Sarah Donner is an indie folkpop star who has embraced the catlady inside her. She works the stage with a powerful vocals, punchy guitar, and a candid stage presence that is all Sarah Donner. Fossil of Girl (released May 2012) is her fourth self-produced studio album released on her label CatLady Records. It was engineered by Owen Lewis who has worked with Lady Gaga, Chris Brown, The Killers, and Snow Patrol. Sarah's music has been licensed for television shows on Discovery networks, Bravo, MTV, VH1, and Showtime.
The "Sarah Donner and the Sleepy Kitten" video and "The Motherf**cking Pterodactyl Song" which was co-written with The Oatmeal catapulted Sarah into weblebrity status with over a million views on YouTube alone. Her music has been featured on Conan O'Brien's blog, NPR, and CBS News.
She is a graduate of Westminster Choir College. After stretching her legs with musical theatre, she picked up a guitar, abandoned her classical roots, and started rocking out (with fantastic breath support).Sarah Donner's cold New England heart was transplanted to New Jersey where she fosters kittens when not on tour.
Jay Buchanan - Upright Bass
Fossil of Girl (Spring 2012)
Treeline - single (2011)
Typing Is Dangerous (2010)
Overrated New Year EP (2009)
The Sleep You've Been Missing (2008)
December EP (2007)
Reluctant Cat Lady (2007)
Tinderbox Music (CMJ) 2011
Jerome Promotions (Hot AC) 2011
Going Under (acoustic)
The Cycles The Circles
All My Guns
Whalers and Sailors
Lovely, Lovely, Lovely
Overrated New Year
Heartaches and Harmonies
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SONGWRITERS have been translating heartache into melody for centuries, scoring the human condition w...SONGWRITERS have been translating heartache into melody for centuries, scoring the human condition with weather-worn notebooks and battered guitars. As the Irish folk singer Frank Harte once said, “Those in power write the history, while those who suffer write the songs.”
In Brooklyn, at least, they don’t have to suffer alone. At the Brooklyn Songwriters Exchange, a free monthly series for aspiring and established songwriters, they can air original work for eager, empathetic ears.
The exchange — the next one is on Monday, before a monthlong hiatus in January — was founded by Rebecca Pronsky, 30, a voice teacher and musician who describes her songs as “more western than country and more twangy than folk.” Participants have included novices and bona fides like Lucy Wainwright Roche, a daughter of Loudon Wainwright III and Suzzy Roche.
The exchange can function as a formal showcase, where a handful of artists play abbreviated sets, or as a string of in-the-round sessions. “It’s an old Nashville thing, where three or four songwriters sit in a semicircle and face the audience, and one plays a song, and then the next one plays a song, and then the next one,” Ms. Pronsky explained. The effect can be serendipitous, with other musicians adding welcome embellishments. “Somebody will sing on top of someone else’s songs, or someone will noodle and play,” she added. “It’s a group effort, like a campfire.”
Ms. Pronsky began the series at a former Brooklyn coffee shop called Vox Pop in 2005. “I didn’t have any connections,” she said. “The espresso machine was always whooshing.” In late 2006 it moved to the Brooklyn Lyceum, a cavernous space on Fourth Avenue in Gowanus, where it ran weekly before moving again, to Union Hall, a bustling bar and music site in Park Slope. The lineup consists primarily of locals, although Ms. Pronsky also recruits artists from outside the borough.
Sarah Donner, 30, an “alternative folk-pop” songwriter and exchange alumna from Princeton, N.J., said it provided solidarity for musicians accustomed to playing alone. “As a singer-songwriter you’re usually solo, so it’s really nice to have that same kind of support from your peers and colleagues,” Ms. Donner said.
Ms. Pronsky has worked to imbue the series with a small-town, all-inclusive energy. “The scene of playing in New York is very ‘get in, get out,’ ” she said. “You go to see your friend’s band, and then you leave and go see another band somewhere else.” At Union Hall the audience lingers.
“At the end of the show you’ve created a teeny-tiny community of artists that you didn’t have before, and that goes a long way,” Ms. Donner said.
In the new year Ms. Pronsky will relinquish her duties to Jason Crosby (a singer-songwriter and producer who has performed with Bruce Springsteen and Eric Clapton) and one of his collaborators, the singer and multi-instrumentalist Megan Palmer, who plan to move the exchange in February to Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg, with continued financial support from the performance rights group Ascap. “There is such a large talent pool in Brooklyn, and it hasn’t stopped growing,” Mr. Crosby said in an e-mail. “This series is a way for these people to come together and meet, and share their art.”
