Oct 06

Sarah Kinsley + Ha Vay

Sarah Kinsley,

Ha Vay,
Union Stage All Ages
Doors 7PM | Show 8PM

About the event

Sarah Kinsley

New York’s Sarah Kinsley is fascinated by creating imaginary worlds and alternate realities. She tries to conjure these with her music, but it requires the unlocking of one’s imagination to really go there. Sarah encourages you to try it though. We all need an escape.

To that end, Sarah’s first album is called “Escaper”, and to which world you choose to escape is ultimately your own decision. This is vibrant, bold, beautiful music that confronts death and loss, the decimation of old friendships, romantic love’s shortcomings compared to the love shared with close friends, and fraught relationships that flourished and then fizzled. It sounds hugely confident, a real body of work. “A huge way of how I get through life and pain and horrible experiences is through the creation of these spaces where you can become someone else as a distraction—as a means to solving grief,” Sarah says. She works through it all as if the centerpiece of an epic poem, with high drama melodies and huge sweeping choruses.

Born in California, and raised in Connecticut and Singapore before returning to New York for Columbia University, this perfectly unusual leftfield pop singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist (Sarah plays the piano, synth, guitar, ondes Martenot, glass bowls, and some violin on the record too) studied music and was creating much positive noise and conversation online long before she had signed a record deal. Everything she was putting out was home-spun; self-produced, self-written and self-performed. Sarah made a habit of documenting her process, and it was one such video, uploaded in response to the misconception that “Women don’t produce music” that documented Sarah recording the sounds of tapping on a desk, opening a door, switching on a light, thumping on a mattress and flicking a wine glass, splicing them all together and forming the introduction to a prior EP track, Over + Under, that captured the imagination of a young audience who have been feverishly following her every move since.

The long hours Sarah spent on YouTube tutorials teaching herself production since high school quickly paid dividends, but the songs were hitting nerves across the globe. There’s the phantasmagorical drama of Kate Bush, the understated reverence of Cocteau Twins, and the nature-first beauty of Maggie Rogers’s “Now

That The Light Is Fading” EP too. There are moments reminiscent of Mitski, of Lorde and of Weyes Blood, but Sarah won’t be defined by the musicians that came before her, but of the music she’s soon to deliver.

Sarah grew up in the world of classical music, studying the likes of Chopin, Debussy, and Ravel. She started out behind the piano before playing violin in the perfection-as-necessity world of orchestra. Meanwhile, this disciplined student of music was a teenager falling in love with the exciting, “unsubstantial” pop music that dominated Top 200 radio. Escaper in some ways marries many of those unlikely contexts—substantial pop that flowers with lush string arrangements. “I’m just such a sucker for massive, grand songs,” she says. “I think it’s the classical musician in me who loves symphonies and the magnum opus effect.”

Named one of Vevo’s Artists to Watch in 2024, Sarah has met sold out audiences jumping and singing her songs in unison right across the US and Europe. There’s something very communal about the experiences that Sarah and her band manage to evoke. The young crowd is feverish, greeting each song like an old hit, and forgetting themselves for an hour in her company, allowing Sarah to massage their imaginations. Support tours, headline tours, and early festival appearances – it’s as exciting to her fans in the UK and Europe as it is to those in the US. They’re turning up in their droves and travelling miles and miles (and miles) to see her.

Starting out, Sarah said her dream was to produce. She enjoyed the process and was good at it. Seeking to work with someone outside of her own head, she thought back to all the records that she loves by revered US producer John Congleton, such as Angel Olsen’s “All Mirrors”, and “Masseduction” by St. Vincent. With equal doses dread and excitement, Sarah found herself working with an “exceedingly approachable and normal” man behind that towering pile of incredible work. With Congleton’s assistance, she let herself focus on sharing more of herself on this record than she’d ever shared in her music before. It was a door she was thrilled to have opened,

“One realization you have eventually as an insular, more introspective person is that there’s a world outside of yourself waiting for you to look into it. I had made every single EP from scratch, in the sweetness of my apartment, save maybe two songs. This record was meant to be grand and unstoppable. A beginning descent into free fall. Why protect that feeling in solitude? Why not invite another into that journey?

“From the beginning I remember telling John that I felt I was searching for a vessel for my vision. The fulfillment of some of these massive ideas demanded a new collaborator. There were so many songs that I brought sort of half buttoned, barely walking, to his studio. And without him they would have no limbs, no further features. John is very much someone who believes in instinct, throws paint at the wall early on, with no doubt. I am someone who doubts, who fears I’ve chosen the wrong route, who really just overthinks.”

And the results? A singular triumph. Sarah is arguably at her most vulnerable on the soaring album opener and its first single, “Last Time We Never Meet Again,” an upbeat, joyous-sounding song inspired by the end of a friendship. “I hope you get everything you wanted,” she sings, a line that’s at once generous and a write-off. The strings are bright, the beat propulsive, elated, and dance-worthy. “The song is meant to be celebratory,” she says, “but it’s trying to make something that is really sincerely a goodbye—the closing of all these worlds that you inhabit with the people you love. A celebratory goodbye.”

“Starling” is a celebration of “a love of the ages” between close friends. Rooted in an actual dinner in London, she sings tenderly over piano about being the lucky ones. “I really love that song,” she says. “It’s very much a testament to how full love can be outside of sexual or romantic love. Growing up, I just thought that’s what you’re destined for. It’s very strange when you realize it has nothing to do with that and everything to do with what you decide for yourself.”

Escaper shares its title with the album’s sweeping finale. “But Sarah, what is it that you are running from,” her mother asked her about the title. “Does that not imply fear? What do you escape from? Why?”Her meaning is intentionally ambiguous. It’s a song about wanting to escape your own body, to run, to feel, to dance, to close chapters and open news ones, to inhabit a character and observe shattered worlds from a distance. The thunderous “Realms” ponders the countless universes and this one here – “the only world where we collide.”

These are dramatic, melodious songs that could, and should, take Sarah anywhere she wants to go. Escaper feels like a substantial body of work by a smart young artist writing big, powerful songs from the heart and soul. And that’s where you’ll soon find them nestled. In your heart, and in your soul.

Ha Vay

Gentle and wild, Ha Vay is here to sweep you into an adventure. The singer grew up in the redwood forests and misty beaches of Northern California, raised in a diverse family of storytellers. She strives to make timeless music rooted in the art of storytelling with a unique and ethereal sound inspired by poetic singer-songwriters of the 70s & 90s. Ha Vay has been introducing fans into her world as she releases her first conceptual LP, Baby I’m The Wolf, accompanied by a self-produced short film.

This show is at Union Stage

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740 Water Street SW
Washington, DC 20024