Image Courtesy of Sarah Humphreys
With a brand new album, Hello, and a national tour underway we thought it was about time to sit down with folk singer-songwriter Sarah Humphreys. Our very own Gareth Hugh Evans chatted to Humphreys about the new album, her songwriting and the lure of the folk festival scene.
Gareth Hugh Evans: Let’s start with the new album Hello. That was released on a few weeks ago – how do you feel now that it’s out there?
Sarah Humphreys: Relieved that it actually got recorded, mastered, printed and its in shops and everything worked out. Its just wonderful to have another thing out there, floating around, finding its home in peoples cars, computers and CD players – I’m very excited
GHE: Because it’s been a few years since you released a full length album – 2008 was the last time I think?
SH: 2008 was the last full length record and in between there’s been two EPs. EPs are wonderful when you don’t really have the time or it might not be quite right to put a full length record out. It feels a little bit easier than a full length album. Even though you’re doing the same things, doing the same shows, the same launches there’s just not as much weight on your shoulders for an EP. I really felt it was time, and ABC [Music] felt it was time to put this one out. I had all the songs just ready and waiting, I had 50 songs, 50 demos ready to cull into an album.
GHE: Wow. How do you turn 50 songs into a 12 track album?
SH: Basically I turned 50 songs into 25 songs and then just thought “I would be happy with any of these songs on an album”. Then Jen from ABC and Matt Fell, my producer, sat around and at lunch and just went “yep, nup, maybe, yep, nup maybe” to the rest of the 25 and we ended up coming to the 12 really happy. Some surprise ones in there that I wasn’t sure would make the cut were actually other people’s favourites. I think it’s really important as an artist to not be too precious and remember that you’re not the only one making this album. There’s a producer here that’s putting his heart and soul and time into it and there’s a record company that believe in you and know things that maybe you don’t know. You can’t know it all as an artist – you can just be you and accept good advice from people you trust. All the people that I trusted helped me make the final decisions which I was really happy with. If it was up to me it’d be a double length album [laughs].
GHE: Have you listened to the album from start to finish since its release?
SH: Yes. Many many times. I’ll just put it on whenever. It’s 40 minutes long so it’s not this terribly long winded album, it’s more “oh, that was nice and now it’s finished. Let’s put it on again”. I’ve listened to it probably 100 times now and I like it, I really really like it. I don’t feel awkward or embarrassed listening to it or wondering if I could do any better. I feel like this is the best I could have possibly done and that’s a really nice feeling in life.
GHE: The production on Hello is really quite slick. I quite like it. It’s sounds really professional, really well put together and really well thought out.
SH: It sounds expensive [laughs] – which it was! It sounds beautiful to my ears. It sounds like I have dreamed of sounding in my head for many many years. I’ve been happy with every single recording I’ve done but this one is just a little bit more beautiful to my ears. It’s very me, I trusted Matt very much, I gave him a lot of freedom and because I think so much of him I wanted him to think it was his project as well, not just mine.
GHE: Was Matt able to give you constructive criticism? Was he able to tell you what to cut where?
SH: I’d like to think that my song writing was at the level where we didn’t have to cut too much out. When I used to write songs they used to be seven minute epics because I didn’t know how to write a song that was more to the point. But this time we didn’t need to cut that much out. They’re all between three and four minutes, some are under three minutes. I think the main thing with Matt is I didn’t play as much guitar on this record. I think you go through phases as an artist with what instruments you prefer and what your loves are at the time. My love at the moment is ukulele and melodica and singing and writing. So I did give the guitar duties away slightly more than I have on any other record which I think was a real positive. I didn’t have to be everything.
GHE: Did you have a band playing with you in the recording?
SH: We didn’t have too many people on the record. We had Josh Schuberth who is Josh Pyke’s drummer and he’s also a session musician and producer as well. He helped out with the drums and the percussion and the production as well. He’s a really clever, really interesting guy. He hears different things to what Matt hears and what I hear so to have him on the record was really special. And then Matt and I took care of most of the other instruments – ukulele, guitar, bass, keys. And then we had a couple of friends come by and sing backing vocals.
GHE: You mentioned the length of the songs before – that they’re all between three and four minutes. I was going to say that to me the songs have a real pop sensibility about them. Is that something that you’re conscious of?
SH: I think it’s just something that’s come from the music I’ve always listened to. I think there’s always been pop in what I do – I like things to be beautiful and I like things to be sweet. I think melody is really important and getting that melody to sit in people’s hearts and in their ears and in their brains. It’s not something I consciously do. I write my songs very quickly, usually within the one to two hour mark tops, so if anything’s not working by that stage it’s done, I don’t continue. So I really feel like it’s just organically happened that my influences have snuck in there. Like ELO, The Beatles and The Beach boys – it just sneaks in. And also nursery rhymes that I listen because I have an almost three year old son. I think that’s snuck in there too, definitely.
