The Letter Black has a lot of momentum following the release of their self-titled Rockfest Records debut. Sarah Anthony took a few minutes out of a busy personal and professional schedule to talk with Rock On Purpose contributor Matt Durlin about the new record, family life and why music matters.
Matt: I’m joined today by Sarah Anthony, the lead singer for The Letter Black. How are you doing today?
Sarah: Great! I am so excited that it’s finally happening. We’ve been waiting for all of this stuff to happen, for the record to come out, and I’m so happy it’s finally here.
Matt: I was looking back at some news that we published when we talked about you guys signing with Rockfest Records, so I know people have been waiting a long time for this. So let’s just jump right into why we’re here.
This is a self-titled record, The Letter Black, and it’s your debut with Rockfest Records. Tell us what about what makes this project unique?
Sarah: Usually how we’ve done recording in the past is we will have a bed of music, so to speak. Mark would come up with the guitar parts and music. He would create all of the music and say [to me], “here is the song.” I would have a whole song musically, and then I would put a melody and lyrics to it after the fact.
It’s kind of difficult doing it that way. It’s a little bit tricky, because if you think of something else, then it’s like, well, it’s kind of too late. We already have the song written. Not that we wouldn’t tweak it a little bit, but for the most part, it just had less flexibility.
This record, we wrote all of it together. So as Mark was in the studio, writing the music parts, I was sitting there with him coming up with melodies and lyric ideas all at the same time. As we progressed through the song, it was like he was doing his music thing, and I was doing the melody lyric thing at the same time. It worked really well.
It was less of a struggle for me, coming up with lyrics and melody, and less of a struggle for him musically because I was able to say, “oh my gosh, I have this idea. Don’t go to the chorus yet. I want to extend this part or don’t do this little music thing after the course. I want to go straight into the bridge.” So it was more fun for both of us to be able to bounce ideas off of each other.
I feel like that just happened with age and experience. Before, I don’t know if either of us were in a place where we could write on the fly, so to speak. It’s definitely a more fluid way of writing, where you have to work together more. It’s more of a collaborative effort. It really worked, and we did the whole record that way.
Matt: That’s cool! Maybe that’s the result of this, but I think this is probably the best work that you guys have done.
Sarah: I hoped that, because we have our fans who love the really, really heavy. And then we have our fans who love “There’ll Come a Day” and “Best of Me,” right? So we actually have a wide variety of styles that fans like.
I feel like this record is eclectic enough to where everybody is going to like something on it. Our first record was pretty eclectic too, and I think that’s why a lot of people enjoyed it. So I hope that, as we keep hearing how everyone’s listening to it and enjoying it, I hope that everybody feels the same way.
Matt: I think they will. On this record, I’m catching onto a theme of finding your own voice and being true to yourself. I’m just curious if that is the theme you’re going for on the record throughout, and how that came about?
Sarah: Yes, and being comfortable in your own skin. I think that again, it’s age and experience. I feel like that’s kind of what this whole record has.
Our career has kind of met us where we are now that we are older. We’ve been doing this for 15 years, and if you do anything for 15 years, you’re going to learn a lot about it. I’m not saying we’re experts, but at the same time, we’re comfortable in our own skin. We’re comfortable with what we do, and we don’t care as much.
We used to look a lot to what this band is doing, or what’s that band doing, or where can we draw inspiration from? It’s always good to have inspiration, but now it’s way less of that and more of what do we want to do? Anything that you think you have to do— let’s throw that out the window and just do something because we like it. You know? So I feel like there’s a comfort level there, and I hope that that shows through in the lyrics.
Matt: Yeah. I think especially on the single “Born For This” with Trevor [McNevan], that really shows through there.
Sarah: It’s talking about overcoming. There’s a lot of inspirational, encouraging strong themes throughout.
Matt: I agree. How did taking a break play into that? Did that play a role in that theme at all, reflecting during that time?
Sarah: If taking a break had anything to do with that, it was just the very existence of the time and aging.
I know that being a parent changes perspectives. A lot of the things when I was writing the first record, I was still a teenager. Now I’m 33, and I have three kids and have been married for forever. So perspectives change and shift. I think that that kind of happens with age. You learn to be more confident and have more confidence in yourself and stop looking to others for approval.
So I feel like that kind of really has the most to do with it, that it’s just time.
Matt: Time and wisdom and clarity— all of that. I agree.
So besides “Born for This” and ”Rise,” as you talked about earlier, what is your favorite song on the record?
