Beyond the Boys’ Club is a monthly column from journalist and radio host Anne Erickson, focusing on women in the heavy music genres, as they offer their perspectives on the music industry and discuss their personal experiences. Erickson is also a music artist herself, recently releasing the song “Eternal Way” with Upon Wings. This month’s piece features an interview with Emily Armstrong of Dead Sara.
Los Angeles rockers Dead Sara spent much of the lockdown period working on their Warner Records debut (and third album overall), the just-released Ain’t It Tragic. With recording sessions set to take place smack dab in the middle of the pandemic, the new album brought some challenges for the band, but it was nothing they couldn’t face head-on, as demonstrated in their triumphant new single, “Heroes.”
Featuring lead singer Emily Armstrong, lead guitarist Siouxsie Medley, and drummer Sean Friday, Dead Sara stormed onto the rock scene with their scorching single “Weatherman” from their 2012 self-titled debut. They returned in 2015 with Pleasure to Meet You, and are now back with their first new album in six years.
For Heavy Consequence‘s latest edition of “Beyond the Boys’ Club,” Armstrong checked in to discuss the new album, the unique recording process for the new songs, her experience as a woman in rock music, and much more.
Read our interview with Emily Armstrong below, and pick up Dead Sara’s new album, Ain’t It Tragic, via Amazon.
On the significance of the title of Dead Sara’s new album, Ain’t It Tragic
It’s funny, because making this album, people would say, “The title is just going to come to you.” I didn’t know what the title was going to be, and they’d say that, and I’m like, whatever. It’s never happened that way before. Then, for the last song, I was sitting there writing and singing and recording the last song, and all of a sudden, I looked at Sean and said, “Oh my gosh. ‘Ain’t It Tragic.’ Isn’t that cool? That would be a great name.” We were throwing around some other names, but that one just kind of encompassed everything: what we were going through, what the world felt like. There wasn’t much thought to it. It just clicked.
On how the pandemic impacted the writing and recording of the new album
It was smack down in the middle (of the pandemic). It impacted it considerably. Coronavirus changed everything. We were about to go into the studio, and that got abolished, so we thought, now what do we do? So, there was a month or two of just not knowing what was going to happen. Was the world going to implode? (Laughs) We decided to do what a lot of artists were doing, recording themselves and each instrumentalist for a quarantine video, so we did that and showed it to Warner Brothers, and that was the point when Warner was like, “You guys can do this on your own if you want to.”
On what it was like recording the new album completely on their own
We went into our rehearsal space and set it up and started figuring out how to record an album. We did a lot of demos in that room, and we’ve worked there for years. So, that’s where we lived for months just figuring it out, watching tutorials on how to properly put a mic in a place!
On the genesis of the music on the new album
A lot of these songs were demos, some dating back to three or four years ago, that just kind of sat there. Then, we found them, opened them up and gave a new life to them. It’s just all over the place, but I think it always goes back to the ’90s, and a ’90s vibe, really. Just recording it and essentially making it sound like a demo, but a really, really well done demo. If you’re listening to an album and you hear the demo, and you’re like, “The demo rules!”
On the new album’s lyrics
We were very specific with lyrics this time. We didn’t want them to be throwaway lyrics. We really pushed ourselves, sometimes not even knowing what we could accomplish but having that support, thinking, “This is what we have, and let’s make the most of it with everything we possibly have and see what happens.” That was the inspiration, more than, “What do we want to sound like?” We drew a lot from things we’ve talked about throughout many years — wanting a very authentic way of doing something and the DIY type of feeling. We wanted to capture that and have better songs.
On “Losing My Mind” being her favorite song off the album
I think we went a little experimental on it. We have one of my vocal tracks tuned down, so it sounds a little bit like I have a conscious or an alter ego or something, like the devil and angel on your shoulder. There’s something emotionally triggering with me on that, and the lyrics of it — I feel the whole song is so rad to me and in a new direction. I’m so proud of it. It’s rightfully the last song on the album, and I believe that one will make sense after listening to the whole album. We always end the album with a slower, emotional song. The writing title for us was “Drugs and Suicide,” so it was a dark title because it came from a dark place.
On the difference in the number of women in rock music today verses when Dead Sara started out
There are lot more. Oh, my gosh. It used to be, “Oh, cool. A chick rock band!” Somebody actually said that to us once, so now we use that saying a lot as a joke. You don’t get that very often anymore. I wish there were more female rock bass players, because I think that would be a cool addition. Hopefully in 10 more years, there will be a lot more of those. It’s come a long way. Looking at the 10-plus years we’ve been a band professionally, there are a lot more girls in rock, specifically, now.
On if she felt a turning point when people shifted from seeing Dead Sara as a “female-fronted band” to just a great rock band
We never really had that problem, fortunately. We never really considered ourselves any different. We didn’t have that mindset that we were trying to prove a point. So, maybe people were saying things, but we didn’t really listen. We didn’t give a f**k. But, it was those moments when people were like, “Oh, cool! A chick rock band,” that we just found funny. I believe just being who we are and just having that be the forefront of it proves a point. We’re just as good as any other band, and should be taken seriously, just as much as any band, regardless of gender.
On if she feels women in music are under more pressure than men to look a certain way
Not in my experience. I think I just put pressure on myself to look a certain way. I know just as many guys that are very self-conscious about the way they look in rock bands. Some of them have eating disorders. At the same time, we still run into more guys on tour, so that’s what I see.
On what changes she’s seen for women in rock over the years
I see a lot more women, but overall, I just see rock ‘n’ roll coming back, which is cool. These past several years, you can feel it and sense it with the bigger artists switching gears a little bit. You can see it. It’s in the universe. I think that deflated a little bit of what we could have been these past five years. I don’t think I really care after doing this album, because I feel so good about this album.