Sarah Bethe Nelson Shares Formula Behind Stellar New LP ‘Oh, Evolution’ (INTERVIEW)

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Most avid music listeners will have this recurring dilemma. An artist playing sounds so familiar that one can’t quite fathom if and when those ears had even heard it prior.

That Sarah Bethe Nelson sounds so recognizable – so much that it sounds like you went through a big portion of your life with one of her albums, it’s bizarre. But most likely you’ve never heard her quirky yet tasteful songs that run the gamut from low-fi indie to deeper rock orchestrated wonder. Call it the magic of the catchy yet pure rock song.

The eight tracks on The San Francisco singer/guitarist’s second album Oh, Evolution (released 2/24 on Burger Records) dazzle with rhythmic simplicity and a biting melodic tone reminiscent of Thao & the Get Down Stay Down and Jenny Lewis. The Mission District bartender has seen and heard it all, but her music transcends with the same righteous formula of a stiff drink. From girl groups, synth pop, bar room alt-country and deliciously bitter kiss- offs, it’s all there on Oh, Evolution. Glide had the chance to catch up with Nelson upon the release of Oh, Evolution, and hope to get more listeners in line to hear what should make some year end best of lists….

Your second album Oh, Evolution came out February 24th – it’s obviously a bold statement that knocks you down right away with “Evolution.” Where do you see the biggest progression in your songwriting and musicianship?

I feel like this record is lighter and more poppy than the last one was. Thematically, I hear more movement and freedom in this one. Musically, there’s more space, more use of vocal layers and non-word lyrics which I think creates a playfulness even in songs that have heavier subject matter

Some of your earlier songs were taken from your bartender experiences, where do you approach yourself from how as a songwriter and lyricist?

I think they all come from what’s happening with me around the time they’re written. “Paying” got a lot of attention as being a kind of bartender’s lament but I didn’t intend it to be so job-specific. Haha! That being said, I am still a bartender so I’m sure it will continue to seep in here and there. That tune was more about the idea of drawing a line with regard to giving yourself freely to someone who may or may not be taking far too much.

sarahbethelpYour first album might be categorized as a songwriter’s album but this one feels more of a band effort- what you agree and how did the band contribute during the recording sessions?

Yeah, I agree. My guitar player Rusty Miller and I spent more time demoing the songs before we went into the studio than we had on prior records. We had a more solidified idea of what we wanted from each song, I think. I’m lucky to have a band of really talented people that make the songs so much more than I ever could alone. We recorded at a place we had never been before, El Studio, with ace engineer Phil Manley. There were many elements that I think added to a more band feel. The songs themselves are less moody and contemplative than the ones on the last record, too, just that shifts the perception a good bit.

“I Don’t Care” is a catchy track that should be played regularly on Sirius XM, a contagious melody that sounds familiar but stands unique. How did that song come about?

It’s playfully bratty. It was one of those where I was just fooling around, playing guitar and probably procrastinating going to work, that ended up becoming something we used. It has some serious undertones, though. I was thinking of the notion of having to get to the point where you don’t care about someone in order to relearn how to care about them in a new, better way. Getting over someone that wasn’t right for you in the first place for whatever reason. I guess I was wondering why it’s possible to adore someone so wildly from a distance yet be completely incompatible up close and how to navigate that relationship back onto the solid ground of friendship. I think everyone has probably experienced that to some degree at one time or another.

Can you talk about your relationship with The Bay Area and what your musical scene is composed of? Are there any venues or fellow musicians that have provided you a regular place to play and musical camaraderie?

I think the musical (and arts) scene in the Bay Area is alive and well! I have always felt very supported here. It is a small town so people tend to play in each other’s bands and on each other’s records a lot. I feel a strong sense of community between promoters, venues, musicians and artists. I think people work really hard to create spaces for shows, whether it be clubs or bars or DIY spaces or house parties. People support in a wide variety of ways that are inspiring; contributing not just money but time, art, opening their homes, giving employees time off to tour, whatever it may be, it all makes a difference. There are far too many great venues, supportive promoters and fellow musicians to name and I don’t want to forget anyone! Suffice it to say, there are still lots of wonderful, bright, and supportive humans here and I’m glad to call San Francisco home.

What musician has taught you the most and why?

Patti Smith is probably my biggest hero. I identify with being a writer first and that evolving into songwriting. I admire the combination of vulnerability and sheer power that she exudes. She’s a scholar and a rocker and a graceful warrior. Total badass.

Thoughts on other lo-fi artists like Courtney Barnett and Lucy Dacus that are kind of making a hit with thoughtful lyrics and rock that avoids the synthetic sounds mainly dominating a lot of the indie hype scene?

I’m a fan of thoughtful lyrics and lo-fi jams for sure. I mostly am just always happy to see people being successful at writing what they write, being acknowledged for what comes out of their hearts and brains and fingertips. That to me seems like the best type of success

Looking at your musical resume- even before your first LP, there must have been different genres and styles you’ve partaken in during your travels. Can you talk about your musical phases and how it shaped you to where you are now?

I started out a lot more rootsy, I guess. I grew up with a lot of old country, outlaw country and classic rock stuff so that was probably the base of where I began. I have a banjo that I plunk around on in my bedroom still… then into the usual teenage discoveries, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, The Doors… then probably Neil Young, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, CCR… then Smog and Pavement kind of stuff… I came to pop later in life than most, I think. I’m a late bloomer with many things. I grew up in a rural environment but have lived in cities most of my adult life. I’m sure the landscape I’m in, both visually and sonically, have had a big impact on how and what I write. And just life, the day to day, most of what I see and feel ends up in my writing eventually. For better or worse, haha.

Any stories about him or touring in general that you think our readers might get a kick out of?

Oh man, probably not without incriminating someone…

If you were to curate your own festival – name five bands you’d have to invite to play

Right this minute I’d like to see: Patti Smith, The Gories, Queen Crescent, The Go-Betweens, and Cass McCombs. Tomorrow may be a whole different story.

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