Interview: Sarah and the Safe Word

Sarah and the Safe Word

Today I’m thrilled to bring everyone an early listen to the new Sarah and the Safe Word single called “Pornstar Martini.” On this Motown-inspired track that sounds like a combination between early Panic! at the Disco paired with that classic Sarah and the Safe Word sound, the band continues their dramatic artistic development. Sarah Rose shared, “We wrote this song while we were on tour in the UK on an off day. I remember sitting in our AirBNB in Manchester and the chorus just kind of came out. Kienan and I knew pretty much right away that we were going to make a song out of it. It’s a love letter to our time in the UK as much as it is a love letter to some of our favorite vintage sounds. Feels like an interesting new chapter for the band. I’m excited to take folks along for this ride.” Additionally, lead guitarist Kienan Dietrich mentioned, “We’re trying to broaden the scope of our sound a tiny bit by taking the time machine back only a few decades instead of an entire century. The combination of references to works of dark academia, like Donna Tartt and Bret Easton Ellis, with a bright, Motown/Stax Records kind of music is such a fun thing to explore. The clash of squeaky clean, pop culture memories with the reality underpinning those memories. Classic juxtaposition stuff, and classic Safe Word. At the end of the day, who doesn’t want a penthouse view?” If you’re enjoying the early listen, you can stream it everywhere you get your music tomorrow. I was also able to catch up with the Kienan and Sarah for a brief interview below.

Thank you so much for your time today, Sarah and Kienan. First of all, it’s great to connect and see you again! Let’s chat about your brand new single, called “Pornstar Martini.” Great title, but I’m really afraid to type it on my work computer anytime soon (Laughter). But can you let me know what inspired this single that feels like a mix between almost like early-Panic! at the Disco paired with that classic Sarah and the Safe Word sound. So what went into this one?

Sarah: That’s a cool way to describe it. Thank you. Well, we were on tour last year in the UK and we, crazy enough, kept seeing the pornstar martini cocktail on menus everywhere in little pubs and bars. We overheard a conversation by this very stately older woman in a very posh part of London where she was complaining about how her neighborhood had been overrun with young, trendy people and how offended she was by a new cocktail that was appearing everywhere called a “Pornstar Martini.” We talked about her all day after that. And then later on the tour, we kind of were jamming in our AirBNB during an off day in Manchester. And the chorus of that song kind of came to light then. So it’s very much inspired by our time there.

Kienan: To give you an example of how posh this place was, this was literally as we were walking away from Buckingham Palace, [so it was] that part of London…

And can you explain, Kienan, what it’s like working as a four piece band now? How has the writing process been going?

Kienan: Yeah, sure. I mean, it really hasn’t really changed all that much, just because Sarah and I are the core songwriters. When you go from, like, a seven piece to a six piece, then a six piece to a five piece, obviously the attention that each individual member gets increases, especially on a mix. With “Pornstar” there are no strings on it, but that wasn’t really a super conscious choice. It was more like we’re going for Motown, a general kind of feel. While some Motown has strings, those aren’t really the strings that we went with. So we figured we’d lean more into the horns aspect of it. We were able to have a little more equitable discussion with individuals. The fewer people there are, the more everyone kind of gets their voice. And it feels really good right now. It just feels like we’ve got this good core. And I will say for touring, it’s really nice. We can actually tour in a regular sized van! (Laughter)

That’s cool! So I was really excited to see that Good Gracious! Bad People got a vinyl pressing…

Sarah: Oh, you got your vinyl before I got mine! (Laughter)

Customers first! (Laughter) So are there any plans to release Red Hot & Holy. That’s the only one that hasn’t gotten the vinyl pressing treatment. And also, can you talk a little bit about your merch store that recently launched? 

Sarah: Yeah, we are talking right now about Red Hot & Holy. Actually, I can’t give any updates beyond that. But we’re having conversations about a vinyl release for that album. And with the new webstore, that’s something we’ve launched in the last couple of months. It’s run directly by the band. It has some merch that you can really only get, seasonally, through us. And we tell people that if you want a way to directly support the band and help us fund what we do, our webstore is the best place to do it. We’re going to be adding more designs and more merch to that throughout the year as well.

That’s great! So the last time we chatted was at your concert in Silver Spring, Maryland. Great to see you both, of course. But you mentioned there that there might be plans for a live recording to be released soon. Any progress on that project that you can share today?

Sarah: Yeah, speaking of London, we recorded our show at the Black Heart in London last year. And we are working on releasing that live set, in full, for release hopefully later this year. It might be next year, but we’re working on it right now.

Cool, so I understand that Sarah and the Safe Word are going on tour this month with bands like Cheap Perfume, Hoity Toity, and more. So with four great albums to your band’s name, how difficult is it for you to craft a setlist these days that satisfies fans both old and new?

