An Interview with Sarah Gross

Talking sonic tarot pulls, “slush files”, and her witchy notebook.

4/16/20244 min read

Sienna O. Garda: Do you need special pens, your phone, lucky socks, snacks, specific gear?

Sarah Gross: I have a physical notebook I bought when I was in college that I still use. It's blue with gold suns on it, and it looks like it belonged to a witch in another life.

JP: Do you take writing trips, do you meditate, need vocal or guitar warm ups, tie your hair in a ponytail?

SOG: These days, writing songs looks like being in my living room, my guitar, and my dog at my feet. He's the first one to listen to any of my songs and he likes the hum of my guitar—he's a corgi, so he's got the really big ears, you know. Sometimes I stand when I write music so I can move around. I used to be a dancer for many years, so I always associated movement with music. It really helps me conceptualize how it would feel if I were to perform it live. If it makes me wanna move, maybe it'll do the same for others!

SOG: When you write are you usually neutral, gloomy, processing, retrospectively re-telling?

SG: It's always changing! Most of the time, I'm in an introspective mood and using music to "self therapize". It's usually a time where I'm feeling emotionally vulnerable and need to process it somehow. And that could be when I'm happy, sad, lonely, proud, flirty, whatever. I feel very lucky that I have an outlet to channel it all.

SOG: Do you ever re-purpose dreams, previously written lyrics, other people’s songs?

SG: An old college professor had us create a "slush file", where we would jot down all of our smaller creative ideas. Sometimes they are fully formed lyrics or verses; "maybe it's the light from the thruway but I never wanna leave this passenger seat". Sometimes it's prompts; "a song about a truck driver who gets attached to the things that he's driving around and has to give it up someday". Or maybe it's just something that inspired me on my morning walk. These mainly just help when I'm stuck in a song I'm writing and need instant inspiration.

SOG: Co-Writers—yes or no, and who?

SG: 99% of the time it's just little ol' me, but I've learned a lot about collaboration in the last year. Although I'm normally the one coming up with the lyrics/melody, I have a wonderful band whose opinions I trust very much. That's really important to me when I pick who I work with. When we recorded the last record, their contributions to the band arrangement were so imperative to the sound of the record, and really guided me when it came to producing the rest on my own. The best examples of this from the record are "Stranger", which was co-written by Nick Peta and I, and "State I'm In". Those were pretty fresh tunes for the band when we recorded them, and what I thought would be the sonic direction of these songs were totally elevated once I brought it to them. For the next record, I think I'm really going to lean into this idea of playing them the bare-bones of the song, then arranging it all in the same room together. I am really lucky I get to work with people who are just as invested as I am in this project. Music is meant to be a community experience and I think all artists are all seeking that in some way.

SOG: Do you write in the shower, on walks, your bedroom floor, in the car?

SG: I've written full songs in my car while driving! I do so much traveling for this job, and it gives me a lot of time to think. So many of my songs reference driving, being on the Long Island Rail Road for the Long Island Expressway, et cetera—that's got to be why. Thank God for iPhone voice memos. I'd also add that I write and edit a lot when I'm on the treadmill. I like to listen to my demos over and over and capitalize on those endorphins to brainstorm what I can do with these songs. It distracts me when I don't really feel like working out.

SOG: Are you inspired by eavesdropping, historical figures, your own life and inner world?

SG: I've had my fair share of both autobiographical songs, and songs from other perspectives, usually people close to me. But in every song though there is a piece of myself whether I like it or not. There are times when I will write full songs and have no idea where it's coming from or what I'm channeling, and then a few months will go by and I'll say "oh! that's what I was experiencing at the time, I just didn't know it yet". It's like pulling a tarot card and not knowing what it means, but retrospectively realizing its value from that point in my life.

SOG: Do you write in the morning, evening, autumn, summer, at school?

SG: It seems like I'm on a cycle where I write a lot of music in the fall, record it in the winter, release it in the spring or summer so I can tour with it, and do it all over again! The cold seasons are a hibernation period for me; not a lot of traveling and touring, playing fewer gigs, not wanting to leave the house. It leaves more room to be creative and channel all that seasonal depression.

This interview has been lightly edited for context and clarity. Originally published in November 2023.