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Some will be surprised to hear that Minneapolis-based band Sick of Sarah has been around for a while – in fact, they formed in 2005. Since then, they have generated a loyal following, pumped out 2 albums and replaced a drummer, namely Brooke Svanes. Welcome to Sick of Sarah, AKA Abisha Uhl (vocals), Jessie Farmer (guitar), Katie Murphy (guitar), Jamie Holm (bass) and Jessica Forsythe (drums).
The band have been working hard to build a Brit fanbase, catapulting themselves towards UK venues. This year, with some dates supporting Leisha Hailey and Camila Grey’s LA band Uh Huh Her, SoS is finally receiving some well-deserved UK attention. They even went on to blow UHH off the stage at the Shepherds Bush Empire London – memorable not only for singer Uhl pulling up her shirt over her head, driving the mostly female crowds wild, but also for SoS’ blistering live performance. In short, these guys deliver high-energy shows with Uhl ruling the stage and loving the direct crowd contact. Oh, and their music happens to rock – big time.
So, to get to know this band a bit better, here’s some interesting trivia: Lead singer Abisha Uhl grew up in Okinawa, Japan, where she lived until she was 18. They recorded their last album 2205 in a Texas studio where Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs left them behind a piece of paper with the number of a therapist and masseuse. The band’s house and rehearsal space 2205 Grand Ave has served both as a rotating home for each member of the band over the last few years and as a central creative hub – this location has become such an important symbol to the band’s identity that every member has a tattoo “2205” on their inner wrist (watch Jamie getting hers here). They’re in the middle of shooting a feature-length documentary about the band.
We caught up with 4 out of 5 of them backstage at the Shepherds Bush Empire London. Up and up the winding stairs we go until we knock on the SoS dressing room door, where we first find guitarist Jessie and bass player Jamie chilling out after their set. Here’s Part 1 of our exclusive Sick Of Sarah interview, where Jessie and Jamie talk music, prejudice faced by girl bands, and Pussy Riot’s detention.
Hi guys! So, please introduce yourselves…
JESSIE: Hello! I’m Jessie and I play guitar for Sick Of Sarah.
JAMIE: And I’m Jamie and I play bass.
The band is based in Minneapolis, but did you both grow up there?
JESSIE: For the most part… I was born in Illinois and moved to Minnesota when I was 5.
JAMIE: Yeah, I grew up like 5 hours north of Minneapolis and then moved there when I was 18.
So how did you guys get into music?
JESSIE: My older brother played guitar and piano and stuff. My parents bought a piano when I was like 7 so that was my first instrument. Then I played violin, and then I picked up the guitar and drums – my little brother played drums – I was about 10 when that happened. And then I played flute at school as well…
Now you’re focused on guitar, but do you still keep up the other ones?
JESSIE: I still play piano and I can play the drums – I can carry a decent beat, I’ve pretty good rhythm. And bass and guitar of course go hand in hand too…
So, how about you, Jamie?
JAMIE: My dad and older brother played guitar – I have a brother and a sister – and I was a kid who wanted to do the things that my mum did and the things that my dad did, so I wanted to play guitar too. I’d hide in my basement and write stupid love songs, even though I hadn’t dated anyone… My brother actually found one of them and he was like, “Ahhh, I love you…! – Did you write this??” I was like 16 and thinking, “Do I admit it or not…?”
And did you?
JAMIE: Yes, I did!
JESSIE: “Oh, You’re just darn cute!!”
And what would you say were your influences getting into music?
JESSIE: I guess my first major influence was probably Kurt Cobain before he died. I was kind of getting into Nirvana and loved playing all the Nirvana songs, and then he died and I was devastated. He was my first. Joan Jett was definitely an influence of mine… Babes in Toyland, L7 – the girl bands in the 90s were huge influences of mine.
JAMIE: A lot of mine was older stuff. My dad listened to a lot of folky stuff – a lot of Bob Dylan – he loved John Prine, he loved a lot of stuff like that, and he’d play a lot too. So a lot of my influences were stuff that my dad would play and sing to me, like old, old, old stuff that I don’t even know. At night, he would sit there in our bathroom and sing to me and my brother and sister before we’d go to bed – that was kind of a ritual we had.
That’s a pretty cool dad…
You mentioned girl bands from the 90s. As an all-female band yourselves, how do you feel the music industry has treated you?
JAMIE: It’s a double-edged sword, honestly…
JAMIE: I mean, there are certain aspects where we’re given more attention because we are all female. And then there are a lot of times where we’ll walk into a venue and we’ll be treated like crap where nobody thinks we can do anything because we’re all female, and generally that’s turned around by the time we leave because they enjoy our show. But, I definitely think there’s good and bad taken from that sort of thing.
And do you think this is a very common experience for women in the industry?
JAMIE: Yeah, probably in every aspect of it – whatever position you’re in in the industry.
In terms of your band setup, is there a backstory to your former drummer Brooke’s departure?
JESSIE: She really wanted to move to New York and we kind of weren’t financially in a position for all of us to do that. It was something she really wanted to do, so we were just like “Hey, do it!” And then also, we were in between our first record and starting to write our second one, and she was just like, “Oh well, we can all just file share,” but…
JAMIE: …she was just at a different place than we were at that point. She really wanted to move there and explore some different things too – and she’s done it and she’s involved in some other stuff out there that’s she’s really happy about now. So, she’s happy for us, we’re happy for her… it worked out well.
Yeah, and then you found Jessica – was it important for you to find a female drummer?
