Review Fix chats with The August Arrival’s Sarah MacDonald to find out about her creative process, goals for 2021 and origins in music.
Review Fix: How did you get involved in music?
Sarah MacDonald: When I was growing up, every summer my family would spend time on this little (relatively unknown at that time) hippy island called Hornby Island off the coast of Vancouver Island. On Hornby, someone was always playing guitar and harmonica on a beach around a campfire.
I remember at a young age thinking this skill looked so fun and brought so much enjoyment to people. However, as not everyone played guitar, I knew it was something that required commitment. I liked the challenge of knowing that if I was persistent enough and loved it enough, I would be able to learn as well. I started when I was sixteen years old and only ever loved doing it.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
MacDonald: I can always feel it when a song is going to come out easily. I start to pay more attention to sounds…like the floatplane that’s taking off on the nearby lake works as the perfect synth compliment to the music I’m playing in my headphone. I know that during those windows if I make space and time for it, a song will come out easily. I’ll sit in my kitchen with low lighting late at night and let it flow. I try not to overthink the lyrics. I know they’re meaningful if they bring a sense of heat with them. Almost as though my face becomes flush from articulating a feeling that I would have preferred to have not have divulged. Those lyrics that I wish I wouldn’t have said are the ones I know I need to keep.
I think generally I have a bit of a rough idea of the chord structure of a song figured out, and then I’ll start by singing whatever melody and lyrics come out over top.
That initial melody and line usually inform the direction of the rest of the song. After a song is done, I feel a great sense of release. I am lighter, less edgy. I usually try to finish the song I’ve started within the next day or two.
I’ve learned over time that the songs I say “I’ll go back to” tend to remain unfinished. I think my creative process needs to come out quickly and passionately so I don’t lose the emotion that’s inspiring the song, but then afterward I can also let go of it.
Review Fix: What inspires you?
MacDonald: I am inspired by people who are authentic with their struggles but celebrate their successes. I feel inspiration from other artists and musicians who “let their shadows show” (that might be a lyric from a song, if it’s not, it should be). I am also inspired by the Yukon wilderness, my concern for the planet, and the commonalities that unite people.
Review Fix: What does music mean to you?
MacDonald: Writing music is the ultimate emotional outlet for me. My whole life I have dealt with dips in my moods. I do all the “things”, I meditate, I exercise, but nothing seems to process emotion for me like songwriting, playing, and listening to music does. I don’t live in those heavy spaces because music really helps me to deal with the lows. It draws out joy (especially through dance) and stimulates contemplation. Listening to other people’s music provides a sense of comfort; knowing that another has experiences with similar emotions and thoughts.
Review Fix: How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?
MacDonald: The august arrival is probably considered to be in the indie-folk rock genre.
At its core, it is singer-songwriter music. The structures of the songs are strong and can carry themselves if played acoustically.
In the studio, it can become something else, merging modern soundscapes, with acoustic instrumentation that builds songs to a breaking point. It is inspired by indie bands such as POSTDATA, Basia Bulat, Kathleen Edwards, Black Match, and Hayden.
Review Fix: How are your live shows different from your studio work?
MacDonald: All the studio songs are written first in a solo musician context. It’s one acoustic guitar and one singer. This means that acoustic shows can be pretty powerful too.
Review Fix: What inspired your latest single?
MacDonald: The first single I released off of All Blue and Gold is called Running. It was written in a moment of feeling lost or unsure about what I wanted or where I was going in life. I was finding that mundane, routine moments of my life (which is most of them) seemed old and void of beauty. I realized during the process of writing this song that was not the case. The problem was that in my constant search to find something better, I had forgotten to pay attention to all the simple but beautiful things I already had.
I understood through this song that jumping ship or running away or restarting wasn’t the solution; paying attention was.
Review Fix: What are your goals for 2021?
MacDonald: 2021 is interesting! The Yukon has quite strict regulations around travel; leaving the Yukon for anything besides non-essential travel is currently discouraged and returning to the Yukon from travel requires a two-week self-isolation commitment. With the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine, there is talk of opening borders with British Colombia. Should this be the case, playing a small festival circuit in B.C would be great?
In the meantime, the Yukon is rich in art and music. Although there is a relatively small population, the per capita number of incredible musicians is very high. For the time being, I feel fortunate to be in the company of some of the best musicians one could hope to know. I feel like I am close to almost having enough material to record a new full-length album.
Recording and continued songwriting are two things I would like to work towards in 2021
Review Fix: What’s next?
MacDonald: Right now, I am really focused on getting this music out there. I think there are probably people that would really connect to it, and that is the ultimate reward when it comes to recording and releasing music; knowing that one of my songs made someone else feel the way I do about the music of others.