Indie/folk-pop artist Sara Melson captivates with a unique and singular voice that cracks with vulnerability and pierces with clarity on her forthcoming EP, Wild & Precious Life, which is due out May 16. The new EP was co-produced by Melson, Eric Breiner of PeachMusicLA, guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Danny Hechter (Badflower, Jordan McGraw) and Rick Parker (Lord Huron, Joseph Arthur, BRMC). Hechter brought in bassists Nick Diiorio (Jordan McGraw) and Sean Sobash (Dominic Fike), drummer Jonas Streffer, guitarist Jake Faun (Selena Gomez, Van Halen), and violinist Koi Anunta (Jules Galli). Violinist Kerenza Peacock (Adele) also added to the recordings.
Written and performed on piano and guitar, Sara’s songs reflect on hard-won lessons and her tireless journey toward self-acceptance. With classical training at the age of eight, Sara began to gravitate toward the melancholy darkness of Chopin and the fanciful romanticism of Debussy. The daughter of two professors, she grew up in an intellectual Jewish household in a small college town in Indiana. Surrounded by cows and cornfields, her parents’ home was an oasis of culture and worldliness, with books lining the shelves from floor to ceiling, and the best record collection in the neighborhood.
She graduated from Harvard with an English degree and initially moved out West to become an actor. However, after one too many traumatizing “#MeToo” encounters, Sara went “on strike,” as she puts it. After a brief marriage to Justin Webb, son of famed songwriter Jimmy Webb, the loss of a pregnancy at five months, and an ensuing divorce, Sara struggled with depression, and turned to yoga for salvation, developing a serious daily practice that began to inform her songwriting with new revelations about surrender, acceptance, growth and change. It also slowed her anxious breath to a fluid wave.
The EP reflects Sara’s spiritual seeking, a deep understanding of her own mortality, and an urgency to make the most of life while she’s here.
Today Glide is offering an exclusive premiere of “Rather Have You”, a clear standout on the new EP. Presented with shimmering organ and guitars, the song immediately conjures a throwback soul and 50s pop sound. Sara’s vocals feel straight out of another time, swooning with a balance of confidence and vulnerability that is equal parts country swagger and crooning soulster. It’s easy to hear influences like Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Jenny Lewis, and Fiona Apple in the song, which builds into a gorgeous finale of lush strings, brass and soaring, powerful vocals from Sara.
Listen to the tune and read Sara’s own description of the process and inspiration behind the song…
“Rather Have You” is a co-write with a singer-songwriter friend of mine, Dora Pereli. She came over one day with a verse she had on acoustic guitar. I had a melody in my head that seemed to fit the chords well, plus all these lyrics I’d been writing the day before, that were basically about how all I seemed able to do was write lyrics and songs about love, rather than actually experiencing a healthy relationship in real life. I often feel like I’m essentially living this “meta” life, wherein I’m repeatedly vicariously sublimating what’s supposed to be the experience of life itself — real love — into my art, rather than experiencing it “IRL”, if you will.
Of course, I’m so grateful to have the outlet of writing and singing through which to express emotion. Loneliness would be even harder to endure without that. It’s just that sometimes it can be frustrating to be continuously sublimating into the creative realm, what I wish to experience, even if it does inspire some cool songs. It’s just ultimately not as satisfying as the real thing. Nothing is. A song can’t take the place of love.
So thematically, that’s what the song is about. It asks a plaintive, mournful rhetorical question: “Is life just my art, and love my muse?”… In other words, is this it? Is this my role on this planet, to write about it, rather than live it, to comment upon life from a distance, rather than really be in it?
In terms of arrangement and production, what started out as a straight-up folk song ended up going through different phases. Working it out with my band, it started to take on more an R&B/soul vibe, and ultimately, Eric Breiner from PeachMusicLA, who produced the track, took it into a retro-sounding, Motown direction, complete with a super hooky bass part, played by Sean Sobash, and gorgeous horns by Vikram Devasthali. Eric arranged the strings, I played the organ, and Sean, Eric and I all sang the chorus of backing vocals that serves as the gospel-sounding choir throughout.
What I like about the production is how, sonically, it sounds vintage and old, and yet that quality is juxtaposed with lyrics about podcasts, checking my phone, and a somewhat sarcastic delivery of “namaste”. You just don’t expect to hear phrases like that in the context of that kind of 60s-style production, so it’s a bit jarring when you do, but in a good way. The song definitely has humor in it, and yet, it’s sort of sad and poignant, too, despite the peppy groove.
I’d certainly rather have the song, than not have the song. But ultimately… I’d rather have you.
Wild & Precious Life is out May 16. For more music and info visit saramelson.com
Photo credit: Piper Ferguson