Kienan: It’s very hard…it’s hard enough when you just have discussions with people in the band. Y’know, it’s just that everyone has their favorites. There are, of course, the required ones, the singles versus deeper album cuts. Then you get into the fanbase where they have discussions. We have a very active Discord with tons of our wonderful fans having a very, very serious discussion about which songs are better than others. And everyone has an opinion and it’s wonderful and it’s actually kind of cool. It’s kind of surprising to see some of their <top> choices…

Sarah: Our fans made an NBA style bracket pretty recently on Discord where they voted for their favorite songs. And it’s been fun to watch what songs made the cut. It actually surprised me, like, ‘Wait, the final four are THOSE?!’ Yeah, our setlist is actually pretty influenced by what we hear on our Discord a lot of the time. A lot of the reason why we’ve incorporated some songs into our setlist is because people on the Discord said they wanted to hear it. And some of them were songs where we were like, ‘Really? You want that one?’ But I’m glad we did. Because when we’ve been playing them live, it gets a really great reaction. And so I’m glad we had that direct line to people.

That’s cool. And it’s nice for you guys to both keep your ears to the ground and see what the fans want, and also respond to that, too…

Kienan: Yeah, frankly, it influences some of the writing that we do, because we’ve been writing for a new record, and we’ve gone back to places that we didn’t really think we would have gone back to, just because certain songs along those lines got much more positive attention than we thought they would. So we’re kind of reopening some doors, not backtracking necessarily, but we had closed some doors that we’re reopening.

And with the new record that you’re mentioning, are there any plans to continue work with the same producers? Or are you trying different things?

Sarah: We’re working with Mike Abiuso. Some people might know him as a member of a band called The Venetia Fair. They’re still one of my favorite bands. So we’re recording with Mike right now, we may work with some other producers as well. We’re kind of in a period right now where we’re really lucky that we can just make a bunch of different songs and see where they go. And we’re having fun with that.

That’s awesome. So the new single showcases a great direction for you guys. Any news you can share about any other music on the horizon?

Kienan: We’ve written quite a bit, and we are excited to just kind of throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. I will say we do have some songs that have moved up in the pipeline. And there’s [one song that’s] a little closer towards what we would consider a standard Sarah and the Safe Word <song>. And then there’s another one that takes an even bigger left turn than this one. So we’re just covering a wide range. I would say “Pornstar Martini” does not indicate anything about the band’s future direction.

Sarah: There’s definitely more Safe Word recorded and coming this year, and not to be too self-promotional, but I am also putting a solo record out this year on Say-10 Records. Well, hopefully this year, it just depends on vinyl production timelines. But I have a solo record coming out and we actually just filmed the music video for the first single recently.

That’s awesome. Congratulations! Are there any core differences of writing by yourself, or do you ever use Kienan for a “trusted ear” for testing out solo material?

Sarah: I’ve kept a lot of work on the solo record pretty close to the chest, honestly. Not because I don’t like working with Safe Word or trust their opinions, but because it’s been a minute since I’ve done anything outside of the band’s ecosphere. And I’ve never put out anything under my own name before in the fifteen years I’ve made music. I actually went to Gravity Studios in Chicago and made a large part of that record with two guys named Daniel Farnsworth and Ben Harris, who is the former music director of Second City. We made a jazz-influenced record and I worked with a brass band horn section. It was kind of a creative exercise in me trying to figure out what I would do if I was making my own project. It’s a lot more in the big band, swing direction. Very vintage kind of vibes. Kienan did play bass on a song on the record, though, on a collaboration with the band Park. It’s a collaboration between me and Kienan and Park’s Ladd Mitchell and Miles Parkhill, who’s my favorite drummer of all time in the scene, which is pretty cool. Beth also helped me write one of my favorite songs on the solo record.

That’s awesome, and I think solo projects are a great way of branching out and creating other artistic outlets, for any band. Some people kind of get an ego with solo things within bands. But you guys don’t seem like that at all.

Sarah: Oh, I’m a nightmare…(Laughter)

According to Wikipedia, Sarah and the Safe Word will have been a band for almost 10 years by this time next year. Are there any plans to mark this significant anniversary?

Kienan: That’s a great question…there aren’t any at the moment, but it sounds like there should be!

Sarah: That makes me feel so old. There’s no concrete plans to do that right now. But I know I would like to mark the 10 years in some way. So I’m sure we’ll do something.

Okay, any last words for your fans or things for them to check out?

Sarah: I want Jason Tate to buy me a motorcycle.


Kienan: I would say if you haven’t joined the Discord yet, do it. It’s a very nice community. It’s well moderated, it’s very open, and frankly, the best way to interact with us online. It’s the [social media] that we pay the most attention to.

Sarah: It really is a direct pipeline to the band, we do a lot of cool stuff on it. We do “AMA’s” and all kinds of little events there and beyond any of our social media networks, the Discord really is the place where if you want to be close to the band and know what’s going on, it’s a great place to join and link up with us.

That’s awesome. I hope to see you guys again on tour, hopefully keep coming near the DC area. And if a motorcycle shows up at your doorstep I’ll take credit for it. (Laughter)

Sarah: Oh, and real quick, we’ve had a bunch of people asking if we’re going to come to the East coast and Midwest this year, and we are, I promise, so don’t don’t worry about that as this tour is not our only tour this year!

Great seeing you both, and enjoy the rest of your day!

Sarah/Kienan: Take care, Adam!