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Musician:  SARAH McGOWAN
Exclusive Song Premiere:  “Riding in Cars with Men

Women’s Safety and Vulnerability Are the Focus of Sarah McGowan’s Dark Dream Pop Track “Riding in Cars With Men”

A Potentially Dangerous Encounter Inspires a Compelling Song, as a Young Artist Hopes to Spark a Conversation About Consent

Indie pop/rock artist Sarah McGowan is no stranger to praise. Over the last two years, she has earned comparisons to such acclaimed artists as Sara Bareilles, Dolly Parton (on NPR, no less), Ingrid Michaelson, Natalie Merchant and others.

With her riveting new Dream Pop track, “Riding in Cars With Men,” she is likely to evoke thoughts of contemporary acts including Phantogram and Banks, as well as industry faves Cocteau Twins and Mazzy Star.

Sarah McGowan-4The sound is new for McGowan, and the disquieting sonic template is intentional, rooted in her personal experience of feeling vulnerable and needing to find her voice to say ‘no’ to a man who caught her off guard, and made unwanted advances. McGowan comments, “‘Riding in Cars with Men’ is a song about getting into a potentially dangerous situation with a man. It’s actually about a true event that happened to me.”

We talked with Sarah McGowan about her songwriting and creative process, the social significance of art in society, the unique times we live in—and the unusual places she finds inspiration.

SARAH McGOWAN Web-Exclusive Interview
with M Music & Musicians magazine publisher, Merlin David

Tell us how the idea of “Riding in Cars with Men” came to you.
It was inspired by a true event that happened to me. I once went with a man to a bar thinking it was a networking opportunity. But once I was there, I quickly realized that was not his intention and he wanted to come home with me. He even went so far as to get into my taxi with me—uninvited—at the end of the night. Luckily, I was able to politely decline his advances, but that experience has stuck with me. I remember how vulnerable and afraid I felt while he followed me home, and how difficult it was to find my voice and say “No.” Writing “Riding in Cars with Men” helped me process the whole event and learn from the experience. Hopefully it’ll resonate with listeners who have been in similar situations.

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How do the times we now live in inform this song?
I think we live in a time where it is often inconvenient to be a woman. From the threat of losing health services like Planned Parenthood to the wage gap, being a woman is a constant fight. We also hear about violent assaults nearly every day, even in places where one should feel safe—like college campuses. It’s unsettling to realize how common these incidents are. I think a lot of women will relate to “Riding in Cars with Men” and how we often get ourselves into situations where we feel powerless. If we can talk about these experiences, we can start to fix them.

What do you hope this song will accomplish?
I hope this song will join the larger conversations that have been started about consent and women’s safety. Although my story turned out ok, I think it’s important to have a dialogue about incidents like this, with both women and men, and how they can be avoided. Women need to realize that they have the power to leave a situation they don’t feel comfortable in, and men need to understand that nothing short of a clear “yes” is consent. I’m optimistic that if these conversations continue and expand, the younger generations will have a much different view of what is OK and what is not.

Why do you think it’s important to write songs with social significance—songs that have greater value/meaning?
During difficult times, art is often at its peak. Art is such a healthy medium to use as an outlet for heavy emotions. Music is an especially wonderful outlet since it is such a universal and accessible medium. I find it much easier to express emotions and messages through music than in any other way. In our fast-paced world, someone is more likely to listen to a song that has a message than to take the time to read a newspaper article or essay. So art has a very important job in today’s society.

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How can one be vigilant?
Check your gut. My gut is not that great. As a woman, watch out for yourself and watch out for your friends. Try not to get yourself in situations—trust your gut.

Is there a new album on the horizon?
I’m currently working on writing and recording more songs with my producer and songwriting partner, Jason Boule. Fun fact—Jason and I have never actually met. We’ve been connected since 2012 when we both were student representatives for GRAMMY U in college—he in San Francisco and me in New York. We started sending tracks back and forth about a year ago. All the work on the track was done remotely in our respective studios—mine at Engine Room Audio in NYC and his in his house in Santa Cruz, California. I’m really excited about the music Jason and I are creating together. I’m planning on collecting a group of these songs and releasing an EP later this year. It’ll be an EP of five songs—different style from others I’ve done—pop-rock-folk, now Indie pop / dream pop—darker edgier songs. I’m growing up, and have had my heart broken.

