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INTERVIEW: Peggy Sarlin

Hi Peggy, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Hey, VENTS, thanks for asking! 1I’ve been stoked. My new album, Let There Be Love, just came out, and I’m thrilled with the reaction it’s getting. Plus, I’ve got a big show in New York on October 20th  at The Triad. All good things!

Link to hear Let There Be Love: https://peggysarlin.hearnow.com/

Link for The Triad tickets: https://bit.ly/2paeXm9

Can you talk to us more about your album track “Midnight Detective”?

Absolutely. I think I may have invented a genre with Midnight Detective, which I’m calling film noir blues. It’s slinky, suspenseful, and almost sounds like something out of a James Bond film. Definitely a soundtrack vibe with a plangent baritone guitar to punch it along, as the lyrics take you down dangerous alleys, amidst lurking shadows and bone-chilling screams. Yet somehow it’s fun, at the same time.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

I’ve been a scriptwriter for many television shows, and I often think in stories.  The title “Midnight Detective” popped into my head and I began to picture myself as a detective in a Humphrey Bogart-style movie. Now if there’s a detective, there’s got to be crime. So I asked myself – who’s the murder victim in this story? And the answer came to me: Love. “Who killed Love? I’m going to take you down.” So it’s kind of a metaphysical film noir blues, which I really enjoyed writing and singing. I find it vivid and unusual.

Are there any plans to release a video for the single, or for other tracks from your album?

Jeff Franzel, one of the producers on the album, is urging me to make a video of Midnight Detective. The song is so visual that it almost creates a video in your head. OK, you talked me into it. I’ll make a video of Midnight Detective!

The song comes off your new album Let There Be Love – what’s the story behind the title?

I often listen to music before I fall asleep, because sometimes it inspires me to wake up with a song starting to flow.  I was staying overnight in Sausalito (I’m a New Yorker), when I woke up singing the first two lines completely formed: “Let there be light on your face in the morning sun; Let there be children dreaming when the day is done.” I just followed where that thread led me and out came “Let There Be Love,” a song that means a lot to me. I tried to reflect the feeling of “What A Wonderful World,” the classic Louis Armstrong track.  That song was written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss in 1967 to offer a musical balm to a troubled time. Our own time has its troubles and I kept that feeling in mind as I wrote the song and also during the production. “Let there be love; let there always, always be love….Don’t forget love.”

How was the recording and writing process for this project?

A lot of work and a lot of fun! I sat down with my three producers – Jeff Franzel, Paul Frazier, and Steve Williams – and we selected ten of my songs to record. I write so much that it’s a bit painful for me to choose just ten songs, but there’s always the next album to try again. We recorded in Atomic Studios in Brooklyn, which has a warm resonant sound, with the band playing the tracks live. In addition to Jeff, Paul, and Steve, we were lucky to get Askold Buk on guitar, Etienne Lyttle on keyboards, and backup vocals by Tatiana Owens and Audrey Martells.  The mixing was done by Eber Pinheiro and mastering by Fred Kevorkian.

Why did you choose to enter the studio with these three producers? How did each one influence the album?

Jeff produced my first album, Friends and Family, and I trust him. He called and said, “This time, we’re bringing in Steve and Paul to co-produce, because we’ve formed a team.” Wow, what a team! Jeff is a superb pianist; Paul is a top bass player, and Steve commands the drums. But they possess talent far beyond their instrumental mastery. Paul, for instance, is great at vocals, whether giving feedback on performance or arranging background harmonies. Steve is brilliant at “Big Picture Thinking” and came up with the general approach to this record, influencing the song selection and arrangement philosophy.

How have tragedy and personal challenges served as sources of inspiration for your music?

My husband had a stroke in 2012, and the emotional turmoil of that situation propelled me back into writing songs.  I started out as a singer-songwriter, signed with a major label, and enjoyed hearing my work sung by Bette Midler and Patti LuPone. But for practical reasons, I set aside music and focused on writing. I’ve been a scriptwriter for many children’s television shows, which is tremendous fun. And I’ve also produced and hosted two big docuseries on brain health, and written their accompanying books.

When my husband suddenly became disabled, music became my lifeline. I really believe that writing songs saved my sanity. I’m always thinking about how to turn what I’m living through into a song, so I can channel my emotion into something positive.

Some songs on Let There Be Love directly express pain, such as Every Kind of Lonely and I Can’t Stop the Sun. But most songs on the album are happy, because I love to escape my current reality by writing romantic love songs. For instance, Jasmine Perfume takes me to another world where I can write myself a happy ending.

What made you want to go for a more Blues direction in this new collection of songs?

I call my music “blues-infused” because I love the earthy, sly, blazingly honest feeling of the blues. I’m also a big fan of the Great American Songbook and of the master lyricists of that era. I like to take inspiration from their sophisticated lyrical approach and combine it with bluesy music.

Do you remember learning about the periodic table of the elements in your chemistry class? When I write a song, I feel like I’ve got a periodic table of musical elements to choose from. For me, blues is the oxygen on my musical periodic table.

Do you tend to take a different approach when you are collaborating, as opposed to working/writing/performing on your own?

Music is a series of collaborations. When I write a song, I’m collaborating – in a sense – with all the great artists who inspire me, even if they’ve been dead for decades. Chopin, Ray Charles, and the Gershwin Brothers can all show up for my songwriting session to weigh in on what should happen next.

After I write a song, I bring it to Jeff, who draws on his rich musicianship to help create the arrangement. Then it goes to the producers, the band, the recording engineers, and the mix masters, who all contribute their formidable talents. I try to stay open to every suggestion, while holding fast to my own instincts and taste.

What aspects of love did you aim to explore on this record?

Every aspect of love fascinates me, because love is the most powerful force on earth.  I wrote songs of yearning – like California Kiss and Take Me To The Land of Loving; songs of seal-the-deal commitment like Happiest Ever After; and songs of philosophical musing like The Deepest Satisfaction.

One song that people often comment on is Porcupine Papa, which is kind of a humorous plea for respect: “Porcupine Papa, don’t play so rough with me. If you want to make love, make love carefully.” I was inspired by the classic joke: How do porcupines make love? Very carefully.

Any plans to hit the road?

Hey, everyone, please join me at The Triad in New York on Saturday, October 20th! My Smokin’ Hot Band will be there to fire up the evening, and I do plan to totally rock your world. Also upcoming is my first-ever show in Los Angeles, and possibly San Francisco, and I’ll let you know more about them as soon as I can. I love to perform!

Link for The Triad tickets: https://bit.ly/2paeXm9

What else is happening next in Peggy Sarlin’s world?

I’m in talks to write a musical, which is hugely exciting on many levels. And, of course, I’m always writing songs, so I can’t wait to record a new album in 2019. I’m already planning it in my mind…

In the meantime, please keep in touch with updates through my website (www.peggysarlin.com) And follow me on Facebook and Instagram @peggysarlin. Looking forward to it all!

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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