Sara Gazarek Charts Path Through Loss, Heartache on ‘Thirsty Ghost’

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Sara Gazarek delves into self-reflection for Thirsty Ghost.

(Photo: Shervin Lainez)

Your rendition of Björk’s “Cocoon” is just as emotional, but loving. It’s the flip side of “Jolene.”

That song was terrifying to record, because it has a tempo, but it’s rubato, and I was conducting the song’s movement based on the interpretation of the lyrics. There was no room for punching, no auto-tune, no fixing any line. It sounds so raw. And as a singer who is rooted in perfection and clarity, for me that was an exercise in release.

Aside from the covers and standards on the album, you collaborated as a lyricist with keyboardist Larry Goldings on two originals, and you wrote lyrics for a Brad Mehldau instrumental, “When It Rains,” which you retitled “Distant Storm.” The album title comes from that last song’s lyrics. What about the Mehldau tune inspired you?

The shifts that the song takes are so compelling. The imagery that I had for this one was a barren landscape that opens up. I’ve tried to write lyrics for it four or five times over the last 10 years, and nothing came. Then, when we were going to the studio to make the album, I noticed that all of the songs on it were about cheating. But this is not a breakup record—it’s an album about a journey. Ultimately, the story is summarized in “Distant Storm.”

How would you sum up its message?

That the warmth of sunlight comes and goes, but beauty only grows when it rains. That if you really want a wholehearted experience in life, you have to embrace all of it. That’s the lesson I took from that four-year period, and that’s where I am now: feeling comfortable sitting in the uncomfortable stuff, not running from it with the understanding that by doing this, I will feel the brilliance of life more deeply.

It seems like the story ends on a positive note.

Yes—I am in that space where I feel the brilliance of life. Even so, there’s still the depth and the darkness there. I don’t think that I’ll ever again be the artist who is content just singing happy-go-lucky songs. I’m going to continue to dig and grow, and my art will reflect that. DB

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July 2022
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