by Megan Smith
Photo by Melanie Little Gomez
I still remember the first time I heard musician Sarah Jaffe’s “Clementine.” Driving down Austin’s Interstate 35, I switched on KGSR—the local alternative radio station—to hear Jaffe’s melodic, folksy but smooth single coming through the speakers. Paired with the blue, cloudless sky and warm ATX breeze, it was definitely one of those “soundtrack to your life” moments.
Jaffe’s style since “Clementine,” which is off of her first full-length album, Suburban Nature, has both matured and evolved in the five years since its release. While her folk roots still ground her sound, an electro-pop influence crept its way into her 2012 The Body Wins and continues in her latest full-length album, Don’t Disconnect, released last August. Recently, she’s even dipped into the hip-hop scene, collaborating with Dallas-based producer S1 to write a track for genre veteran and power-player Eminem.
In late April, I had the pleasure of speaking with Jaffe about her musical influences, her thoughts on being compared to fellow queer artist St. Vincent, and her upcoming performance at Houston’s Free Press Summer Festival this June.
Megan Smith: You’re a Texas native and spent time living in Denton, which is known to have a subculture all its own. Did growing up there influence your desire to be a musician?
Sarah Jaffe: I’m not from Denton, actually, but when I lived there for five years in my early 20s, it influenced me very much. It still does. It’s a magical place.
Your sound has definitely evolved since your beginnings with Suburban Nature. Did you ever view changing your sound as a major risk?
No. I don’t think it’s been a dramatic change. In my opinion, it’s just been a progression. I [don’t consider myself to be] pushing the envelope sound-wise—I just added some synths here and there. But I still write music the same.
You also recently ventured into the world of hip-hop, collaborating with Dallas’ S1 to write “Bad Guy” for Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2. How was that experience? Do you feel like some hip-hop influence is mixing into your own sound?
I have always been a big fan of hip-hop, so getting the opportunity to work with such an incredible talent like S1 was nothing short of awesome. He’s opened a lot of doors, and his tracks have opened a new way to be creative—keeps me inspired and keeps me writing.
You released your latest full-length album, Don’t Disconnect, in August 2014 and hit fans with the Visions EP as an added bonus this February. What would you say was the biggest influence for these two projects?
I think for both these projects, collaboration has been the biggest influence. Working with artists and friends that I respect personally and musically makes everything easier. Also, collaborating is just a lot of fun.
Are you excited to be returning to Texas to play Free Press Summer Festival?
Absolutely. It’s gonna be a lot of fun!
Your music has been compared to St. Vincent [Annie Clark], who is also going to be playing at the festival. Do you tend to agree?
I love St. Vincent. I love her music so much. But I definitely don’t hear the similarity other than us sharing a producer. She’s incredible, though.
Awhile back, St. Vincent was quoted saying that she personally believed in “sexual fluidity.” You’ve said before that sexuality was “a gray area” for you. Has your identity or your view on the matter evolved since then?
I totally agree with Miss Annie Clark. I tend to think most people are not just one thing. Maybe that’s what I meant by “gray.” Sexuality isn’t black and white for me…most things are not.
Free Press has a pretty amazing lineup this year. Is there anyone else you’re looking forward to seeing at the festival?
I’m excited to see R. Kelly, Future Islands, and Tears for Fears. It’s a great lineup and I’m excited to be a part of it!
What: Free Press Summer Festival
When: June 6–7
Where: Eleanor Tinsley Park, 500 Allen Pkwy.