Sad Ass Songs: Sarah Rose Etter
Sad Ass Songs is a weekly column where I ask some of my favorite writers to tell me about their favorite sad songs. They send me songs and then I send them questions and then I post their answers here and then we all cry a little bit.
This week I talked with Sarah Rose Etter, who wrote Tongue Party but also refused to answer my question about why she is one of the best sentence-level writers on the planet.
The Song: “The Waves Have Come” by Chelsea Wolfe
MC: Why is this sad ass song resonating with you at the moment?
Sarah Rose Etter: I was going to pick a Cam’ron song for this and try to turn it into a big joke, but I figured I’d be honest.
This song feels like the bleak red landscape after a heart has been crushed. I listen to it on my headphones and walk around the city. Everything I see feels bittersweet the whole time, even if it is just pigeons shitting on the sidewalk.
MC: A lot of the stuff I’ve read from you lately has a lot to do with pain–physical pain, emotional pain, etc–and pain is definitely a big part of this song. Is that a theme that you keep coming back to? If so, why?
SRE: Trauma is important to explore. I don’t know how to write a happy story. If I try to write something joyful, it becomes absurd or black comedy. Right now, I’m done trying to move away from it. Some traumas can hit you in such a way that your basic understanding of the world around you is smashed. Sometimes that’s physical pain, sometimes it is death, sometimes it is betrayal. In the aftermath of that, it’s hard not to examine what happened. I don’t know any other way to make art. Maybe that’s fucked up.
MC: I’m happy that you picked a Chelsea Wolfe song, because I always think of her music of having this great balance between being very atmospheric but also very brutal (and I mean that figuratively and literally, if that makes any sense), and I feel like the same could be said of your stuff, especially, like tonally. Is that something you care about when you’re writing–tone & atmosphere?
SRE: The new stories are expanding beyond physical action to landscapes that respond to the characters and action. So atmosphere is important. As for tone, that fluctuates depending on the story. Usually I have to listen to the same song on repeat while I’m working on one piece.
This song, though, I’ve listened to for almost everything I’ve written this winter. She feels like a twin to me in the ways you are describing – I’ll get snared on one of her songs for weeks and listen to nothing else. I don’t know what I recognize in her, but you might be on to it. She sounds like a fishhook in the heart to me.
MC: What’s your favorite lyric in the song?
SRE: “I covered you in royal jelly / and made you queen and you forgave me.”
I’ve really become obsessed with this imagery – the concept of royal jelly, of feeding one type of bee so much of this substance that she becomes a queen. I’ve been reading a lot about bees as a result. I keep wondering if the same royal jelly concept could apply to humans.
Meanwhile, I’ve been stuck on these NSFW images of naked people dipped in honey by Blake Little, too.
MC: What do you listen to when you write? What sort of sounds are important to your writing process?
SRE: This winter has been a lot of Chelsea Wolfe, Widowspeak, Nothing, Forgetters, PJ Harvey, and Melvins. Basically, the most important sound is the sound of someone musically flipping their shit about something.
MC: When was the last time you cried? What were you crying about?
SRE: Jesus, Mark! Do you want to just rip my chest open and look at my still-beating heart!? This is private as hell! I don’t cry, ok? Never cried once in my life. Don’t fucking plan to.
Listen to the whole playlist right here: