Tsarzi: ”I’m essentially a people watcher masquerading as an artist.”

Peddling a humorous brand of eccentric pop with the odd dark undertone, multi-instrumentalist Sarah Sharp steps forward as Tsarzi to kick off Exposed In Session for 2020…

Could you tell us a bit about how you first came to make music as Tsarzi?
Initially I was just making music under my own name. The first songs I wrote were pretty folky, all acoustic guitar. I was just trying out things and trying to find my way as an artist. I was in a couple of bands and collaborations, which built up my confidence and led me back to piano and violin, which I studied classically as a kid. Piano became my go-to for songwriting and I got much more interested in synths. The sound was expanding and becoming a bit wacky – I wanted to kind of take on a new identity. It was dull being Sarah Sharp onstage and off (and honestly, especially with social media and everything, a bit of a headfuck). And so Tsarzi was born. My family have always called me Sarzi. I twisted it a bit to make it sound like a Tsar – i.e. give it a bit of an imperial ring. I like the sense of it being my childhood self with delusions of grandeur – for me, that’s a lot of what performance is.

What themes tend to crop up in Tsarzi’s music?
People are my bag. I’m essentially a people watcher masquerading as an artist. I’m interested in relationships – not just romantic but all sorts. How we interact with each other, try and understand each other but often fail. As far as themes go – I guess, disconnection, miscommunication, nostalgia and memory. Alongside the classic artist combo of anger, pain, fear and aggression obviously.

The Last Decade of Love was your first solo album, released in 2018, which brilliantly combined dark humour and people observation (‘Egomaniac’ and ‘Ornaments’) with more haunting, reflective ballads (‘Glory Days’ and ‘Dream of Me’). Would you say people and places are the main inspiration for writing music?
Thank you! Yes, people and places are the backbone of my writing really. I will never not be interested in the small details. The mundane and everyday idiosyncrasies are fascinating to me (see: Ornaments). Last Decade was essentially a set of intimate character studies loosely based on experiences and relationships in my life up to that point.
I have a very visual brain – film was something I considered going into before writing and music (and still something I’ve got my eye on for the future). So everything is always very vivid in my mind, and I try to depict these intense images through lyrics and music. I’m also very tuned into subtext and what’s being said between the lines. What’s on the surface is only ever part of the story, which is why I’m so obsessed with the intricate details of any situation. I imagine this makes me a nightmare in real life, but it’s very useful for artistic purposes.

How important is humour and a sense of playfulness at times in your music?
Hugely important! It’s probably the keystone to everything I do to be honest. I can’t stand earnestness. It’s a real turn off. The thing I love about humour is that it can disarm an audience – then you catch them off guard. A sense of humour can sometimes lead us to underestimate someone – we see comedy as lesser than tragedy. But it’s hugely powerful, because it softens you up, it takes your defences down – and that’s when you can say things that matter. Black comedy has always been my favourite genre – shows like Inside No.9 that can flip from absurdity to drama in a heartbeat. I think it’s so powerful because that’s what life is, really – at turns very fucking funny and absolutely tragic, often at the same time. I like things that walk the line between both sides. That’s where things get really honest.

You’ve recently released Lost Decayed Love, an album of remixed tracks from your debut. What appealed to you about doing this?
Other artists I admire have done a similar thing for their albums, so I fancied giving it a go myself. I was interested to hear what other artists and producers would hear in my music, what they would choose to home in on, how they would interpret it. The idea that no two people experience the same thing in the same way was a running theme through Last Decade, so seeing what people would make of my music – literally – was intriguing to me.

Was it a case of giving the artists free reign on the remixes, or did you have plenty of input?
Honestly, they really had free rein. It was in their hands – I was just interested to hear what would come of it. Hearing what other people had made from my songs was very exciting. The only time I intervened was when Dream of Me became a runaway favourite – everyone wanted to work on it so I had to ask some people to pick something else. We still ended up with 3 versions! It’s weird as that was an outlier on the original album – I didn’t know if I would include it or not. It’s turned out to be a real dark horse – people always mention it. But, case in point – 3 different versions, all of them totally unique. It’s a study in reinterpretation on its own.

What was the process like for finding the collaborators to work with?
It’s interesting actually; I think the process of finding people is a real representation of where I’m at musically and how music itself is operating at the moment, in terms of social media and stuff. Some people I knew from gigging with them (Dorcha), others I knew from online music communities. In particular there’s a lovely Twitter community based around the independent radio station Radio Free Matlock, which champions a lot of underground electronica. Many of these people were also independent musicians who had really supported my album, so it was nice to be able to ask them to contribute to this one. Finally I also I did an open shout out in various Facebook forums to find more female collaborators. On Last Decade, everyone involved but me was a guy – which isn’t itself inherently bad, but since I’ve always got my eye on gender equality, I wanted to do better this time. I’ve connected with some really talented women this way and we’re looking forward to collaborating more in the future.

How’s 2020 shaping up for you?
I do tend to take a rest over the Christmas/new year period, so I’m only now starting to book up the diary with gigs. But it’s going to be another busy one. I’ve started writing the next album – it’s quite an ambitious concept so I don’t know if it’ll be ready this year, but before then I’ll probably do an EP. I like releasing music so I don’t want to leave it too long. There’s all the various collaborations I’m working on, including Future Humans with Suzannah – and generally I’m just going to be gigging a lot more across the country. It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to make a video, so I’d like to get back to filmmaking, and maybe direct this time. If you don’t see me out onstage, take heart – I’m not resting, I’m likely in the studio shouting at knobs or trussed up in some ridiculous costume in the middle of nowhere trying to look nonchalant in front of a camera. There are a lot of plans afoot, but I can’t quite spill them yet. Follow me on social to stay in the loop! Things are coming…


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