Creativity is a fickle force of nature
Sometimes it flows like a raging torrent, other times it’s a trickle. One person who has no problem controlling its flow however, is Sarah the !llstrumentalist. Whether crafting her brand of soulful, thought provoking beats, sharing videos with her eight thousand YouTube subscribers or spearheading new clothing designs; this North Carolinian has been pursuing her mission with innovation and passion. With the success of her recently released debut album ‘Conversations’, we took the opportunity to chop it up with the young producer.
So first of all I wanted to talk about your debut album ‘Conversations’. It’s a great body of work with a lot of variety. It reminded me of some old 9th wonder albums that are like 20-30 tracks long but each beat is dope.
Whoa! Thank you! That's what I was aiming for. I mean like the two biggest inspirations in composing my album, were J Dilla and 9th. The last beat tape 9th Wonder came out with was called 'Zion 2' and it had like forty-one beats on it. It only lasted like less than an hour though. Each beat was less than two minutes long. You get a handful of awesome beats, but it didn't take up your whole day. J Dilla did the same. For me I like the variety and to not be listening to the same thing for too long. Some rap beats can get boring after a while, like ' OK when's it gonna end?' ha-ha. I like to make sure it’s short but sweet. If it's good enough people will want to listen to it again.
I think that's exactly it. When you were creating and selecting beats for it, what was the curation process? What was the overriding idea sound you wanted to get across?
Well for me as a musician I don't like to put myself in a box. This is kinda like my first ’official’ project and I wanted to make it sample based. I didn’t want to limit myself with anything. For longest time I'd be kinda scared of what I could and couldn't sample. People have this fear like 'what if I get sued?' ha-ha. I kinda had that same fear and I did a lot of research kinda asking myself what I should do with music. Should I limit myself or not worry about anything and have an open canvas. This was also mixed with I how feel about rappers and beats right now. Personally I don't really like a lot of rappers right now because they seem to talk a lot of garbage and then the music either gets drowned out or it's really good and it makes the rapper sound better. For me I love instrumentals. I love listening to different sounds and going to the record store and not knowing what something sounds like till you get home. I love that discovery and beat making for me is a way of sharing that element of discovery. It's kinda like how collage artists take bits and pieces from magazines and stuff to make one large piece of art. It's like fifty different people who came together to make one person. So I just wanted this first project to be whatever sounded good to me. I wanted upbeat, sample based music. I didn't want to limit myself like I sampled everything from vinyl to Netflix. Anything that sounded appealing to me. I just wanted to express myself musically.
What about the title, 'Conversations'? Is there a meaning to that?
There is a huge meaning behind the title actually. The album's title and the titles of the song mean a lot to me in a bigger and deeper way than it first appears. The titles are supposed to start conversations. I was going through a personal phase in my life within the last year, where I guess you could say I had this epiphany? Like an awakening phase in my life where a lot of things were thrown at me. It started with food in America actually. I've been sick for like eight years. I would throw up acid and my doctors just prescribed me medication to mask the problem. To me that didn't sound right, so I did some research and figured out a lot of food we eat has issues with it that were causing me to be sick. That was kinda the first indication of 'oh my god I'm being lied to!' So because of that I start to kinda go through this awakening phase were I went down a rabbit hole of information. Like first it was food, and then a bit of an identity crisis and also figuring out a lot of things we were taught in school were a lie. It was just an awakening phase on a whole bunch of big topics. So while I was going through this I wanted to talk to people about these things I was learning and I would notice people were either closed to them or I felt like they weren’t interested. So that's kind of where the beat tape came along. I was in the middle of the project while I was interested in these topics and even had a list of them I was extremely interested in but felt like I couldn't talk about with people. So what I did was to put it into the beat tape and let people listen and make the connection there. The songs have no words in them but if you look at the title and it sparks some interest, we are talking. We are having a conversation. I didn't just want a beat tape but to also have one with some kind of cool meaning behind it.
When you look for sample or sounds do you have those kinds of ideas in mind? What’s your process there?
