Name: Lip Talk aka Sarah K. Pedinotti
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, producer
Current release: The new LIP TALK album Laughing & Eating Cake is out via Northern Spy.
Emergent Strategy - Adrienne Marie Brown
Photography by Elizabeth Pedinotti Haynes
If you enjoyed this interview with LIP TALK and would like to know more about her work, visit her on Instagram, and Facebook.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I remember starting to make up songs around age 6 when my piano teacher (who was my neighbor) moved away. I still wanted to play so I made up songs on my own when I didn’t know what to practice. Also my dad plays guitar and sings and I would learn songs and play with him any chance I had.
Around age 11, my parents opened a jazz club in Saratoga Springs, NY called One Caroline Street Bistro. We had all sorts of amazing musicians come through there including the Wynton Marsalis Band, Lee Shaw, Mose Allison, and I would regularly sit in with the bands. Mostly singing jazz standards, sometimes improvising. In my late teens I started putting bands together and playing original music.
What drew me to music/sound? I felt it was alive, it was magic and it transported me. I was relatively shy growing up and bussing tables and talking with customers was challenging. But when I got to play music I felt connected to myself. Inside a song I felt I could access other worlds.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I was obsessed with Billie Holiday as a child. I studied her phrasing and soaked it up. She was my favorite. So naturally I emulated her for awhile. I remember singing "God Bless The Child" one night at the restaurant and there was an old man standing on the ramp by the stage with his drink. When I was done he said, “that was good, but I’d like to hear you sing it next time.” He had an Irish accent so it felt extra cinematic. And it stuck with me and got me to think differently about what I was doing. I was probably 13 and still emulating all the singers I loved (Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Patsy Cline) so I needed to hear that at that time.
Life experience, expanding my community, writing and performing my own songs, all have definitely helped me find my voice. But the process of experimenting while recording and producing my own songs has probably done the most for me as far as self-discovery.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
My sense of identity is very fluid, I feel different everyday. Being fluid allows me to be creative as a way of life.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I think being told “no,” by (mostly) older white male musicians in Saratoga Springs was my biggest challenge.
I love to collaborate and when I was younger I used to think these musicians and producers were gatekeepers and knew something I didn’t know (rules about what to do and not do in the industry.) I was always a bit experimental leaning and I think it was hard for them to see me outside of the binary and take a “young girl” with different ideas seriously. That was extremely frustrating to me because I also looked up to many of them and learned from them.
But getting into recording and producing on my own allowed me to deeply connect with what I was making and find a new outlet to be free in.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Way back when, my earliest DAW was Digital Performer and I used Reason to make drum sequences, I also used GarageBand. Now I use Logic, mainly because it was an easy switch from GarageBand and all these years later it’s just what I became used to.
I also know a little ProTools and Ableton which comes in handy when collaborating, but I need to spend a lot more time in those DAWS to get where I am with Logic. It’s just the one I’m most comfortable in.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Getting into electronic music and recording myself changed the way I wrote music. I used to write with one instrument, I’d pick up a guitar and strum some chords or work a song idea out on the piano and play it.
But when I started collaborating with the computer, things changed. My songs became less linear and story-like, I embraced the abstract and randomness of mistakes. When I started using samplers to play things live - different possibilities started opening up.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I like to stay up late and get silly. It’s life-giving to belly laugh. I love to write with my friends. In Kalbells it’s become part of our band culture to jam, sing, make delicious food together, doodle and draw and then we might record ourselves when it gets good.
It’s also been important to me to collaborate with photographers. I’ve been working on an on-going exercise where people submit photos to me and I write a song while looking at them. For me songwriting and photography are very related and looking at an image someone captured with intention sparks my imagination.
I have two photograph songs on the new album, Laughing & Eating Cake, "Bargain Day" inspired by a Tim Davis photo and "More", which was born out of a photograph Ian Chang sent me while he was on tour in Spain.
I recently started collaborating with my sister, photographer, Elizabeth Pedinotti Haynes and we’re making a lot of deep discoveries through the process of connecting on an artistic level. She’s on fire right now making incredible art everyday while raising 2 boys and writing poetry that makes my hair stand up. We made two music videos together (Running In Place and Precious) and I feel it’s just the beginning of a lifetime of meaningful collaboration. Right now I’m living for the creative possibilities we have yet to discover.
