Night Sands is out now via Antiquated Future Records.
Is there a better way in which to unveil your rawest and most vulnerable emotions than with a jangly electric guitar and simple, upfront songs? Portland’s Sara Renberg seems to think it is ideal. That is if her new record Night Sands is any indication. Imbued with low-key vulnerability and delicate melodies, Renberg takes her place alongside the likes of Frankie Cosmos and Jay Som in her unashamedly naked songwriting.
Renberg took some time recently to take us through every single one of her songs on the record. She’s a peach.
This is the oldest song on the record. I wrote it during a winter we had in Portland where winter just… barely happened. It was very dry and sunny which you’d think would be delightful but instead it filled me with dread. This combined with the ongoing housing crisis– I was trying to heighten and express the bad vibes we were living in, how people act in the face of insecurity.
At my old house in Portland, I planted some roses and I was really fond of them. They were really young still and when it rained the blossoms would get so heavy that they’d plunk right down into the ground, which always cracked me up. When I don’t know what to write about I start writing about my yard, which (pun not intended) grounds me until I figure out where to go.
3Roger Miller Baby
My mom said, “you should write a song about your friend’s baby,” which I was pretty annoyed by. I don’t take requests! But also I was annoyed by her assumption that writing a song about my friend’s baby was going to be an uncomplicated, positive thing. To be clear: I absolutely love and adore all of my friends’ babies; it is a real joy to watch them appear out of nothing and then grow up into people. But there’s also a sadness that you’re not allowed to express—I don’t know if this is going to happen for me.
My dad has six brothers and I remember being like five years old and my dad being like, “Your uncle’s here!” and I came down the stairs and saw a man that I did not recognize but who also undeniably looked like my dad, and I was just like, Another one??? Which is the exact same feeling I had when I was involved with this girl and it was like, constantly we’d be doing something and she’d be like, “oh yeah, she’s my ex” and it’d be a girl I’d never even heard her mention before. In the queer community, it is super common to stay friendly with your exes so there wasn’t anything actually shady about this. It was just unnerving. I did write her a love song, very quickly. It was maybe 50% good.
I wrote this song when I had a cold and I had to change the key when I was better. This is, sadly, not the first time this has happened to me. The song itself is something I’ve been trying to write for a very long time– the resentment of being outside traditional narratives (even though traditional narratives are limiting). It’s exhausting to have to imagine everything for yourself.
6Ballet Cops At The Cop Ballet
I like to have an instrumental song in the middle of the record to give the listener a little breathing room. It’s in an open tuning and there’s no bass which I feel really expands the feeling of space. I also like the idea of the power exchange between the ballerinas and the cops here, these tiny dancers calmly pointing out all of the mistakes of the lumbering officers.
7Take The Summer Off
I knew the second half of the record needed a shift– that it needed to thaw a little bit. I wanted to emphasize that you can have love in your life that’s not romantic, and also that there is freedom outside of the structure of romantic love (and/or the pursuit of it).
8The Only Gay Person
This is about being the only gay person at a straight wedding.
9I’ve Been a River
This is adapted fairly closely from a poem (WATERPOEM.DOC). The poem, as a poem, didn’t work very well and I put it away for a few years. I dug it out last spring and wondered if it would work any better as a song. The secret about songs is that once you add in music it gives you other dimensions to play with, and the same words that fall flat on a page can really be transformed into something affecting with a melody.
10I’ll Decide To Have A Problem
It was really important to me that the arc of this record was one towards vulnerability. I’d wrestled with this lyric, “I decided to have a problem in front of you” for a long time, but it was just too many syllables to feel good. At the same time I got really into the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and there’s this song that’s called ‘We’ll Never Have Problems Again’ and I thought, what if I wrote a song that’s the opposite of that? And this also helped me shift perspective to the future tense instead of the past tense — “I’ll decide to have a problem” is much easier to sing, and it’s romantic to promise.
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