WHEN AND WHERE Monday. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.; show at 8 p.m., Union Hall, 702 Union Street, at Fifth Avenue, Park Slope.
MORE INFO (718) 638-4400, brooklynsongwritersexchange.com
5 Questions with the Cat Lady, Sarah Donner
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About a week ago I came across the cutest, sweetest YouTube video ever, of singer/songwriter Sarah D...About a week ago I came across the cutest, sweetest YouTube video ever, of singer/songwriter Sarah Donner singing her song, "Treeline" to a sleepy kitten. Immediately I thought, who is this person? I need to know more! So, here's the deal. Sarah is a musician, she writes awesome tunes, and she rescues kitties. Check out our Q&A with Sarah below to learn more …
1. You've rescued over 50 cats and helped get them placed in loving homes. How did you get started in animal rescue?
It all started on a blustery winter day when I found a kitten dragging a bagel out of my garbage bin. I started to feed the little guy, and then word got out on the street. All the feral cats began to feed at my stoop, and then bring their babies with them. I started catching the kittens with hopes of finding homes. I became quite adept at domesticating them with the help of my husband and a lot of wet food! My reputation grew as a cat lady once I began performing regularly and advertising my adoptable cats at shows and online. Now I get emails and phone calls from people who want kitties or have questions about cats. My father-in-law, another animal lover, also brings me stray kittens that he finds in his neighborhood 30 minutes away.
2. Do you have any advice for people who are looking to adopt or aid in the rescue of the thousands of adorable, helpless, homeless animals out there?
Sure, check your local shelter! Consider getting an adult cat or dog because the babies always find homes. There are many loveable pets for adoption who've lost their homes because of foreclosures, an owner passing away, allergies, etc.
Finally, if you have an animal for adoption, never publicly offer them as "free to a good home." Charging a small fee keeps the sketchy people at bay.
3. You also help animals through your music, and have your very own record label, CatLady Records. What inspires you to make music and what do you have coming up that we can look forward to?
Mostly my songs stem from the stories of people around me. I'm usually inspired when I empathize with the challenges and joys faced by friends and family. When I write a serious song, I try to balance it by writing a quirky song. To me lyrics are of utmost importance. I do most of my writing on the bed which usually has my four cats on it. Sometimes they surreptitiously weasel their way into my lyrics literally or metaphorically. My most gratifying part of the process is the performance. I love the stage!
The future looks busy and exciting. My third album, Typing Is Dangerous was just released this fall, so I'm promoting that. "Treeline" was released as a single a few weeks ago. A music video for my tune "Going Under" will be produced this winter. My fourth national tour is on the horizon for June 2011. I will have a few holiday tunes available online in the coming weeks too, so watch for that!
4. Are there any other animal rights issues you feel passionate about (ie: animal testing, dog fighting, factory farming, etc)?
Declawing makes me so sad. I won't let a kitten go to a home that has plans to declaw. It's outlawed in many countries, and it's pathetic that the United States isn't one of them. You aren't prepared to care for a pet if you feel your furniture is more precious than your animal's well being. If someone is considering declawing, they should take time to educate themselves on the subject. There are alternatives!
I've also recently read Animals Make Us Human and Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin. I was so disgusted at her description of slaughterhouse conditions and methods. I gave up [eating] mammals over a year ago, and I've cut down significantly on the rest. I try to be conscientious about where and how my food is obtained. I'm signing the Spare a Turkey Pledge on peta2!
5. What are some of your favorite vegetarian foods?
I love Indian cuisine, and I recently began cooking a chickpea & potato curry. Also, I'm a big fan of chili and bean burritos. I have quite the sweet tooth as well so it's not hard to find meat-free cupcakes and candy!
To see more on the fabulous Sarah Donner, be sure to check out her YouTube, and Facebook pages. You can even download her song Treeline for free on Sarah's Facebook page! And please, let us know what you think, too!
Split down the middle: Opening Night Platz Picks
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To that end, keep an ear out for the quirky Sarah Donner (Town Square, 7 p.m.). I haven't seen her l...To that end, keep an ear out for the quirky Sarah Donner (Town Square, 7 p.m.). I haven't seen her live yet, but based on what I've heard from her music, I'm impressed with how she transcends those old female-singer-songwriter clichés with sharp lyrics that range from oddball to incisive.
