Music interview: Sarah Mary Chadwick

sarah mary chadwick

Following last year’s critically acclaimed ‘9 Classic Tracks’, Melbourne-based New Zealander, Sarah Mary Chadwick is back with her fourth solo album, Roses Always Die. Courtney Dabb has a chat to her:

Firstly, congratulations on your new album, Roses Always Die. Being your fourth release, was there an added sense of confidence during this process or just as challenging as the first?
Thanks very much 🙂 I wouldn’t say that I had added confidence. I’ve always been pretty confident in what I do creatively, regardless of reception, as it always fulfils its function for me. Writing songs and putting together an album isn’t what I would call challenging really, as it’s something I am in the habit of doing and do pretty fluently. I do find the organising/financial/release stuff challenging though! It’s not my forte and money is always an issue, unsurprisingly.

Your (cover) art work features of some pretty provocative subject matter, what is the rationale behind the erotic watercolours?
I like the comical/violent/exploitative/arousing things that are contained in pornography, and I am interested in the power dynamics that happen, especially between men and women. There’s almost a tacit acknowledgement that people watch pornography but also sometimes guilt attached to it. I like the pretend intimacy and the ridiculousness of it. I like the detachment that comes with deliberately ignoring that the participants are actual people, or conversely, the illusion that you are part of the ‘activities’ yourself.
My drawing is not deliberately provocative, and is something that I do relatively unconsciously. People can be self-righteous about the content, and I find that funny but also frustrating that people can’t see complexities past the actual image itself.

As a songwriter, can you explain the feeling of putting pen to paper and crafting a song that has lurked within your subconscious for some time, written in a relatively quiet and personal space to than performing it live to hundreds/thousands of people. It must be a surreal if not partly violating experience sometimes, taking a deeply private experience and broadcasting to so many people?
I am in the habit of writing a lot, I practise almost every day, and write almost weekly, sometimes more if I have a lot going on emotionally, ha. I guess because of the frequency it’s quite natural and easy for me to pull things out unconsciously and put them on paper. I record as I go and I tend not to self-edit as I’m writing as I feel like that handicaps my productivity. There’s always plenty of time AFTER a song is written to decide that its shit, there’s no point thinking about that as its happening. in terms of playing those private songs publicly, it’s not really violating. Sometimes I feel like a bit of an exhibitionist, which is not a good feeling. But mostly I have always really enjoyed performing- writing and the half an hour I’m performing have always been two of the things I enjoy most about life.

As an individual and an artist evolving from one album to the next, what does your new material say about where you are in your life right now?
This album is still pretty self-indulgent, in that I write about myself, for myself. My father and a dear friend passed away in the last eight months so there’s more death and mortality in it, I guess.

The way you have played the organ in tracks like Four Walls and Right Now I’m Running are slow but haunting. In constructing tracks like these, did the organ really shape your vocal melodies or did you play the organ to accompany melodies you already had in your head?
Uhh, I tend to write the melody and the chords at the same time, I’m not able to say which comes first. With ‘Makin it Work’, I wrote the melody by itself then fitted the chords underneath when I got home. but mostly I sit down and play chords as I work out the melody.

You end your album with Turn On which is an achingly gentle piece that feels tormented and desolate but is there underlying hope in your line ‘what is going to grow out of the mud of this, and I don’t really care, it is always bliss’?
Ha, well the next line in that phrase is ‘..if bliss is poison given on a kiss.’ so I don’t think its necessarily a hopeful line? Unless there’s hope in the assurance that something always comes out, no matter what. But that’s just me really, obviously as soon as the song is heard/for other people, people can interpret or feel however they like about it.

Roses Always Die is clearly a solo project but you have collaborated with other artists in the past and played in other outfits, do these experiences find their way into your solo work?
These days I get quite a lot of anxiety in terms of collaborating with other people. I was/am doing a kinda file exchange thing with a friend (there’s one song up on my Bandcamp – ‘Special Time’) which is kind of my speed, as we don’t have to ‘jam’ or work stuff out together. I used to do a tiny bit with my friend who died. but on the whole I am not really interested in making music with other people, I find it very difficult. Maybe those experiences find their way into my solo work only in that I am so stubbornly solo now ha.

Having moved from New Zealand to Australia some time ago, the differences may be slight but there are clear distinctions. What bearing did growing up in Wellington have on you that came to shape your music?
I actually grew up in Taumarunui, a small rural town in the middle of the north island. Then I went to boarding school in Hamilton (north) and then lived in Wellington for maybe 18y/o – 21, just before I moved to Melbourne for the first time. I’m not sure about how that all influenced me apart from just being life experiences, but i do really love a lot of NZ outsidery music – Alastair Galbraith, Peter Jefferies, Sandra Bell, Peter Gutteridge. There’s definitely a common thread somewhere with those artists, but whether I share that I’m not sure. Melbourne I think recently became the place where I have lived for the longest period in my life? although I did spend a couple of years in London/Europe and a year or so in Adelaide…

What does the rest of 2016 have in store for you?
Ha, I don’t know, it’s almost over!! Work / therapy / gigs / new recordings. I’m laying a bit low mentally, just gathering my thoughts. One of my closest friends is moving to Paris next year, I’d like to go visit. Maybe I’ll try and save some money for that.


Roses Always Die is out Friday 5th August via Rice is Nice.

Sarah plays at Northcote Social Club in Melbourne on September 1 and at Newtown Social Club in Sydney on September 3. Details on her Facebook page