Interview: Sara Tindley (part I)

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On her most recent album, Time, Sara Tindley teamed up with The Yearlings to produce a wonderful collection of songs that appeal to folk and country audiences alike. I have to admit that it took a while for the album to grow on me, but now that it has I have it on regular rotation. This is my way of explaining why this interview is taking place several months after the album was released!


Before the interview formally commence I asked Sara if her name is pronounced ‘Sarah’ or ‘Sah-ra’, as it seems to be different for different people – in case you’re curious, it’s ‘Sah-ra’.


I bought your album last year and I saw you play at the Orphanage Sessions in Parramatta and it was such a lovely gig. It was quite different seeing those songs live to hearing them on the album. To be honest, it took me a while to really love the album and I think it was because The Yearlings were playing on it and it didn’t seem like it was entirely you, and when I saw you play live I was like okay, I get it now.
Well, that’s really interesting because it has been a kind of slow grower, if you like. It seems to have taken people … people are not instantly engaging with it.


But now that I’ve been listening to it for a while I just love it. There are so many songs on it that really stick in my brain and I find myself hearing them at odd times in my head. It’s always fascinating the way songs can work like that.
Yes. Yes.


I want to ask a little bit about the recording process, because this album was quite different from the album before, in terms of the backing music. There’s definitely a continuity of songwriting and, obviously, of your voice, but I was wondering what it was like to have a set of songs and go into the studio with The Yearlings and sort of have them say, ‘Well, here’s how we are going to play with you’.
When I had decided that I wanted to work with The Yearlings, in part it was because of the way that they play and the kind of spare – is that the word? – spare and styling, what they do, and so I went there with complete trust in their ability to treat the songs both with respect, I guess, and beautifully and I feel that they did that well and – what am I saying? [laughs]


Well, they did, The arrangements are lovely.
Yeah. And it was basically just – it was different to Lucky the Sun in that it was by and large played live and everything was either done in the first or second take, and that was something that I had really wanted with this album, which was also in part why I chose The Yearlings to do it, with their studio, because they had those limitations, I guess. Because you can put a lot of bells and whistles on songs and there’s a million ways to treat a song, and I guess I just wanted things taken back to their essential nature or something.


And is the idea of recording them live that it is more immediate and it’s also capturing that moment in time, rather than, well, this is what the producer thinks the song should sound like?
Yes. And I think sometimes, too, I’ve never really been in the position where I’ve laboured over songs and done fifty million takes to try and get that perfect take, and I think I would probably drive myself insane if I did [laughs]. I like the idea of just going in there, doing the best work that you can do on that day and calling it done.


The instruments on this one were quite different, because the last one had the more traditional country instruments on it – I think there was a bit of banjo – and so for you, as someone who has slotted into country music but I know you fit in broader categories than that, was it unusual to hear your songs with those different instruments or different instrumentation?
No. I don’t think it was. I don’t think I found it unusual. I did at times feel exposed, because I played the guitar on pretty much all the tracks to this album and I have never been a particularly confident guitar player, and so I did worry that I was going to be there as a kind of a weaker link in the chain, but it didn’t feel like that once I was there. My fears were calmed and put aside, which was great.


Certainly having seen you play live, you seemed pretty comfortable on the guitar, so it seems like you’re okay!
That’s good to hear.


You now live in northern New South Wales but you’re from Victoria, so how did you end up in – I think you’re near Byron Bay or in Byron Bay?
Yeah. Yeah. Though I did spend quite a few years in Byron. I’m further south now, only by about 40, 45 minutes. But, look, I really think by and large it was a climatic thing. The cold in Victoria just became wearing on me and I came up here in search of a more ideal climate.


And you found it?
Hmm. But it does rain a lot [laughts].


Every time I’ve been in Byron Bay it has rained, so I’m convinced that it does rain there a lot!
Yeah. I believe it.


So you’re not thinking of going even further north to Queensland? You’ve stopped in Byron Shire?
Yes [laughs]. I did. I was happy, the countryside here is stunningly beautiful and the beaches are gorgeous and the community that I’ve found myself in has really nurtured my music and my career so far.


Do you get to play locally – are there venues where if you felt like picking up your guitar and playing a couple of sets you could go?
Yes. I haven’t been doing that as much as I used to. I think I’ve felt that I was maybe getting a bit ove exposed up here or something – I was feeling a bit comfortable and so I’ve spent the last couple of years really trying to push what I do further afield.


In terms of touring round the country?
Yes.


I would imagine, though, that when you have a family [Sara has two children] it’s often hard to coordinate and it’s one of those limitations that often I think when people say, ‘Oh, just follow your dreams and be creative’, then it’s like, ‘Well, I’ve got a house to run’. So do you sort of fit things in around school holidays if you can?
Yes and no. Now that both my girls are at school I feel like it’s easier to juggle now rather than when my littlest was still at home. I don’t really just do school holidays but I try and keep things in kind of three-night runs, so that I will often head off on a Thursday and be back on the Monday or something.


And is that heading to Sydney, heading to Brisbane, or is it getting on planes and try to get further afield?
It’s all of that. I get on the plane, I get in the car. I’ve actually just come back from a trip over to the States which was really exciting. I’m just doing whatever I can. It’s like being a bit of a niche artist in a little country – you can’t play endlessly I guess.


No. And I was talking to Audrey Auld last week. I said something about how there weren’t many venues really in Australia for country artists or even anyone who is country-esque, even though the viewer numbers on CMC in cities are apparently high, and she said something like, ‘Look, Australia doesn’t get it’ or ‘I think the music press don’t get it’.
[Laughs] Yeah. I don’t know whether they don’t get it but it is difficult. And I actually played – Audrey invited myself and The Yearlings to do a gig with her at the Bluebird Café in Nashville, so that was a real treat.


In the next instalment of this interview Sara talks about the Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis – something I’d never heard of before. Stay tuned …

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