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"The tunes often skip along her peppy strumming and an eager, near-breathless vocal style, keeping u..."The tunes often skip along her peppy strumming and an eager, near-breathless vocal style, keeping up with lots of self-deprecation and goofy details"
Kittens Falls Asleep to Some Amazing Music
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(CBS News) So awhile back I came across a very funny music video that I couldn't put up due to a lot...(CBS News) So awhile back I came across a very funny music video that I couldn't put up due to a lot of adult language (you can see it here), but got curious about the artist and was not disappointed. Check out Sarah Donner singing her song "Treeline" to a very sleepy kitty.
What I love is beyond the adorable overload video of the kitten falling asleep before our eyes, Sarah Donner has an amazing voice and obvious talent. Which is why I'm not only including one music video, but two in this post. Be sure to check out her music video for "Going Under" below (no sleepy kittens this time, but plenty of sock puppets) and to see more work by Sarah Donner, you can visit her YouTube page by clicking here or her Facebook page by clicking here.
Sock Puppets and the Art of the YouTube Music Video
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Sarah Donner knows how to engage her audience (on the stage and off). Last Fall she began handing ou...Sarah Donner knows how to engage her audience (on the stage and off). Last Fall she began handing out socks at her concerts. Tube socks, dress socks, blue socks, red socks . . . The idea was to get her fans to create sock puppets that would eventually appear in her new music video.
“Attached was a slip of paper with directions and my address. I also made a ‘how to’ music video (very meta indeed) which I posted on puppet blogs, craft blogs, whatever. ”
Sarah had no idea if her audience would respond or not. But, sure enough, sock puppets began showing up in the mail:
“Not only were fans becoming involved, but so were professional puppeteers, costume designers, and art directors. Between the crafty fans and the crew of puppeteers in the video, I had over 100 people invested in making this video. It was a great way to get everyone excited for the release. We even made teasers with puppet interviews! And now it’s out and being spread far and wide.”
Check out Sarah’s video for her song ‘Going Under.’
Sarah involved her audience in such a way that they felt ownership in the project. They were literally a part of the creative process and therefore they were far more likely to share and promote Sarah’s video. (It’s also well done and cute, which helps!)
“If you can find a way to get loads of people invested in your music video, whether its providing a location, bringing the pizza for the crew, being a puppeteer, moving scenery, being an extra, making the geisha puppet, or holding rubber ducks on sticks, the video will go a lot further via word of mouth!”
Find a New Audience by Making Non-Musical Connections
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We could all learn something from Sarah Donner. In the past 3 months she’s had 2 big successes with ...We could all learn something from Sarah Donner. In the past 3 months she’s had 2 big successes with quirky niche marketing techniques.
Sure, niche marketing is a bit easier when you make themed music. Trop-rockers appeal to Parrotheads. Horse-loving artists like Mary Ann Kennedy appeal to the equestrian community. Eileen Quinn’s nautically-themed music is a big hit with boating enthusiasts.
But what if you’re an artist who covers a range of topics, or a range of styles, and your “target market” isn’t so clearly defined?
Well, you don’t have to pigeonhole yourself or limit your musical expression in order to make non-musical or extra-musical connections. You can stay true to your own artistic whims AND find the places where your interests may occasionally intersect with the interests of an outside audience. Sarah Donner gives us two great examples of niche marketing via video:
1) She set up a camera and filmed a baby kitten falling asleep while she strummed a ukulele and sang her song “Treeline.” Then she sent the video to websites for cat lovers where it was re-posted. It went viral after being featured on Modern Cat and a number of popular kitten/daily cute websites, earning her new fans even though the song itself had nothing to do with cats. The adorable kitty in the video was enough of a connection point for this new audience to become receptive to Sarah’s music. Check out Sarah Donner’s kitten video for her song “Treeline” HERE.
2) The other music video was shot in her tour minivan, and was a performance of her tune called “The
Center Pivot Irrigation Song” (in honor of their long trek through Kansas). Sarah sent the video to farm and gardening websites where it caught the attention of Mike McGraff from NPR’s “You Bet Your Garden” program. Mike invited Sarah into the studio for an interview and performance. Suddenly, a whole host of horticultural enthusiasts were exposed to music they may never have heard elsewhere. Check out Sarah Donner’s video for “The Center Pivot Irrigation Song” HERE.
Have you made similar extra-musical connections with strange, new audiences? How? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.
