Sarah Assbring: “Songwriting is a sophisticated game”

Published: 2006-11-30 by Sebastian Tiger

Sarah Assbring’s music is often described as melancholy, but that is not its most essential quality, explains Sarah, who compares songwriting to a sophisticated game. It also offers scope for ironising about the alleged melancholy.

“I don’t want to express just one obvious feeling – I like sudden changes. I don’t want my listeners to think “Well, that was a sad little piece”. That’s why I’m always trying to incorporate contrasting material into my songs to give them an ambivalent character. I want people to feel exhilarated by my music – for it to breathe life and inspire. Otherwise, I'd be draining myself.”

As a young girl, Sarah loved all musical instruments. However, she was particularly fascinated by the piano. The outside world was completely blocked out when she sat at the piano exploring its potential for expression. However, she found her piano lessons dull and uninspiring. She learned what she wanted to learn, but pretended to read the notes – she looked at the sheet music but actually played by ear.

Didn’t want to interpret other people’s music

Sarah started writing music to her own lyrics early on. However, it was not until she started her own group at high school that composing became a serious preoccupation for Sarah.

“I didn't want to devote my time to interpreting or learning what other people had written. I wanted to write my own music.”

Although the various projects embarked upon by the group were marked by compromises and faulty ambitions, Sarah is of the opinion that they were essential for moulding her into the solo artist that she is today.
At the end of the nineties, she met her partner Philip. They began working together and now share a studio. Philip is also involved in the recording and production process of Sarah’s solo projects.

The dog from the sea

Sarah’s solo career was preceded by a crisis. She had come to a point where she felt she could no longer write. The road back was long and hard. It began when she was granted a scholarship by STIM.

“I really do want to thank STIM for that. It enabled me to get away for a while, which helped me gradually find my way back to composing.”

Sarah encountered a dog on its own, wandering along a beach in Spain. Afterwards, this encounter came to symbolise a turning point for Sarah, inspiring her to start writing again and she named her solo project “El Perro Del Mar” (The Dog of the Sea).

Sarah says that her urge to write can still elude her.

“But these days I know that it will return. And when it does, it feels like a storm of energy has thrown itself upon me. Then I have to act immediately and write down my ideas. Then follows a phase of collecting, when I feel like a squirrel. I collect everything that might be of use.”
Once this collecting phase has passed and her material has rested for a while, she sits down and works with it to see if it has the potential for development. Sometimes she can work quickly while at other times it is a rather complicated and time-consuming process. But it doesn’t worry her that this work can be more demanding and less spontaneous at times.

On the contrary. I like working hard to achieve results. That’s when it feels like true composing.”
Sarah describes her lyrics as simple and repetitive, minimalist with a touch of blues. It is a form that she likes and she thinks that she will stick with it. In a formal way, her music also has a fairly simple structure. It is often based on two or three chords around which she arranges and creates her song. According to Sarah, a lot can be created out of a limited amount of material.

The dog soon to be released around the world

Sarah has never liked playing live. Recorded music is her medium.
“It’s nothing to do with stage fright, but is based on practical considerations. I want to create a world of illusions and sounds that take place in my recorded music. It is almost impossible to recreate these in a live situation.”

Sarah’s first commercial solo album “Look! It’s El Perro Del Mar” was released last year, but Sarah does not want to call it a debut album.

“No, it’s more of a collection album. I had released most of the songs previously as mp3 files or on CDs. For me, those productions felt as ‘real’ as a commercially released CD. What’s more, they enabled me to have complete control of the production process, from start to finish.”

The album has now been released across Europe and will soon be available around the world. Then in the autumn or winter, it’s time again for a new album. Sarah reveals that this time she won’t be pre-releasing songs as mp3 files. Her work will be released as a complete album.

Mattias Franzén


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