Name: Sarah Filleur aka Sarasara
Occupation: Electronic singer- songwriter, producer, PhD in Experimental Philosophy of Art and Technology
Recent release: Sarasara's Sarasara x Serge Gainsbourg EP is out via One Little Independent.
Recommendations: A book: Small is Beautiful. By visionary philosopher E Schumacher. He argues that the only viable way for humanity to survive is small scale technology and circular economy. It was published in 1973 and he describes with scary precision everything we are going through right now with the technological/environmental crises. It’s quite fascinating.
Another book I’m reading at the moment: Orwell’s Roses. It’s a beautiful biography of George Orwell by Rebecca Solnit. She talks about the not-so-known fact that he was passionate about gardening and flowers. He actually loved roses and all his work was inspired by his garden. All his thinking process and best ideas came from the observation of Nature and Plants life cycle. A very well written, fresh and agreeable read.
If you enjoyed this interview with Sarasara and would like to find out more about her work, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Music has always been in my life in some way, shape or form but I guess my first memorable experience was when I started studying the piano at the conservatory. I was probably 8 or 9 years old. You have to do 3 long years of theory before touching the actual instrument. I did it but I remember I was really bored. I didn’t have the patience the other kids had. It was too conventional for me, I was more into experimenting and making stuff.
One day, without telling me, my dad got me a Yamaha DX, it was so big I could’t carry it myself. I had no idea what I was doing with it but it sounded so cool, I was having fun and played with it non stop for months. I never went back to the school after that.
I guess you could call that the first apex moment. I think it somehow depicts the rest of my journey as a musician. I don’t really fit in any kind of mould, or group, or genre. I don’t have a classical music education, I am led by intuition and experiment more than conventional stuff when I write music.
I also need constant change to feel like I’m evolving as a person and as an artist. Change of scenery, change people, change vibe. It feels disruptive in the beginning but it’s necessary to get out of your comfort zone, not to feel like you’re stuck in a rut.
Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
For me, music and sound are part of the process of body memory. I can remember very precisely smell, touch and music I was listening to, and associate them with a precise life moment. Sometimes I like to daydream and go back, be nostalgic and feel the feelings again. Sometimes, I find some lyrics and melodies so powerful, I can also feel them in my heart and it makes me cry. Music can also make me feel anger, rage, sadness, motivation … Depending on what kind of energy the artist poured into it and what mood I am in.
I guess for me, it is a powerful tool to convey emotions and allow you to travel outside of your own tight skimpy experience. I think you can really feel the difference when music has been made without being felt by the artist, when it’s not personal, when it’s not authentic.
To me, music is a matter of empathy and compassion. It’s an invisible web of energy that links us all. We can feel each other through music. We relate, as humans, to someone else’s experience, painful, joyful or ecstatic. Music has the power to make you jump into someone else’s skin for a couple of minutes. It has the power to wake up your own memories.
Have you ever heard about Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto and the water experiment ? He exposed glasses of water to different sounds, words and music and then analysed their frozen form proving that its constitution had been drastically modified. Music is a powerful force. We should be careful what we expose ourselves to.
From the point of view of the artist, I think it requires radical honesty and the strength to share a sincere experience, radical feelings and bare soul. It requires a work of self enquiry. It is getting naked emotionally and intellectually. Several times. In front of yourself first, people you work with and the audience. Repeatedly. That’s where the difficulty lies, it’s a difficult challenge. It is excruciating, but it’s also the only way. I don’t think everyone is capable of this.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
In terms of interests and challenges, I suppose they come hand in hand. If it’s not challenging, it’s not interesting, right?
When it comes to music and art in general, I experience there are usually several steps in the process of going after things I’m interested in. It starts with an idea I have in mind, something I want to achieve, that seems completely out of reach, very far away, even to me. I get obsessed, do a lot of research and start to take little steps towards the goal, trying to make it happen, mind mapping, reaching out to people.
