Last Call with Sarah Borges, singer-songwriter
Many of us have felt the pressure to be productive during lockdown – to come out of lockdown with something to show off. We all had a goal of confinement, whether it was learning a new skill, getting in shape, or finishing a previously unfinished project. Singer-songwriter Sarah Borges was no different, and despite COVID mandates and working remotely, she was able to complete her latest album, “Together Alone.” It went on sale on February 18 on Spotify, iTunes and other streaming services. Borges, who will perform at the Bull Run in Shirley on April 29, sat down with Last Call to talk about her latest album, recording during lockdown and how her music has evolved over her 20 years of career.
Have the topics you write about changed over the course of your career?
Throughout my life, positive experiences like becoming a parent or negative ones like getting divorced or abusing alcohol have all happened to me and they have certainly found their way into my writing. I think I used to be more biographical and create characters in a song, but now that I’m older I’m more autobiographical.
Tell me the difference from a songwriting perspective – it sounds like you use the term biographical a bit differently than in a literary sense.
By biographical, I’m just creating a character and writing about it. An example would be, I have a song called “Me and Your Ghost”. It’s the story of a girl who goes out on the town, looking to find love. When I wrote that, it wasn’t about me, it was just me thinking of a character. But on the new record, there’s a song called “She’s a Trucker.” During the pandemic I had to find another job as a delivery driver and this song is about my experience as a “truck driver”. The record really varies but it’s based more on my own experiences now that I’m a bit older.
Which do you prefer to write?
When you research songwriting topics, creating stories is easy. Some of the best songs are story songs. Springsteen is a great example of that, he really paints a great picture. But some of the most confessional and autobiographical songs — like Hank Williams, who truly wrote from the heart — are the ones that resonate with a lot of people and they’re the ones we cherish. I don’t know which is easier to write, but both are important.
Sounds like the pandemic has created some art for you?
Yeah, it did. Part of the reason we called the album ‘Together Alone’ is that we recorded a lot of the record while in remote lockdown. Our goal was to sound like we were a band all together in person in a studio but because of what was going on that was not an option. I was able to write songs about both the pandemic and other things during the lockdown and I’m grateful that I was able to be productive during this time.
How did you overcome this challenge, giving the impression that you were playing music together?
I can’t say enough about the man who produced our record – Eric Ambel. He had a great career as a guitar player as well as a producer and he knew how to make it work so we could make it sound like we were all together. You’ll notice when you stream “Together Alone” I’m not the only artist listed there, he’s also listed there because he’s been so instrumental in making it work.
What other songs are directly inspired by the experience of the pandemic?
The first song is called “Wasting My Time”, and that’s what it sounds like. I felt like I was wasting my time, it was the summer of the first year of confinement. I felt like we might not be making music for a while, so I was concerned about financial issues because we weren’t working. I tried to organize my thoughts into a song and that’s exactly how I felt during this situation. But there are other songs I think everyone did a bit of self-criticism during the pandemic. There’s another song called “13th Floor,” where I examine how I used to be. Much wilder and crazier and abusive to my body and making bad choices – things I’m still dealing with now after six years of alcohol sobriety. This is another topic that I covered extensively in the minutes.
What fueled this transition from biographical to autobiographical?
As a parent, I try to teach my child to be as open and honest with the people he cares about. I felt, when I was writing the album, what, I’m just going to say what I feel and it really connects with people in a way that I didn’t expect. It’s not about baring your soul, it’s about expressing how you and possibly many others feel. It’s about connecting with humans and that’s something I love.
I know during the lockdown people were desperate to connect, and the artists really played a big role in bringing them together.
Yeah! Even when we were doing live broadcasts during lockdown, it would almost make you cry because you could see the chat of people logging in to watch you play. There were people from all over – everyone saying hello to each other and how they were missing each other – it was beautiful.
Who were you confined with?
It was just me and my 10 year old son – I share custody with his dad. We did distance learning, which was very difficult and made me appreciate the teachers much more than I already did. We didn’t see anyone for at least the first six months because my family is a bit older and more at risk. One of the things I felt deeply was more of a responsibility to do my best to write this record. Playing music on tour means spending time away from my son and it’s hard. If I was going to make another record, I wanted it to be worth it. It just made me dive deeper into being a parent.
Was it fun to resume touring after lockdown?
It was! There were certainly security concerns. We started going out in August and had to do quite a bit of negotiation with clubs over mask mandates or vaccines only and I’m very supportive of that.
Who inspired or influenced your work?
I often wonder that too. I look at people like Bonnie Raitt who had a wonderful career and continues to do so, but really didn’t get the success she deserved until she was a bit older. I like it because I’ve been there a long time and this kind of example really speaks to me. There is a kind of American genre and it has a lot to do with people like Eric Ambel, who produced this last record, but also the Yayhoos, The Georgia Satellites and RBQ, whose drummer played on our record. They’re all bands making the music I love and even though they’re older than me, sometimes a generation, they’re still making music and that’s what I hope to do.
What has marked you the most in your evolution as an artist?
This is my eighth disc. I can trace my life’s path from someone writing music for a band, to someone who’s done solo work, to someone who just had a baby. I’m amazed at how long it lasted, but how short it seems.
For more information on Sarah Bores, visit https://sarahborges.com/