Rising: We meet Sara Wolff, talk about her journey from Norway to the Mersey and see the video for her lush new track, ‘Hands’

Sara Wolff, photographed by Marieke Macklon

SARA WOLFF is a rising acoustic singer-songwriting talent who hails from Bergen, Norway, but who left those surrounds to study on Merseyside; liked what she saw and it how it was, decided to stick around; soon found that songs were flowing.

It’s been quite the journey from university to rising alt.folk talent whose first single drop, the duvet-day summation of troubles, “Bad Thoughts Compilation”, we took a look at last month, and noted for the record: Sara’s neat staccato hooks catch you: ‘You’ve / Been / Talking in your sleep,” she sings; “Three / A / M / With the lights on.’ And isn’t that always the time that bad thoughts compile and rattle your brain? Musically, it has pop bounce, some neat guitar, a hugging warmth.”’

“Bad Thoughts Compilation” follows on the heels of her single drop from late last year, the husky, scathing quirk-pop of “You Like Talking About Yourself”, which got the thumbs up from Tom Robinson at 6 Music.

Now she’s all set for her debut EP, is dropping a second single, “Hands”, the video for which you can watch below; a glimmering tale of sweet vocal sibilance, metronomic lyrical delivery, seemingly yearning for a lover’s hands on her hips with a light touch and intimacy – but as she reveals, there’s a sadder depth to it.

We decided it’s be nice to drop (virtually) by at Sara’s Liverpool pad and talk about what brought her to music, her new EP, and introduce her to an audience that’s only going to get bigger. Let’s get chatting.

BACKSEAT MAFIA: Hello Sara, lovely to meet you! By way of introduction, could you give us a potted history of your musical career?

Sara: I’m from Bergen, a little city on the coast of Norway. I moved to Liverpool in 2016 to study music, and I here found a band, my solo project and a second home. Growing up I always dreamed about being a musician and living in England and now I’m here. It’s strange how things work out.

I’ve spent the past few years playing lots of gigs in town and releasing a few singles. In September 2019 I went to record my debut EP in Eve Studios, Manchester, with Adam Rothschild, a really talented sound engineer and producer and also one of my best mates. I’m releasing it independently on March 18th.

Who inspired you to start making music?

My mum would always encourage my brother and I to do creative things, but never pressure us into it – she would instead get lots of different instruments; drums, guitars, that we could pick up when we wanted to. When I was little I would read and write a lot, and when I picked up the guitar one summer I found that I could make my stories into songs. I was around 12 years old when I started writing tunes. I’m so thankful to my mum for creating such a supportive environment for us to explore our creativity in our own time.

And the records that inspired you artistically?

The music that played in my home growing up would be anything from Kings Of Convenience to Miles Davis or Phoenix.

Kings Of Convenience are from Bergen as well, and their record ‘Riot On An Empty Street’ is still, to this day, one of my favourites. I love the sound of two guitars together, their two voices synced like one, and how intimate their recordings are – like you’re sat there in the room with them. They capture heartache and playfulness at the same time, a perfect balance, and I think they have influenced the things I appreciate about music a lot. 

One of the first CDs I bought with my own pocket money was Jonas Alaska’s debut record. Norway’s folk scene has always inspired me a lot. With it being such a small country and my heroes being local, my goals felt more reachable. 

If you’re trying to explain who you sound like to someone that’s never heard you, what do you say?

Lyrically-focused alt-folk with some louder bits thrown into the mix. It’s intimate and a bit wonky, it’s got a bit of a bedroom pop vibe but not very lo-fi. I’m inspired by everyone from Rozi Plain and Elliot Smith to Fiona Apple, Radiohead and St Vincent. I like genre-mixing – I don’t think I’ll ever just stick to one genre – there’s just too much inspiring stuff out there. 

Tell us about your new track?

My debut EP, When You Left The Room, will be out on March 18th. It’s a scrapbook of feelings, thoughts and weird social interactions I’ve had over the years. Songwriting is like a diary for me – it’s a way of reflecting on things I’ve experienced. So it is quite a personal release, as well as quite an important one – it’s the first time I’ve released a body of work that allows for more of a narrative. I’m excited to show more of what’s going on inside my head. 

“Hands” is one of the tracks from it that hasn’t been released yet. It’s a story describing those final few moments in a relationship when you both have realised it can’t go anywhere. It’s the last night you have together, everything is said, and the reality of the situation is sinking in. 

I wrote the song as a little confidence booster; a promise to myself to embrace the sadness for a while and make something powerful out of it. I’ll dance with the shadows instead of letting them swallow me. This is why songwriting is a big reassurance to me; I know that no matter what I can always turn it into something meaningful.

The arrangement came to life after performing it live with my band for three years, and we thought it was important for the recording to sound as “live” as possible – this song is pretty much a long crescendo from start to finish. We added this repetitive, looming pulse as a foundation of the track to add tension and some spectral shimmer as a special ear-treat. 

This song is quite different from the rest of the songs on the EP – it sounds more organic, featuring a clean drum kit and an acoustic guitar that was recorded in two takes.  When we recorded this I asked my friends to record themselves singing the call-and-response part in the bridge, and having them all featured in the song means a lot to me.

The “Hands” music video is edited and directed by me and filmed in my living room with help from my two housemates. I had so much fun making it! We are pretty much our own ecosystem by now; if we all put our skills together and help each other we are unstoppable. 

And where can we get hold of it?

You can pre-save it to your Spotify library, here; from the 18th you can stream the full EP on any streaming platform, or buy it on my Bandcamp.

Sara, lovely to meet you.

Connect with Sara on Facebook and Instagram.

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