Interview: Sari Schorr

Sari Schorr, thank you so much for taking the time out to speak to us. You must be incredibly proud of the album, but also relieved that it’s out there for all to hear? “Hi Dave. It’s truly my pleasure! I’m very lucky to have had the great Mike Vernon in the producer’s chair. I owe a great deal of thanks to the incredible musicians who gave of their talents and time to make this album so special. I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved. It’s been a labour of love, and sharing it now is the reward to all the hard work that went into making the record. I hope we’ve created something of value that people will deeply enjoy.” Well, it is definitely valued here! Have the original songs featured on the album been part of you for some time, or are they more recent ? “The songs were written specifically for this album. I’ve got a deep catalogue of songs, but I was inspired to take this album on with a fresh perspective and write songs about things that were currently framing my life and felt most relevant at this moment in time.” So when a producer of the calibre of Mike Vernon comes out of semi-retirement to produce your album “based on gut instinct”, did that put you under any pressure ? “Absolutely! It was clear from GO that working with Mike was the opportunity of a lifetime. But, then the raging battle began. My confidence started to falter as I thought about all the great artists Mike had worked with in the past. The mischievous self-doubt was snaking itself inside my head and I secretly feared I wouldn’t measure up to Mike’s high expectations. The pressure was mounting. Fortunately, one of Mike’s many talents is his ability to relax the artists he produces. He’s a master handler. He pulls out the best you’ve got, and you suddenly realize he’s just talked you off the ledge.”  Even though the blues stretches way back over the decades “A Force of Nature” has a modern sound and vibe to it. Was it difficult to have it sound so fresh, but remain respectful of what people might consider a traditional blues sound? “Credit goes to the genius that is Mike Vernon. Mike deliberately produced a modern sounding record that is still grounded in the Blues. We talked at great length about the record we wanted to make. It was a mutual priority to honor the blues tradition while creating something that would be exciting to a contemporary Blues audience. It’s a fine line to walk to achieve these goals, but Mike has the vision to know when to pull in the reigns and when to let things rip.” The album is perfect for guitar aficionados, not only do you have Innes Sibun playing in your band, but you also have Walter Trout and Oli Brown both guesting. Were these collaborations recorded together in the studio, or did scheduling conflicts get in the way? “Thanks for the compliment. The album is very much guitar driven. I’m elated to have Walter Trout, Innes Sibun, and Oli Brown featured on the album. The sessions for Innes and Oli where recorded in the UK. Walter’s session was recorded in California where he is based.: I felt there is a great deal of pathos in your songwriting on the album, but there is also inspiration and hope. My favourite song, “Demolition Man”, deals with a serious matter, yet it sounds upbeat. Was this difficult to achieve? “Writing lyrics is a journey of discovery. It is a daunting challenge that I love to conquer. I work extremely hard to make the every line expressive and meaningful. Life is emotionally complex and I always want my lyrics to represent the shades of light and darkness that paint the human experience. I’m attracted to the untold story about familiar subjects. I try to offer a different perspective that sidesteps judgment. When I hit the mark, the dialogue becomes much more honest and the lyric resonates in my heart.” It would be remiss of me to not mention the powerful reworking of “Black Betty”. Speaking as someone who only knew of it through the Ram Jam version, the many different interpretations of what the song is about are intriguing. What was it that drew you to the song? “I was honored to have been invited to perform on the Lead Belly Fest at Carnegie Hall. The producers asked if I’d consider performing ‘Black Betty’. I wanted to present a personal interpretation of the song. I studied the lyric, and learned as much as I could about Lead Belly’s life. I tried to understand how his experiences framed his perspective. Once I felt comfortable with my interpretation, there was a foundation from which we could create a new arrangement for the song. Innes wrote a breathtaking new middle section that takes the song to a whole other level.” Likewise, the reworking of the Motown classic “Stop In The Name Of Love” is simply spellbinding. Have you had any feedback from the song’s writers? “Rumour has it that Holland/Dozier/Holland are very happy with the new arrangement. I’m grateful to them for such a monumentally terrific song.” Moving away from the album, you used to live in Paris. The seemingly never-ending atrocities in France must have had quite an effect on you. What role can an impassioned songwriter play, especially in today’s climate? “I spent five years in Paris and still feel like it’s my second home. Tragically, the world is in desperate need of healing. We can all make a difference by choosing compassion over judgment, by holding truth against ignorance, and by inspiring each other to be the best version of ourselves. We can only change the world one person at a time, but that is within our power.” You’re very active with humanitarian causes and vocal about social injustices. Where do you stand on Bruce Springsteen’s decision to cancel his gig in North Carolina over the anti-LGBT legislation. Do you think he was correct, or should he have played and spoke out from the stage? “I don’t want to judge Bruce’s decision, but I believe it was unfortunate that so many fans had to pay the price for the ill-conceived legislation. There are hundreds of people who rely on the income generated from a major concert event. There are countless retailers, hospitality personnel, civil servants, band and crew who are impacted adversely by a canceled show. I would have given free tickets to as many LGBT fans as I could and dedicated the show to them. More importantly, there are consequences when we hold music up as ransom or reward for political leverage. Music, as in all art, should stand freely to serve the public and should not be used as a sanction to punish those who disagree with our opinions. Where would we draw the line? For example, should we sanction music in places where gross human rights violations exist? I’d argue that it is in these very places where the arts are most desperately needed.” You recently performed at a festival sandwiched in between Steve Vai and Twisted Sister. That is one hell of a mix! “People don’t know this, but we are all from Long Island, NY. Steve put on one hell of a show. It was inspiring to follow him. I didn’t stay for Twisted Sister’s whole set. Dee was very entertaining, but I left after he said he was “like Jesus” and claimed to heal a “cripple” (his words) in the audience. I was standing next to several people in wheelchairs and just couldn’t bare it.” Last question, Sari. How much do your dogs miss you when you’re out on the road, and do they sulk with you when you come home? “My dogs have trained themselves to break my heart every time I leave… and, they succeed. I’m [heading] on a flight from New York to London now, and almost couldn’t get out the door because the dogs wouldn’t get out of my suitcase. That’s doggone excess baggage! Their unconditional love waits for me when I return. When my husband tells them I’m coming home, they sit at the door all day with whatever is left of the furniture.” Haha! That’s beautiful! Thanks again for your time, and good luck with the album. It’s incredible. It was my pleasure. Your questions were wonderful, and I really enjoyed answering them! I’m just sorry it took this long to get back to you. I had a death in the family, and a mother in the hospital. Hard days, but better ones ahead. Thank you for your patience, and thank you for your support and your kind words!!”   Sari Schorr & The Engine Room’s debut album “A Force Of Nature” is released by Manhaton Records on September 2nd. Sari is touring the UK right now.  

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