- Published: Monday, 29 August 2016 18:47
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
(Photo by Rob Blackman)
Summer nights are often blessed with starry skies, with some stars more brighter than others. It's no coincidence that, on this hot, summer evening, the sky on Maidenhead, south of England, has left an empty space to allow the shiniest of all the stars to land in this part of the world, Sari Schorr.
The singer and songwriter from New York City has been not just the talk of the town but of the entire blues/rock community, in the last couple of years. Her debut album, A Force Of Nature, due to be released this week, has been unanimously named by both the music press and the fans as one of the most awaited album of 2016.
Schorr has made her mark into the blues/rock circuit through her legendary live performances worldwide and by being on tour with blues/rock icons like Popa Chubby and Joe Louis Walker.
This beautiful english evening seems to be the perfect background to discuss the making of Schorr's debut album with The Artist herself. A Force Of Nature is an album rich of different music angles and it sounds almost like a cinematic tale of anger, sadness and hope, all beautifully wrapped with Schorr's incredible voice and excellent songwriting. To choose the right songs for such an eclectic album must have been a difficult task to fulfil for the American artist. "Your observation about the album is spot on. When I worked on the album, to give that kind of cinematic feeling was exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to make an album that reflected the human experience and in order to do that, you have to present a very broad range of emotions and experiences. You know, I lived a life that offered me a lot of different experiences and, truth to be told, life has not always been an easy ride for me. I've travelled to places where people was living a life a lot worse than mine, places like India or Haiti, for example. All the heartbreaking experiences that I witnessed in those places helped to form me as a writer and as a person and everything I learned, emotionally, in my life goes into the songs I write".
In many press conferences, Sari Schorr has often thanked her legendary producer Mike Vernon and Manhaton Records, her label for the opportunity they gave her to allow Schorr's talent to shine and to be shared with the world. Bluebird Reviews is just wondering how difficult does it get nowadays in the States to find a music label ready to invest in an artist, in comparison to Europe and the rest of the world. "Well, unfortunately, the truth is that all over the world is virtually impossible, these days, to get a record deal. It's so hard for record labels to sell albums and, as a consequence, many of them are not in business anymore because it's not a sustainable business. The sad outcome is that, because of this, there are less and less artists able to get the chance to sign a deal and I am really thankful to be part of those very few fortunate ones. To be with a label that has the courage and the resources to get behind a project like mine, which is not an obvious one but rather a high-risk one, it's a great feeling. That is why I have the world of respect for Alan Robinson (Manhaton Records Boss) and his label and for Mike Vernon, my producer, for taking the chance and stepping out for me, putting his entire reputation at risk by working with a new artist, a completely unproven one. But that didn't stop Mike or hold him back and if it was not for those two gentlemen and their support, I wouldn't be able even to talk to you right now. I would still, perhaps, be working in a little club downtown Manhattan".
A Force Of Nature is an album that shows the full musical arsenal of the American artist, through a wonderful cocktail of funk, blues and late 60's/early 70's psychedelic rock. Schorr has been writing the album in different stages, sometimes heavily under pressure, some other times through a more quieter pace. Schorr's band, The Engine Room, must have had quite a ball in following the singer's artistic path and surely there must have been times in which one or more songs were more complex to record than others. "Well, for me, the most complicated was the one that you would at least expect, which is Ordinary Life. You would think that the song is one of those straight forward kind of tunes to record but for me, balancing a song is normally much harder than recording it. You have to find that fine line between delivering the emotional intensity of the song and making it listenable at the same time. Jesus Lavillas had done such an astonishingly, gorgeous introduction on the keyboards in Ordinary Life and we were all in tears when we heard it. If you listen to the first vocal take on that song, you can hear that I am sobbing across the whole vocal because I really felt the power of the music and the lyrics. It was really a tough one to do for me because that is such a personal song and to find that fine balance I was telling you before, without oversinging it and trying to pull back as much as possible the emotions, it was a hard task to tackle. I did not manage to finish that song in one day for the reasons I just mentioned but it took few days to get it right and I have to thank for that Mike Vernon's patience and guidance. I asked myself sometimes how I managed to push myself emotionally on that song, without feeling nervous about exposing part of your personality. I guess I owe it to my audience and about being as honest and transparent as I can be. I think it's one of the things that makes an artist interesting. I believe that it's all about communication and I really want to communicate to every audience the stuff that is real, interesting or uncomfortable, because that's the kind of stuff I feel it's worth to talk about. That is why I owe so much to the people that listen to my music, because they hear and appreciate what I try to communicate and see me in the way I am, without talking about insignificant things like sunshine or the nice weather".
(Photo by Stephen Fourie)
The late great Lou Reed once stated that New York is the perfect platform to write about life in all its aspects. From somebody like Schorr, coming from the same city, it's interesting to ask the artist whether she shares Reed's point of view and how much does, living in The Big Apple, affect her writing style. "Tremendously. We have so much cultural diversity there. All the influences coming from such diversity are deeply embedded in my music. They say that the places in the world that have the most amount of diversity, tend to produce the most amount of art and that's exactly what happens in New York City. As a result, you get inspired through the things you see from other people and all the influences you get from other countries coming to live there. You get so much cultural and social contamination in any type of art forms, through all those different cultures and I find that very inspirational because it makes me more dimensional as an artist".
