Poised

The Women of Sick of Sarah Stand Ready to Confront the Music Machine

Mash Notes

They call themselves Sick of Sarah, and I'm trying not to take it too personally. I do write a weekly column, and it seems reasonable that people might get sick of me. (Extending this logic further, might there be a group out there calling themselves Not Terribly Drawn In by Sarah in the First Place?)

Anyway, the name's not meant to be a slam against any individual Sarah.

"My old roommate was named Sarah, and she hated her name. She was like, 'I'm sick of "Sarah",'" recalls vocalist Abisha Uhl. The four women had been playing together under the Donnie Darko copyright-infringement-suit-baiting moniker Sparkle Motion, and were looking for a new name.

"It's got that alliteration," explains drummer Brooke Svanes.

This primordial Sarah—how well I understand her frustration!—had been dating Svanes and introduced her to Uhl. To pay her back for the two crucial contributions to the band, her friends embarrass her in public: "When she comes to shows, we point out that she's there—she hates that!" says guitarist Katie Murphy.

The night before I sat down with them, they'd stayed up all hours taping for an all-female Battle of the Bands music video thing MTV is orchestrating to promote a new show, Kaya. And in two days they're heading east to perform at the CMJ music festival. The quartet, all in their mid-twenties, play a catchy, jumpy sort of pop rock, as if Tegan and Sara were reinvented as emo beginners. Three-fourths of the band has never been to New York City, although bassist Jessie Farmer not only lived there but worked in Times Square, a place she compares, without fondness, to the Mall of America.

Farmer and Uhl are the group's primary songwriters. Uhl grew up on a military base in Okinawa, Japan, where her father was a teacher. The family spent summers in the States, and her doting older brother Josh bought her a guitar the same night she told him she was interested in playing.

"I started writing songs that week. I would play it on the street—it was so safe there—and I had long blond hair, so for some reason the Japanese people seemed to think I was a member of Hanson. 'Mmm-Bop! Han-sen!' They would take pictures, so there's probably shots of me impersonating Hanson in lots of photo albums."

Like all of her siblings, Uhl came to the United States to seek her fortune after high school. A fan of piano-pop goddess Vanessa Carlton, she made an unlikely collaborator for the Joan Jett- and Babes in Toyland-worshipping Farmer.

Farmer, in fact, had the sort of incredible adventure rocker girls dream about. She met Babes' Kat Bjelland while working in Nordeast's Mill City Cafe several years ago, and when Bjelland found out she knew all the group's songs, she invited Farmer to play bass for her band on a nine-city European tour.

Together with the Sleater-Kinney-loving Svanes and the Bangles-adoring Murphy, the women caught the ear of producer Evan Peters, in town from L.A. to catch an O'Gara's showcase. Peters was so impressed that he offered to produce a Sick of Sarah demo, and the band flew out west to record The L.A. Sessions.

"We trashed the studio, with chips and Gummi bears everywhere, but they told us, 'Don't even worry about it, the last people in this studio were Snoop Dogg and Fred Durst,'" laughs Uhl.

After fans who'd memorized lyrics from MySpace turned up at shows and bought hundreds of copies of the demo, Peters, who'd launched his own Adamant record label, arranged for another recording session closer to home. The newly released Bittersweet EP, with its three tracks of brightly melodic rock, will be the band's calling card as their new manager, Carol Peters (who also happens to be Evan's mother), tries to break the band into the for-real music biz. But right now they're still unknown enough to make a name change feasible. I find that "Sick of Ross Raihala" rolls off the tongue quite nicely, myself.

Sick of Sarah

Bittersweet


Adamant Records

 
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