Alot of local-music folks say a lot of nice things about Will Sartain. The 20-year-old singer-songwriter’s various projects, from indie-pop band Redd Tape (now called The Tremula) through his solo work are regarded as some of the most noteworthy local music endeavors—his debut album Beep! was instantly hailed, in these pages and in local music circles, as classic. Now, less than a year after Beep! beeped, Sartain is poised to release solo platter No. 2, titled The Listening Booth (WillSartain.com). City Weekly drags our hero out of bed to discuss the new album.
Sartain is fuzzy, having played the night before with The Tremula at Logan’s Utah State University. It’s not exactly the time to confront him with questions about his apparent deification by scenesters. At least, one shouldn’t expect a more considered public-relations answer a more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed indie rocker might offer when asked how he feels about the idea he may be some sort of local music messiah. His sleepy rejoinder: “Well, whatever.”
Well, what would you say? It’s a tough one to ponder. Fact is, Sartain thinks his stuff, specifically Beep!, is “just OK.” In that way, he’s not your typical vain artist—he doesn’t need to hear how much he rules, which is kinda why he sorta does. Rule.
“It doesn’t matter what is said about you; [what matters is] the listener,” he says.
Idealistic? Sure. But it’s also realistic, honest—more ammo for the “Will Sartain Rules” thing: We don’t want the person writing the words and music we dig to be a windbag. We wanna believe they’re like us because we identify with the thoughts and ideas that are swirled in with the rhythm and melody. Sartain wants the same thing.
On The Listening Booth, even more so than on Beep! and Redd Tape’s Born in a Cardboard Box before it, Sartain is the nice guy with the dark side—pretty much what we all wanna believe about ourselves: We’re good, but we’re just a little messed up (in a good way). So he lays it all out, engages in risky candor (like Daniel Johnston minus the crazy) throughout nine awkwardly perfect songs, in hopes of engaging the listener in a commiserative rapport.
In “This Song is Love,” he unashamedly proclaims his love for his mom (“I will not abandon you/ When you are old and gray”); he tries to figure out his purpose in “The Piano Song No. 2” (“I go to work/ Come home and sleep/ What kind of life is this for me?”); ponders “Perspective” (“I know a woman who lives inside of me/ Who taught me love/who taught me loyalty/ I knew some things/ But she destroyed it all/ I’ve learned”).
As he sings over plinking, manic-depressive piano, bouncing bass lines and angular guitars, he seems to hope to discover insights that will help everything make sense. We listeners leech off of his introspection, let him do the work for us, and somehow we take something away from it, we realize something about ourselves. Rapport accomplished.
Maybe that’s why so many people say nice things about Will. In his songs, they find something in his music to connect with, more than just a toe-tapping melody. When he performs live, he doesn’t condescend to the audience; he just has fun, and pokes fun at the idea that the guy behind the mic is somehow better than the listeners.
“You know,” he says, “I read things in magazines about bands like Bright Eyes, how Conor Oberst is the new Bob Dylan, and I just f—king cringe because he’s not that good.”
As for himself …
“Am I deserving of that much praise? No. I don’t see many artists that are worthy of the praise they’ve gotten. I mean, whatever [people] get out of my music is fine. But … I just wanna be their friend. I don’t want them to think of me in different light.”
P.S. Sartain will be touring Europe for a month starting April 6. See him now before he’s huge. But not Conor Oberst huge.
WILL SARTAIN CD Release. Kilby Court, 741 S. 330 West. Friday March 25, 7:30 p.m.