My Socks (single) by SARNRelease date: September 21, 2016
SARN is a guy named Sarn, and he lives somewhere in California between Sacramento and San Francisco. Late at night he goes for a walk with this dog to clear his head. Along the way he plays with phrases and words and scenes from the present and the past. When he gets home he SARN writes music.
Over the past two years, SARN has been making infrequent trips to John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone studios in San Francisco and Oakland. When he has a batch of songs ready to go- he books the time and takes a ride. Sometimes he shows up with no instruments- just a notebook, a headful of ideas, a bottle of water, and a willingness to let go part of the creative musical process. There are no demos, no sketches, no plans.
The result of the SARN formula for songwriting is brilliant. Because there is no formula.
There are shades of Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound project, Stephen Steinbrink, Pulco, and Avi Buffalo in the vocals and arrangements across the entire SARN catalogue, which is available on sarnmusic.bandcamp.com– and it really must be heard.
To understand the context of the lyrics and SARN’s creative process, it might be helpful to deconstruct one of the recent singles, ‘My Socks.’ In June 2016, SARN showed up at Tiny Telephone to record, what would eventually become nine songs, which will be released in early-to-mid 2017. The recording session lasted four days and included Rob Shelton (keyboards), Andrew Maguire (percussion), with John Vanderslice engineering, mixing, and adding keyboards on ‘Headband.’
As Sarn (the guy) related to me, when he showed up in the morning, Vanderslice was set up and ready to go. They chatted for a while, catching up- and almost purposefully NOT talking about the music they were about to record. As SARN sang and played the songs a few times on acoustic guitar, Maguire made notes, and Vanderslice started work on sculpting and bending the sound. They jammed on one of the songs three times before Vanderslice said, “I think we’re ready.” SARN played in the vocal booth, Maquire played in the live room, and Vanderslice was in the control room. They could not see one another. In a sense they were flying blind. By the end of the first day the vocals, guitar, and drum tracks for six songs were near complete. The next day, Rob Shelton came in added an array of keyboards.
Everyone was given a lot of room to put their unique mark on each song. As Sarn explained,
“I don’t demo anything, and we don’t workshop or do any pre-production. We don’t discuss musical direction, feel, goals…none of that. He (Vanderslice) knows I like it weird and fucked up.”
That is a bold strategy and a bold statement. The SARN recordings are strong, defiant, vulnerable, and subversive. ‘My Socks’ combines all of the literary and sonic elements described above. It’s a very political song and a very personal song about a random traffic stop that turns into a police shooting. The backstory is told best in Sarn’s own words:
“’My Socks,’ and every other song on the new album, was drawn from my youth in some way- experiences I had, stories I heard, people I knew…I intentionally tapped into that when writing the album. I grew up in south Sacramento, which is a pretty shitty area with high crime, gangs, mostly poor minorities- everyone was on Welfare. There was a general distrust of police. Shit would happen but you’d never call the police because it’d only get worse from there. I was a bad kid and spent many nights dodging cop cars and helicopters. I’ve seen people I know get beat up by cops, and every interaction I’ve had with police left a bad taste in my mouth. The media spotlight on police shootings of innocent black men in recent years really brought me back- all the killings, I could see them happening clearly, like in high definition. Like I was there, every story- it was all very real to me and it really jacked me up.”
Sarn added the disclaimer that, “I would not consider myself a political writer.”
But SARN is a writer’s writer.
The focus is always on the lyrics and the story. But Sarn also, and quite unselfishly, gives his collaborators the opportunity to freely create lush soundscapes, music that compels you to listen and in every way complements SARN’s lyrics in a way that seems so (uncharacteristically) well planned. It fucking works at every level. The performances are genius, the lyrics and delivery are sincere, and the ambience is perfect because the mistakes are left in the final mix. Keep in mind while you’re listening- all of the guitar is acoustic. Vanderslice’s engineering is nothing short of brilliant.
I am eagerly awaiting the next (as of now untitled) SARN release. In the meantime, the eighteen songs available will give you a lot to think about, a sonic collage that spans a range of genres from folk to electronica- in the most interesting ways, and a voice that screams honesty and authenticity. We need more of this, so I hope Sarn keeps walking that dog and keeps writing music.
Note to Sarn- tweet some photos of that dog!