As if painting a lush panorama of the Sequoia National Forest, Sárah Rogo’s fluid touches and tones on the guitar are like subtle brush strokes of warm hues, at once evoking the perils and potential of the natural world. The singer-songwriter’s new album Sunfall, in particular, is conceptualized as an ode to the woods at twilight.
Subtitled Blues Mantras and Instrumentals for the Evening Hours, it was recorded with unique guitars such as her baritone, 12-string, and steel – all lending their special sound to the blues. In today’s world of compressed and manipulated audio, the listener will hear this album the way Sárah intended it: just herself and the lo-fi elements.
“Sunfall is not meant to be grandiose or in your face but subtle, meditative, and dreamy. I wanted to exemplify the mystery I feel when I’m in the woods at sunset. Many of the tracks were recorded live in my Airstream, capturing the natural essence of the compositions. My intention with this album was definitely ‘don’t think too hard,’ and I in fact didn’t even know I was going to release it until I knew I should! It just kind of poured out of me and when I looked back on it, it felt really special so I decided to release it.”
I asked Sárah about her relationship with the woods, particularly at twilight, and how on this album it served as a creative springboard for the songwriting and instrumental music. “You know, I have had some professionals within the music industry tell me not to write too much about nature for whatever reason, but on the other hand they will also tell me to ‘write what you know.’ I’ve just always been that girl kicking rocks in the woods. I don’t always write about nature, but this album definitely came at a particular time where nature was all I had as the outside world felt like it was crumbling.”
Sárah’s voice is a beautiful relic of the blues’ past that fits in a contemporary context. She understands the blues is a gift that keeps giving, but that one of its main purposes is to keep evolving with the times. “Quite frankly, I go project by project with finding myself, my message, and my sound. I kind of believe that every album is a living, breathing creature with its own muse. The next album I’m working on is a complete 180 difference, and I’m proud of both! I absolutely love playing through art and don’t see myself as one particular facet, genre, or sound. I often say I am ‘soulful roots’ or Americana.”
“All Of These Things Must Die,” the first video for and final song on Sunfall, premiered exclusively on ABS. It’s an older song that ties in with the cyclical nature of the album, the music mirroring the sweet melancholy of life’s seasons. The video sees Sárah illuminated by a single, haunting light while imagery builds then disappears. She thought of the video as a blank canvas and watercolors, putting to use the transparency of this medium.
She sums this idea up by saying, “Art is born from limitation. My husband and I filmed the whole thing in a small little room in our house. Simply overlaying images of water coloring and flowers over me singing the song. It has a kind of time lapse feel to it, and that’s how I felt while writing the song.” Sárah tells me that it’s the collection of the songs “All of These Things Must Die,” “Sunfall Blues,” and “Sequoia Stomp” together that make them special and her favorite ones on the album.
Sárah grew up in an environment where music didn’t necessarily hold sway, but it didn’t stop her from playing everything from bassoon to clarinet to saxophone, and eventually making her way to slide guitar. Musically, she says, she was raised in the public library. There they had CDs, lots of them. I, too, look back fondly to the days of renting as many as the limit allowed, picking some at random, then taking them home and getting an education.
“This is where I discovered everything from blues, klezmer, classical, R&B, and soul. There I discovered Alone & Acoustic by Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. It’s a very nonchalant album with a lot of impact. It’s just Buddy and Junior sitting together trading tunes and it’s literally all in the key of E. So simple, but taught me so much about the power of music and communicating within the blues. That definitely has stuck with me, as well as the other world styles that I play my music with as well. I do believe the music you listen to when you’re a kid shapes you.”
Technically speaking, she was a professional saxophone player before anything else. She even went to school for it. “When I first heard the slide guitar it was Derek Trucks in Central Park, and that changed my life. When I was at Berklee College of Music, I met my mentor Paul Rishell and he got me so interested in the slide and I ended up realizing I enjoy playing the guitar a lot more than the saxophone. I am deeply grateful for my training on saxophone and bassoon as it got me both interested in jazz and classical, which are both very intricate styles of music that really open up your musicality. I find that I am very influenced by having been a saxophone player because my sense of melody is strong and oftentimes I think like a horn player which lends itself to really saying something through a melody.”
Sárah has shared the stage with artists Joe Bonamassa, Jimmie Vaughan, Larkin Poe, and Jimmy Vivino and has led her band in slots at festivals throughout the country. She has been a featured performer on TEDx Talks, and is one of the hosts of the world famous Normans Rare Guitars channel. She has more recently dialed back her full-time hours to now helping with videos and demos.
“Normans rare guitars is like family to me. I wandered in the store when I was basically a vagabond and new in LA and was bold enough to ask Norman for a job. I started by cleaning and folding shirts, and it just turned into a natural relationship and I owe so much to that squad. I see them often when I go in to demo vintage guitars for their YouTube channel.
When she reflects on artists she’s played with, she’s enjoyed her time with the less famous artists equally as much, noting that everyone you play music with can teach you something. “I think some of the most special memories were playing on stage with my mentors, Paul Rishell, Annie Raines, and Woody Mann. They were basically my mentors who took me on tour when I didn’t really have the experience. My greatest memory is laughing so hard on stage with them that I could barely sing. Also just being on stage and watching them like a hawk to learn how they could be so easeful playing and performing.
Continuing work on the next full-length album, Sárah hopes to release it before the end of the year. “It’s pretty edgy and certain aspects of it are experimental but all rooted in the slide guitar. It’s about my hard and painful times in the music industry. I’m ready to get that out into the world so I can move on!”
She will be playing the Blues Rules festival on June 2nd in Switzerland with her friend Molly Gene, and will follow it up with shows around Southern California as she plans future performances. “Right now I’m focusing on festivals and house concerts when possible as I feel really fulfilled in the community aspect of both.”