Unique And Powerfully Vulnerable: We Interview Sarah Schonert

Ryan: You have just released your album titled “My Unwinding State”, how long did this album take to make?

Sarah: I spent over 2 years recording and pulling together this particular album.


Ryan: Is there an official or (unofficial) single for the album?

Sarah: Unofficially it would be “Break Me Down” or “Maybe I.”

Ryan: Where do you gather inspiration from?

Sarah: Mostly it is a feeling, sight, or phrase that sparks a scene in my head. I then create lyrics, music, and a soundscape around that vision to make it clearer.

Ryan: Are there any plans to make a music video for one of the songs?

Sarah: I just very recently released a video for “Break Me Down” which is on YouTube.  I am considering one or two more.


Ryan: There is a strong classical element to your music, where did the idea of blending synthesizers with a piano come from?

Sarah: This came from a lot of experimenting with some suggestions by a fellow musician in Peoria I sought out kind of like a coach when I first started recording. He really pushed me out of my comfort zone, off of my piano and into some software to play with different sounds.

Ryan: I heard some David Bowie influence within the album, is this just me? And do you have any artists that helped inspire the sound of this album at all?

Sarah: I do listen to a lot of David Bowie so it would follow that he would definitely have influenced my style, particularly vocals. I also am constantly inspired by Imogen Heap. She’s fearless in layering her voice and using digital elements. Then there was the The Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens which I believe managed to creep into my aesthetic from listening to it countless times over the past two years. And then Andrew Bird’s approach to lyrics transformed the way I think about words and phrases, and is actually who I refer to as “boy” in “WaterWings” as my musical muse.

Ryan: What does your song writing process look like?

Sarah: Generally, words come first in the process. Then I move to the piano. Sometimes writing on piano is independent of the words and yet still calls to mind the same feelings and visions as a set of lyrics, so I marry the two. Other times I set lyrics on the piano and just start playing, allowing it all to just flow together. Once I think I have what I want for the basic chords and piano riffs truly mulled, I start working on other instrumentation. If I feel stuck, I move to a different song or project for a while.

Ryan: How long have you been making music for?

Sarah: I have been writing on and off as well as performing for a couple of decades but didn’t really sit down to write with any seriousness until 2012. I’d been writing a lot of lyrics and melodies and was searching for someone to collaborate with when I realized that I could write the music for myself. When I think about it, it should have been obvious to me since I’ve been playing piano most of my life.

Ryan: What advice do you have for new artist looking to make their own first album?

Sarah: Take your time – don’t rush – to be sure you are satisfied with the quality of your work. And definitely find a small group (just a few people) you trust to give you honest, constructive feedback.

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Ryan: Is there a specific them that runs through the album?

Sarah: Each song had to fit around two of the pieces that I felt anchored the aesthetic of the album, “Hit Save” and “Trade My Smile,” which are meant to be companion pieces. If a song didn’t seem like it belonged with those ideas, pictures, and sounds, it wasn’t used. By the end of it, it was a feeling that I want to flow through the album, like a rainy day dotted with occasional bursts of sunlight.

Ryan: How would you describe your music to someone that has not heard it before?

Sarah: I often call it “eclectic electronic,” and stress that at the heart of my pieces is a strong keyboard theme surrounded by electronic elements, synths, the occasional vocoder, and layered vocals.

Ryan: Many artists focus on poetic lyrics that keep to metaphors and such, while you say it straight. Is this a focused effort, or just the natural way that you create lyrics?

Sarah:  I’ve actually been told in the past that I’m too cryptic, which is more my tendency. I think the key, and maybe what you are picking up on, is that I sometimes mix the metaphors with some very candid statements. Some songs need to be honest in the main message, and forcing lyrical convolution too far muddies the picture. For example, “Laundry Day” switches between direct statements and poetic descriptions (but for the record, that song has nothing to do with laundry). “Maybe I” is similar in that approach. Other songs, like “Hit Save,” “Shadows Don’t Listen” and “Back Down Soon Under Steady Rain” are strings of metaphors (my main mode of operation), but they also contain my self-portraits as well as a portrait of my best friend. Some songs are also not what many people think they are of course. I also stacked the front of the album with my more direct (or seemingly direct) pieces on purpose. The further one goes into the album, the more dreamlike the lyrics become, and, save for “Maybe I”, the back half becomes much less straight forward.


Ryan: Lastly, and thank you for your time. Do you have any news that you would like to share with your fans?

Sarah: Thank you as well!  I’m currently working through finding venues in Illinois to play later this year and next as well as another collection of “Because” instrumental pieces in the works that I’ll release in time for the holidays.

Sarah can be found on Facebook, Soundcloud, and her official site.

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