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Sarah Belkner and Her Strange Kind of Love Ballad

This is a talent you'll want to keep an eye on. Interview by Will Colvin
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Sydney singer and songwriter Sarah Belkner released her debut single 'With You' last month – and the praise that's gone its way probably has something to do with the fact that her work is far from your typical singer/songwriter piano love ballad.

"It's a love song that sits in the grey area right? It's not your usual, 'I-love-you-everything's-great' track, but I don't think that love is 'everything's great'," says Sarah, when I asked her what made her choose With You'as her first single.

"I think because, even though it's not a really clear, upbeat, kind of love song, it is clear in what it's about...you kind of instantly recognize where the character's sort of sitting and you're able to relate to it easily."

Previously performing and recording as Miss Little, as well as touring extensively with Lanie Lane's band, Sarah has developed a cult following, and earlier in the year she raised over $10000 through Pozible to record her first album – using her real name, Sarah Belkner, for the first time.

So why the name change?

"It's my first single! I've never done anything else! I'm a fully formed artist! I came out of the womb just fully formed, yep. Haha, no," said Sarah.

"I guess with calling it Sarah Belkner there's a confident risk factor, it's like, I believe in it so much that I'm gunna put my name on it. And then that forces me to do it the absolute best that I can with the music."

"The name change was to figure out who I am basically, to be strong and bold and there's an acceptance around the name in presenting my music as myself, and not hiding."

I asked Sarah what we could expect from the next single, which will be released in February, and from the album, which will be released later in the year.

"I'm very into experimenting in the orchestration and arrangement of things, that comes from my classical composer nature."

"It's not your usual pop-rock record, there's lots of weird sounds on there, but also I think one of the most interesting things is we've left space around everything."

"And that's challenging. It's challenging to balance space with music in songs."

"That's something that's actually quite tricky to get right and there's no way I would ever even attempt to do that without Richie, cause he understands space in music, and how to make that sound musical."

Richie is Sarah's husband, Richard Belkner, sound engineer and owner of Free Energy Device studios. In the Sydney audio scene, 'Richie B' is a bit of a legend.

Sarah says Richie is integral to the her sound, and I asked her what it's like to work so closely with your partner.

"He's very much part of the sound, we consider him a band member. His job is as important as any of our jobs."

"And him and I have a musical language now, just from working together for those years and obviously being intimate as well, where you just have a musical dialogue, where sometimes we don't even have to talk to each other."

"I guess we've influenced each other, him on me for understanding that the studio is an instrument. "

"That's been great, like I've always had a sneaking suspicion that that was the case, that you could use the studio as an instrument, but he's someone who really knows how to play the studio as an instrument, like, he's been playing the studio and using it in that way, not just as a documenting tool, but as an actual instrument."

"And I've influenced him, maybe in the arranging sense. And learning how to not piss singers off. I think he'll be in business forever cause if you learn how to not piss singers off then…"

Crowdfunding can be an unbelievably stressful experience. I asked Sarah if the process of raising $10000 from fans was as stressful as it sounds.

"I surprisingly enjoyed it, I did it out of necessity because I knew, as I think most artists do at the moment, I knew the beast that I wanted to make, and I knew that it needed a certain amount of money to make what I wanted to do and be able to pay the people to do it."

"And when I found out I was really quite fearful, 'cause I needed to get the money from somewhere and I was like, 'crap I'm going to have to do a crowd-fund', but I didn't really want to actually do that."

"'Cause I'm not the person that's good at asking for stuff, but then after doing it I realized it's actually not what it's about at all, it's not the artist begging, it's a way to involve people in what you're doing. And that's been amazing."

So what's next? Sarah says before the album is released there's another single coming out in February.

"We're going a little bit in a darker direction. Um. Yep. Haha. 'With You' is a love song, the next one's a little bit more about human nature."

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Sarah Belkner and Her Strange Kind of Love Ballad
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