Copyright STACKEDD Magazine, 3/24/2015

The Sweetest Taboo: A String of Pearls on Math, Radical Feminism, Foreign Policy and Her Queer Core Pop-Soul Debut

Photo Credit: Ben Lindbloom

In her debut album, The Way We Are, released in late February, 22-year-old UW student Sadie Ava, aka A String of Pearls, has created her own brilliant genre of music: “queer core pop-soul.”

The closeted teen girl in me was delighted to hear a woman’s voice use female pronouns to refer to her unattainable beloved. Even more impressive is that Ava is a multi-instrumentalist and recorded almost every part of this album herself.

With positively sexy, soul-wrenching lyrics, this album’s overall sound is one of easeful seduction. “Hearts Will Break” is probably most pop-ish song of the bunch, reminiscent of the bare and beautiful piano tracks of Sara Bareilles. At the other end of the spectrum is “My Hands,” a sort of Seattle-flavored rock ballad that shows off Ava’s Joan Jett-esque lower register.

Sometimes siren song, sometimes swan song, The Way We Are is a strong album that left me craving more. Here’s Sadie on what this album means to her, her interests outside of music (math, radical feminism, and foreign policy), and why queer female voices are important in the music industry.

STACKEDD: How did you first get into music?

SADIE: I did the whole variety of music lessons thing when I was a kid — sucked at piano, hated playing clarinet in band, resented my little brother for being better at cello then me, but picked up a guitar when I was ten and absolutely fell in love. I’ve always written poetry, and immediately just started transitioning where ever the poetry came from into songs. I played in punk rock bands in Upstate New York all through high school until I realized that I mostly liked Destiny’s Child more than bands called AssBeer. However, I still love the Distillers and hold out hope that someday Brody Dalle will wanna make out with me.

STACKEDD: When did you realize that a queer woman’s perspective was important in your music?

SADIE: Probably the first time I stopped trying to use male pronouns in the love songs I was writing as a late teenager. I remember writing these songs about how I was feeling about women and I kept naturally saying ‘she’ and ‘her’, but then later trying to fix them to him/his. I grew up in a very liberal household and went to an arts high school, but still felt like I had to be heteronormative if anyone was gonna listen to my music. There is a confessional quality to the music I write, and to a lot of pop music in general, that enables people from all parts of life to connect to it. Because of that queer artists — especially women — who are so sexualized and boxed into roles by the dominant culture, need to build roles for themselves that are just as honest and ‘real’ as anything coming from a dude with a banjo or guitar. The moment that I internalized that to the point where I could just say ‘fuck it, she’s a woman and so am I and I’m singing this to her’ was essential for me.

STACKEDD: Do you identify as a woman artist, a queer woman artist, or just an artist?

SADIE: My queerness is such a component of who I am as a human that I can’t separate it from what my music is to me. That being said, gender binaries are non-essential, queerness is fluid and creativity should be about pure expression. With those constructs in mind, I identify first as a woman, second as an artist, and third as a very queer human. I refuse to shy away from how gay I am, because that’s very much how my sexuality, and my often androgynous experiences of sex have shaped my music. To just be an artist, especially when so much sexism and homophobia still exists, would be doing that a disservice.

STACKEDD: Why are queer female voices important?

SADIE: Because most things are not a queer female voice. Because women have their careers built by men in boardrooms. Because fucking Bjork doesn’t get credit for producing her own beats and Beck is still considered more of an ‘artist’ then Beyonce (yes I went there). We normalize queerness in palatable ways (songs about lesbian sex as being only for male consumption) and still sexualize the female body, while patting ourselves on the back for supporting and ‘developing’ female vocalists. The intersections of those two things, the simultaneously de/re-sexualizing of queerness while hyper-sexualizing femininity, just means that the voices of those who are queer and sexual and female need to be constantly advocating for this shit on their terms exclusively.

STACKEDD: What kind of community have you found in Seattle among female musicians and queer musicians?

SADIE: Not as much I would have liked. Seattle, for all of its progressive mindset, is still a town ruled by dudes and the women who love them (no hate! shout out to all my straight sisters). There are tons of female musicians here, but I wish there was more of an even split between those women in prairie skirts playing acoustic guitars (often, and this kinda pisses me off, only alongside dudes who stare at them lovingly) and those of them spitting beer at people onstage and not wearing bras.

Queer folks are another story, the queer scene in Seattle is diverse and vibrant. Bands like Sashay and Thunderpussy, dance nights like Shade and Night Crush that foster queer DJ’s, bookers like Jodi at Chop Suey, and DIY venues like the Black Lodge and spots on Capitol Hill are the best homes I’ve found in this city.

STACKEDD: What does this most recent album release mean to you?

SADIE: Oh man. So much. This is the first time I’ve put out a full length of just my music. I played pretty much every instrument and wrote most of the songs over the summer while totally heartbroken and very alive. This record is a love song to many things, but especially Cal Anderson and stick n poke chest tattoos from someone you want to touch very badly. I spent a lot of time alone, a lot of nights wandering home at six in the morning, and a lot of time very drunk. The record is literally the evolution of a relationship that was developing, that caused me to be very drunk a lot.

STACKEDD: What does making music do for you? Does you have a long-term goal in mind, or is it intrinsically valuable for you?

SADIE: I’ve always been playing music. I’ve been disappearing into music since I was very young and don’t anticipate stopping. I almost cut all my fingers off sawing a pig in half once, and not being able to play guitar for three months was harder than not being able to zip my own pants up. I don’t have a goal in mind, besides writing a song with the Dream and probably getting hammered with Janelle Monae, which to me seems would be an extremely valuable activity.

STACKEDD: What do you love about the Seattle music scene?

SADIE: The fact that it’s not Upstate New York. Just kidding. Seattle is a destination for music, we love our local musicians and we have tons of niches and places to find outlets for music. That’s amazing and we are so lucky. However, we need more underage venues. That’s one thing Upstate had going for it. All we did as kids was fuck shit up musically, there wasn’t an excess of underage drinking, just a lot of hormones.

STACKEDD: Who are your musical influences and inspirations?

SADIE: The reverb and EQ on the snaps from “Nothing Even Matters” by Lauryn Hill and D’angelo. If I could make one thing as sexy as that, I’ll die happy.

STACKEDD: Who are your favorite Seattle musicians?

SADIE: I already mentioned a few, but again, Vincent from Sashay and all the bad ass women from Thunderpussy. I love KA and Kithkin too. They’ve melted my face off more than once and I will never forgive them for it. Rose Windows put out a great record two years ago that got my band through a 48 hour road trip to Oakland and back. And TheeSatisfaction, of course. Also gotta say hello to Leah, Travis and Ben from Sundries cause they are my family.

STACKEDD: When you’re not making music, what do you like to do?

SADIE: I like abstract mathematics, especially linear algebra and Fourier transforms. I also read constantly, everything from books on foreign policy and radical feminism to Lord of the Rings — I’m a huge LOTR nerd. I also drink a lot of coffee. So, you know, cool stuff.