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Ronald Rietman



Songwriter’s Monthly - April ’11, #135

“Compelling,” “Magical,” “Expressive,” Grandfather of Philadelphia Folk Music,”
and “Gentle,” along with many other says performs “with utmost respect for
flattering words are the adjectives the folklore behind each song and
critics use when describing Sarah ballad.”
McQuaid and her music. Her voice
floats within the air like a beautiful Sarah was kind enough to answer a few
fragrance. Its intoxicating power arises questions about the music she included
from her beguiling
skill of gently varying

Chris Stanbury
the subtle shades and
highlights of her rich
tonal color until her
melodies are
a b s o l u t e l y

On her latest album,

McQuaid tenderly
revisits the music her
and her mother used
to sing together when
Sarah was a child.
The collection of
mostly traditional songs is delicately on her affectionate album.
seasoned with a few apt and impressive
s u r p r i s e s . T h e a l b u m d i s p l ay s a Songwriter’s Monthly: What thread
unites the variety of material on this
“All the songs are
connected, one way Sarah McQuaid: As mentioned in the
liner notes, I began assembling songs
or another, to my for the album soon after the death of
mother.” m y m o t h e r. A l l t h e s o n g s a r e
connected, one way or another, to my
soothing reverence for life, love, mother either because they’re written
tradition and song. Today, Sarah about her, or because she taught them
embarks on a month long U.S. tour [full to me, or because I learned them from
details on the “Calendar” page at albums that belonged to her, or]. If she has a because I learned them from people I
stop near your town, treat yourself to a came across through her.
memorable evening with an artist Gene
S h ay [ w w w. g e n e s h ay. c o m ] , “ T h e SM: There is a wonderful flow to the
Songwriter’s Monthly - April ’11, #135
entire album. When do you consider the tracks and the exact gap between
track order and how important is it to each track — it’s not just a standard
you? two-second gap, but a painstakingly
calculated space that could be shorter
Sarah: Gerry O’Beirne produced both or longer than two seconds depending
of my solo albums and is in the process on what the mastering engineer feels is
of producing a third one for me. The needed. The mastering engineer I use
track order is the last thing we decide is Sander van der Heide, he’s based in
on. Basically, we listen to all the tracks the Netherlands and was recommended
t o m e b y Tr e v o r
Hutchinson, who

Piet Snellen
recorded and mixed both
of my solo albums.

SM: The vocal

performance of the
opening track, “The
Chickens They Are
Crowing,” is filled with a
tender love. How do you
get to that pure emotion
when singing?

Sarah: Thank you for

your kind comment! I
guess when I sing the
song, I’m thinking of the
scenario it describes: the
and think about how they’ll work best in young girl sitting up till dawn with the
terms of each track flowing nicely into boy who’s come a-courting, hearing the
another and functioning as an
integrated whole. Sometimes that “I knew from the
means you have to leave one of the
tracks you’ve recorded off the album — moment I wrote it
even though it’s a good track — that it would be the
because it doesn’t work with the others.
That’s why I get a bit upset at the idea linchpin of the
of people downloading an album onto album.”
an iPod and letting the songs shuffle at
random. So much care and thought has dawn chorus start and not wanting to
gone into the track order. In the go home because she loves being with
mastering process, the mastering him so much, even though she knows
engineer takes a huge amount of she’ll be in trouble with her mum and
trouble to judge the relative volumes of dad.
Songwriter’s Monthly - April ’11, #135
Brent Nearhood
SM: Your lower register has such certain moments, it almost sounds like
warmth, do you have a favorite register you are smiling while you sing . . . not
for your voice? because you are happy, but because
you understand and
Sarah: I find it easiest are offering comfort
to sing in the lower
“I went back to the and compassion. Does
register as I can get a friend I was staying that make sense?
bit more volume with and cried on
there. I do like singing S a r a h : Ye s , t h a t
in the upper register, her shoulder.” makes sense, and yes,
as well, but my voice that’s what I’m trying
gets very quiet and breathy on the high to do. Several people have told me that
notes, so I really need to use a song has helped them through their
microphone when I’m singing up there. own grieving processes after people
c l o s e t o t h e m d i e d , a n d t h a t ’s
SM: One of the original tracks, “Only wonderful, it makes me feel that I’m
An Emotion,” could be a very sad song, actually doing something worthwhile
but you sing it with such strength! At when I’m writing songs. My cousin had
Songwriter’s Monthly - April ’11, #135
a baby who died shortly after

Alastair Bruce (

being born and she told me that
she used to sit in her car and
sing along to my CD and she

“That’s wonderful,
it makes me feel
that I’m actually
doing something
worthwhile when
I’m writing
was crying while singing. She’s a
singer, herself, and she sang
“Only An Emotion” at her
wedding reception a few years
later. I was so honored and so
touched — that’s not remotely a
strong enough word — to hear
her singing it.

SM: I am enjoying the wide

range in the color of the guitars
— especially track three — on
this album. How did you
achieved such a broad tonal
soundscape? Did you use
different tunings, different guitars, backing me on 6- and 12-string guitars
different production, different pick ups? as well as a South American instrument
called the tiple.
Sarah: I only use one tuning:
DADGAD. On that album, I’m playing SM: Is it confining or liberating to sing
my old Martin D-28 from 1965. It has a unaccompanied on a recording?
Fishman Matrix pickup in it, but I’m
pretty sure we just used a microphone Sarah: Liberating . . . in the sense that
on it for the recording. On many of the it frees me up to vary the tempo. It’s
tracks, including the one you mentioned nice to have both accompanied and
(“Shady Grove/Cluck Old Hen”), Gerry unaccompanied songs on an album.
O’Beirne is playing. On that track, I’m
playing the melody guitar and he’s SM: The other original, “Last Song,”

Songwriter’s Monthly - April ’11, #135

really sums up this collection. Where in relate them to their own lives.
the process of putting together the
album did you write the lyrics? Did it SM: Is there anything you’d like to
come first and inspire the album, bring up that I haven’t asked about?
somewhere in the middle, or last?
Sarah: I’ve started recording a new
Sarah: To be honest, I can’t remember album and hope to finish it in June for a
exactly when I wrote release in September.
the lyrics, probably “I hope that It’s a bit of a
sometime in the few departure for me in
months leading up to anybody who hears that the majority of
the recording. I do them will also be the material on the
know that when I first album will be songs
wrote the song, it had
able to relate them that I’ve written in
a completely different to their own lives.” c o n t r a s t t o m y
melody. When I did previous albums that
the first take of it in the studio, Gerry w e r e p r e d o m i n a n t l y t r a d i t i o n a l
said, “I really like the lyrics, but I think material. I’m very excited about it and
you can write a better melody.” I went also a wee bit nervous!
back to the friend I was staying with
and cried on her shoulder saying I For Sarah’s May ’11 U.S. tour stops and
didn’t think I’d be able to come up with to stay up-to-date with the latest news
a better melody. Luckily, she had to go of her upcoming album, keep an eye on
out that evening, so with nothing better
to do, I sat down with my guitar
and wrote the melody that the
song now has. I recorded it the
next day. Certainly, I knew from
the moment I wrote it that it would
be the linchpin of the album, and,
given the title, it was pretty much
inevitable from the beginning that
it would be the last song on the

SM: Which track means the most

to you? Why?

Sarah: I guess it’s a toss-up

between “Only An Emotion” and
“Last Song” because they’re both
very powerful and personal songs

to me. I hope that anybody who

s t a t ?

hears them will also be able to


Songwriter’s Monthly - April ’11, #135