Another special collaborator in my life is my cousin, photographer, Desmond Amanda Picotte. We’ve been playing dress-up and taking photos since we were kids and our work together has grown out of that free, playful place. They shot three music videos for me for the new album, More, King and Marie. They’re a total badass. I’m grateful.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
The only thing I’m consistent with is that I drink water & tea every morning. Sometimes I’ll drink coffee in the afternoon. I wish I could say I meditate and do yoga everyday but I don’t.
I’ve lived in 5 different places since the pandemic and think I’m still getting my bearings. Right now everyday is different. My relationships are important to me. I have a big family. Sometimes I need to hide in order to get my shit done. I’m learning balance, I’m learning boundaries, I’m learning to care about myself and to believe in my vision, I’m learning about being an imperfect human, part of a damaged humanity. It gets weird sometimes but I’ve made it through the end of each day so far.
Making music, art, or writing helps. Playing alone, writing something new, or practicing can center me. And if I’m feeling restless, it’s usually because I can’t find enough alone time to play, think and create freely.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I put out a self-released album, available only on Bandcamp called imperfectionist in March of this year. It’s a collection of raw demos that I wouldn’t normally share. I decided to put them out because I needed money and Bandcamp was (and still is) waiving artist fees once a month on Fridays. It was a really important moment for me to see that things don’t have to be wrapped up all perfectly to be valid, and that letting people into my messy, vulnerable process of making art can be a relief and a release. It helped me feel more connected to my community. The response I got from imperfectionist lifted my spirits (and helped pay for my official full-length album to be mastered.) I put out a follow up Bandcamp exclusive EP (glam filter, imperfections vol. II) in April.
In a way I think it prepared me for making my official release because I wrote and recorded Laughing & Eating Cake so fast. I wasn’t precious about it. I just did it and learned how to edit music videos in the process. Making and editing video has been another fun/messy creative outlet for me. I learned I can be an amateur and still make cool shit.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Playfulness is key for me. Practicing, staying curious, trying new things. For me, it looks like hiding my phone and shutting a door. Having good snacks around, staying hydrated, allowing myself to be non-judgmental and to create for the joy of it, without the pressure or intention of sharing it. What I’m making is about the process of uncovering and discovering and I try to keep it that simple.
Some strategies include, going for a walk, eating a lot of chocolate, just doing whatever my body wants me to do, then I come back to whatever I was doing and play around.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I think making music has always been about healing and reconnecting for me. Playing and deeply grooving with others, especially with other women and people outside the binary has been healing and grounding in my life. There’s a lot of wisdom in that exchange.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
It’s gross when privileged people get notoriety, credit, and (even more) capital when they borrowed the culture and symbols of another. And this happens because we live within a hierarchy that still dishes out rewards (however subtle or blatant) based on a foundation of colonial-capitalist exploitation. Cultural appropriation happens when the person or entity doing it is doing so from a position of power.
In the US, we are living on stolen land. It’s a fact, and yet not everyone can admit that. The US has never rolled out any formal plans for reparations when our country, economy and it’s culture has been built by enslaved people, whose rights were dissolved within a system that threatens them in an on-going, ugly power cycle that’s still churning and burning today.
So this is what this question gets me to think about. It’s not a question about borrowing symbols so much as it’s about inequitable power structures being evaded. It’s about us repressing our ancestral trauma instead of actively trying to heal and learn from it.
Human beings need to exchange and grow together and culture is an ever-evolving collective project. The crime is the fact that racism, sexism and homophobia still fester, passed down through systems of white supremacy and oppression that haven’t been dealt with and at a personal and then communal level.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
When I was a kid I used to automatically connect a flavor to a sound. For example when I heard Ella Fitzgerald, I’d taste vanilla frosting. It was immediate and part of the way I experienced the sound.
That doesn’t happen to me so much anymore but I definitely still feel the overlap between senses. My photograph songs are an example of this. I definitely see, taste, feel and sense things when I’m listening to or making music and vice versa. I like to score podcasts and film for this reason. Or write anything based on a prompt from the other senses.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I guess my approach to art is my approach to being a person. Right now it’s to live more and more freely and give less fucks where less fucks should be given. (i.e. what people think, social media, being in the endless hamster wheel of perceived productivity.) Also to demand more fucks where more fucks are needed (i.e. BLM, climate crises, LGBTQIA+ Indigenous and women’s rights, Immigrant rights.)
And to be present with myself and others. Allow myself space to be curious.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
It’s all fleeting, all the time, here and gone. Dive in with your whole heart.