Sarah: I love “Tomorrows.” It is my absolute favorite song, lyrically. I love it. It’s such an encouraging track. I love the lyrics for it, and it’s just a really strong song and it comes across well live. We’ve done it a couple of times already, and the fans love it live.
There’s a fun story that I can share with that song. My son, he’s nine years old. He actually had part of the lyric idea. He had the words, “I’m not going to fall today, and I’m not going to fall tomorrow,” and then he went on to say some other stuff.
I was like, “wait, you know what? Those lines are really good.”
So I came up with a whole song off of those lines, and I changed it a little. It says, “and I won’t fall today. I won’t fall tomorrow.” So I took those and I was like, “can I have those, and I’ll give you writing credit?” So we joke about it and laugh, and I think he’s in the album credits for it. He’s excited because he’s like, “that’s my song. I helped write that one.”
So it’s super cute on that aspect, but I really love it. Lyrically and music.
Matt: My favorite song is either “Throwing Darts” or “Unbreakable.” Is there a story behind that one?
Sarah: “Throwing Darts,” no. It’s mostly very quirky. I wrote that one a million years ago.
The only story with that is that I’m pretty sure that was supposed to go on either Hanging on by a Thread or Rebuild. It’s an old, old song, and it’s one of those where we just never put it on because we had other songs that we really liked. Then when we were working on this project, we were going through some older songs, and this song is so much fun. How could it never see the light of day? So we were like, okay, let’s just put it on and see what happens. I’m glad you like it.
And then “Unbreakable” also is one of the songs that I love. So I’m happy you like that too!
Matt: The whole thing front to back – I don’t think there’s a bad song on there, honestly. So really, really well done. When you’re on the road, do you take your kids with you? Does the family travel?
Sarah: So if it’s easy for them to come to, then they’ll come. Or alternatively, if we’re going to be gone for long periods of time, they come— even though it’s not easy— because I can’t be without my kids. I just couldn’t imagine being away from them for more than a week, two weeks, you know? So if it’s longer, they come with us, and then if it’s just a closer one-off, they’ll come now.
If we have to fly to Texas, for example we’re not going to drag them on an airplane. They’ll just stay at grandma’s for three days, you know? They’ll stay home and eat a bunch of ice cream and get spoiled. But if they can come easily, then they’ll come with us.
Matt: Cool. We have kids too, and I’ve been taking my older boys out to rock shows with me.
Sarah: And how old are they?
Matt: Our oldest son is 14, and our youngest is 9.
Sarah: They’re definitely old enough that they enjoy it then! At this point, our two older boys are nine and six. So they’re finally at the age where they’re still like on the brink, but they are pretty good at shows to where we don’t have to babysit them and worry that they’re going to wander off or anything. So they enjoy it. Our daughter’s questionable, she’s four.
Matt: I have one more question for you that we’ve been asking everybody we talked to this summer. We want to know, why does music matter to you? More specifically, why does rock and roll matter today?
Sarah: Music in general for me is a way to either have your feelings understood, or to express your feelings. It’s like its own language to me. So sometimes when you can’t verbalize it yourself, or when you just have these emotions that you want to get out, it’s sharing that experience.
So for me, it’s all about emotion in or out. It’s a way to have a heart to heart one way or another, and to feel compatibility with the world and with other people. It’s reminders that you’re not alone, sharing experiences and encouragement. So to me, it’s a really good way to feel connected to other people.
As far as rock, I just love the energy. Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some country. I love jazz. I like hip-hop. I like pop. I like pretty much all music. There’s really nothing I don’t like.
But I think that rock is important for me, at least because it keeps me young. It’s that energy, that fun. I am a fun person, and it’s just a super fun way for me to express myself, to not be so serious. I’ve always been more of a tomboy. I like makeup and I like girly stuff, but I’ve really always been a tomboy and into sports and stuff too. So the pop, teeny bopper stuff I do like listening to, but it’s never anything that I personally really wanted to do. So for me, rock was a great way to just be myself and not feel like I had to be some Barbie doll. It just was the most relatable avenue to me.
Matt: I think one of the things that people don’t realize is people in rock and roll, they like all kinds of music, right? It’s not just rock and roll. And we’re glad you’re doing rock and roll, because it is fun. Is there anything we can be praying for you guys about?
Sarah: I have some health issues that have been preventing me, that stopped me from doing some shows, and we’re trying to figure out what’s going on. So just praying for health, direction and wisdom for the health providers. And then from there, I mean, I know God’s got it.
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