Burger Records released Sarah Bethe Nelson’s new LP, ‘Oh, Evolution’ around mid-February this year. Burger is usually on point so any release on the label is worth a spin. It turned out that ‘Oh, Evolution’ was one of those albums that can play again and again, eventually lodging itself deep inside the limbic system, bouncing about on a long-term basis. I read somewhere that ‘Oh, Evolution’ was largely conceived while on the road for her ‘Fast Moving Clouds’ LP. She laid it out for me in her kind timbre, saying “Since we were traveling on tour, I think that had a big effect on the music, as anything that you’re doing while you’re writing would. So writing many of the songs while on tour was simply circumstantial.” If you’ve ever toured to any extent, you know that there’s a high potential unique circumstances and all of them can be meaningful in their own ways. It’s only logical that an artist is compelled to draw from such a well, seeming almost limitless.
Sarah, who holds a masters degree in creative writing, says she really likes to write from the present and her perspective. “I’ll write about the things that are going on around me at that time,” she explains. “A lot of it is probably self therapy to some degree, getting things off my chest and putting them out there so I don’t have to carry them around anymore. Once it’s out there you can live life without being crammed up inside your head.” She wound up creating engaging reflections, many of them being personal of experiences had in the nomadic capacity of touring.
As the events that actually produce her colorful collection of material transpire, she says she doesn’t give too much thought to how it’s affecting her writing. It’s not until after all is said and done—the music and vocals are recorded and the songs are ready for sequencing—that Sarah looks back and reflects on what the album really means for her as an artist.
A lot of what’s focused on is the evolution of relationships; from platonic to romantic, and vice versa. “I think the space and the movement, having the freedom of things like taking long drives, walking to fields, the desert, everything that makes up visual, and then the emotional aspects inside meet and come together.”
When it comes to her music, Sarah says that she does most of the general writing, though she has a musical synergy with guitarist Rusty Miller, who does some fine-tuning and contributes much of the mood and feeling to the material. The way she describes that part of a the process it’s clear that she regards and respects Rusty, and her band, with full sincerity.
Changing up the usual modus operandi a little bit, Sarah made a conscious choice to scale back some on the instrumentation and include more vocalization. It’s the movement of the songs and the way they flow that really represent what it is she wants to accomplish. “I think with the last album it sounded a little bit trapped in a way, maybe I was feeling a little stagnant, she explains, but with this record I feel think that there’s a little bit of a release and movement.”
An admitted “aggressive editor,” at the same time she says she’s always conscious of the listener’s experience and what it’ll be once they hear the material. “Hazy” was a song she mentions that she’d had some uncertainty about. “Sometimes it’s not a matter of adding or subtracting something, rather deconstructing and starting over again,” she explains. After some last minute reworking she wisely opted to include the track, ironically as the album’s opener—the all-important ‘first impression’.
“The first song is important because a lot of people sometimes don’t listen past the first song or two,” she says. Being that the release of ‘Oh, Evolution’ would be headed into springtime, she wanted the album to reflect that feeling in certain ways. “Hazy”, reflects a warmth to kick the album off with. Sarah explains, “I like the way “Hazy” kind of shimmers and then the next song, [“Evolution”] has the harder, fuzzed out guitars and the difference in feeling.” The two songs together to provide a good juxtaposition because of Sarah’s inherently soft voice, which she is ever cognizant of. It’s important to her that people see the potential for her dynamics. “I wanted to show that I’m not just some soft-voiced girl,” she says. “I have to be really careful of that because I don’t want to be categorized into a genre that might not be accurate all of the time. The song “Deadbolt,” however, was always an intentional closer. “I wanted that one at the end of the album because of the fadeout of the music and the really open-ended feeling that it ends with,” she says.
Calling the new album ‘Oh, Evolution’ is as true and fitting a name as it could be. But hanging just anything on the record won’t work. There’s a kind of pressure of responsibility attached to that aspect for Sarah. “Naming something is kind of like bringing it into existence,” she explains. “It can be impressive and enamoring because that’s like the materialization of a vision that will be sustained.”
While Sarah, herself, knows that the collection as a whole represents where she is in that moment in her life, she felt a slight concern, at one point, that the songs that she had sounded like different parts from different collections, nothing relatable to anything else. But as it turns out, that variety is a huge asset that shows us the complexities of the perspectives and shades of an artist’s personality as they’re continuously growing. That’s something that she says is important for her to express in her art. “Every aspect of our lives and the world is in this constant state of change, whether or not we can even notice it. Somehow I’m trying to n it out or at least understand it.”