Emily Armstrong of Dead Sara: alive and kicking, and on tour

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday August 2, 2022
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Emily Armstrong, Siouxsie Medley and Sean Friday of Dead Sara. photo Lindsey Byrnes
Emily Armstrong, Siouxsie Medley and Sean Friday of Dead Sara. photo Lindsey Byrnes

Hard rocking L.A.-based band Dead Sara has been at it for 20 years, even scoring a minor hit with the 2012 single "Weatherman," a song that was featured in a Fiat ad. Label issues impeded some of the band's progress, however, after a six-year gap between full-length albums, Dead Sara rose up and released "Ain't It Tragic" (Warner Records).

At a time when Dead Sara's brand of heavy-hitting rock is taking a backseat to other genres, the songs on "Ain't It Tragic" deserve to be heard for the way they revive our interest in fist-pumping rockers such as "All I Know Is That You Left Me For Dead," "Heroes," "Starry Eyed," "Lights Out!," and "Gimme Gimme."

Emily Armstrong  

Queer lead singer Emily Armstrong was kind enough to answer a few questions about the new album before the band returned to the road for its concert tour as the opening act for Demi Lovato.

Gregg Shapiro: Emily, for those not in the know, I'd like to being by asking you to say something about the genesis of the band's name, Dead Sara.
Emily Armstrong: Well, we changed that a lot [laughs]. It's basically just a misheard lyric, is what it comes down to. There's no meaning to it. But right now, we're telling people that it was an imaginary friend I had when I was a kid [laughs].

The songs on the new Dead Sara album "Ain't It Tragic" are credited to you, Siouxsie Medley, Sean Friday, and other co-writers. What can you tell me about the band's songwriting process?
I feel like the first two albums were strictly just us and the producer. For some reason, we were very in-the-box on what we did for those two albums. It wasn't until the third EP where we were just kind of like, "Why don't we get some breathing room? Why don't we see what we can discover working with other people?"

We don't have to keep anything, but just learn a little bit more about what we do. This is all we knew. We were all self-taught. It was an experiment, like a school for us. We worked with a lot of writers, half of whom were people that do it for a living. We made some really good friends out of it and learned a hell of a lot.

From that, we took that experience into this album. I don't think we worked with one actual songwriter. It was more friends that came in. Like on "Heroes," (co-writer) Kane Ritchotte, he's been a friend forever. We said, "We're in the studio if you wanna come by." It wasn't like, "Let's set up a time and talk about what you know you wanna write about." That's how all these songs came about.

Some of them are really old. There were a lot of people that ended up, through many of the transitions of the song, making suggestions that we had to credit. It was that kind of process. But at the core it was us three, trying to get these songs and working hard for the past two years during the pandemic.

You made good use of the lockdown time.
Yes! It saved our minds.

To my ears, I detect the influence of Otep, another queer modern metal artist. Is Otep someone that you consider to be an inspiration for what you do?
I know her [laughs]! We've talked a lot about music before. And I remember years ago, we were like, "Let's do something together. Let's tour." But that's about it. I think she's super rad.

Who are some of the other artists from whom you derive inspiration?
There are so many. I was listening to Pretenders just now. That's somebody that comes to mind. It's always refreshing! How do they do that? Where you listen to it, and it's always refreshing. They're obviously very popular, but never to the point where you say, "Oh, turn this song off."

Right. When you listen to that first album, it still sounds timeless, like it could have been made yesterday.
Yeah! I was listening to it today and yesterday, and I'm like, "Whoa!" My mind is being blown by the production of it even though I've heard the songs many, many times. They were so ahead of their time. This is probably an album that I'm going to return to a lot moving forward.

Certain songs pop out at me going through playlists and stuff as I'm rolling into the future. Obviously having to do the production ourselves with "Ain't It Tragic," with Sean Friday at the helm. I'm starting to think more like that. It's very interesting how you relive these songs very differently. You see them in a different light because you're starting to put yourself in that seat as an engineer or a producer. You start to find fun things that the average person who doesn't write music might not hear. That is super-inspiring to me. It just so happened that I had that realization, that inspiration recently.

The music scene of the 2020s seems more fragmented than ever with country and hip-hop being the dominant styles now. Where do you see Dead Sara's hard rock sound fitting in with listeners?
Country. I'm just kidding [laughs]. That's always a topic amongst ourselves and with management and our team. We just don't know. We end up just laughing at the end of it. You just keep doing you and somehow find a place, hopefully. Or it never does, or the tide will turn, and it'll miraculously find its spot. You have to be patient sometimes and just do who you are.

Siouxsie Medley, Sean Friday and Emily Armstrong of Dead Sara.  

Like so many things, musical tastes are cyclical. It could very well be that you're ahead of the curve, that this music will once again come back in the way that it has in the past.

In the song "Heroes" you sing that "you never wanna meet your heroes" and that "all my heroes are dead." Is this song about a specific hero who disappointed you or is it more of a composite?
[Laughs] I thought it was a kind of funny thought when I jotted down that lyric. It had nothing to do with the song. The song was already pretty much written in its form and had been sitting for a couple years. When we were working with producer Noah Shane, at the time, we knew that we had to breathe new life into it. We had to finish the song. It wasn't quite there.

I was looking down at my phone where I write all kinds of bits and things that I like and hear and think of or people say. I was singing. We were just jamming in the room, seeing how we could break it in real time. I started singing, "All my heroes are dead" in that pre-chorus.

The band was like, "Wait, what did you say? That's cool! That's sick!" That was it. I reframed and rewrote those verses fitting that title. It was very easy. For some reason that was the piece of the puzzle that put it all together. It wasn't necessarily that I thought of somebody. It seemed to make sense once I wrote it down.

The ironically titled "Good Times," which poses the question "Are we all just dying to feel?" sounds like a musical reaction to the state of the country during the reign of Joe Biden's predecessor. Am I on the right track with that song?
Yeah! I wouldn't say anything political, but yes. [Laughs] there's definitely a lot of that. We're all just getting numb to this feeling of everything being wrong in the world. The world is dying to feel human again. You start to try and feel some sort of sanity with what is happening. Even if it's a friend that's close to you that dies from a drug overdose. In the world of politics and everybody just at each other, it's almost like a civil war happening. Are we just animals? What's going on? There's a lot of confusion. I just feel like we've lost the touch, some sort of human nature.

In the midst of "Ain't It Tragic"'s metal edge, there are unexpected dance music elements to be found on songs such as "Hypnotic" and "Starry Eyed" (which includes the line "Dance, dance tonight"). How would you feel if those songs were given the dance remix treatment?
Oh, how I would love that. I would absolutely love that. We would all love that. That's like a dream that somebody would do that.

Dead Sara is embarking on a multi-city concert tour. What are you most looking forward to about that?
Just trying new songs. Hopefully to play new songs too, even newer ones. We're starting to write more, to get ahead of everything. So, that's gonna be exciting. But also play songs that we haven't played in a long time or probably never played live. We're getting very excited about that. I would definitely expect something like that to happen.

On the last tour that we did, I don't think we played the same set every night at all. We played a different set pretty much every night. That was the first time we'd ever done that.

You think you might work a Pretenders' song into the set?
I thought about that. Is there a way? As I was listening, I thought, "Gosh, this would take too much time to learn!" We'd need to concentrate a little bit more on what we're doing. But if it if we found the time, absolutely.

Dead Sara opens for Demi Lovato Sept. 27 at The Masonic, 1111 California St. $20-$130. www.deadsara.com

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