You get a lot of NOs and failures so it’s tough, challenging, and you can doubt yourself a lot. Luckily, I have a strong willpower so I don’t stop to people saying no to me or things failing. It actually has the opposite effect, it fuels my obsession and my will to make things happen even more, I become even more hyper focused. At least in the beginning. Then usually comes the phase when things are still not working out and I feel like I’m trying too hard so I have to let go. I don’t want to pursue it anymore, I’m done, I’m tired.
Usually that’s when the universe sorts out things for me, magically. You just suddenly find at the right place at the right time, meeting the right people and things start to flow again towards the idea. Everything is back on the table, you just had to get out of the way for a little while. I experience also that when you're really wanting to surrender it to the Universe, the idea goes beyond what you had in mind in the first place, the project takes it’s own dimension, beyond expectations. It’s quite fascinating to observe.
When it comes to personal voice, literally, it took me quite some time to become aware of my own voice. I was really shy in the beginning, like a little butterfly extending its wings for the first time. I didn’t know my potential, I didn't know it was there in me and how to use it. Fortunately, I met great teachers along the way and I am lucky that I have a little group of people supporting me unconditionally, bringing light on what I am capable of every time I doubt myself. I feel a bit more confident now thanks to them. I wouldn't be there without them.
I still have insecurities though. Voice, body etc … It is always hard and sometimes painful for me to sing in front of people, or hear my own voice, or see myself on a screen. I just get out there and do it but self image really has been and still is huge challenge to this day. I never listen to my own music or watch my own films once they’re out there.
If we talk of personal voice as style or genre, I don’t know, and I don’t really care, I just try to be myself. I don’t have time to think about these things. I leave it to people to judge me and put me in a box. I always hate when people ask me what kind of music I make. I think it’s a stupid question. I makes me feel trapped.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
Sense of identity is something I started to question when I left my country, France, to go and live abroad when I was in my 20s.
I lived in Belgium, in Romania, in the UK and I am now in Spain. At the beginning, being in full immersion in a foreign country and culture, not knowing anything or anyone, felt quite exciting. When I moved to Margate in the UK, I hadn’t been speaking my native language or been in touch with the French culture for a very long time and I met a radically different Anglo-Saxon culture. After a while, I was really starting to feel the call of my origins and roots. I started to feel homesick even though I was not aware of it at that time. I think that is why, subconsciously, my second album Orgone, written there, came out in French.
I then moved to Bristol and without looking for it, found a big French expat community there. A couple of people from that group became very close friends and I suddenly found myself hanging out in a French environment again, speaking the language, eating the food, tasting the wines, sharing culture references, it felt really good. It felt like home. I was feeling really proud to be French. I realised that it was an important and incompressible part of who I was, a part of my identity. It makes me respect, listen to and watch more French music and cinema, which I wasn’t especially doing before. I read more in French also. I appreciate the language more, its subtleties, its beauty and depth.
Sense of identity can be questioned from other perspectives. From the point of view of what I do as a job, it has been a struggle to consider myself an artist, a professional artist, a full time artist. I am still questioning this regularly. For various reasons.
The first one being that it is very difficult to make a living out of it these days. Everyone wants and needs art, but no one wants to pay for it. Culture is always the last thing to be considered and financed by governments. Because of digital capitalism, art in 2022 doesn’t have any kind of value so you have to find other ways to make it work, find other streams of income.
The second one is that the status of artist is not recognised legally. Art schools exist but that is as far as it goes. When it comes to practice art as a career, we have no rights, no protection, no security, we do not exist officially anywhere. All of this doesn’t help with self confidence and choice making. It prevents the industry from thriving. It only results in the very precarious and anxiety-inducing system we are currently in.
With my research, I am interested in looking at the way French and Irish people are developing and working on the concept of Universal Basic Income for art workers. The systems are far from perfect but I believe we are witnessing the premises of systemic change, towards the recognition of a legal status and basic rights for the arts, towards a more sustainable industry. I am currently working on an activism campaign with the federation of electronic music artists in the UK to raise awareness around this fundamental issue.