Having come to LA in the early 2000s with hopes of being an actor, Sarabeth Tucek met and befriended Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Inspired by her new circle of musician friends, she picked up the guitar and started writing songs. These pieces led to her featuring briefly in Ondi Timoner’s 2004 documentary 'DiG'! – which focused on the BJM and their friendship/rivalry with the Dandy Warhols – as well as making up what would become her debut album, a self-titled effort released in 2007 on Sonic Cathedral Recordings. Her writing also prompted Bob Dylan to request her as his opening act in the same year; a dream come true for any aspiring singer-songwriter.

Now Tucek returns with her follow-up album, 'Get Well Soon', and embarked on a UK tour to promote it, taking in the Camden Crawl and a support slot at London’s beautiful Union Chapel along the way. It was at the latter of these that Pennyblackmusic caught up with her to discuss songwriting, the influence of her parents ad the daunting prospect of a conversation with Bob Dylan.


PB: It’s been a good few years since you released your debut album; have you been working on other projects between that and 'Get Well Soon'?

ST: No, I haven’t. I haven’t done a lot of collaborating with anybody or anything for a while. The last time I really did anything on anyone’s record was with Smog – and that was long ago!

PB: So were the songs on the new album worked out over a long period of time, or was there a moment where you thought, “I’m going to write a new album now”?

ST: I had some songs, and I wanted to create some other songs to fit in with those and orbit that same issue, so I took those few songs and I did try to make a point of trying to create some kind of a narrative, where it would describe the trajectory of that experience. That was the brief. At the end of recording, when you sequence, was really when I decided I wanted to create a narrative, or at least an emotional narrative – something where you can see how the arc travels.

Once I started coupling songs and putting them in various sequences, that was actually one of the more cathartic parts of it, because I could make something cohesive out of a mass of chaotic feelings.

PB: Was that a different process from the first album?

ST: Yeah, that was more of a collection of songs. Those were all the first songs I ever wrote. I mean, I think there’s a certain cohesion there of emotion I guess; they were of the same time.

PB: You originally moved to LA with aspirations to becoming an actress – did you not have any inclination towards music before you started writing songs?

ST: Well, I always enjoyed singing – I sang in my school plays and did musicals, stuff like that. And my first boyfriend, my first love was a musician, and I was always going to lots of shows and I loved music so much; I mean it was everything to me, always. Even as a child. I think I tried to study some instruments as a kind – like I did piano – but we moved so much that everything was just too chaotic to really follow through on anything. So I think it just wasn’t until later in life when I was only hanging out with musicians that I thought, “Why can’t I just do this? I should just try!”

PB: And did that put an end to your dreams of become an actor?

ST: That had been falling away for a while. I really didn’t stick with that very long. I quickly discovered that it wasn’t going to be good for me, that I didn’t maybe have the right personality for it, and what I liked about it... I should have done it in a different way; I should have just done theatre, because that’s what I liked. But I got an agent, and I started going to auditions and it was just really disheartening, the whole process – it was just icky! I just didn’t like it. You’ve got to really know how to hock your wares. You’ve got to like... sell it!

PB: So when you were going to shows and enjoying music as a child and teenager, who were the bands and artists that you were listening to?

ST: Well, my mother listened to a lot of Cat Stephens and Woody Guthrie, and she liked Bruce Springsteen a lot. My father was a little bit different; he primarily liked classical music, but he was also really into minimalist music. He took me to see Laurie Anderson – and she’s great, but it’s very different, it’s really “art” music, you know? He was really into that kind of stuff. I actually introduced him to Brian Eno and he loved all that, like discreet music and all that kind of ambient stuff.

PB: Do you think your parents’ very different tastes have had an influence on the music you make now?

ST: I think so; my father was very, very passionate about music and he really taught me the importance of listening, of enjoying music as a solitary action – that you don’t do something while you’re listening to it. He would have my sister and I sit, and he would put on a piece of music and stand there, and we weren’t allowed to speak. He would point out the different instruments, and sometimes he would quiz us on it and it was incredibly boring when you’re a child (Laughs) And he took me to some concerts. So I think his influence... I have a real appreciation for all the nuances of something when I listen to it – I really try to listen to it very hard.

PB: That’s a very strict musical upbringing; to be forced to listen and enjoy in silence!

ST: He would also put on scary things sometimes; like he would put on the soundtrack to '2001: A Space Odyssey', turn on his red light (Laughs) and we’d have to sit there and listen to it! So that was scary. But he definitely instilled an appreciation.

PB: Do you think that appreciation of music, and the ritual of sitting down to specifically listen to a record from start to finish is dying out with the advent of digital music, iPods and the fashion for listening to tracks on shuffle while doing other activities?

ST: With records you really develop a relationship, with that record and with that artist, you know? And that’s what’s sad now, because people just downloading songs miss out on that relationship. What it does also I think is that people in turn don’t build the same allegiance for the artist, because they don’t grow as attached.

They’ve just made the listening time on iTunes longer. You can listen to each song for longer now and it’s like that’s not going to encourage anyone. You can’t tell what a song is from a little piece of it. You have to listen to the whole thing. When you buy a record, you think “I bought this, I paid for it. I want to get my money’s worth”. You have a commitment to it.

PB: You played at Camden Crawl not too long ago – how did you find it?

