Interview: Sadurn

by Sage Shemroske

The Run For Cover signees on the friendship that underlies their debut, and how it allows them to be true to themselves

Philadelphia’s Sadurn began as the sole musical outlet of singer and songwriter Genevieve DeGroot. But over time, and with the addition of friends Tabitha Ahnert (bass), Amelia Swain (drums) and Jon Cox (guitar) the project grew to become something far more familial. And on the bands stunning debut record Radiator their unique bonds of friendship shine through intricately layered indie folk to create a space for reflection on life’s trickiest moments, the ones we can’t quite put into words ourselves.

Like most groups over the past couple of years, the road to Radiator was not without its challenges. And now, following the record’s release on Run For Cover Records, our writer, Sage, caught up with DeGroot and Swain to talk about the album’s genesis, nature’s influence and the special connection they share that is intrinsic to the Sadurn sound.   

You recorded your album in a secluded cabin. Why not a standard recording studio?

Amelia Swain: It was in the middle of deep pandemic and no vaccinations had come out yet and we were all trying to figure out how to come together and click together and record. The cabin really made a lot of sense because we could all quarantine together. And that was sort of the main reason. But it really worked out super well getting to live together; we fell into a nice rhythm of being around each other and we were playing music from the minute we woke up to the minute we went to bed. And I liked it a lot more than going into the studio and commuting everyday and then being gone for weekends. I like that it was a 24hr hangout for three weeks. 

Genevieve DeGroot: It worked out really well, but it was a necessary thing- we were still in pod mode. And we had plans to record before the pandemic hit, so this was us regrouping. Heather, our engineer, and I put our heads together and were like ‘how can we make this happen and make it safe?’ So the only answer was like we have to all become a pod as safely as we can do that for this period. We needed to do it, and I think everyone handled this differently, but in our social world, we were all being very secluded from each other and we hadn’t been able to play together for months and months and months, or even really hangout even. So we had to do it that way, but it ended up being really conducive – I think those circumstances really imbued themselves in how it sounded because we were spending so much time with each other and it was a reunion; we were so overjoyed to be hanging out for the first time since things hit in March. Seven months of not being able to hangout or play music, so we were ecstatic!

How big a role does spending all that time together and hanging out play in the album?

Swain: For me, when I listen to the album, I get this wash of memories of how it felt to be finally back together again with my friends. It makes me remember how good it felt to be together. To have a sense of belonging – I really can hear that in the music.

DeGroot: I think it’s super important that we’re all friends. Also, Heather, the engineer, played on several of the tracks and is a close friend of all of ours. And the fact that we were all living together, and we recorded the instrumentals live together, that’s something we wanted to have in the album. This feeling of realness. Being able to wake up and play music all day made it possible for us to do these live takes and have them feel good and right. Especially since we hadn’t been able to do it leading up to this session for months. 

I think that’s something I can hear in the album- the intimacy between all of the full band pieces. That’s something I really appreciate about the quality of the music. Any band where I can tell that they’re all homies, that makes me like them more. 

DeGroot: It wouldn’t work otherwise!

Swain: We’re like a family band!

Do you find creativity in seclusion and/or space?

Swain: Like I said, we had to do it that way, and it might’ve cost less to do it a different way. We had the option to not rent an Airbnb the whole time. But it did help focus us, that we had to pause the other components of our lives for those two weeks. And that allowed for all of us to really narrow in on this project and be fully immersed in the project. That contributed a lot to it, it was an important role. 

DeGroot: And I would say in terms of writing songs, personally, I definitely need to have substantial solo time in order to do that. So that’s separate from the recording process but also relevant.

I find the album really understands how to maximize sparseness, do you feel like the decision to make the vocals a bigger focal point comes at all from your recording decision?

DeGroot: I would say that that type of arrangement is pretty central to the project. I was definitely singing well before I learned an instrument or started writing songs, which I started doing pretty late in the game. For me the guitar parts of my songs are not as important as the vocals and lyrics and melodies. That’s just how I feel about it. Every part of it is important no matter what amount of space it takes up. And it was just John and myself for a while. But we were still keeping that as the center. I think that’s where the songs derive their power from. So I think keeping that at the center felt important even as we added drums and bass to the project. Because the songs are really about certain feelings that are trying to get expressed and we didn’t want to stray too far from the core of each song. 

