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Interview: Sara Hartman on her 'Satellite' EP, supporting Ellie Goulding, and her upcoming album.

Interview: Sara Hartman on her 'Satellite' EP, supporting Ellie Goulding, and her upcoming album.

The ascent of Sara Hartman's star has been a remarkably quick one. The Long Island native’s debut EP ‘Satellite’ dropped in March this year, and its four tracks have already racked up almost 40 million plays on Spotify. Most popular among them is ‘Monster Lead Me Home’, an upbeat pop number inspired by the darkness and loneliness of her relocation to Berlin last year.

Recommended by an industry boss, she made the transatlantic move to work with producer Toby Kuhn - the EP being the result. European support slots followed, first with MS MR, then opening for Ellie Goulding in the massive arenas of her ‘Delirium’ tour. Her career slows no sign of slowing down, with her debut album slated for release in the near future.

We caught up with Hartman on the phone from Boston, where she was supporting X Ambassadors on their North American tour, to talk about the EP, her songwriting process, life on the road, and what the rest of 2016 has in store for her...

...I wanted to feel like I wasn’t alone, and I really hope that because I put all of the things I went through right back into the music, that people can feel less alone...

COUP DE MAIN: Hey, Sara! How’s Boston?
SARA HARTMAN: It’s so friggin’ cool! I actually went to school here for a year, but then I took off because I ran out of money!
CDM: So how does your songwriting process work? Is there a particular place that you like to write?

SARA: There is a particular place that I wrote most of the lyrics for the record. I recorded the whole thing in Berlin. Toby Kuhn, my producer, and I would go in and find a cool chord progression. He’d start programming the beat and I would go off into the other room. There’s these three big windows and I would sit on the furthest to the right. It took me a while to figure out how to open them, but they open really big, you would think you’re breaking it, but the whole entire window opens really big. And I would sit with my laptop and a cup of tea and, at the time, a cigarette - I’ve since kicked this - but I would sit and write in this window. That’s where I wrote pretty much the entire record, in that windowsill.
CDM: Lyrically, what’s your favourite song that you’ve written?

SARA: It changes, because the songs evolve for me. I think, ‘Satellites’ - it’s so damn simple that you can find new meaning in it all the time. But there’s also an old song of mine that is going to be on the album. It’s called ‘Someone Like Me’ and that one’s very dear to my heart.
CDM: At what age did you write your very first song ever, and what was it about?

SARA: Oh, no! I’m just going to be honest with you, it’s a little embarrassing. I think I was 14 and my best friend moved away to Connecticut, and that broke me into tiny little pieces. It was almost a country song, “I’ll be singing the same song you’ve heard a thousand times before…” But that was my first venture into confessional songwriting, and writing about my feelings. There was also a weird emo phase that I won’t talk about. <laughs>
CDM: So you’ve just finished up touring with Ellie Goulding. When she started out, she was releasing music of a similar genre to yours now – did that make you think about where your music could go in the future?
SARA: It did, but then I was like, you know what, you’re jumping the gun, there’s a lot of work to do before then! But it does help with far off, romantic dreams of the future. But right now, I’m like, do the work. But it was such a ridiculous tour. Her crew was so nice and she was so nice, I just feel so honoured to have followed her buses around. It was really so intense, that tour. It’s nice for daydreaming, but I can’t really think about that right now, I gotta keep my head on my shoulders.
CDM: You’re currently on tour in the U.S. with X Ambassadors. As a support act, what differences have you noticed between European and American crowds?
SARA: This is interesting, because I have noticed differences. With Ellie, we went all around Europe, and it’s very different within Europe. Like in Germany, they’ll be absolutely silent during your set, they’ll dance maybe a little bit, but they will love you for the rest of their lives. They’ll become super-fans, but they won’t cheer at all, which is something I’ve gotten used to, it’s a very German thing. I actually really respect it, because they want to watch you, they don’t want to distract you from your music. In Spain, they’re really loud and rambunctious. In Poland, they just love everything. I love Poland so much. But here in the States, the X Ambassadors bring in a crowd that are equally as excited. They like music, and I love to play for people who love to see live music. The X Ambassadors definitely brings that kind of crowd in. One major differences is all the tweets and messages I get – there are less in broken English. But it’s actually really adorable, I quite like it.