JAMIE: We did definitely want to find a female drummer and we were slightly worried about being able to do that, but it came super easy because we’d played with her old band which was from Des Moines, Iowa – we just asked her to come up and try out and we didn’t even try out anybody else. She was it.
She is awesome…
JAMIE: Yeah and she’s been amazing. It’s worked out super well. We realise how lucky we got in finding her that easily.
You have a large queer fanbase and some of you are also queer yourself…
JESSIE: I don’t know WHAT you’re talking about! [everyone laughs]
JAMIE: Jessie’s boyfriend doesn’t like her to talk about it!
JESSIE: Yeah, my boyfriend “Nick” does not like it!
JAMIE: “Nick” hates when this question comes up!
…well, I didn’t want to assume…!
JESSIE: I don’t know WHAT you’re talking about! [everyone laughs again]
JAMIE: No, “Nick” is awesome!
…but the band’s mostly queer?
JAMIE: Definitely more queer than straight.
JESSIE: We are an equal opportunities band!! [laughs]
JAMIE: I guess for us, no matter what your sexuality is, it’s so much not about that – it’s not our focus at all. And it’s not that we’re trying to shy away from those questions, even – it’s just that we want to write music because we love to write music, and we just don’t feel like that’s a thing that we’d focus on as far as what we do.
Do you find that you’re pigeonholed because of that?
JESSIE: Yeah, we do get pigeonholed, but we definitely embrace the community because it’s great and we love it and it loves us, and so we’re not going to deny the fact that there’s this great community that we’re part of. But also, with being any professional musician who wants to not necessarily just appeal to one certain demographic or culture or whatever, we want to be universally diverse and not be gender-specific or gay or straight -specific…
JAMIE: And we’re not an entirely gay band, and that’s not what we’re striving for…
JESSIE: Yeah… I’m straight! So… [room erupts in laughter]
Uh Huh Her seems to have been pigeonholed in a similar way, and I wonder if it frustrates them a bit. But, is this boxing issue getting better in the States?
JESSIE: Well, everybody wants to put everybody else in a box, you know what I mean? Even Tegan and Sara when they were starting out in the States – there’s a large percentage of lesbians that follow them and it’s cool for younger generations that are just coming up. I think pigeonholing is an old-fashioned thing to do, while the younger generations are just like, “Whatever… so they happen to be gay…” And yeah, it’s cool for really young queer kids who are just coming out to have someone to identify with who’s “in the spotlight.”
JAMIE: Tegan and Sara have definitely been an example of a band who has gotten that mainstream – they’ve crossed over. They’ve been given that chance to tour with a lot of mainstream, bigger bands and it hasn’t been necessarily a gay/straight thing or whatever. They’ve definitely paved the way…
JESSIE: Yeah, they make great music…
JAMIE: Is it where it should be? Absolutely not. But is it getting better? I think, gradually, yes. It’s edging towards where we want to be.
JESSIE: It’s funny, speaking of girl bands – even though the Murmurs weren’t an all-girl band – here’s the funny thing: when I was a freshman in high school and that song “You Suck” came out, that was actually when I first heard of – well, discovered – Leisha Hailey. I’ve kind of been following her for years and years and years, and she was in that queer movie All Over Me too. So it was just interesting from an outsider’s perspective to watch her career grow. And all of a sudden, we started playing with them, and it was like, “I remember YOU!”
And it’s not the first time you’ve played with Uh Huh Her…
JAMIE: We played with them at a Pride Fest, in the States – that’s where we first met them.
JESSIE: In Minnesota, yeah.
Talking about Tegan and Sara, they did a brilliant music video with Margaret Cho – we’re dying to see you guys do something with her too…
JESSIE: Oh god I love her! I’ve seen her show 3 times – well worth the money!
JAMIE: Yeah, she’s hilarious.
And what’s the Minnesota queer scene like?
JESSIE: We have the third largest per capita gay population in America. I mean, there are larger cities that have more gay people but in comparison we have the third largest per capita.
So do you think that you guys will be coming over this side of the pond more frequently?
JAMIE: Yes! I do think so, because last year was our first time and now this year even it’s twice and very close together, so I think we probably will. Even the response since last year has been a lot better so I think it’s definitely going to grow a lot faster. Especially doing the L-Beach Festival.
JESSIE: Yeah, that was great.
JAMIE: We had such an amazing time there and we met a lot of people. We hope to do that again and to have the opportunity to do things like that a lot more often too.
What message of advice would you give to people wanting to be successful in music like you?
JAMIE: For anyone trying to get into any sort of artistic thing, it’s obviously super hard. The thing about it is there’s no definite plan or outline of how to do it – you can only do your research, ask questions, get involved with other people who are also involved in it and learn from them. And just make sure that you’re putting forth so much more effort than you even think you need to attempt to get there, and understand that even people who are at these high levels don’t know what they’re doing. Everyone’s just experimenting with all sorts of things. So the number one thing I would say is: it’s about the effort you’re putting into it, getting to know these people and doing your research. And anyone can do it. If you think you can do it, figure out how to do it.
JESSIE: And believe in yourself, practise and just work really hard.
And what do you think of the fact that members of Russian band Pussy Riot have been locked up for performing protest songs in public and are facing up to 7 years in jail for “hooliganism?” (* the women were later sentenced to 2 years)
JESSIE: I would say: Good for them for believing in the cause so much that they’re willing to go to jail for it, I think that’s fantastic, because clearly there’s something going on that they need to be that radical to make that much of a statement. I mean, how can you get 7 years in jail for “hooliganism”?? I’m pretty sure that people do worse things than that…