-Chris R. at CD Baby
Cat Lovers Unite
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Sheltering strays was the responsible thing to do for Sarah Donner, a pink-haired rocker from Prince...Sheltering strays was the responsible thing to do for Sarah Donner, a pink-haired rocker from Princeton. And then, reluctantly, it became her identity. But karma surfaced recently and started returning the favor.
Before we can talk about her music or her monthly indie music showcase, we need to address Sarah Donner’s apparent fixation on cats. Pictures and videos of them are posted all over her MySpace and Facebook pages. Her own music label is called CatLady Records. She tentatively agrees to host me at her Princeton home as long as I “don’t mind the cats.” And when I reach her apartment, it’s hard to ignore the paintings of cats (more tasteful than you’re imagining) that adorn the vibrant kitchen as we settle in.
Donner’s reaction is not what I expect. I expect her to take off on the topic as soon as it’s put on the table. But she seems almost embarrassed by it.
Six years ago, she caught a kitten eating a bagel from a garbage can behind her home. So, she started feeding it. At that point, “I didn’t have any cats,” Donner says. “And I was fine without any cats.” Almost overnight, a bunch of strays from her closely-clustered block joined the kitten. And then those cats, come spring, started multiplying.
Donner, 30, and her husband were at a loss. But they’re animal lovers, so it was inevitable that they started collecting the cats, domesticating them and then finding homes for them. Still, they were coming in faster than they were going out. Friends and family started collecting strays and bringing them over.
At the height of their sheltering days, they housed 10 cats, though six of them, Donner says, were kittens, which are really only like a quarter cat each in her estimation. They have four now, which is where they’re holding until they move into a bigger home. Later, Donner calls for them, and two mammoth cats sheepishly push open the nearest door and find their way to our side, followed by two more that are about half the size. The white tip of Duncan’s tail, one of the huge cats, is dyed pink to match Donner’s bangs.
“It’s just one of those things that you end up embracing because … I don’t know,” Donner says. “What people think you are turns into what you are, I suppose.”
Lost and found in London
Enrollment in Westminster Choir College brought the Massachusetts native to New Jersey. But it became evident to her early on that she didn’t fit the classical mold. Though the pink hair, which started as a simple streak and morphed into countless variations, didn’t make its first appearance on the otherwise brunette Donner until four years ago, long after graduation.
She picked up the guitar during her sophomore year. Donner was already writing her own music, which she began doing during high school with the piano. She believes that “New England is in my blood,” but it’s London that’s more responsible for shaping Donner into the singer-songwriter she is today.
After college, Donner was hired by a single mother to be her son’s nanny. The mother was relocated to London, and Donner followed. She was there for about a year-and-a-half in all, including a couple of summers in Scotland. Not very long, but long enough to be transformative.
Donner tends to write songs when she’s especially moved or motivated, which means a typical session could yield three or four songs. But then, nothing for a couple of months. In London, though, everything she was seeing and experiencing was new and inspirational. Plus, without any friends at first and lots of time on her hands, Donner was able to invest big chunks of days into getting better at playing and toying with melodies.
She began attending and then playing open mics. And with the confidence she gained over those nights, Donner started cutting loose and rocking out. “Before that, it was slow, folkier. It’s easier to play slow, folk-y,” she says. “When you have so much time on your hands to sit and practice your instrument, you try different things. And I think I was able to try different things and be respected and welcomed for my different ideas or my weird lyrics over there.”
Donner today describes her music as alternative-folk-pop. It’s really a matter of which day you catch her. She plays solo shows acoustically, which casts her quirky lyrics in a definitively folk light. But with her band behind her—a percussionist and a bassist—the same songs take a decisive turn toward alternative rock. Donner’s not being noncommittal for the sake of securing a broad fan base, though that shouldn’t be entirely removed from the realm of possibility. Her songs can be as corny as they can be insightful. She was interviewed on NPR’s “You Bet Your Garden” in October because she made a video of herself playing a song about irrigation—“totally not a top 40 hit at all,” Donner admits—and sent it to the show’s host, Mike McGrath, with the simple aim of gaining some exposure. (More on that in a moment.)
London also filled Donner with a lot of new respect for her craft. There, she says, every musician was taken seriously. She returned to Princeton determined to find a venue that fostered the same kind of weighty atmosphere.
