Sarah Hurst: No Fixed Amounts

Sarah Hurst is a prolific singer/songwriter currently living (and eating barbeque) in Nashville, Tennessee. Her third musical collection, No Fixed Amounts, released today and you should definitely follow that link to download it! Sarah has an amazing way of melding the musical influences she grew up with—The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Joni Mitchell—with a totally unique spin that feels genuine, relevant, and poignant beyond her years.

While she continues to churn out highly inspired projects under her own name, she is also the proud member of a band called Most Vivid, which she co-founded with her guitarist fiancé, Nick Gividen. With Nick’s creative versatility on guitar and Sarah’s expertise in lyrics and melody, they form an unstoppable writing pair. (Check out their debut EP, All New Sounds!)

I first met Sarah in college when she was assigned to me as my music theory tutor. (We still laugh about that!) Our friendship quickly became permanent when we roomed together on a European choir tour in 2012. After graduating with Music Business degrees the following year, we moved to Austin, Texas together to try to “make it” as singer/songwriters. She continues to be one of my primary sources of solidarity, advice, and clarity when it comes to music—and life in general! That’s why I’m so excited to share this interview with you, and I know you’ll be encouraged and challenged by it, as I have been. For more information about Sarah and her music, head over to www.sarahhurstmusic.com!

How did you get started in music?

My parents are both musicians, so music was always central in our house. I grew up taking piano lessons, my mom taught me how to harmonize, my dad taught me how to play guitar, and both parents imparted their taste in music to both me and my brother. In fact, my parents were the ones who really wanted me to get my degree in music business. So I grew up with a pretty sweet environment for a musician to explore and develop.

Who/what inspires you to create?

I have always gravitated towards intentional language. I love studying words and their etymology. Whether stumbling upon a pretty phrase in a book or striving to find that elusive word to somehow express some renegade emotion of mine… I love that moment of discovery, that satisfying moment of having landed on the phrase that perfectly articulates how you felt. And then that euphoria when someone later approaches you to thank you for that lyric you labored over with gratitude, “I felt like you wrote that song for me!” I think it’s one of the best gifts artists can grant to the world, to put their pains and pleasures into words that others can claim for themselves.

Describe a turning point in your craft and how it has affected the work you do now.

After one year of living in Austin, I had come to a point where I wanted to “quit” the path of a musician. I had hit a wall from trying to self-promote, to gain a following—all things I still hate and will probably always resist. So I called my mom and “announced” that I was done with music, done with all of it—was just going to find something else to do with my life.

And that sparked the most free, creative writing season of my entire life. Finally, I was free to only write music if I wanted to. I told myself I was never going to record it, I was never going to sell it, I was never ever going to try to re-create it with a band on stage. I was going to write music that I loved and wanted to listen to, regardless of how it was received. And in so doing, I think I’ve written songs that more people will connect to. There is something about the honesty and courage that comes from writing that way. People relate to your work on a more personal level the more you forget about what you think they want to hear and in so doing just do what you want.

No Fixed Amounts just released! Tell us about it!

This project was really the result of that reckoning I just described. The project is extremely different than anything I have released before, but it feels the most true to myself. In the past, my music has, by default, taken the form of a somewhat folk-rock sound. But without the expectation to re-create this album on stage one day, I was able to stack harmonies, implement infinite key changes, do whatever I wanted really with the sound and form of each song.

All I was listening to at the time was Pet Sounds, Smile, Revolver, and Abbey Road. So that, combined with my newfound freedom and rekindled excitement for writing, I wrote songs that were just for me. I also broke away from the content motifs of “love/break-up/why don’t you love me back????!!!” songs that were pretty much central to my early stuff. Having not been in a relationship for the several years I took to write these songs, different content was forced to emerge. These songs more so cover my life, my battle with anxiety, my expectations for myself, the creative process, and the idea of heaven more than romantic love.

It also is important to mention that I won the lottery with my producer for this project. While I was still in Austin, I partnered with Jake Holcomb which I really think was the make/break for a project like this. It could have easily been a completely different kind of album were I to have used anyone else but him. It was one of those easy setups where I had to explain very little to him of what I wanted and he was able to just run with it and shape it beyond what I could have done on my own.

How do you like living in Nashville?

I lived in Austin for 4 years after college, and Nashville is similar in a lot of ways. The cuisine of a city intrigues me more than the music scene, which I’m sure demotes me from the appropriate level of devotion to my art, but it’s true. I LOVE the food here, I love how pretty it is, and though I froze my Texas butt off for the winter months, I’m really happy here. As far as the music culture goes, I really have enjoyed all of the musicians I have met/collaborated with so far. The vibe has been more collaborative than competitive so far, and I am all for that, no matter what area of life.

What is one struggle you continue to experience as a creative?

Probably the pendulum that swings me from the varying degrees of severe entitlement versus a severe fear of inadequacy. Comparison is probably the culprit that can shoot me into either pit. I will see how well another band or artist is doing, and it can be met with a response from me somewhat like “Ugh that should be me” or “Ugh I suck and will never amount to anything.” Neither are sentiments I hope for myself. I want to be a champion for other artists and to be my own champion as well. The artistic spirit is temperamental and often infantile but when nurtured can be a remarkable force that can recognize beauty anywhere and does battle to bring it to the surface for others to see. The more we can do that for each other, rather than feeling threatened by one another’s talents, the better our art as well as our own peace of mind.

I will say, partnering with Nick Gividen (my fiancé and songwriting partner) has been hugely helpful in getting me out of that rut. My music seems less central to my identity now. I feel far less pressure to prove myself as a musician now that I am in a band. I don’t know if that is because the band is not my actual name (i.e. if you reject Sarah Hurst’s songs, it feels as if you are rejecting Sarah Hurst herself?) I really don’t know. It could just be having someone to do gigs with, someone to bounce ideas off of, or having a partner that encourages you so that you feel less alone and thus less “me against the world.” I would like to chalk it up to my own growth and maturity, but that won’t fool anyone. But, having a musician that I respect and that respects me equally has been hugely inspiring for me. ***Fun fact: Nick is featured on the track “Outlines” on No Fixed Amounts. He’s the sexy slide guitar. 

What are you currently reading? watching? listening to?

Reading: I just read therapist Esther Perel’s “State of Affairs.” Girl crush big time.

Watching: Were I to have any episodes of Queer Eye left to watch, I would be watching that.

Listening to: With spring/summer finally coming to say hi, the Beach Boys are probably going to be what I play most days. (If you defaulted to thinking about “Catch a Wave” or “Surfin U.S.A.” when you read that, email me and I will send you a playlist.)

What advice would you give to other creatives?

Be an appreciator first. It is the appreciators of music, art, and life that get the sweet deal. The humility that comes from sitting at the feet of the artists that have come before you keeps you grounded and keeps you enjoying, rather than striving. Ambition is important and even necessary to some degree. But, I have found that the Muse is friendly and generous to those who feel honored to even be visited by her in the first place, rather than those with something to prove. If all you pursue is your own art, your own voice, your own ambition—I think you not only dry out your own work, but you miss out on the enjoyment of the pursuit, which is really the heart of the thing.