ABOVE: SARAH JAFFE. PHOTO COURTESY OF DYLAN HOLLINGSWORTH
Texas singer/songwriter Sarah Jaffe has done a lot of growing up since her debut album, Suburban Nature, the first single from which, "Vulnerable," she wrote while she was still in high school. Even then, Jaffe carried herself with the spirit of an old soul—but her new album, The Body Wins, shows a new shade of musical maturity for Jaffe, who created the record after returning home for the first time in two years. She has experimented more musically with the help of producer John Congleton (Explosions in the Sky, The Walkmen, St. Vincent) and with Midlake's McKenzie Smith, moving beyond straight-ahead guitar folk and into new jazz and electronic-inflected directions. The raspy and hauntingly beautiful vocals her fans value haven't gone anywhere—but everything surrounding them is bolder and richer than before.
We chatted with Sarah Jaffe about her admiration for Congleton, getting over a creative rut, and always finding new meanings within her songs.
ILANA KAPLAN: Can you tell me what The Body Wins is about?
SARAH JAFFE: Yeah. It's about a lot of different things. The title itself is about a conversation that my sister and I had. It was about a kind of relationship. It was about the doom of this one relationship. It was this lesson that sometimes love is not enough. My sister on a whim said the phrase "the body always wins," which I just thought was kind of genius. It was just very insightful, from her perspective. I just thought it was great. It was just a song title at first. I wanted to make it about a song or about a lot of different things. I just decided to use it for a lot of different things. I thought it would make a really cool record title.
KAPLAN: What were some of your main influences on this album?
JAFFE: There are a lot. Mainly I am inspired a lot by the people I play with: the musicians around me. I get a lot of influence from bands like Midlake. The drummer, McKenzie Smith, from Midlake played on the record. He's a good musician and a good person. I'm always listening anything else that anyone else listens to: Radiohead and Robyn. I just mainly wanted to make a record with a great sound. I was fortunate enough to work with people that could help me do that.
KAPLAN: How did you first decide to become a musician?
JAFFE: I just always loved music. For as long as I can remember, I just always wanted to play instruments. My parents caught onto that from a very early age. There was really nothing else I wanted to do, but play music.
KAPLAN: I think one of your most powerful songs is "Clementine." Do any of your songs off of The Body Wins hold as much meaning as that one?
JAFFE: Yeah. I feel a strong connection to each song. I don't think that I could fully make a record if I didn't. There are times where I will connect more to one song than another. With a lot of songs, it will rotate for me. There will be times where I will be completely sick of singing a song. I'll get sick of singing "Clementine" a lot, and then I'll just re-attach myself to it and find new meaning in it. I think that's true about all songs. You find new meaning in them at different time. I find a strong connection to all of them.
KAPLAN: I know you told me about the album title and what it means to you, but is there a theme that directly runs through the new record?
JAFFE: Yeah! When I was writing the record, I had just been really busy. It was a very busy year and a half to two years. I was gone all of the time and was just really, really missing home. When I finally got home and sat down, I found myself bored a lot of times. It kind of hit me really hard: the quiet, being with the family and not really knowing what to do with it. I didn't know how to figure it out or what to do with myself. I was in a creative rut too. I was just kind of hanging out. I think a lot of the record was about almost not really knowing what to do with myself and creating this whirlwind of emotions around me and stirring things up.
KAPLAN: What have you experimented more with on this record?
JAFFE: I've been playing different instruments entirely lately. All of my records are made with guitar. I just wanted to do something that was different musically for me. I wanted to challenge myself. I've been playing a lot of bass. I've been inspired more by writing around the bass rather than writing around the guitar melodies. That's how I kind of made the record. I would rough out a beat or a bass line or both at the same time, and then write the song.
KAPLAN: Will you be playing any festivals this summer?
JAFFE: I hope so! I hope to be playing as much as possible. My tour plans at the moment are very minimal, but that will change very quickly after the record comes out. I will definitely be touring.
KAPLAN: Which musicians do you look up to?
JAFFE: I think there are so many musicians that I really look up to. If we're talking about this record and what really inspired me, I just admire so much John Congleton, who produced the record as a musician and someone who knows exactly what he's doing and does it so well. He's just the busiest person I know. He works 365 days a year, and he works with so many bands. Each record that he has his hands in is just brilliant. He's also just a fabulous musician. I just really admire him.
KAPLAN: If you could collaborate with someone, who would you collaborate with?
JAFFE: I've been listening to this band Wye Oak right now. I think their latest record is beautiful. It has such a good sound.
KAPLAN: Civilian is definitely one of my favorites. All of your songs are important, but what is the most meaningful song on your album?
JAFFE: The one that is kind of all-encompassing for me is "The Way Sound Leaves a Room." I feel like it ties (the album) all together. It touches on love and relationships. It's a bittersweet song to write. I just really enjoyed writing it and singing it. It has so many meanings for me. I love all of the songs on the record. I love them all individually and equally.
SARAH JAFFE'S NEW ALBUM THE BODY WINS COMES OUT TODAY.