Date: January 2010
From: PULP Magazine
Inspiration from a Mountain Top
by Octavio Bach
After releasing three full-length studio albums, Alabaster Flesh, Shadowed and Lovers and Leaders, and a live record, and following hundreds of concerts around America, Los Angeles-based piano rocker Sacha Sacket has returned to take command of the indie pop scene with his recent release, Hermitage. The album was born from Sacket's own experiences sequestering himself in a California mountain cabin where he fled after an exhaustive touring schedule.
Based on Sacket's pure instrumental talent, Hermitage sonically captures his classical leanings, while interweaving electronic and modern rock elements around common human themes of self-betrayal, reflection, faith, hope and love. On Hermitage, the openly-gay artist brings in a cornucopia of instruments into the soundscape—including cello on the first single, "Running Away," as well as on "Used," which also features xylophone; accordion on the timeless, dreamlike love song, "You Could"; and rich lap steel guitar and rain-like drums on "Hold On and Hope."
PULP Magazine: Sacha, you released your debut album, Alabaster Flesh, in 2001. What was the major turning point that finally made you go at it on your own and release an album?
Sacha Sacket: I graduated college and spent a few months up in San Francisco, shared an apartment with my sister, worked at a bank for a little bit, and just realized that I was going to be a very depressed person if I didn't get off my butt and make a record. It was such a scary idea for me, but it was either be scared or really unhappy. I had no clue where to start or how any of it worked. It wasn't going to be a perfect process and being somewhat of a perfectionist—that was quite upsetting. But the thought of not doing it was much more painful. So I moved back down to Los Angeles and found a great engineer and figured it out. And that's sort of how every album is. You just take a shot in the dark and let the process guide you.
PM: Some artists look back at their first album as something they can't relate to anymore; some are even embarrassed. However, many debut albums of artists are considered classics. How do you view Alabaster Flesh these days?
SS: You know, I haven't listened to the album in years. There are people who love that record more than any of my others. The last time I sat down with it, it sounded very young—but there was an urgency, and I remember thinking how wildly creative it was—which I love. I was just making something without much consideration of what would sell or any audience at all. And as I get older, I find myself returning more profoundly to that sentiment. There is something about staying true to your own voice that becomes more difficult with each attempt because people keep weighing in on what you do. But in the end, your heart and gut is all you really have.
PM: You were born in Tehran, Iran shortly before the Iranian Revolution. What was it like earlier this year watching this new revolution in Iran after the election?
SS: My family was really affected by all the news. I was born during the revolution in the '70s. My parents took to the streets. What is happening right now is really reminiscent of that time. The people are so brave. I think that is the first thing that hit me. Living in America, you sort of take your rights for granted. They aren't fundamentally challenged. I think if we had a similar crisis, people would be doing similar things here. But when you see people fighting for their right of expression, for basic freedoms—it's gut wrenching and amazing at the same time.
PM: What's it like being Iranian and knowing your art may not be enjoyed, or even appreciated, by people of your own heritage simply because you're gay—and gay people are still executed in Iran?
SS: It's painful. I know that who I fundamentally am will never be accepted in Iran during my lifetime. And I know there are a ton of people who are struggling with being gay under an oppressive regime. In some ways the internet helps get your voice out there and there is some communication going on. There is a lot of homophobia in the culture still, my family had to come a long way. And they did. It still amazes me. I would love to directly challenge the stereotypes and homophobia in Iran. I am lucky that I can at least try to do it from afar.
PM: Can you describe why you felt the need to lock yourself in a cabin to create Hermitage? Do you consider this album to be your Walden Pond?
SS: You know, the return to nature and ‘nature as spirituality' theme is definitely on the record. The basic reason I decided I needed an escape was that I wasn't listening to myself. I was listening to other people. I was eager to please everyone but myself. And I was getting nowhere doing that. No one was happy—including me! So what better other way than to run off and cut off all communication for a bit.
PM: When you think of modern-day indie artists such as yourself, what do you think is the greatest way to reach out to a broader listening base? Do you seek to expand your audience?
SS: The internet is still the best place to reach people, but nothing can replace a great show.
PM: Legendary Hollywood actress Bette Davis once said that there is no gratitude of actors in the movie-making industry by the major studios. Do you feel that also rings true today for recording artists by the major record labels?