That’s another thing that comes through as a listener, it feels like there’s a lot of attention to detail in the lyrics and the way the band wraps around that. What brought you to doing full band arrangements?

Swain: There were a couple songs on the album that g wrote in 2019 I think- Snake was one of them, Golden Arm was another one. And for some reason, adding the drums and the bass added emotionality – it was kind of what the songs needed. But in the sense of what g was talking about, it’s more about the lyrics and the melody. But more people putting their emotions into it created an occasion for those lyrics to sit.

DeGroot: John and I had been playing as an acoustic duo and thinking about trying to do a full band. But when it really clicked was when Amelia and I were just jamming in her basement, and that was the song Snake. And Amelia was just starting to learn drums, we were having a good time hanging out. We might’ve been on mushrooms and it was fun! And we played that song, and just because we’re so close, we locked in. It came out in a way that felt so much more powerful that when I had been playing it by myself on acoustic guitar. And in that moment we were like ‘fuck, we have to do it this way.’ This has to be what we do with this song and since we’re gonna do it with this song we’re gonna do it with the other ones. That was the moment where we decided that it had to happen.

Swain: It’s like the song needed it, like the song was like ‘I need drums.’

It kind of pulls back into the real intimacy of the band and, again, being able to see you are people who work on a similar rhythm. Do you think that because lyrics are very focal and because your songs are intent on articulating a specific feeling that adding of other instruments was adding an emotional layer? Did it become more collaborative in that sense?

Swain: I haven’t been playing drums for long, I really don’t have a technical bassist to fall back on. So for me it feels good to play and it feels emotional. Especially with g’s songs, which really speak to me. I really feel that music, and when I play the drums the only thing I can think about is my own emotions.

DeGroot: I think everyone tries to lean into that element of it. And if that calls for a more complicated part, that will be the case. Usually it’s John where that would make sense; John does lead guitar and pedal steel in the band. I think everyone tries to lean into feeling some emotional weight. 

Swain: I’m not thinking ‘oh I’ll do this clever drum thing that matches the arrangement and is smart.’ I’m not thinking about any of that at all. I’m just like ‘oh I love this!’ 

There’s something very intimate about the album, and I’m clearly not the first writer to pick up on that one. But with that in mind, what’s the best way to listen to the album? On a walk, in your bed, headphones on or off?

Swain: I love listening to albums just walking around. Also blasting in cars. You could put it on at the party too..

DeGroot: I can’t answer that question because I can’t listen to the album.

Can you not listen to your own voice?

DeGroot: I can’t hear anything I’ve made. I feel cringe about it. Maybe that will wear off. I think I go through phases where I’m excited about it but I’ve been in a long standing phase of having no ability to listen. Which is fine. It sounds bad to me, but y’all like it!

Swain: Also g has to listen to it over and over and over again. They’re going in there to mix the album and scrutinizing all the details. 

DeGroot: Just to elaborate on my own feelings- I know it’s surprising that I’m like yeah ‘I think it sounds bad.’ But it’s so vulnerable to put out music and as someone who’s pretty highly self conscious- like each time we had a single come out, hearing this song and being like ‘I cant believe so many people are gonna hear that.’ And thinking about every possible negative thing that someone could think. I know this is so negative. But I’m trying to be honest!

I feel pretty intensely critical of anything I am involved in making. I kind of just have to not listen to it and trust that enough people have said ‘I like this’ and I’ll be like ‘ok cool you like it, that’s all I need to know!’

Swain: The songs themselves are so vulnerable. It’s like your soul – just the bottom of your soul. It’s intense!

DeGroot: It feels really embarrassing for me to release music, the truth is that I feel embarrassed. But I’m trying to get over it. I wanna know if more people feel that way! Are there other people that are just deeply embarrassed about releasing music? I’ll be able to listen to it with maybe space and time.

Snake has the lyric ‘But I am not afraid, I’ve heard we’re all gonna die in a cascade of system failure or in the blink of an eye.’ Do you think about mortality a lot?

DeGroot: Yes? That phrase ‘cascade of system failure’ is something that had stuck out in my brain for years after I read an intense article about climate change. And I don’t know if it was exactly those words but it was something like that. And so that is how I think about a lot of the more intense, large scale doom. 

