After a decade in folk trio Mountain Man, Molly Sarlé has gone solo and is releasing her debut album later this month. Alex Gibbon caught up with her during her European tour for an introspective, thoughtful yet effortlessly charming chat about the joys of Yorkshire’s moors, going solo, and karaoke calamities.
Firstly, welcome back to Yorkshire! I heard you played a gig a couple of days ago in the North York Moors, a very beautiful and rural location. How did you find that?
It was one of the most beautiful, special experiences I’ve ever had! One of my favourite things about being alive is seeing a new places and it was so incredibly beautiful out there. We went for a walk along the creek and everybody there was super sweet. The place I played in was built in 1920 to have music performed in it so the acoustics were incredible.
It’s interesting you mention discovering new places because your new album was recorded in many different locations like a monastery, a cliffside trailer and a church in Woodstock. Do you feel like the natural environment really influences your creative process, be that with writing or performing?
Definitely! As far as singing goes, being able to feel sound in a space is part of the way that I make myself feel at home in the world. For instance, when Sam [the producer of ‘Karaoke Angel’] and I recorded the record in the church, we recorded my voice through monitors in the space as opposed to recording directly into a microphone. I was able to feel my voice and guitar in the room which made me feel like I was at home in the world and it actually felt similar to my gig in the Moors.
A lot of the songs on the new album are about places in Big Sur because the environment there is so epic and powerful that you become a part of it, whereas cities seem like places that people have made their own. I spent a lot of time trying to write music there but I actually wasn’t able to because I was just so overwhelmed by the beauty of the place all the time; I almost lost my personality in a way, I started to dissociate. When I would try and hang out with people I would be like, “oh yeah, right, okay I’m supposed to laugh at jokes and respond properly to people!”.
So even though you didn’t do any writing in Big Sur, in a way you took a piece of it with you to write in other locations?
Yeah, I lost myself completely and when I moved to Durham [North Carolina]. I started to collect things and formulate them, both my personhood and these songs.
Your new album ‘Karaoke Angel’ is out on September 20th. From the music you have released already the significance of karaoke is evident from the ‘Human’ music video to the lyrics of ‘This One’. How did you settle on that title and what is the significance of karaoke singing to you personally?
Karaoke means a lot to me. When I was a back-up singer for Feist I had a couple of weeks off in Burlington and the friend I was staying with left to go to New York City. I was alone and going through a break-up, so, one of the ways I chose to deal with that was to go to karaoke on my own and sing Fleetwood Mac to make myself feel better. That was the first time I experienced karaoke as a way to truly explore performing in front of people in a low-pressure community. It’s not your show; everybody is getting up and has a turn to express themselves so I like to think about it as a modern-day version of sitting around a campfire and singing songs. We tell our own stories through other people’s stories and songs. That’s what I want this record to be in the sense that they’re my stories, because they’re my experiences, but I want them to be things that other people can feel their own humanity in.
From your experiences at karaoke bars, have you taken anything from it and put it in your performances when you do solo shows?
I have taken things from karaoke, I mean the live shows still feel like something I’m figuring out. When I’m singing karaoke I’m like “Well, today I’m going to walk all the way to the back of the stage and slide down and crawl across the floor” and then I see that’s possible. Everything I’ve experienced as a performer goes into the next show.
Readers may already know you from folk trio Mountain Man but ‘Karaoke Angel’ will be your solo debut album. How has it been striking out on your own for the first time?
It’s really fraying in a lot of ways, especially in the process of making that music, to know that I could make any decision I wanted and not have to check it with anybody. I love playing music with people though, you know? Being on stage alone is terrifying compared to being on stage with two of my best friends because we’ve gotten so good at catching each other if anyone falls, allowing us a certain level of vulnerability and to feel safe. I think of the music industry as an evolving process because every show, venue, day is so different that I cannot draw any conclusions from any one thing. Therefore, even though it’s really scary right now, I know that I am figuring things out that will eventually be a part of something bigger that feels right.
Final question: in honour of the album’s title, can you give us your ultimate and most hated karaoke track?
I think my ultimate track, not because I necessarily think it’s the best but because it always works, is ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac. And the worst, hmmm God… it’s hard because even the bad ones are kind of nice to watch fail. I guess ‘Third Eye Blind’ is always a strong choice and a train wreck.
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