In a story that could inspire a million Julie Andrews movies (but thankfully won’t), the idyllic setting of Marlborough at the top of New Zealand’s South Island is the sunny birthplace of Sarah Brown, third daughter of the affable Mr. and Mrs. Brown.
Surrounded and fascinated by music, Sarah and her siblings were quickly into their stride, performing for family as (oh yes!) the von Brown Family Singers every Christmas. Sarah’s perfect pitch and tone soon caught the ear of her attentive mother and at just three years old, Sarah’s singing career was launched with her first public performance at a modest charity dinner. From there, music would consume her life.
“At the end of my Primary School years I just wanted to pursue my music, so much so that my parents and I decided that I should be home schooled. We focused on singing lessons, songwriting and guitar lessons,” says Sarah, no doubt now thinking it was the best idea ever.
“Most of the projects mum gave me involved writing songs, or learning and performing songs on the guitar. It was pretty sweet,” she says, with more than a hint of the whimsy that packs each track on her debut album.
Her upbringing definitely influenced many of pastoral themes in her songs – dramatic landscapes, deep moments of introspection, an adolescence developing into womanhood that reflects a deep understanding of the world around her, and us. But hers is also a story of finding the voice within.
Sarah, like many artists, developed her vocal skills singing along to backing tapes (Boyz 2 Men and Mariah Carey included) and at the age of 12 she recorded her first demo. By 14 Sarah has become frustrated at the thought of singing other people’s songs and decided to put all her energy into releasing her own music.
That said, she first needed to hone her instrumental skills and spent many tortuous finger-blistering hours practicing guitar (an instrument she declares to have an infinite love for) until finally her first song was born.
The creation of that first song inspired Sarah to broaden her musical awareness, and she quickly discovered artists such as The Beatles, Dusty Springfield, Marvin Gaye & Al Green, all of whom gave her musical direction added impetus. She was also influenced by home-grown artists.
“I inherited a stereo from my eldest sister because the CD player had broken. The tape player and radio still worked though, and there was still a cassette lodged in it. I pushed play and heard Bic Runga singing 'Drive' and 'Suddenly Strange'. Every morning for a long time I played that tape after my shower. When I saw her live I was mesmerized and it was then I realised what I really wanted to do with my life,” she says.
“Up until this point, I had been learning to play on my mother’s guitar, but this just wouldn't do anymore. I sold my old riding saddle to pay a deposit on what would be my first guitar and it was a beautiful - a 3/4 semi acoustic with a walnut finish. The intonation was a bit out but I loved it!
So much so I could never get rid of it, so it's at my parents place and is used regularly.”
At just 16 Sarah left Blenheim for Auckland city and a stint at Performing Arts School.
A year later she gained her first residency back in her home town of Blenheim and honed her skills playing at functions, wineries, weddings – anyone who would care to listen. Seeking bigger and better opportunities Sarah flew back to Auckland in 2001 to compete in the York Street Studios Acid Test & The Ovation Rockshop Songwriter of the Year – the latter which she duly won. The event also provided an introduction to manager Grant Hislop who was quick to pick up the new artist.
“I sensed an x-factor in Sarah’s performance and a freshness in her combined writing influences” he says.
“As a judge I had argued Sarah’s case as the winner but was outvoted. I let her know what I thought and we’ve worked together ever since. Sarah is a career artist, I’m loving watch her go from strength to strength as she grows into her own skin. She soaks up the world around her and has a gentle confidence about herself and her future.”
Sarah continued to gig around New Zealand and in 2005/2006 finally realised her life long dream with the recording of her self-titled debut album 'Sarah Brown' at the infamous “DIY garden shed” where both top-selling Goodshirt albums were created.
The single 'Hands' has been on high rotate on music TV, achieving the honour of being a finalist in the Kodak Gong Awards in Australia and winning the Juice Television Music video of the year award in New Zealand.
During the past 12 months Sarah has supported Jamie Cullum during his sellout New Zealand concert, Tim Finn, Greg Johnson and played for top NZ Fashion Designer Trelise Cooper and her guests at the label’s NZ Fashion Week event.
Television Performances have included TV3’s Live at Yours, Good Morning, Coast TV and Juice TV. In October Sarah will feature on Bank Direct’s Multi Channel Network Advertising Campaign.
“I honestly feel like this is the real beginning of my career and the response has been completely moving. As a singer/songwriter you strive to be better each time you perform. I know we left nothing in the studio with this album and I know each time I go on stage I am giving my all to the audience. That’s the only way I can continue to grow, and yes, I plan to keep growing!” says Sarah.
Whether it’s the honesty in her songs, or just her vivacious approach to life as a performer, something tells us that it would be foolish to argue.
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New album for Sarah Brown
Posted: Sat Mar 24, 2007 8:59 am
Sarah Brown’s self titled debut is the result of her determination to produce an album liberally sprinkled with her own flavours, and seasoned with a mix of musicians and producers who inherently understand her song-writing. Eclectic, moving, uplifting and mature beyond her years, this is an album that is as expressive as it is enjoyable and it should become a staple in any music collection.
An enduring and rewarding friendship with management stablemates Murray and Rodney Fisher (goodshirt) has resulted in a unique production partnership for Sarah’s debut album. Renowned for achieving broad and experimental sounds, Rod and Murray locked themselves away with Sarah in their home studio and produced a collection of free-flowing tracks that should cement their place amongst New Zealand’s finest musical minds.
Sarah’s stunning lead vocals and guitar can be found on every track with backing vocals courtesy of her and Rod. Rod also played an array of instruments resulting in tracks of intimate depth and multi-dimensional artistry.
Murray took the production reins and was happy to lend his musicianship to the recording. Other guest musicians on the album include Michael Franklin-Browne on drums (Pluto) and Mike Hall (Pluto), Gareth Thomas (Goodshirt), Rio Hemopo (Trinity Roots), Mike Carpinter (Autozamm) and Vanessa McGowan on bass.
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