CDM: It seems like you’ve been on tour for pretty much the whole of 2016! What are your top survival tips for on the road? How do you keep yourself entertained?
SARA: Spotify Premium. That is not a plug, I swear to God, I genuinely just love it. You can just explore, like, “I want to listen to Nina Simone, Live in Montreal in ’67” or something, or just weird eclectic stuff. That’s what keeps me pretty sane. I’ve been reading books. I worship Patti Smith, as you’ll know if you’ve read any interview with me! Music, books, and good people. That’s definitely an important thing, having good people around you.
CDM: You got to play SXSW earlier this year. Did you get to see many other artists perform while you were there?
SARA: Oh my god, yes. I saw some mind-blowing stuff, man. I wish I saw more. I really wanted to see everybody, but sometimes you just can’t. But there’s always next year! I saw Allan Rayman, he’s a rapper out of Toronto. He played after me at Stubbs. He’s so exciting. I caught one song from Bibi Bourelly, who is from Berlin, actually. She wrote ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’. She’s coming out with new original stuff and it’s so fucking cool. And Oscar And The Wolf, they also kicked ass. It was such an exciting festival, I was just blown away by the level of talent and creativity. It was intense.
CDM: Austin and Berlin seem similar in that music is such a huge part of both of their histories and cultures. Is that something you sensed while you were there?
SARA: I did! I wish I had more time to explore. But I definitely got similar vibes. I think something awesome is going to happen if you have that many cool, creative humans in one place. I loved it. I love places. I’m really excited that I get to travel on my job.
CDM: Do you get to see much of the places you visit on tour? And as someone who has already moved to a new, far away city, have you played any cities where you could see yourself settling one day?
SARA: Yeah. I gotta say, yeah. On the Ellie Goulding tour we had a Nightliner [tour bus], which was luxurious for me, I’d never experienced that before. So you wake up in a different city and then you can do whatever you want until soundcheck. I loved that so much. We’re in a van here in the States and there’s a lot more driving when you’re awake. But the Ellie Goulding tour, waking up in Paris… I know why people want to be there. I’m not gonna say that for the next record I’m moving to Paris, but you never know where life takes you. It was definitely awesome.
CDM: You’ve a very skilled guitarist. Who are your three all-time guitar heroes?
SARA: I think that St. Vincent is the coolest person to ever have a guitar on her and I want to be her when I grow up. I like girls who play guitar. It makes me feel good. I think Courtney Barnett – she has a Tele and it’s so dirty. Neither of them play with a pick, though, which I unfortunately do. But I’m working on my fingers, so I think maybe it’ll work out. Bonnie Raitt also kicks ass, she’s like the queen of girl guitarists.
CDM: It seems to me like there is a thematic similarity between the lyrics of ‘Monster Take Me Home’ and Jamie xx’s ‘Stranger In A Room’. What made you want to cover that song for the EP?
SARA: It’s funny, because now I’m like, "Oh, that’s why I like that song so much." I was listening a lot to ‘In Colour’ while writing the record, I think it’s fucking incredible electronic music. The way that he does so much with so little is absolutely brilliant. I was like, "Why do I keep listening to ‘Stranger In A Room’?" And so I ended up covering it. It’s about the dark side of partying and the loneliness of moving, but I didn’t fully realise that I was going through all these emotions until after. But it fits the mood and it’s a great song and I’m excited to cover more things.

CDM: Today is Mother’s Day in the U.S. What have you learned from your mother, and how has her influence informed the musician and person you are today?
SARA: I love my Mom so much. And I did text her this morning – I nearly forgot! My Mom has been a really big influence in my life. She was a hippy, she taught me and my brother that no matter what you had, you could make something new out of it. And if you’re feeling shitty, make something out of it. That really resonated with me. I think that’s kind of why I make stuff for a living, maybe. I might have to blame my Mom.
CDM: What do you hope for people to take away from listening to your music?
SARA: That they’re not alone. Moving [to Berlin], I’d never been so lonely, but I’d never been so connected to something, like I was fighting for something so passionately, before. But it’s very hard sometimes - you’re by yourself, you don’t know anybody, you don’t know the language. It was really, really hard. We all kind of go through the same things - I don’t really know a lot about life, <laughs> but I think that humans really have the same emotions. I felt like shit, and I listened to music to get out of that. I wanted to feel like I wasn’t alone, and I really hope that because I put all of the things I went through right back into the music, that people can feel less alone. That’s what I want people to take away.
CDM: So what’s next for you? What do you want to have achieved by the time 2016 is over?
SARA: Oh, goodness. I hope to maintain my sanity and my happiness. I mean, last year I had no idea I’d be living in Berlin, so I really don’t know where I’ll be. But I’m ready for anything. I’m pretty excited, it’s looking like it’s gonna be a damn fun year. I’m just going along for the ride. I have no expectations. Well, I have some expectations, but I’m really game for anything. It’s like ‘Monster Lead Me Home’ - I’ll end up where I’m supposed to be, I guess.

Sara Hartman’s ‘Satellite’ EP is out now - click here to purchase it via iTunes.

Watch the ‘Satellite’ music video below…


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