It all depends on how I feel. I try to go in with the feeling that no two beats should be alike. I start from fresh, but I like to keep it simple and use the same ingredients to create something new. For me the ingredients are the sample, a good drum break and then some vocal chops and bass (if it needs ones that is). When it comes to picking samples it’s all based off how I feel. If it sounds good to me then immediately I'll know I can do something with it. I have so many tools now, so while I try to keep it simple I also try to use what I have. I like to mess around with different sounds. Like for example I love listening to 9th Wonder but when I listen to him I can sometimes hear what could be done differently, Like I need you add a vocal sample here or have it stop for two seconds and carry on after. J Dilla does that for me though, but because he passed; I feel like he didn't get a chance to evolve past what he was doing at the time. I feel like I'm trying to continue that spirit of being creative with sound and beats. We have so much more and affordable music gear now. Like back in the 90's all this gear wouldn't have been possible to have just in your house. For example on 'Blue Beam' I used a VST called Halftime that emulates Fruity Loops' halftime feature and threw it in to see what happened. It sounded cool so I added in that switch up.
I feel you. It's like continuing the legacy but using all available tools so you can be creative when inspiration strikes.
Yeah. For me I have made it a consistent habit to make music every day so when it comes, it comes easily. It’s just trying to getting it out that’s the challenge ha-ha. I guess the mantra is adding to something but keeping it simple. I just add something different.
I know myself and a lot of other people have discovered you through YouTube. What was the artistic driver behind getting on that platform?
Hmm when I think about it it's a combination of things. Before I even started putting out music I had a YouTube channel about my dreadlocks. It did OK but like my hair got long and there wasn't much more to talk about. So when I was at work I used my breaks to make beats. People would ask what I was doing and instead of letting it get annoying, I kinda turned it in to an opportunity. Like whenever anyone asked me I could just point them to my YouTube ha-ha. It's funny because there was this one guy who would constantly ask what I was doing and that kinda spurred me to make the channel. I wanna find him and tell him 'thank you for bugging me' because the channels doing well now ha-ha. There was also this co-worker that encouraged me to start as well. We worked together for almost four years but I didn't have any clue that she was actually very successful on YouTube. She actually quit to do YouTube full time! I was shocked at first but she opened up to me and gave me some tools about how to expand my brand on there. That was actually really helpful because it enabled me to reach out to some brands and do collabs. Overall it's been really cool. Not just because I can talk about products and things I like but also talk about my journey in depth. It lets me talk about anything. I'd encourage people who are doing the same things with music to document it. We all have the same 24 hours, we all have a camera in our pockets and, personally, I don't think anything is impossible. Having the YouTube channel and connecting with people directly is awesome. It's a community.
Do you ever feel a pressure to 'keep up’ with YouTube?
The pressure right now is not necessarily keeping up? But me feeling like I'm distracted by my 9-5. I'm at the stage of feeling frustrated that (first I'm a human so need sleep and food etc.) but also find the time to create as fully as I want to. I'm a creative person generally and I feel like I'm in the zone right now. I'm also at the stage in my life where I'm kinda at a crossroads. I feel like I can do this full time and I want to, but I'm still trying to get over the fear or insecurity of not having a safe full time job. That's the pressure I'm going through right now.
You also run NoQuantize.com. For those who don't know, could you explain what that is and how it came about?
So basically NoQuantize is a beatmaker lifestyle brand. In general I just felt like there wasn't a brand out there that represents beatmakers. When I go shopping they have graphic t shirts I like but not music related or more specifically beatmaker related. I always wanted to buy a T with like a Machine or an SP or just something like that on. I just found an opportunity to create that. I decided to create a brand I wanted to wear at the end of the day ha-ha. I didn’t want to do just merch for my YouTube channel so, you know, we come out with seasonal designs. So we have been release Ts, hats, hoodies and there’s gonna be more each season. We even have our own sound pack out now! As an artist I love creating anything. That doesn't limit me to just a painter or a musician. I'm just someone who likes to create. The name of the brand actually came from listening to 9th Wonder while washing dishes and thinking 'wow I really like that there’s no quantizing on this.' I kinda stopped and was like 'oo that's a catchy name' ha-ha. From there I just did my research, saved my money and started up my own company. The name really fits I think because the whole idea of quantizing is to 'correct' your beats but when you listen to like a natural drummer he has his own unique rhythm. In the future we want to do more collabs with other brands and just expand the vision.
So what can we look forward to next from you?
I plan on launching more clothing gear and packs with NoQuantize. I want to do the Supreme type thing were when the new stuff comes in, it's in limited supply and all the old stuff comes off the site. As far as my music, I'm hoping to get to position to sign a contract where I can make beats full time. I'm getting close I just need to get past a few things then I'll be announcing who I'm working with. Just chasing down that dream really.
Listen to ‘Conversations’:
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