Hello Sarah! It’s such a delight to be doing this interview with you. It must be an exciting time for you now, with the release of your latest album Brave Tin Soldiers on May 9th. Is your album only available in the U.K. now or has it been released “universally” (i.e., in downloadable format)?
Hello there. I’m so pleased to say that my new album is now available worldwide in downloadable format. I think if you want the old fashioned CD in the US then you’ll have to wait until the steam boat arrives on 21 June. This album has been a long time coming so I’m really happy that it’s finally making its way around the world.
You’ve also released an EP with the same title a few days before the album. What was the driving force behind this one-two punch? Is there material on the EP that doesn’t go with the flow of the album?
I already had a date for the album and wasn’t going to release any singles. After a while I thought it would be great to get some remixes going and so the EP started to take shape. Dadahack and Kids Love came up with amazing reworkings of the single “Brave Tin Soldiers” and then The Freelance Hellraiser unofficially released his bootleg version on Soundcloud. I’m just putting together another release, The Homecoming EP, which will include the single plus three remixes and comes out on 18 July. For this EP, Kids Love has turned the track into a wonderful, beatsy waltz and US based duo Microfilm have given it a streetwise electro slant. Kevin Cormack from Half Cousin has remixed the album track “Black Rose” – it really shouldn’t work but it’s sublime. I don’t know how he does it. Remixes are fantastic for that – I love it when an artist comes back with something so radically different to the original version.
Speaking of the flow or concept of an album, from what I’ve read, Brave Tin Soldiers is a bit of a departure from your solo debut Sing, Memory from 2007. Is any difference purely from a thematic standpoint or have you also changed your sound and/or vocal delivery?
I think everything about this record is different to Sing, Memory and that was a deliberate attempt on my part to make a complete departure from what I’ve been doing for the past decade. I’m not saying I won’t make another electronic album but I’m just cautious of releasing similar material over and over. I sing much more on Brave Tin Soldiers and really pushed myself with the backing vocals to create the choral soundscapes. On some tracks there are eight or nine vocal lines along with multiple string parts and counter melodies. In terms of the themes, I can never get away from who I am and what turns me on creatively but I have tried to step away from making too many autobiographical references. The characters within the songs are mostly real with a bit of artistic license thrown in.
Sing, Memory was such a gloriously assured debut with your signature coolly dispassionate intonation (with an undercurrent of airy melancholy) and astute, cutting lyrics about relationships and life. How tough was it to get that solo effort together after being part of the band Black Box Recorder since the late 1990s?
Thank you for that. Surprisingly, it wasn’t that difficult. Once I’d written “The Collector” the songs just kept coming and thankfully everything else just fell into place. I already knew James Banbury from BBR days and he approached me about working on a solo record. It was really his interest that spurred me on and we worked for a couple of years putting the songs together and constructing a plan to release Sing, Memory. It was a very exciting time, branching out from the comfort of having songs written for me in the band to writing for myself.
In comparison, what has it been like working on Brave Tin Soldiers? Did you collaborate with the same people on this album as on Sing, Memory, like with James?
Brave Tin Soldiers is the first album I have written and produced on my own. This was not in my master plan as I did originally want someone else to take control of the production, although I had no one in mind. Once I started work on the demos and the songs started to come alive, I just couldn’t let them go to anyone else. Instead, I put a band together and recorded the songs over four studio sessions. I then spent weeks working on them in my home studio. I really had to learn on the job.
How did you hook up with Black Lead Records for the release of your new album? You had previously been on Service AV for Sing, Memory.
Black Lead Records is a label I set up earlier this year after I discovered that the best way to get my work out into the stratosphere was to do it myself. ServiceAV weren’t in a position to release the album as one half of the label moved to Hong Kong and my other label contacts had moved on in the industry or took far too long to get back to me. By doing things this way, I have the backing of Cargo Records who ensure that the album is available across the globe and gets some attention. I do have people helping me at BLR too and without them and my magnificent band, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this.
I’ve been a fan of yours ever since I heard some Black Box Recorder songs in the 2000s (on college radio, of course). This is going back a bit to the band’s inception, but was it a no-brainer to jump you’re your previous band Balloon to Black Box Recorder or did you have to weigh Luke Haines (of the Auteurs) and John Moore’s (of Jesus And Mary Chain) offer for a while? Did all three of you know from the start what you wanted to accomplish as far as the sound and lyrical content went? If I may ask, what was it like to work with Luke and John (I’m also a fan of The Auteurs and Jesus And Mary Chain)?
I was a backing vocalist in Balloon but didn’t appear on any of their recordings. The band consisted of pretty much one chap and a group of musicians who played live when they could. Luke and John were doing exactly what I was doing – helping out. John then asked if I could sing on some of his solo tracks and then “Girl Singing in the Wreckage”, a song written by Luke and John for an indie compilation album which never happened. John came up with the name for the band after a difficult flight home one summer. All he kept thinking was, “if this plane crashes what will the black box recorder say?” In his own special way, he persuaded both Luke and I to form a band. John is extremely funny and he sent me a fax promising to make me famous. I thought it was hysterical and accepted his offer straight away. The first BBR album England Made Me came about through John and Luke’s shared worldview and I was the perfect mouthpiece as the delivery style was crucial to the acerbic lyrics. The iron fist and velvet glove. John and Luke are witty, bright and very talented writers. They are also extremely damning. I’ve spent a great deal of time in their company and seen them experience extreme happiness to bickering like old women. On more than one occasion I have been referred to as The United Nations, but we always end up laughing by the end of the night.
From what I understand, Black Box Recorder disbanded in 2010, after an on ‘n’ off hiatus since 2004. Was there ever the possibility of creating another band album during that time period?
Yes there was and we recorded a couple of tracks only to realise that we just didn’t have it in us. I think BBR has said everything it can and we book- ended the whole affair very well – our records were made during the rise and downfall of the Labour government. Our last ever release being the week of the UK general election. All three of us are quite happy getting on with our own work and we get together still but not as a band. We are very happily disbanded.
Aside from your solo material, you’ve done some collaborative work with Art Brut (while in Black Box Recorder), Infantjoy, and Microfilm. How do you like doing one-offs like that and are you planning on mixing it up with other artists any time soon?
I loved working with these artists and will definitely be doing more of that in the not too distant future. I’m working with Microfilm again soon and there will be other collaborations within the next year or so. There’s something about working on other people’s material that feels oddly liberating.
I was reading an interview you did after the release of Sing, Memory, where the interviewer asked you about what a future album would be like, and you replied that you wanted it to be “fast” and possibly “orchestral”. Was Brave Tin Soldiers made along those lines or was that a passing fancy?
That’s funny. I don’t remember saying that but I can sort of see what I was aiming for. I think I almost got there with the orchestral bit – in part anyway – as there are lots of layers to this album. I probably meant for the writing and recording process to be fast, but I failed on that. My family commitments mean that I can’t do anything too speedy these days. Brave Tin Soldiers was made with stories in mind and the production just had to compliment them.
Lastly, could you please list your official site where readers can find out more about you and purchase your albums? Thanks so much Sarah!
My official website address is www.sarahnixey.com and my label’s is www.blackleadrecords.com. I’m also on Myspace, Facebook and Twitter. The links are on my website and my albums are available from all the usual outlets.