SS: I do feel that to some degree, yes. Because it's all a dollar sign. It's corporate. And that attitude filters down to the producers and the artists. There is nothing wrong with wanting to make a living, of course. But CEOs can't write or recognize the next "Imagine." You have Bob Dylan saying that he is positive a label wouldn't sign him in this day and age. And I agree with him. They would throw his CD in the trash heap if it came across their desks. Music seems to be all about having your own reality show these days...
PM: It has been stated by many mainstream artists that major recording labels are crumbling because of their inability to take advantage of newer technology and other factors, such as restrictive contracts. Where do you see the industry going?
SS: I do believe the industry has to figure out a way to monetize their product and secure it properly. I don't believe that giving music away is sustaining. It makes no sense to me whatsoever. I can't make a living if people steal what I make. It's obvious.
Somehow, the legal system has to figure out how to protect copy-written material properly. It's the same problem newspapers are having, and film and TV are discovering, etc. I think a major key is in getting technology to a place where it's really, really, really easy to buy a song or a ticket to a concert. Like you push a button on your radio when you like a song and for 99 cents you have it for life and you can access it anywhere you go, without having to do all this extra work of uploading, etc. It's all stored on some remote server but it's yours forever. It needs to get easier to buy and play music and somehow it has to become more centralized. We are getting there with that though.
PM: You have amazing talent for singing, writing and composing music. Were your talents learned at all, or do you consider yourself more of a savant?
SS: From my perspective, it's all about the hours you put into your craft. It takes a lot of time and a lot of perseverance. Fail. Fail again. Fail better. And suddenly before you know it, you are doing things you thought were beyond your capacity.
PM: You have been out as a gay man since the beginning of your musical career. Do you feel that this has hindered you in any way, or on the flip side, has it helped?
SS: I think it's both sides of the coin. It's given me something to express. It's central to why I make music. It's why I am not signed to some degree. It has also helped me find a great audience too.
PM: "You who knew you'd lose the way/You who sprints to stay the same." These are lines from "Running Away" off of Hermitage. Can you expand on this concept - what was the meaning behind these lines?
SS: "Running Away" came to me on tour. I was driving all over the country, running ragged. And suddenly, I was running away from myself instead of spreading the good word. I was phoning things in. Letting people dictate what I did creatively. And I had to stop. The song led me to the whole Hermitage process.
PM: Where do you find inspiration? What is it that brings such amazing lyrics to your albums, more specifically to Hermitage?
SS: Lyrics are the hardest thing. They take too long. I am always rewriting, reshaping. It can be draining. It seems like every album finds me up at 3 am in a Denny's.
PM: Do you see yourself ever writing a desert-inspired album, perhaps here in Palm Springs?
SS: Hmm ... well "Desire" off of Shadowed has some desert themes working in it. Hey, you never know. I do love Palm Springs. Might have to escape there for my next record.
PM: If there is one song that defines you as an artist, do you believe you have already written it, or do you feel that has yet to come?
SS: I don't think that is my choice to make, really. I am way too subjective. That is something that gets decided for you and probably shifts over time as well.
PM: Can you talk a bit about your inspirations? What artists do you listen to, and do you feel that your music reflects some of what you admire about your favorite artists?
SS: Radiohead still gives me a thrill after all these years. It's sort of amazing to me. I never get tired of them.
PM: Are there any albums you feel are greatly underrated and have never gotten the praise they have deserved?
SS: Tori Amos' Boys for Pele. Hands down.
PM: If you could offer any advice to young musical artists, especially those who may be just starting out, what would that advice be?
SS: If someone gives you advice that makes you feel like crap—it's useless. Real criticism makes you feel free and energized. It's an ‘aha' moment. There are a lot of blocked artists in the world. People who convinced themselves long ago that they couldn't make it, or didn't have enough talent. And they shoot down those around them, consciously or not... Because who are you to think you are better than them? But the truth is that they could do it, you can do it, and the more you do it—the better you get. It's not an impossible dream and no one has the secret recipe.
PM: When can we expect to hear some new things following Hermitage? Will there be a tour following soon?
SS: I am really excited because there is a bunch of new music burning a hole in my pocket. And yeah—Hermitage has been an awesome but very isolated experience. I am ready to get out there and shake things up again. Really looking forward to playing live again. It's been more than a year now and I am more than antsy.
PM: Will you be performing in or around Palm Springs anytime in the near future?
SS: Played Pride a few times in Palm Springs and loved it! Look forward to coming back soon!