ST: It was alright – I’d heard that it was wild and crazy, but I thought it was kind of tame! I think that maybe this year wasn’t... I thought that maybe because of the Royal wedding, everyone left town or something? It seemed like everyone was saying, “I’m outta here!” But it was fun – we played with really good bands; the line-up was really good.

PB: Did you get to have a wander round Camden while it was on, and did you see any bands that you particularly liked?

ST: A little bit, I like Camden. I saw the Spectrals, who I really liked. They played right before us and they were really good. And I’m really upset, because I missed Bo Ningen – do you know who they are? They’re like a Japanese psych-rock band, and they played after me, and we had to go because we had a ride and they wanted to leave. I was so bummed – we went home and looked it up, and we were like “OH NO!” They’re just great, and they look great too; they have this long, long black hair and they’re just rockin’ out. So I was sad I missed that.

PB: How did your Camden Crawl gig compare with this one at the lovely Union Chapel?

ST: That was very different, because that was like a loud pub! It was so loud. You just do you best!

PB: Your music all seems very personal; is there a therapeutic element to your songwriting?

ST: I think that’s why I started. I think I started writing because I was very unhappy, and I was alone for the first time in my life; I’d had a boyfriend from the time I was a teenager, for like eight years. And then I was alone and I really didn’t know what to do with myself, so the guitar just became my best friend. It was amazing to discover that I could have something I could do alone by myself that would bring me such comfort; that I didn’t need to go out and be with a friend or call somebody, I could stay in and just comfort myself. It was very therapeutic, I really feel like it saved my life.

PB: I know this was some time ago, but I understand you opened for Bob Dylan a few years ago and I think my dad would be annoyed with me if I didn’t at least ask what that was like!

ST: Well, it was pretty crazy! It was very exciting of course, my whole family came from all over. The show itself – that was one of the first times I ever played live, maybe the second time or something – so I was really feeling overwhelmed, but I was also so aware that I was in the presence of Bob Dylan that I could not...I barely thought about my own show really, I was just like, “Where is he? What’s he doing. Is he looking at me? Is he around?”

His bus was right by where we were sitting – it was an outdoor venue – and I repeatedly walked by his bus to the rest room that was up the path, hoping that he would just pop out. And on my way back once, he was leaning up against his bus, and I thought, “Oh my god....” (Laughs) I was like, “Just be cool, be cool”. I was walking by and I hear “He-ey! What’s goin’ on?” And then I was like, “Oh my GAHD!” Because I had heard that you’re not supposed to talk to him...

PB: Like the Queen?

ST: Yeah, exactly! But once he said that, I was like, “Oh um...nothing?” He said, “Yeah but c’mon! What’s the most exciting thing going on around here?” And I said, “Well uh, it’s probably you!” And then we just had this little conversation by the bus. It’s certainly an out of body experience. I’m normally not that impressed by celebrity, but he’s like... you’re just aware that you’re in the presence of a total genius, and that it’s a rare event. I gave him a little hug and a little kiss, and then I walked off into the night, totally starry eyed!

PB: I read in an interview with you from a couple of years ago that you were thinking of moving to the UK; did that move ever come about?

ST: Well I wanted to move over here – I still do – but we ended up moving to New York. And we moved there because it was closer to the UK. The only reason we didn’t move here is because it’s more expensive. Not that it’s not expensive in New York, but I thought I might have a more difficult time finding work – I have to have a job, I don’t make enough from music. We always talk about moving here, because I’m always here and I love it here. It reminds me of New York.

PB: New York has quite a flourishing music scene; do you like the music coming out of that city?

ST: You know, that music scene is a little too 80s for me! (Laughs) It’s a little too indie. It’s not really my... I have to say, I prefer the music scene in California, it’s kind of rooted in a different time; it’s kind of 60s – you know, it’s West Coast! There’s actually a great scene in San Francisco now. There’s a lot of good San Francisco bands. But I didn’t really connect with the Brooklyn thing.

Also indie means something very different now. To me, that’s like another form of pop music, you know what I mean? I think all those people behave in the same way as people who want to be top of the charts. It’s really pushing yourselves; hocking your wares, selling it. Maybe that’s just the way it is now – I’m not in my early twenties anymore! (Laughs) I think it’s a lot of people trying to assert something different about themselves; they want to be special, and they want to be different; they want to push boundaries. The whole thing of trying to be weird or odd is really annoying to me. At this point, I’m really just looking for a good lyric, and something I can hang onto emotionally, you know? I’m not so much into the fun stuff anymore (Laughs).

People claim a lot of stuff now to be dark and introspective, but I think there’s a limit on how dark they actually want that stuff to be. Like they’ll say, “Oh listen to this. It’s really dark!” and then you hear it and you think, “Hmm, no. That’s not dark, no”. I was in an article about me and Josh T Pearson in the Guardian; I listened to his stuff and I was like, “I’m not getting the dark thing...”

PB: What are your plans for the future? Will you go back to writing songs, or will you be taking a break from music for a while?

ST: I have some ideas about some stuff I want to do. I’m going to try to avoid using my acoustic guitar. I’m going to try not to have it be so guitar driven – there’s some things I’m thinking about; maybe letting it stew for a while though, because I’ll be touring this record for a bit. I have to come back in the end of August, and head into Europe.

PB: Thank you.












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