Though the events of the last year — which started with getting dropped by Epic Records following the completion of their second album — made for a harsh lesson in the business component of the music biz, the Dead Sara’s motto remains “friends first.”
“We started out as great friends, so that’s the underlying thing. Music is secondary,” attests singer and Dead Sara co-founder Emily Armstrong. Guitarist Siouxsie Medley adds, “We’re like sisters, and we couldn’t be in this band without each other. Our relationship is intense. We’ve grown up together, grown apart, and grown back. We’ve been best friends and we’ve been strangers, but we’ve always had something, a connection, a bond, I don’t know…a passion or love that’s kept us together. We’ve been through so much the twelve years we’ve been playing music together. We’ve seen numerous rhythm sections come and go, labels and managers come and go, friends and allies come and go…so basically our entire adultish life we’ve spent side by side. It’s not always easy, but it’s nearly impossible to break.”
Complementing the sisterly love since 2009 is the rhythm section of bassist Chris Null and drummer Sean Friday (both formerly of Sonny Moore/Skrillex), who’ve been keeping the beat together since Armstrong and Medley were in their early teens. The intense rock ‘n’ roll that arises from those bonds is as fierce as the friendship. Their major-label, self-titled debut in 2012 spawned the single “Weatherman” and earned the quartet a slew of tour spots with Muse, a spot on the Warped Tour lineup, and accolades piling up from Dave Grohl, Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick, and more.
Thus, the confidence going into their second album, Pleasure to Meet You, was high, and they returned to the studio with producer Noah Shain (Atreyu, Skrillex). “Our first record was a lot wilder, and Noah was trying to capture this young band who’d never done a record, to keep us in line,” admits Armstrong. “We had a lot going on in our heads, and you’ll hear a lot of delays and effects. I wasn’t that confident as a singer-songwriter, so with the second record, after touring for a year, and getting to know each other way better — you’ll hear the harmonies, a lot less fat. It’s more about a band, and our confidence.”
Epic, however, begged to differ. “[Epic] approved the checks, there were people being fired and hired. But we were doing the record we wanted to do, and we didn’t think about that. We turned it in, and they were like, ‘Who was in charge of the record?’ We’re like, ‘No one was keeping tabs on it. Here it is.’ ” The way they tell it, the label then posed the time-worn and inevitable query: “Where’s that one big hit?” Dead Sara’s reply: “Here’s our record. Find it.”
“We didn’t think, ‘SINGLES!’ ” says Armstrong of the songs on Dead Sara. “Somebody chose it for us because they liked it, and that’s the best way for it to happen — word of mouth.”
With any luck, Pleasure to Meet You will find its audience — and, as Armstrong is wont to do, they’ll stage-dive into that audience as well, buoyed by a growing legion of fans. Despite the Epic debacle, Dead Sara’s confidence and chops are booming. “My rig has doubled in size from our first record to Pleasure to Meet You. I dance around a pedal board bigger than my body!” notes Medley, who has been playing since the age of eight, and cites influences ranging from Nirvana to Johnny Cash to T. Rex to Tupac.
One such influence would be Fleetwood Mac, whose 1979 song “Sara” gives the band their name. While women like Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie paved the way for female rockers, Armstrong and Medley are impervious to sexism and gender. “I’m a musician. It’s all I’ve ever cared about and it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” states Medley. “I’m in a band with two guys who treat me as an equal. We make music that we love. I don’t have the time or energy to be bothered by people’s ignorance about gender.”
“We really don’t take any shit,” Armstrong adds. “The way that I think we present ourselves is not necessarily cocky, but it’s not, like, wimpy. Rock ‘n’ roll is attitude. If you bring anything less than that it’s gonna show and it’s gonna be gimmicky,” she concludes. “It’s easy to [stay strong] when you’re living for the music itself. If it drives you, you can get away with anything.”
Dead Sara play the Studio at Webster Hall March 31 with the Wans and Lost in Society. Tickets are available here.
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