The second single released from Schorr's debut album is a splendid and unusual version of Lead Belly's Black Betty, a song that the American artist sang originally at the Lead Belly's Tribute Night at the Carnegie Hall in New York last year and subsequently recorded for her debut album. We are curious to know whether Schorr has ever played Lead Belly's Black Betty with that arrangement and, if not, how did she come up with the idea of that beautiful and unique musical arrangement. "Good question. The producers of the Lead Belly's Fest approached me and asked how I would feel about singing Black Betty. I thought about the original version and I didn't feel very good about it. Then, when I dug into the artist's history and studied in details his life, whilst trying to frame his existance to the time he was living and trying to understand where he was coming from when he wrote the lyrics, the intention behind those lyrics suddenly became very clear for me. Once I understood the real meaning of the lyrics, that way I was able to put an arrangement that I found more congenial and comfortable enough for me. I then told the producers that I would have loved to take on the challenge of doing that song at the Tribute Night. The producers were very thrilled about it but I have to confess that, in every rehearsal and every soundcheck, I messed the song up and I was just praying that I was not going to mess it up when it really counted. Can you imagine messing up on a grand stage like the Carnegie Hall? Somehow, in the end, when I walked on stage, by the time I reached the spotlight, all the fear had fallen away and I felt very confident, like I belonged there. I felt that I owed it to Lead Belly and focused on the song, managing to remove myself completely by any fear and the band and I gave a flawless performance, perhaps the best one we have ever done of that song. I have dreamt to perform at the Carnegie Hall all my life because I was born and raised in New York and to be on that stage was such an overwhelming feeling. Backstage, they have all those picture of the artists that performed there throughout the years, giants like Ella Fitzgerald or Miles Davis and to think that I was going to be on that very same stage, in a sold-out evening of great music like that, it felt really special".
Sari Schorr fell in love at a fairly young age with blues and jazz in a time when, perhaps, genres like rock, funk or pop might have been more "hip", for a young woman growing up in the 80's and 90's. Bluebird Reviews is wondering from where did the big fascination that drove Schorr towards those genres come from. "I was never really like anybody else, even in my youth but rather more anti-establishments. I always questioned things that everybody else was doing and I would pride myself on trying to find my own way towards the things I was really interested in. When I fell in love with jazz, my dad was a big music lover and he heavily inspired my love for music. My grandmother was instead a big opera fan, she wanted to be an opera singer and, in a different way, she influenced me a lot too. The great thing about living in New York was that there was a very vibrant jazz scene and I was able to expose myself to a lot of great music. The next step for me was to understand who were the influences behind giants of the jazz like Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan, where did they get their inspiration from. When I started to dig deeper, I discovered the classic female blues singers and then all of a sudden, I found an identity I connected immediately with and I realised to have found my most favourite music ground. The beauty of jazz for me was also to discover that you might think that you know everything you need to know about jazz and its muses but, the minute you start digging further and further into the history of the genre, then you realize that the more you learn, the less you know about it! (smiles)".
(Photo by John Bull)
This phenomenal artist, for her own admission, is someone that likes to be challenged, in order to get the best out of herself, as a musician and in her personal life. Even when record labels, for several reasons, delayed the birth of Schorr's solo career, she never gave up and here she is now, with a brand new record deal signed for the english label Manhaton Records. We are curious to discover whether this incredible resilience and fighting spirit is inherited from her parents or from Schorr's late grandmother Bertha. "My Grandma Bertha was certainly a fighter. She was ahead of her time and she has been like that all her life. My parents and I took after her in that respect, completely. My dad and I had a little bit of a challenging relationship, probably because I reminded him of his mom. I just couldn't justify quitting because once you go so deep into something and you spend so many years doing it, you just have the fear that if you quit, that day could be the day before you might have had a break. Deep in my heart, I knew that somehow it was all going to work itself out and I would find my way. I didn't think that it was going to take this long but there is an advantage to that as well. I was able to work out my craft for many years and to find my true identity as an artist. As a consequence, I had all these years to really own my songwriting, my performance and develop my voice. I think that at same point too, I was afraid that I was addicted to the notion of struggle in general, because if someone thinks that I am a struggling musician, then that will become your reality too, until success finally kicks in. I guess I just couldn't give up easily, after all the sacrifices I had made for years".
Schorr is hugely popular in the United States but it's quite remarkable to notice how much her popularity has increased also in the rest of the world, particularly in Europe. Surely this hugely talented artist must have a secret behind the special bond between her and the crowds worldwide. "To me, everywhere we perform and everyone we play for, all the people we are sharing our music with, they all become a part of my world, a part of my extended family. A beautiful community of people who love good music. When I walk on stage, night after night, I feel like I am singing for friends that I just have not met yet. That feeling gives me the opportunity to feel at home wherever I am in the world. In my mind, there is no differentiation about where in the world I am playing, because we are all individuals of the One behind the Many. We are all different rings belonging to the same chain".
Tonight Schorr is going to kick off a tour that will see the singer/songwriter embarking an extensive Tour in Europe, with many dates in the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, amongst others. Before parting company with this smiling, gentle and incredibly inspirational artist, Bluebird Reviews asks whether the dream of the 7 years-old girl that used to charge people to come to her house and hear her singing has finally come true. "(Laughs) Yes, definitely. You know, I would take the couch and spin it around and use it as a stage. Oh, my goodness, wow, when I think about where we are tonight and that 7 years-old girl... If I could talk to her, I would say to her not to be scared, to hang in there, that everything is going to be ok and that it's gonna be hard but it's definitely going to be ok. How I wish I could have that conversation with her right now. This is everything in the world I could have ever dreamt of, because I am doing it with people that I truly love. I love my record label, my manager, my producer Mike Vernon and my band. Everyone in the band is like a brother to me. I also truly love everybody who comes with open hearts to hear my music and I love people like you, helping to get the word out and support what we are doing. I feel that I am a very lucky person, given how much this world is filled with fear and hatred. It's such a gift to be able to focus on trying to create beauty in the world".
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato