We’ve done a fair amount of interviews over the last couple of years, but Sarah Rose immediately diving into the topic of BDSM is very definitely a first for us. The vocalist of Atlanta-based, brilliantly named Sarah And The Safe Word didn’t go as far as to divulge the said ‘safe word’ but did give us a little insight into that eye-catching band name.
Sarah told us: “Well, I have no shame in discussing my involvement in and passion for the BDSM community – and one of the most important things you can value in any sex-positive culture is consent and communication. I think our band name pays tribute to that sentiment. Aside from that, I wouldn’t read too much into the band name – it’s there to be quirky, cheeky, mysterious, and slightly naughty – just like our music is. As far the actual safe word – take us out for a few drinks and maybe you’ll get to know it.”
The band is full of firsts for us. They include a violin and viola player among the completion of the lineup of seven members, completed by Kienan Dietrich (guitars), Susy Reyes (violin), Courtney Varner (viola), Beth Ballinger (keys), Maddox Reksten (bass) and Sam Freeman (percussion). And they identify as a ‘queer and POC-positive lineup,’ which is a new phrase on us but one that carries a really positive message.
As Maddox explains: “It means our shows are safe spaces. People of all identities, races, etc… are welcome and we strive to make them feel safe and at home at our shows. I won’t speak for everyone but I myself am a transgender man being immersed in this community and spreading that inclusive attitude to fans and everyone who attends our shows is special to me.”
While Sarah adds: “We make no secret that our band is comprised of people from different backgrounds, sexual orientations, and genders (or lack thereof). We make an effort at every show to let our audience know that no matter who you are, our show is a place where you can feel accepted and safe.”
And the intrigue only increases when it comes to the matter of Sarah And The Safe Word’s sound, which fuses haunting cabaret-esque rock music with dark pop, Southern Gothicism and demented gospel that Sarah summarises as “eccentric, haunted and wild.” Indeed, the band proudly proclaim they are more than au fait with swiftly taking people from “What the fuck is this?” to “This is fucking awesome.”
There’s more than a hint of Panic! At The Disco about their sound, but there’s much more substance to it than that. For example, the fantastic The Louisville Shuffle (RIP), from last month’s EP Red Hot and Holy, opens up with jaunty strings supported by bursts of brass then cool vocals with supporting strings that build up into an edgy, rocky, singalong chorus that you can’t help but bounce along with. The pace drops down after the second verse, then a call of “bass” sees a naughty little bassline come in then call and answer of the chorus vocals, before bursting back into a final lively chorus featuring all manner of instrumental chaos in the background. Check it out in the video below:
And the EP’s title track is indicative of their love for the dramatic, opening up with a crash of noise then a gradually building verse that bursts into a big singalong chorus “Red hot and holy, Could you touch me like you told me, Low down and lonely, You can give me that something that I don’t need, Red hot and holy, How can you judge me don’t even know me, I’m low down and lonely, All you can give me is everything I don’t need.” Check it out in the very cool video below:
While Dead Girls Tell No Tales has something of a pirate shanty song about it with a cool strings led intro dropping into a cool singalong verse, with distorted guitars jumping in then the strings return. They even throw an accordion in as the song ramps up, showcasing their ability to do the completely unexpected.
And the rockiness comes to the fore on Formula 666, with a distorted guitar riff and driving drums supporting Sarah’s engaging opening vocals. A second chorus drops into big guitar riffs that feed into spoken vocals then big strings in the background, before huge screamed vocals give way to an extended guitar solo. Like the rest of the EP it’s totally random, but completely awesome.
As Sarah describes their sound: “A little spooky, a little vintage, a little strange, a little macabre. We’re an old 1930s album hiding in the corner of a back alley record store in New Orleans. Nobody’s really sure how we got there, but if you take us home – there’s a 99% chance that your house will be haunted.
“We wanted this record to feel like a night at an old grindhouse movie theatre. Each song is its own little self-contained universe, and our goal was that it takes the listener on a journey. The world is pretty bleak right now – so my biggest hope is that when people listen to it, they have as much fun as we did making it.”
Their music may sound upbeat and uplifting but there is a certain darkness lingering underneath. On their musical inspiration, Sarah expands: “I love the transformative nature of a song and its ability to transport the listener. So much of this EP was fixated on telling little miniature stories and painting settings in people’s minds. Beyond that, I think I’ve always tried to relate my lyrics to my own journeys in discovering who I am and working through my struggles.
“Our first EP, Afterlife, came from a vulnerable time in my life when I was hurting from a bad breakup and just starting to recover from a suicide attempt. Our 2017 LP Strange Doings in the Night came out of me trying to rediscover myself, my voice, and who I was. In a lot of ways, this EP feels as though I’m looking back on the past five years of my life and able to acknowledge that I survived all of that. The consistent narrative thread in all of the songs is one of confidence and self-awareness. I felt very strongly that the last song on the EP end on an empowered note, which I hope Lit Cigarette accomplishes.”
For no particular reason, when I started watching American Football I adopted Atlanta Falcons as my team but haven’t manage to visit yet, so I was keen to get the band’s thoughts on their local music scene. Sarah told us: “Oh, wow! Bless you for being a Falcons fan. For people who don’t know, I’m the biggest Falcons fan in the band, and it often stokes a friendly rivalry between myself and our bassist, Maddox, who is a dirty, disgusting New England Patriots fan. I love him in spite of it.
“The blunt truth about Atlanta music is that it is a thriving music community that exists in spite of the city, not because of it. I think there’s a general lack of appreciation from the powers-that-be within the city towards the cultural history of music in Atlanta (the most recent thing that comes to mind is the gentrification of North Avenue), but I’m incredibly proud that our city has such a resilient collective of artists who continue to create and innovate.”
While Maddox adds: “Atlanta’s music scene is full of talent, it’s crazy. There’s a huge variety of genres too. Many of the bands are family and we try our best to lift one another up and support everyone.”
The band are planning to tour the east coast of the US again in early 2019 and have tentative plans to release a few standalone singles in the meantime. While asked if there’s anything else they’d like to discuss, Sarah replies: “Michael Dukakis for President in 2020.” Which means nothing to me, I have no idea who he is.
What I do know is that Sarah And The Safe Word not only sound like they should be an awesome band, they also are an awesome band. So if you’re up for broadening your musical and… ahem… sexual horizons, give them a go.