As musicians, we yearn to create, whether it’s through composing, crafting an individual sound or flipping a beloved piece on its head to make something that’s never been heard before. We long to breathe life into new ideas and to share stories that have not yet been told. In doing so, we create something that speaks to our shared experience, something that helps make sense of our world. But sometimes our educational institutions can muddle the realm of creation and recreation, preparing students to replicate that which already exists rather than foster personal creativity.
re/CREATE, an interview series from 21CM, provides a glimpse into the minds of musicians who create sounds unique to their own voice while celebrating the artists and traditions that have most influenced them. Join 21CM and host Joe Brent each month as we celebrate some of the most innovative musicians of our day, who pay homage to the traditions they love while creating music from the heart.
In this episode, we feature violinist, singer/songwriter and composer Sarah Goldfeather, leader of the post-genre band GOLDFEATHER and the seven-piece new music ensemble Exceptet. With Joe Brent, Goldfeather performs a rendition of the song “I Bet on Losing Dogs” by Mitski. Afterwards, Goldfeather shares her thoughts on Mitski’s harmonic inventiveness and the challenges of “juggling sprinkles” within an artistic career.
JOE BRENT: It’s not just the volume of the things that you do, but the variety that I find the most impressive. Can you talk about how to balance so many different things as a professional musician?
SARAH GOLDFEATHER: I’m not even sure I’m doing it right. I use timers, I plan out my day. I try to be creative for at least part of the day and do administrative work as much as I can. I describe it as juggling sprinkles because it kind of feels like nothing really adds up. It’s just a bunch of little things and you’re trying to keep them all in the air. Right now I try to wake up in the morning and be creative right away. … If I don’t have that much time, I’ll do a pathetic 10 or 15 minutes just to say, “I did something today!” It’s the momentum. Otherwise you fall into despair – “Well I didn’t do it yesterday and I didn’t do it today.” And then you end up procrastinating.
I read a book about creativity that said there’s sort of a membrane between your creative self and your conscious self. You want to keep the creative self stimulated if you expect anything good to pierce that membrane up into the conscious self. Do you feel that way?
Yeah. Everything that I’m doing, I try to have it be something that’s enriching. I read a lot. So even if I’m just reading a science fiction book, I’ll look up words I don’t know. If there’s a line in a book I’m reading that I’m really into, I’ll write it down or underline it. … Or conversations – I wrote a song for my new album and one of the lines is “hot and cold, like a lake.” That’s from a conversation with a friend who was saying, “I feel really hot and cold, as if I’m in a lake and there are these different patches.” I thought, “That’s cool,” and that became a song. Everything can be inspiration.
Tell us about this song you just performed. What was it about this song or Mitski’s music in general that spoke to you?
I love Mitski. She’s a musical hero of mine. [Throughout] that whole album, “Puberty 2,” I love how she upsets expectations and will boldly modulate to a new key. Including in [“I Bet On Losing Dogs”] – that transition out of the instrumental.
That B-flat chord before the second verse is so great.
Yeah. It’s funny, I’m not such a lyrics-listener, not to be so simplistic [but] often people listen more to the music or more to the lyrics. I think that Mitski is a perfect combination of both. She’s not the greatest guitar player – I think she’d be the first to admit it – but she works within her own skillset in such a creative way, which I find to be very inspiring. Sometimes if you have too many skills, it’s like, why don’t you narrow it down?
For a lot of people it’s like the technique gets in the way of the craft.
Exactly. In saying that I’m not trying to denigrate her at all. I’m saying it as a good thing. But also her lyrics are so heart-breaking and relatable. The song “I Bet on Losing Dogs” I heard for the first time in the summer of 2016, and it was at a time in my life when, I don’t know, my heart had been broken many times – too many times! I just kept feeling like, “Well, I’m betting on losing dogs.” I’m not sure what her exact story for those lyrics are but it spoke to me and I listen to it a lot. It’s not even the single from the album but it’s certainly my favorite song.
Sarah, thank you so much for the performance and it’s a joy to have you here.
Thank you so much for having me.
The above interview has been edited for clarity and length.