I think that mortality is on the brain on different scales. I think that if any of us are able to escape having that on the brain, then we’re really lucky. You’re lucky if it’s not present in your life.

There’s a quote that pops up a few times from g where they’re talking about Golden Arm and you say ‘…it felt like more of a poem than a story.’ Do you identify with being a poet or being a storyteller?

DeGroot: I don’t identify with being a poet really. I write stuff, like I keep a journal and I’ll write in my phone notes when I’m feeling inspired. And I’m kind of always writing lyrics down – I’m in a phase where that’s something that’s kind of emerging in my head. But I don’t really write poems. I think I have but it’s not something I really identify as or with. I don’t really identify as a storyteller either. I think that when I’m writing songs it’s really for myself and I don’t have on the mind how I’m gonna tell other people about this stuff. It’s definitely a really private thing. It’s about processing for me. I think the reason I said that is because of the way that that song came out- it felt more like little blips of feelings than more of a narrative thread. So I think that’s why it feels that way to me or why I said that!

Picking up patterns in what we’ve already seen from the album, a lot of the descriptors are ‘tender’ and ‘yearning,’ do you identify at all with those or do they feel flattening a bit?

DeGroot: Both of those are not something I would choose to describe myself or that would come up for me. But if other people listen and feel that way and that accurately describes the feeling they get from it, or their interpretation, that’s valid. It tends to be other people’s jobs to listen to music that someone made and analyze it and try to describe it, and I don’t like having that job myself about my own music, about the music we make together. So I think it’s totally fair- I don’t think those things are necessarily  inaccurate. It feels like that’s for other people to say. 

Swain: For me I hear ‘tender’ and I’m like ‘it’s not tender it’s a wrecking ball! It’s smashing!’

DeGroot: I think I have a slight aversion to the descriptor of ‘tender’ or ‘yearning’ but I understand why people would say that. We’ve been asked ‘what are you trying to do with this album, what are you trying to say?’ And it’s like we weren’t trying to do or say anything. Any kind of description about it is after the fact and kind of removed from what it actually is. Does that answer the question?

That’s an answer and then some. I find it interesting the way you’re allowing for audience projection but also maintaining that it’s a personal process and what’s happening afterwards feels separate to you. 

Moving on, one of your videos came out of a camping trip you took, right? Does landscape play a big factor in your creative process?

DeGroot: It did in that case! For sure. 

Swain: We were on a road trip across the country and had big intentions, and we had all of these deadlines. We were like ‘oh we should probably film some stuff!,’ we should be on the lookout for good stuff if anything comes along. And then this one day we stopped- we had a really long, stressful drive. We thought maybe a friend had COVID. But it was raining and we were in Kansas, and we got out in this big lake and suddenly it was a total 180. We were so happy and everything felt so good, there were hundreds of sunflowers.

DeGroot: It was totally abandoned! We were looking for camps and stops but it was so abandoned, there was no one there. But there was a bunch of wildlife, birds on the lake and pelicans. And there was just this really tranquil feeling, for me I almost had this euphoric feeling when we drove into this spot with all of the sunflowers. We weren’t expecting it and we were definitely like when we get up in the morning at sunrise, because we had been getting up at sunrise everyday, we’re gonna do a little music video here. This is the spot! It felt like it fit the song

Swain: And we hadn’t done any lip syncing. Was that our first time?

DeGroot: Yeah! Because we had shot some of the parts of the video before that where we were playing as a band along to the song. But that was different from me standing around lip syncing my own song, which was wild. I can’t actually lip sync, I have to actually just sing it. But it was so silly! It took a little getting used to but luckily it was just the three of us and Amelia’s camcorder in this really fucked up nice landscape!

Swain:  No one was around

DeGroot: Just having fun! It felt like we weren’t forcing it, it really felt right in that moment, in that place. So we definitely felt inspired by that landscape.

Is nature something you tend to fixate on artistically?

DeGroot: I wouldn’t say I fixate on it. Well we love going camping as a friend group and backpacking. And I love gardening, and we love escaping to spots outside of Philly and swimming spots in the summer. So we definitely love getting out of the city and it’s very important and grounding. But in terms of songwriting, when I wrote a couple songs for the album I was doing a work exchange in North Carolina on a homestead and I was in a very woodsy, rural, secluded area. So I think when it’s something that feels present and is around while I’m feeling something and expressing something through songwriting, then it will creep into it. It’s kind of circumstantial. But we love camping!

