage furniture store in Williamsburg…

How long ago?

A month ago. And he used to come in there. He's, y'know, a little odd, but super-sweet.

Aren't they from Atlanta?

I think they are, yeah. But I don't know about collaborating; I don't think I'm all that great at it to be honest. I'm kind of withdrawn in that way.

You don't feel like you're in any kind of scene in New York? Whereabouts in NYC do you live?

We were living in Park Slope, but three weeks before I came over here we moved back to California.


I grew up in New York, and you know the old saying: "You can't go home again"? You can't - it's true. It just felt very different, and it's very expensive. And it's hard: you have to work a lot in order to live there - you have to want to live there so badly that you don't mind working all the time. And then you're living in a shoebox apartment and you can't play music there; you have to rent a space and that's an additional cost. And then the winter pretty much kicked my ass this year… After five months of that… It just feels like a lot of human suffering, on a big scale, there - it's Dickensian! [laughs].

How come you started being a musician in the first place? You were an actor…

I was into theatre and I loved the idea of acting, I loved the idea of escapism, but I didn't like auditioning at all. The process made me very nervous, self-conscious. When I was younger I used to always hang out with musicians, those were my friends, moreso than actors. And I sort of became friends with people who were close to The Brian Jonestown Massacre, then I became friends with the band, and I lived in that house for a while, in darker days…

Is it in [notorious BJM/Dandy Warhols documentary] DiG! The house?

Yeah, you can see it in DiG! And I just looked around and thought: "So many of these people are making music. I see no reason why I can't do it."

Did you just start playing open-mic nights?

Are you kidding? I could barely… I can barely play live! I get very nervous. One of the first shows I ever did was when I opened for Bob Dylan. I thought I would just write songs and then I'd record them and that would be the end of it.

So how did you get through that Bob Dylan show?

To be honest I was so freaked out at the prospect of meeting him that I kind of wasn't thinking about anything else. I was kind of just aware that I was in the presence of Bob Dylan, like - "Where is he?" It was tough. But I practiced a lot.

So is the acting behind you now?

I definitely think I'd like to do a play: find some little company and audition. But I'd never try to do it as a career. I'm not cut out for it: my personality isn't big enough.

Did an agent tell you that?

No it's just the truth. You have to have a certain… You really have to want to sell yourself in a way that I would not be able to do, and I didn't care, and I felt like: "Fuck you, why are you asking me questions about myself?" You know I would prepare really hard for things; I would research and study if it was a period drama or whatever, and it always came down to a personal somethingorother. The feedback would be "Yeah she was great, but she doesn't finish her sentences when she speaks." Or, "She seemed like she didn't want to be there."

So the performance would be fine but…

Yeah, just the personal interactions that you have to have - because when you go in for an audition they want to sit and talk to you, and they want to see that you want the part, and they want to see your hunger, and they want you to sell yourself and be this person and I'm just… I'm just not going to fucking do that. I mean, also I was very young and I had a chip on my shoulder and I kind of felt like: "Fuck you, you either appreciate the work I've done. Y'know, I don't want to talk to you, I don't want to know you." I'm not a good song and dance, you know: "Let me show ya what I got" kind of person. So I couldn't do it.

They didn't like the way I dressed. They wanted me to dress sexier all the time - 'cos I wore vintage dresses and things. It just wasn't right.

Have you got a favourite venue or town to play in?

Well, I've got to say, that place we played last night: The Band Room [in Farndale on the North Yorkshire Moors] it was crazy; it was so insanely beautiful and the audience was just incredible and quiet and lovely. They paid us really well, they fed us afterwards; they took us to this little cottage where this woman had made this lovely curry for us. It was sort of the essence of what it should all be like, y'know?

But never really is? So what's next?

We're going back to London to do a few shows: I have my own headline show at The Slaughtered Lamb, then Wood Festival. Then we're coming back in September for the End of the Road Festival and another round of shows, hopefully some in Europe.

And the next album?

I have been thinking about it. I feel like there were a lot of things from the past that I had to deal with in the first couple of records, and now I'm free to contemplate the present.

Do feel like you might start picking up the guitar every day?

Or maybe a different instrument? The piano?

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