Forging her terms
Donner’s brother-in-law, who’s also a musician, delivered such an opportunity to her not long after she settled back in. There’s a large building next to his home in Griggstown, NJ, about 20 minutes from downtown Princeton, that was previously used as a lodge that hosted community dinners and dancing. At the time, it sat unused. He suggested they stage a concert there for the young families in the neighborhood. The expansive windows open broadly, which converts the building into more of a pavilion. They could set up seating inside and still be seen and heard by anyone who sat outside, in the surrounding park. Donner, who had been playing at low-key open mics since coming home, jumped at the chance and rounded up some musician friends.
The first show of what has become known as Sarah Donner’s Indie Music Night was staged in the fall of 2005. Other concerts followed monthly during the warm-weather months, usually comprised of three or four acts and Donner playing a handful of songs. In time, Donner picked up an invitation from the Arts Council of Princeton to stage the Indie Music Night at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, in Princeton, during the winter.
The concert takes on a far more subdued vibe when it’s at the arts center, but maintaining a year-round schedule enabled Donner to encourage the Indie Music Night’s surging momentum. Her waiting list now measures, on average, 50 acts long. “I got, like, an angry email yesterday from somebody I haven’t booked,” she says. In the same turn, she just scheduled a guy to play in March who patiently held his ground for two years.
Why the Indie Music Night is such a hot ticket for local musicians can be credited, above all, to the receptive audience. It’s the slice of London that Donner wanted so badly to cultivate here. “The love that I get from that crowd, I don’t get that anywhere else,” she says. “It’s forgiving. And it’s a great place for me to try out new things or just do something totally off the beaten track. Like, last time we had an Indie Music Night, in December, I did some musical theater stuff. I feel very safe with them, performing-wise.”
The viral kitten
The focus of Donner’s ambition is to be a full-time musician. Though, she played 120 shows over the last year. So what she presumably means is that she wants to be secure enough to quit her day job. Ironically, but not coincidentally, it may be a viral kitten video that gets her there.
Donner was sitting on her bedroom floor, strumming a ukulele when a black-and-white kitten about the size of a hand wandered up to her, plopped down and started listening. Oh, this is going to be good, Donner thought, and she grabbed her camera to record it. What resulted is two-and-a-half minutes of a sleepy kitten trying so damn hard to hold its attention on Donner as its less well-behaved housemates wreak havoc in the background.
Donner, a true student of the music industry, had been boning up on niche marketing (thus, the irrigation song), so she sent the video to some cat-centric Web sites and blogs. A tsunami resulted. By the end of February, the video had been viewed nearly 100,000 times on YouTube alone. And much of that attention resulted in a deeply satisfying trickle-down effect for Donner: Come for the heart-meltingly adorable kitten and stay for the music.
In the handful of months that the video’s been making the rounds online, Donner’s music career has made more progress than the previous couple of years produced, combined. And, yes, many of those cat crazies are sending her things, but she can live with that as long as they also continue to listen to her music.
So, if only for the sake of appearances, Donner, with a wry smile, admits, “Yeah, I’m a bona-fide crazy cat woman.”
Sarah Donner "Going Under"
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“Going Under” by Sarah Donner is one of the tracks confirming that you’re on Australia128. Sarah is ...“Going Under” by Sarah Donner is one of the tracks confirming that you’re on Australia128. Sarah is one of dozens of independent singer songwriters who make great music, using the internet to promote themselves. The song is pure, powerful, full of energy, and makes you realise why you like this type of music
Sarah Donner is the singer/songwriter/creative type. At least that’s how she defines herself. She loves to travel and to be an indie rock star. She loves cats, paints, and runs the Indie Music Night in New Jersey, USA. Oh and did we mention she loves cats? It’s actually a big thing, like her passion for the AcroCats, a band whose members are…cats. We used to think that Indie music stars wouldn’t be colourful enough to talk about but Sarah is definitely living proof that there’s enough stories out there.
Sarah Donner is an artist of our generation. Browsing through her blogspot blog, it’s easy to get to know the real her. That’s what makes her different to the record-label driven blogging superstars. Not that her music changes once you know she recently got married and was given a Wii…but at least you feel the artists you hear on Australia128 are people like you and me. “Going Under”, by Sarah Donner, frequently on Australia128 !
Sarah Donner on Restlessness, Lyrics, and Cheesecake
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What's New in Princeton & Central New Jersey? Reprinted from the September 8, 2010, issue of U.S. 1...What's New in Princeton & Central New Jersey?