GHE: It’s funny that you say that – I was going to comment that the lead single, “Like a House Needs a Door”, sounds like a nursery rhyme.
SH: It really does. It’s like this little pop-folk nursery rhyme for adults and kids. I think it’s really nice to be able to make music that mums and dads can enjoy, or their kids, or older people perhaps that might frequent folk festivals. I think everyone enjoys a sweet and happy song. They’re not all sweet and happy but I feel like in my stage of life I am quite happy in that I’ve got his beautiful son and I play my ukulele – the sun is shining most of the time.
GHE: While we’re chatting about “Like a House Needs a Door” we have to touch on the video. It’s the sweetest little thing! It really captures the personality of the song. Did you enjoy the shoot?
SH: The filmmaker, Daniel Grey, had a lot of beautiful ideas and I wanted to make something that was really sweet and made people smile. Something quite joyful because it is a joyful song. Daniel really worked hard at capturing that element of the song. I love the film – he really got me, her really understood the song and me as a person.
GHE: My favourite track track on Hello is “Why Don’t We Just Stay Home”. I think I connected to the song because I grew up in a small town which is a theme of the song but I’ve also read that a lot of people are telling you they connect with the song. Can you talk us through the genesis of this song?
SH: I wrote the song with Paul Andrews from Lazy Susan and he’s an amazing songwriter. We wrote the song via email – we’ve never actually met! We can’t wait to hang out one day. I don’t even know what his voice sounds like speaking, I only know it from singing. He started the song off and sent me a little piece. What I heard in it was a sad but beautiful story. Because I’ve been doing this for so long, I’ve been writing since I was eight years old, I feel like songs come through me in a sense. The words and the music all comes at once so I sit there and I just try and stay out of the way of the song. I think by the end of ["Why Don't We Just Stay Home"] I was a bit teary because Paul and I had managed to create this piece which was a story. I don’t know whose story it is, they only live in my imagination, but I really feel like someone’s story came through on that day that I finished off that song. It was very very special.
GHE: Obviously you’re in the middle of touring at the moment. I know your work mainly from folk festivals which you seem to play a lot. What is it about the folk scene that you connect with?
SH: I just feel like people at folk festivals are there to hear music and they’re there to see you and they’re there to support you and they will listen to anyone – if they feel something or connect with you they will give you their full heart and their full attention for the entire set. If people hear you from across a field somewhere they’ll go “oh who’s that singing?” and they’ll come into the tent and they’ll sit there the whole time. They’re very repectful, they’re very loving. They support artists – they buy our music which I don’t think people understand how much that means to us. It’s just incredible feeling that connection and you get to talk to everyone after your set. There’s a real community feel to [folk festivals] – I get up on stage and do my thing but I’m also just one of the people wandering around enjoying the festival. They’re also nice because I can play and I can take my son along with me too. It’s a nice, safe environment for him and there’s always a kids section.
GHE: I grew up in the folk festival scene – I was one of those kids running around at the festival
SH: That’s so cool! And you’ve continued it on which is amazing.
GHE: So back to the tour, at the moment you’ve got dates right up until…
SH: … February actually. We’re booking up to February. Basically just one nice sensible weekend at a time we go off to somewhere new and then come home. We’re just regular people who play shows on our weekends instead of having barbeques with our friends – which we miss sometimes! But we’re doing something we love so they understand.
GHE: You just have to convince your friends to come to the folk festivals.
SH: I do! I have wonderful supportive friends so they understand I’m doing what I’m doing.
GHE: With a new album plus the summer festival season that’s going to be your life for the next six months
SH: Probably the next 12 months. We’ll be doing shows every weekend, visiting wherever people want us to play.
GHE: Well that’s all we have time for today. Thank you so much for chatting to us today!
SH: Cool! Thank you!
Hello is available to purchase now. A list of upcoming shows for Sarah Humphreys is below:
Friday 19th – Sunday 21st October – Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival, NSW
Friday 26th October – The Wesley Anne, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday 27th October – Pure Pop Records, St Kilda, VIC
Saturday 27th October – Elwood Lounge, Elwood, VIC
Friday 9th November – The Glass Onion Society, Long Jetty, NSW
Friday 16th November – The Lass O’ Gowrie, Newcastle, NSW
Thursday 29th November – The Grace Emily, Adelaide, SA