It feels like you’re very porous with the things going on around you. You’re very open to absorbing the spaces you’re in while writing and emotion, do you feel like you’re particularly attune to what’s going on around you?

Swain: g is one of the most attentive people and knows exactly what I’m thinking at all times. And just notices where everyone is at.

DeGroot: I would say socially, emotionally I feel in tune. But in other ways I feel the opposite- I won’t notice directions, I won’t remember what the car we were driving in looks like. When it comes to picking up on what people are feeling or saying, that’s a radar that’s a higher resolution than other radars I personally have. 

Swain: g’s emotional IQ and emotional intelligence is just SO off the charts. That’s not relevant to the question.

DeGroot: She’s my best friend!

Gassing each other up is always relevant to the question!

DeGroot: That also applies to Amelia!

Swain: We’re emotional. 

Together: We’re an emo band! 

The final song on your album, Icepick, is reversed, right?

DeGroot: The outro track that follows it is the song, pretty much exactly, in reverse. Heather and I took some of the backwards vocals out of it because it was a little more distracting.

You could be sending secret messages!

DeGroot: Yeah, It would be a little Sigur Rós style 

Swain: I really like how that turned out, especially in that part of the music video where it cuts into the backwards section of the outro. The way that g edited that stuff, ooh [claps] it feels really good for me to watch that!

DeGroot: I’m proud of the outro part of the music video. The ending scene is the reverse of Tab and Amelia watching John do his shaker part under this blue light, alone in the basement where we shot everything. It’s really so funny to me! But yeah, I like that part. 

Was there any specific decision to make that reversal? Or was it like ‘that would be cool?’ Both answers are good ones, by the way!

DeGroot: I can tell you exactly how it happened! One of the last things we did in tracking the album and before mixing it was trying to finish the arrangements for Icepick. That was what was really left for last and it was so difficult ‘cuz we were so burnt out. And we tried so many ideas and it was really John and I, and sometimes we’d pull in Amelia and be like ‘can you try this part?’ We tried so many things! But one of the things I was going to try was throwing in snippets of backwards vocals because we had listened to a lot of the songs backwards while recording at the cabin as a fun activity for our.. crazed mentality.

Swain: For morale!

DeGroot: So we liked how the backwards sounded and I specifically liked backwards Icepick’and the way that the vocals sound backwards is so funny, the kinds of words that it sounds like. And I also really love artists that put backwards parts of their song that they’re writing in the song as part of the arrangement- Bibio is an artist I love that does that, I think it’s so sick and I wanted to try it! And it didn’t end up being something that I did, I didn’t put backwards parts of Icepick in Icepick, but I did feel so attached to how the last part of the song sounded in reverse that I thought it would be really sick to just throw it in there. 

Finally, you’re about to head on tour, anything to contribute to the dreaded internet Discourse?

Swain: The day after tomorrow!!! 

DeGroot: No. I don’t like contributing to discourse, it gives me so much anxiety. Wait, let me think. Takes, takes, takes..

Swain: Oh! I love the new Avril Lavigne, that’s my hobby.

DeGroot: Yeah, Amelia loves ‘Bite Me’. And uhh, we love the song ‘Heat Above’ by Greta Van Fleet. Controversial Take. It’s controversial.

Swain: Yeah we’re obsessed with Greta Van Fleet!

DeGroot: – Well, not thoroughly, but mostly this one song. We went down to Austin a few weeks ago and our friend who we stayed with showed it to us and we were like ‘holy shit, it’s so good!’ And we have a video of John jumping into a pool during the drop of that song, when it was cold out. And he’s screaming ‘it’s cold!’

Together: The vocalist is sooo talented.

Anything else?

Swain: I just wanna add one thing. And I don’t know if it will fit in or not, but ever since releasing our single we’ve been getting a lot of messages from people we don’t know about the music. Getting a lot of really nice messages from people and it feels really special and really meaningful. It really means a lot that people are listening to it and reaching out to us. I didn;t really expect it but it feels really good.

DeGroot: It feels really special. We’re really grateful for everyone who reaches out to tell us that the music is connecting with them. It’s really rewarding. Everyone’s just been really nice!

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