Reprinted from the September 8, 2010, issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper
Sarah Donner on Restlessness, Lyrics, and Cheesecake
by Kevin L. Carter
Sarah Donner, the singer-songwriter whose stewardship of Indie Music Night at the Griggstown Pavilion has given many musicians, from nearby and farther away, a spotlight, is at an interesting place in her life. Since we last checked in with Donner (“Music for the MySpace Crown,” U.S.1, January 10, 2007), she has married (a year ago to husband Michael) and turned 30 (she disclosed this reluctantly, but with good humor), and the self-monikered Cat Lady is enjoying herself. Her new record, “Typing Is Dangerous,” she says matter-of-factly, is “a more grown-up record, which I guess is what happens when you grow up,” she says.
Donner will formally release “Typing Is Dangerous,” her third record, on her CatLady Records, with a CD release party at Small World Coffee on Witherspoon Street, on Saturday, September 11.
Not that Donner, an attractive brunette/pink-haired woman with an outlook and sense of humor both sunny and wry, doesn’t still have a need to explore, expand, travel, and encounter new challenges and situations. Being on the road, says Donner, “totally rejuvenates me. I’m very sad when I have to come back. I tend to feel like I’m in a rut when I’m in one place for too long. I feel like I’m not living as full a life as I could.”
This settled but restless life is reflected in Donner’s new work. “A lot of the songs (on the record) reflect a sort of restlessness I have as I’m getting older,” she says. “I’m just craving that success, the freedom to be able to perform for a living — I’m not trying to be Madonna or anything, but I would like to be able to make a living performing; that would be fabulous. I wrote a lot of songs that reflected that feeling.”
The title of the new album comes from the second song on the disc. “I always try to pick lyrics that are different and not conventional; I work very hard on my words,” she says. “If I’m writing something and it sounds too normal or conversational, I kind of go back and rework it. I like the sound of certain words in my mouth. Because I like to sing so much, I’m aware of what words feel nice.”
As a Princeton University employee — she works as a set designer and painter for McCarter and Princeton’s theater and dance departments — she largely gets the summer off, which gives her a chance to tour the country, which she did happily during the months of June and July. With Michael as Fred/Shaggy to her Daphne/Velma, the couple and their cats, and Sarah’s guitars, hopped into their minivan and went west.
She enjoys visiting the midwest and west, where people are friendlier than back east. This summer’s itinerary took her to Seattle and back for a three-week tour with stops in Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Paul, Billings, Montana, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Seattle, Colorado, and St. Louis. “It was great. I did that last summer too,” says Donner. “This time around it was much better to me musically, financially. I don’t know that I’m getting much better, just that people are coming out to shows and being supportive. I know a lot of artists blame the economy for not being able to get fans out, or for not having the support they need, but I thought this time out, things went very well.”
Donner used social media and old-fashioned word of mouth to get the word out, and she, like many other independent musicians, does house concerts as well as shows at coffeehouses and other venues. “For me, as a solo artist, the house concerts are not only lucrative financially, which is really helpful when you’re on the road, but you automatically have a better relationship with the people who come out as your fans. They say hi, and talk with you, and eat cheesecake with you.”
She has just been named a regional round finalist in the Northeast division in the Mountain Stage New Song Contest. The winner of the contest will appear on the NPR show Mountain Stage, and Donner says she would really love to be on the show. “It’s pretty big. I just found out last week. Just getting to be a finalist is kind of encouraging and validating for me. It makes me feel that I am on the right path and that I’m growing as a writer and as a musician.”
Donner grew up in a Portugese-American community in the maritime and whaling town of New Bedford, MA. Her father is a worship leader at a church there, where Donner sang in the choir. She graduated from Westminster Choir College in 2001 with a B.A. in music performance.
The term Cat Lady fits Donner. She has always loved cats, and she has manifested that love in her present incarnation as the Princeton Cat Lady who also happens to sing and paint for a living. Donner and her husband share their Princeton place with four permanent cats and many others, often hurt or otherwise endangered, who are either delivered to her or which she finds, nurtures to health, and gives away. Near her home, not far from the University Medical Center at Princeton, there has been a feral cat population, and Donner began feeding them and caring for them.
“So, word got out,” she says. “All the cats started hanging out, having their babies. It was easy to catch the kittens, bring them into the bathroom, domesticate them, and give them away to friends. The more cats I collected, the more people called me about cats that needed homes.” The couple’s own four cats are Duncan, Shosha, Rory (“she’s the pretty one, but she doesn’t really contribute anything to our family”), and Puma Bean Jackson (“he’s kind of like a dog”).
