Hailing from the lush green pastures of the Hudson Valley, jazz-influenced indie four-piece monarch. unveiled their debut EP Sweet Little Things in June, a rapturous indie pop tour de force with potent sax lines, rapid waltz-time signatures, and lyrics juxtaposing the sweet and the sour. “I’ll be your morning coffee/I’ll be your night time tea,” lead singer Sarah Hartstein croons on the opening track, sounding like a 21st-century pop star time-traveling to the 1940s to perform at lounges and speakeasies with Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker.
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with Hartstein to discuss the new EP, her favorite vocalists, Warped Tour memories, and more!
How has your week been?
My week has been good. We had a full weekend of shows to support our EP, so I’ve just been getting back into the groove of regular life now. But I am tired. I do the band stuff and then I also work as an intern for a graphic design company and I’m also taking three summer classes. So I’m just dead.
That’s so cool. Do you design everything the band puts out as well?
Yeah. I get to do our flyers often and I handle the social media and I worked with our friend Cameron, who’s also a designer. We collaborated on the album cover and the tour poster together.So that’s been really fun.
Are you currently living in the Hudson Valley?
Yeah. I was born and raised here and I also go to school here. My brother, who plays bass in the band, lives in the city. So we get to go down there pretty often for shows. So we’re like half based here, half based there.
Now that the EP is out, what has been the most exciting part of the release and promotion?
Honestly, seeing it actually do well and that people are actually listening. We played our first show since the release last Friday at the Broadway in Brooklyn and people were actually singing the songs, which is so cool. It was really shocking honestly. It was an out-of-body experience to see that.
When you started the band, it was just you and Johnny, right?
Yeah. So we started the band last August. Johnny’s our drummer and he’s part of a bunch of other projects. The band started with me and Johnny. I was singing on a track for one of his other projects and we thought, “All right, how have we just met?” So then we started writing together and hanging out more often and then I was writing the song, “Sweet Little Things,” which became the title track of the EP. I wanted our first record to sound as jazzy as possible, so Johnny called Nick, because he’s extremely well versed in jazz. The three of us clicked immediately and started writing everything together.
When we booked our first show, my brother joined us on bass. He works a big boy job and lives in the city, and he’s a very musical person, but he hadn’t been involved in music for so long because he’s just been busy acclimating to city life and work. As soon as he joined us on bass we had the full band.
Where did that jazzy influence come from?
Definitely Amy Winehouse. She’s my biggest inspiration. There’s lots of other bands that I’m really into like Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. I love their work so much. Basically all female vocalists, looking at what they do and taking inspiration from everything around me in terms of that. But yeah, I do love the saxophone. I would love to find a permanent sax player, cause we just had like a friend play on the EP, but I want someone to play live with us for every show in the future.
If you had to pick your top five vocalists of all time, who would they be?
Well of course, Amy Winehouse, that’s a given. Fiona Apple, Margaret Glaspy, Faye Webster, and Sharon Jones.
What did you grow up listening to?
A lot of My Chemical Romance, which is not super heavy, but when I was probably like seven or eight we would play the radio and we would play Blink-182. As I got older, I was obsessed with Blink-182 and then around middle school, I had a really big pop phase where all I would listen to was Selena Gomez and Kesha. I was huge on Kesha, she was my number one for years. And then when I got into like late middle school and high school, I started getting more into emo and pop punk. I was a really huge The Story So Far fan and then I found Brand New and became obsessed with them. They’re canceled now, obviously for a good reason, but I enjoyed how their sound blended indie with emo. Then I started listening to Fiona Apple, Phoebe Bridgers, and Faye Webster. I guess Margaret Glaspy is kind of indie, but yeah, I just love their style. It’s just relaxing and nice and enjoyable for sure.
I’m curious, what’s the time signature of “Naive”?
I’m horrible at music theory, but according to Nick it’s in 6/8, so I trust his judgement [laughs].
What was your first favorite band ever?
So when I was little, my brother Jesse had an MP3 player with a bunch of Fall Out Boy songs on it. And “Dance Dance” was like my favorite song ever for years and years and years. So I guess it would be them. From Under the Cork Tree was an album I had on repeat constantly.
I went to Warped Tour in 2014 and the year before it got shut down, and it’s honestly hilarious when you think about it as an adult, but when you’re young, you literally go into like a parking lot on the hottest days of the summer to listen to bands that you love and run around all day meeting famous people and new friends from all over. It was definitely a solid part of my summers when I would go, but I don’t think I’d be able to do it now because it’s too fucking hot and I can’t stand the heat. I also don’t really care for long events anymore either.
Anything else you would like to plug?
Listen to Sweet Little Things! It’s on all streaming platforms. Our next show in the city is on August 26th at Pianos on Ludlow Street, so make sure to drop by if you’re in the area!
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