Who inspired you to write songs?
My biggest musical inspiration is Sheryl Crow. When I was 14, my aunt and uncle took me to see her in concert and it blew my mind. I had no idea that music could be that powerful—and that a woman could rock out like that. It was a turning point in my life and inspired me to pursue music. Sheryl is still my favorite artist. I recently saw her perform live and felt the magic all over again.

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What made you want to write songs?
For me, songwriting has always been about expression. Songwriting is a really effective way of sharing ideas and feelings. A good song should make you actually feel the writer/performer’s emotions. As a writer and listener, that’s my ultimate goal.

What is your creative process for writing songs?
Typically, I write songs around a hook. I have hooks and chorus parts pop into my head pretty frequently and I record them on my iPhone. Then when I sit down and write, I write the rest of the song around that musical idea. For my current project, my songwriting partner/producer Jason Boule has been sending me beats and I’ll top-line them. It’s been an interesting way to expand my “sound”—and has pushed me to write in a different way. The songs we’ve been creating have been really special and I’m excited to share them in the near future.

What songwriting tip would you like to offer?

I’m all about the hook in a song. I try to make sure that every song I write has a part that people will remember and be able to sing along to. This is true whether I’m writing an upbeat pop or a darker rock song—you want it to stick in people’s heads long after they’ve finished listening.

Sarah McGowan-12What equipment helps you write and record?
My home setup is key for me. It’s very simple—a Rode NT1-A condenser mic, Focusrite’s Scarlett 2i2 interface, and Pro Tools on my laptop. It’s great to have this setup at home, since I’m able to quickly record demos and start building tracks. Then I’m able to send the tracks to Jason to work on and use my studio space at Engine Room Audio in NYC to cut final vocals and track additional instruments.

What instruments and accessories can you not live without?
My guitars—acoustic and electric. I have a Guild acoustic and Fender Stratocaster, a Fender amp, and I used D’Addario Strings.

What PRO are you with?
I am with BMI. I actually have not yet taken advantage of the services they offer, but I know they do great work supporting indie songwriters and artists.

Do you remember the first time you heard/saw your song on TV?
One of the coolest moments of my career so far was hearing my song, “When I Come Home,” on an advertisement for the Canadian TV show Hello Goodbye on CBC. My friend sent me a recording of the ad that he had taken on his phone and I was floored. It was crazy to hear my voice coming out of the TV.

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Top 5 Musicians who inspired you to become a musician? 
Sheryl Crow, Joni Mitchell, John Mayer, all the Disney princesses (I watched Disney movies constantly as a child), and Elliott Smith.

What are your Top 5 favorite albums of all time?
Blue (1971) – Joni Mitchell
Born and Raised (2012) – John Mayer
Figure 8 (2000) – Elliott Smith
Channel Orange (2012) – Frank Ocean
Tapestry (1971) – Carole King

Best advice someone has given you, and best advice you’d give upcoming musicians.
My advice to other artists is the advice my parents constantly tell me—just keep going. You can’t stop working and hustling, even when you’re discouraged. Use the rejection as fuel to make yourself work harder—and prove everyone wrong. And, don’t burn bridges. Be polite to everyone—it’s a small industry.

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What’s next?

I just did a single release show at the Rockwood Music Hall Stage 1 in NYC this past Friday. I’m working on writing more songs for an EP that I’m hoping to release later this year. Along with that, I’m working on a new badass stage show to showcase my new material. I’ll hopefully hit the road after the EP is released.

Where can your new fans get more info and stay updated?
Instagram: @sarahmcgowanmusic
Twitter: @smcgowanmusic
Snapchat: smcgowan09

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