Sarah Segal-Lazar should have been born a princess. Not some commercialized Disney princess who disobeys her father to win the heart of her too-good-for-his-own-jawline boyfriend, nor some dainty footed precious thing that sits all day on a velvet cushion and eats tiny morsels of petit fours. She’s more like a princess out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales who ventures into the cruel world, fights some monsters, rips her dress, seduces a gypsy prince, and then finds the pair of red shoes she’s been looking for. There’s so much magic in all of Segal-Lazar’s works, whether theatrical or musical, that she has to come from a place where the impossible is possible, the unimaginable imaginable, and the mundane transcendent.
Her latest undertaking is an album of songs called Two if By Sea. Segal-Lazar is raising money to fund her album with IndieGoGo. I sat with her to talk about how she conceived of the album and the songs it contains.
She begins by explaining how the album’s name, which refers to a signal used by the Americans during the Revolutionary War (one lantern was lit if the British troops came by land, two if they came by sea — see HERE), comes from her childhood. “I love the story of one if by land, two if by sea. My dad went to university outside of Boston. All of his friends are from Massachusetts. I was inundated with Johnny Tremain. It was one of the first non-picture books I read,” she says. When she began reviewing the songs for the album with Al Lafrance, she noticed most of the songs have to do with water. “I spend a lot of time in the Maritimes. [Al and I] felt something to do with the ocean would be appropriate.”
The songs on the album don’t just refer to the ocean, of course, but draws on history, mythology, and the universal experiences of heartbreak and suffering.
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To promote the campaign and the album, Segal-Lazar is doing a #30daysofmusic campaign in which she links to a song that influenced her but also has fantastic songwriting. “I started making a list, and came up with 250 possible songs. It included Bob Dylan and Woodie Guthrie, of course, but I’d rather showcase the less famous. A lot are Canadian. A lot are women.” Among them are The Tom Fun Orchestra, Gillian Welch “a gateway country artist”, Carey Mulligan, and Brandy Clarke. “[Clarke] writes country music that makes fun of country music and writes ass kicking songs at the same time. Her song Stripes says “There’s no crime of passion worth a crime of fashion. The only thing savin’ your life is that I don’t look good in orange and I hate stripes.”
Like many roots, folk, and country singers, Segal-Lazar has a way of turning life’s lemons into art. Whether mournful, wistful, nostalgic, or upbeat, they still pull powerfully on the heart. LaFrance told her “Your songs make me sad when I’m mixing them” and podcaster/actor/all-around-everything guy Matt Goldberg noted in his podcast Edge of the City, “You’re a really happy person and you play these depressing songs.” Segal-Lazar explains, “It’s a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that I don’t have to pay for therapy because I have a guitar, a notebook, a computer, and a door on my bedroom. Everyone has their bad days, but it’s incredible how therapeutic it is to write this music. The amazing thing for me is to have people at gigs and come up and say ‘I totally get it.'” Later on, she says, “My best work comes out of moments of pain and unhappiness. You gotta own it. Art is a funny thing.”
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In particular, she’s been enchanted with a line that comes from one of her other projects: There’s nothing so bad that there can’t be some good from it. “When I heard that line,” she says, “I was like, ‘Wow, if that’s not songwriting for me in a nutshell, than nothing is.’ For most situations, there’s a tiny thing in the back of my mind that says that this is the fuel for the fire, I might be able to get a piece of writing. That’s what I keep telling myself every time there is a bump on the road, big or small.”
She recounts the complicated roots of one of the peppy songs on the new album, Streets of My Town. “At the time, I was thinking of going back to New York, but not sure, and a yoga studio that heard me sing asked me to play at their anniversary. They wanted something upbeat and celebratory. I had to write a happy song for them. This 18 wheeler truck drove by my house and it was before the corruption scandal came to light. The street opened up and truck fell into the ground. The city that I call my home is eating things.”
Home is a common theme in her work. She talks about how a song that has been affectionately nicknamed “Of Maps and Men” is about to her various “homes” in PEI, Montreal, and NY, and she questions what makes a home.
“One favorite is From Sea to Sea, where everything comes together,” she says. “Winter in Montreal is such an experience. You need to live here to get it. It’s so beautiful and sometimes you can’t leave your house because it’s so cold. I spent last winter wanting to leave and travel and I was schlepping my guitar to go and record. I was eating a rice cake and my fingers were turning bright red from the cold. I had been going through some relationship stuff. I wrote a song about this dream of leaving Montreal and traveling across Canada, but also coming to the realization, no matter where you go, there you are. You can’t escape a memory. You can leave a person and you can be somewhere, but they can still be right there with you until they’re not.” She laughs. “That’s another upper.”
Then she adds, “I spend a lot of time writing about men as one is prone to do.”
Country music, fortunately or not, has gotten her to write songs more often and explore her own style and technique. “It’s forced me not to use minor chords,” she says. The new album also includes brings in some of her friends to play. “It’s a more rounded sound,” she says.
While her songs might speak best to moments of soul-searching, self-inquiry and heart break, Segal-Lazar is a fireball in person with plenty on the horizon. She is enthusiastically researching the Dust Bowl for a blues opera she’s working on. She is working on an immersive theatre project about the last night of a Bingo group that will take place at the Centaur Theatre for the Wildside Festival in January. In the summer, she has PEI’s Island Fringe to think about.
Hopefully it’s smooth sailing on the horizon for Two if By Sea, with the album release at Grumpy’s on January 30. Segal-Lazar is excited to give people something to do in the dead of winter “and it’s near the metro.” Grumpy’s in particular is special because “It’s one of the first places I played when I moved back,” she says. “People should come and it’ll be a fun time.”
Sarah Segal-Lazar’s Indie GoGo campaign can be found HERE. The perks start at just $5, and for $25, you can get a copy of the album. Higher levels of funding include a song composed just for you, while the top level donation gets an in-home concert. The campaign ends December 19 at 11:59 PM pacific time.
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