Sara Melson keeps walking her own path on Safe and Sound
Safe and Sound is a pretty cool name for an album. But it may not reflect truth in advertising, because while Sara Melson is of sound mind and body as she heads into NYC for a gig at Pianos tonight to celebrate her third full-length release, she’s clearly not playing it safe.
“I don’t want to feel limited,” said Los Angeles’ Melson, who has reached a point in her life where it’s not about Twitter followers, album sales and worldwide fame (though that would all be nice).
“I just don’t see myself caring about what other people think,” she chuckles. “Of course, I want people to hear it, but I’m not as hung up as I used to be on the trappings. It’s not about that. I really love writing and recording and I love playing live. And I’ll never stop doing it.”
The greatest example of this freedom isn’t found in her decision to cover Led Zeppelin (“Thank You”) and the Rolling Stones (“No Expectations”) and nail it, but in another song that has been floating around in her past but finally seeing the light of day now.
“I held on to quite a few of the tracks that are on this record for a really long time, and they were done and I didn’t release them,” she explains. “So if that tells you anything psychologically about how hard it is sometimes, that’s a good indication.”
Part of Melson’s appeal is her willingness to be open with her audience, a trait that prompted Yahoo Music to describe her as “One of the most fearless singer-songwriters on the planet.” Strong words, but there was still that one track that she wasn’t ready to let loose on the world.
“I had done that song as a collaborative recording project with my ex-husband (Justin Webb), who I was married to for one year,” Melson said of “For Your Love.” “We bonded over music and we met at SXSW, and looking back, I now know that one can have a really strong musical connection without having to go the extra mile and do the romantic area. But it’s so tempting when you have a really strong musical connection with somebody; it’s very romantic and so those lines can get blurred really easily.”
Webb wrote “For Your Love” for his bride to be played on their wedding day.
“It’s about me, and it’s beautiful, and we decided to do a version where I would sing it,” she said. “And then we recorded it but I never released it. Then a year later, we got divorced, and I didn’t even listen to that song for years. I just tried to forget about it. I had to move on.”
She did. But when putting together Safe and Sound, a musical ghost from the past appeared.
“There are so many dirge-y, drone-y beautiful, hypnotic, melancholy tracks on this record that I thought it would be nice to spice it up with a few little poppy ditties,” Melson said. “And then I remembered that one, and I went back and listened to it, and I was like, ‘It’s so cute, it’s such a good song.’ In a way, it’s so neat that I can just look at it that way. It’s so beautiful to have that little time capsule of the love that was felt there.”
Time apparently does heal all wounds, something Melson would not have thought possible at the time of her divorce, when the thought of playing — or even listening to “For Your Love” — was impossible.
“Oh no, I couldn’t even think about him,” she said. “I was in total denial. In fact, right after the break-up, I turned around and kind of hibernated. I didn’t put anything out for quite some time, and I hoarded a ton of stuff, and that’s what became A Million White Stars. And that record came out in 2013. And since then, I wanted to stretch in a little bit of a different direction artistically and it’s been so much fun. I really see my future as going in different directions.”
Listeners can hear some of those directions, as she’s taken a singer-songwriter genre that can often get stale and put into two camps — boy with guitar / girl with piano — and added her own twist to it.
“Being a solo singer-songwriter, it can be pretty lonely and you fall into your same patterns,” she said. “‘I like this rhythm, I like this key.’” Whereas when you write with someone else or someone else produces you, it’s just fun to have a different perspective.”
“It’s really all about the song.”
Sara Melson plays Pianos in New York City on Friday, September 9. For tickets, click here