Sarah Jaffe, on the Map



Sarah Jaffe’s Suburban Nature is a total blast of a record—an earnest chunk of well-honed bedroom folk with at least one end-of-year-list-ready single (“Clementine”) and a diverse range of thumping, propulsive guitar music. You could describe it as countrified Rilo Kiley, but that undersells Jaffe’s talent for songcraft and unique, gorgeous drawl of a voice.  When we talked to Jaffe this week, she was crossing the Tennessee-Kentucky border in anticipation of her East Coast tour.

BRENDON BOUZARD: You’re from Texas.

SARAH JAFFE: I grew up a little south of Dallas.

BOUZARD: What was your experience like growing up in the Texas suburbs?

JAFFE: When I was younger—in elementary school—my parents are both teachers, so we moved around a lot. For the most part we always lived, before we settled south of Dallas, we always lived in the outskirts of city suburbs, kind of in these weird, desolate neighborhoods. Very brown and flat settings. I love Texas, I love the openness.

BOUZARD: You eventually moved to Denton, which is the hottest music scene in Texas—did you go to the University of North Texas?

JAFFE: No, I just moved there. My best friends were living up there, and it was relatively close to my family. I had gotten to know the music scene there, and just fell in love with it. I’ve lived there a little over four years now. There’s a charm to Denton. The musicians in Denton are all very talented, but they’re also all very accessible and very community-oriented.

BOUZARD: You’ve been touring pretty much nonstop in support of Suburban Nature. And you’re starting a new East Coast tour this weekend.

JAFFE: We’re actually on our way to Pittsburgh right now.

BOUZARD: Are you driving?

JAFFE: We are. We stayed in Memphis last night, Columbus tonight, and Pittsburgh’s about a three-hour drive after that.

BOUZARD: So what state are you in right now?

JAFFE: We’re leaving Tennessee as we speak.

BOUZARD: Do you have time in there to work on new material?

JAFFE: More recently—maybe it’s the feeling of momentum and constant movement—I’ve been writing a lot. Usually when I’m in the van or if there’s downtime, I’ll just mess around in GarageBand and work out melodies or ideas I’ve had in my head. There was a period where I creatively plateaued and wasn’t writing at all. But I have been creatively a bit more inspired lately—it has everything to do with moving and being in motion.

BOUZARD: What are you planning to do with your new songs, as far as a release?

JAFFE: Well, I’m working out with my label to release an EP of lo-fi recordings digitally, or on seven-inch with a digital download card, sometime in the next six months or so.

BOUZARD: Do you have a name yet?

JAFFE: I don’t! Right now I’m tentatively calling it The Way Sound Leaves a Room.

BOUZARD: I like that. What’s the process of writing new material been like? What’s the germ of a song?

JAFFE: Lately I haven’t been able to write for the guitar—it’ll usually start out with a melody on the bass, and I’ll layer vocals. I just can’t really physically hear the guitar anymore, so I’ll just go into GarageBand and play around with the keys. I’ll sit on a melody or some lyrics for a really long time and just play with it.

BOUZARD: What led you down the path of becoming a singer-songwriter?

JAFFE: I guess I wanted to emulate the artists that my parents were listening to when I was growing up. I’ve always had this affinity for folk music, and music in general, for as long as I can remember. So as soon as I could start playing shows, I did. And my parents were really supportive of me the entire time.

BOUZARD: Who did you grow up listening to?

JAFFE: My dad was always listening to Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, James Taylor—those were always the staples.

BOUZARD: What sort of stuff have you been reading lately?

JAFFE: Right now I’m reading this book of letters between Eleanor Roosevelt and her journalist, Lorena Hickok. They had this weird, unstated love affair for fifty years. They’re such beautiful letters, and of course no one understood their relationship at the time. It’s really fascinating.