Donner’s restlessness extends to her present surroundings. Although she is fairly content here, she wouldn’t mind moving to, say, Chicago, or back to her native New England. Growing up in the Portuguese-American culture, she found it “boring,” but now that she’s not in Massachusetts, which looks outward toward the sea both literally and figuratively, she misses her roots. “Now that I’m separated from it, when I do go home I try to jump back into it. I am kind of relearning and reappreciating what I have, what I always have had. Another thing that comes with being a little bit older.”
Donner hopes that in a few years she will be able to perform full time and make a living with her music. The music industry is undergoing rapid and radical change, with record companies becoming less important (and not understanding how to remain relevant), and publicity and distribution becoming closer to the artist. “I think a lot of (execs) in the music industry have to make some decisions about their business model and how it’s going to work,” she says. “I really do believe it’s within the power of the independent artist to make it. You just need the time to do your publicity and your marketing, while continuing to grow as a writer and a performer.”
Sarah Donner, Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, Princeton. Saturday, September 11, 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. CD release party for “Typing is Dangerous,” Donner’s third recording featuring other people’s stories with Donner’s “opinions, insecurities, judgments, and affections.” She is a Princeton resident. 609-924-4377 or www.smallworldcoffee.com.
Mountain Stage New Song Finalist!
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Princeton, NJ-based independent musician Sarah Donner, a 2002 graduate of Westminster Choir College,...Princeton, NJ-based independent musician Sarah Donner, a 2002 graduate of Westminster Choir College, has been announced as a regional round finalist for the Northeast division in the Mountain Stage New Song Contest. Donner has the distinction of being the only New Jersey talent to make the regional round finalist for this prestigious competition which draws thousands of entrants from across the country.
The winner of the contest gets the chance to record a 5-song EP produced and engineered by Grammy-winning producer Jacquire King (Kings of Leon, Norah Jones) as well as a performance on the internationally broadcast Mountain Stage (NPR) show.
Sarah Donner’s third full length solo release Typing is Dangerous was mixed in Ireland by recording engineer Owen Lewis (REM, Snow Patrol and more). A CD release party will be held at Small World Coffee on September 11 from 8:30-10:30 p.m. The recently renovated café is located at 14 Witherspoon Street in Princeton.
A 2009 New Folk finalist at the Kerrville Folk Festival, Sarah Donner will open for Jill Sobule at Concert at the Crossing in Titusville on October 23. She is also the host and founder of Indie Music Night, an acclaimed monthly series featuring premium live music held in Princeton. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.myspace.com/sarahdonner.
Sarah Donner - Fossil of Girl REVIEW
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When I hear Sarah Donner´s voice, I think of Alanis Morissette. But Sarah Donner´s music b...When I hear Sarah Donner´s voice, I think of Alanis Morissette. But Sarah Donner´s music bring thoughts to other artists like First Aid Kit, Miss Li and Mumford and Sons. There´s a bit of both classic 70´s singer/songwriter style and 21st century indie folk sounds in her latest album "Fossil of girl", Sarah is without doubt a talented artist where her songs feels honest and warm. She´s right at home with composing in key major, and I´m really impressed by her musical skills because she plays guitar, violin, ukulele and piano.
This album is filled with bright and positive songs where my favorites are "Going under", "The pilot", "Fossil of girl" and "All my guns". Also expect a real nice cover of Kesha´s "Your love is my drug", thumbs up. If you´re interested in more from Sarah Donner, you´ve got 3 more albums to check out in "Reluctant cat lady" (2007), "The sleep you´ve been missing" (2008) and "Typing is dangerous" (2010).
Donner Party to Celebrate
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If Donner ends up winning the Mountain Stage New Song Contest, she'll be able to record a five-song ...If Donner ends up winning the Mountain Stage New Song Contest, she'll be able to record a five-song EP produced and engineered by Jacquire King, a Grammy-winning producer who has worked with Kings of Leon, Norah Jones and others.
She certainly has the chance and know-how. Last year, Donner was a finalist at the Kerrville Folk Festival and is also the host and founder of Indie Music Night, a monthly series featuring live music in Princeton.
She's got a quirky sense of humor. She describes herself as a "rock star, cat lady" kind of girl. To some extent, that's quite true. Her first album is called "Reluctant Cat Lady," and her latest album was released under Cat Lady Records.
Tomorrow night, attendees can expect the usual warm-hearted, comfortable Sarah Donner. Her poignant, to-the-point lyrics mesh well with her unique stage presence, and listeners are often seen laughing and sometimes clapping along to her witty and well-put words.
