A singer-songwriter with equipment extending only to incredibly charming vocals and an acoustic guitar, Sarah Lettes has already started raising some eyebrows with the three tracks under her belt.
As she makes her way back from her previous singles Shooting Star and I’m Alright, she reminds us once again that making great and empathetic music is not dependent on the seemingly impeccable technical ability to juggle multiple bar chords and instruments, but in honest songwriting and utilizing that what works best for a given track. In her latest single Warm, she weaves a near five-minute acoustic folk track that is not afraid to tuck at each of the listener’s heartstrings to make it sing.
At a characteristic level, the acoustic folk number is held together with the soaring and impassioned vocal performance of Sarah Lettes coupled with arpeggio-like acoustic arrangements. Thematically, the track seems to be a celebration of life and its essential components thereof, particularly enjoyed in the camaraderie of one’s closest friends and family and all things held dear. Singer-songwriters like Sarah Lettes are not only rare because songwriting is a challenge, but also the uninhibited empathetic lyricism is all the more able to truly get under one’s harshest emotional times to offer a sense of comfort and optimism.
We reached out to Sarah Lettes for her inputs on the track, her process and her musical journey’s future. Here is how that went:
Congratulations on your latest track! How would you describe Sarah Lettes to someone getting into your discography fresh?
Thank you! I’d say it’s a raw, folky style with an emphasis on lyrics and simple guitar melodies. People have said I sound like Adrianne Lenker or Portishead, which feels a little generous to me, but I’ll aspire to that! I just started writing songs a year ago, and I’ve been messing around with genres from folk to indie rock to country to bedroom pop. So it’s a mix of everything, but these first songs are definitely on the folky-acoustic side.
What would you say are the main themes behind the acoustic number ‘Warm’? We have our own takes on this, but we’d love to know from you!
This year I’ve really been working on being present in the moment and leaning into whatever emotion I’m feeling. And when there are really good moments, I’ve been trying to really soak them in and celebrate them for what they are.
I wrote “Warm” on a cold night at the height of the pandemic. Some friends had come over that evening and we sat on my back porch wrapped in blankets. We were absolutely freezing our butts off, but we sat outside in the clear night and talked for hours. I went upstairs afterwards and just sat directly on the radiator in my room to warm up. I had my guitar and I started messing around with some major chords.
So I was in this warm mood after a lovely evening with friends. And I was physically warm because I was sitting on the radiator as I wrote the song. It ended up being a bit of a love song, but it’s really a special one to me because it’s not a love song to a particular person. It’s a love song to the friends around me who make me feel so warm and so young and so present. That’s actually why I chose it as the first song to officially release – it’s a way of expressing my gratitude for those people and those moments.
A very simple yet charming arrangement with only a unique voice and revered acoustics, guide us through your typical creative process.
For this song, I started strumming some chords that felt good to me and let the words come out. I definitely find that I write best when I’m being really true to how I’m feeling. So it usually comes down to identifying what particular emotion is begging to come out and letting that guide the song. I wrote the verses and choruses that night and let the words bounce around in my head the next day. The next evening, I edited the lyrics and added the bridge. When I sat down on my laptop to record it, I came up with the patterns for the guitar and bass.
But I try to keep my creative process different every time so that I don’t just end up writing the same song a hundred times. These days, I often write the melody before any words come out, and then I sing gibberish until some words stick. I heard that tip from Ryan Tedder and thought it sounded bonkers, but it’s a really fun way to come up with new ideas. And I keep an ongoing notepad on my phone with lyric ideas, so once I get going with a melody, I’ll start pulling ideas from that notepad.
Who would you say are your greatest musical influences? How do these influences affect your own music?
I’m deeply touched by the honesty in Adrianne Lenker’s voice, the raw emotion in Bruce Springsteen’s stories, and the eagerness of the Avett Brothers’ melodies. In many ways I feel like these artists have shaped me as a person with their lessons and wisdom. Other influences include Vampire Weekend, Phoebe Bridgers, Rostam, Julien Baker, Coldplay, Brittany Howard, Shakey Graves, Bright Eyes, the Strokes, and Caamp. At any moment in time, I’m always trying to experiment with the styles of whatever artist I’m in love with. I actually can’t even listen to my favorite artists during my 9-5 (which I luckily enjoy) because it makes me want to close my laptop and write more songs!
Three (amazing) singles already underway, what does the future of Sarah Lettes’ discography look like?
Virtually blushing, but I would say hopefully lots more to come! I’ve got about 60 songs sitting on my voice memos at the moment – some that should probably stay there forever, but some that I want to produce. Throughout 2021, I’ve been working on learning how to produce in Logic so that I can really start sharing these songs. I’m also collaborating with a couple of people on other projects that we’ll release soon. Those collaborations are called After Pluto and New Insomnia. And my dream is really to write songs for other people – for me, the magic is in creating the words, and producing the song is the way to give the words a little life outside of my head. Nothing would be cooler to me than seeing someone else take my lyrics and sing them in their own voice and style.