To sample her music for free, log onto (myspace.com/sarahdonner).
While there, definitely check out "Going Down" and "Whalers and Sailors."
Donner catches up on 'Sleep' with second CD
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By BRENT JOHNSON Special to the Times Sarah Donner's hair looks like a cherry Italian ice. "O...By BRENT JOHNSON
Special to the Times
Sarah Donner's hair looks like a cherry Italian ice.
"On the box, it says 'Fuchsia Flash,' actually," explains the Princeton folk-pop singer-songwriter, who dyes her locks every five to six weeks.
Apparently, someone else in Princeton dons the same color.
"(Somebody I know) went up to this girl and said, 'Hey Sarah,'" Donner says. "And she turned around, and he said, 'Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were Sarah Donner.' And she's like, 'I get that all the time.' And I was like, 'Yeah! Score! Keep the pink hair going!'"
She's hoping the same for her music, which she purposefully tries to make as quirky as her hair. Don ner just released her second album, "The Sleep You've Been Missing," which she'll give a CD release party tonight at Postmark in Brooklyn. She'll also play Princeton's Small World Café tomorrow.
It's the follow-up to the 28-year-old self-financed musician's 2007 debut, "Reluctant Cat Lady." That record was the culmination of a curious backstory: Donner is a Massachusetts transplant who once studied classical singing at Rider University's Westminster Choir College, planning for a career in musical theater. But she gave it up for an acoustic guitar.
"Cat Lady" was a sweet-voiced record full of jumpy chord progressions, strange stories and inspiration from alt-folkies such as Ani DiFranco and Dar Williams. And "Sleep" is similar, albeit with a few more yodelly, loopy vocal inflections.
But the goal for album No. 2 was to mix in "unexpected sounds" -- like the antique air organ her fiancé bought her for $20; all the "little percussion instruments" she's bought from the kid's section of music magazines; even a vocoder and the MiniKorg keyboard she got for Christmas a few years ago.
So is this Sarah Donner's electronica album?
"You don't turn it on and it sounds like (electronic indie rock duo) the Postal Service or something like that," says Donner, who lists experimental alt-rockers Imo gen Heap and Bjork among her influences. "But there's a bit more synthesized sound in there."
It's also a more fleshed-out af fair than her first record, which Donner made solo in her basement, shelling out cash for a computer and recording software.
"This time around, I was like, 'You know what? This needs a bass. And this needs a drum. And those aren't my instruments, so why don't I ask somebody who is good at that?'" explains Donner, who also hosts Indie Music Night, a showcase for local artists she started, once a month at Princeton's Griggstown Pavilion.
Donner is quintessentially indie. She releases her music on her own Cat Lady Records and makes money by selling merchandise and playing seven to 10 shows a month. She supplements that by working as a contracted scenic artist for Princeton University theater.
A tour last summer to promote "Reluctant Cat Lady" took her to small venues in Chicago, St. Paul and even Kentucky. And now, she's "putting out feelers" for an agent.
Lyrically, "The Sleep You've Been Missing" is a tad more personal than her debut. Opening track "Wailers And Sailors" is about her hometown of New Bedford, Mass. (about an hour south of Boston and a half-hour north of Providence, R.I.) -- written during a family road trip along the Bay State coast.
But she strays away from rela tionship songs. And most of the time, Donner pens songs about other people, like the title track, written for a friend missing sleep as an officer stationed in Iraq.
Hence, the pink sheep on the al bum's cover.
"I thought: sheep. Sleep and sheep," she says after a performance at Indie Music Night, where a handful of spectators were already singing along to "Shadow And Cold," one of the albums prettiest songs, and one she wrote to ease her sister through a bout of depres sion.
So a pink-sheep cover for a sophomore album that follows a debut called "Reluctant Cat Lady"? No, it's not a theme.
"I like animals," Donner says, "but I didn't specifically make a choice like, 'It must be an animal in profile view.'"
Call It Graceful
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"I gave Sarah a few listens and would like to say, first and foremost, that her most attractive arti..."I gave Sarah a few listens and would like to say, first and foremost, that her most attractive artistic qualities are her voice (firm but playful) and her simplistic (you could call it graceful) approach to the writing process.
However, I must say
that she has a keen sense of building up and slowing down, both in rhythm and dynamics,
because all of these phrases had a definite sense of rise and fall. That is key.
When she "lets it all hang out" and hangs on a few notes, it's truly wonderful. I understand that (a la Ani DiFranco or Joni Mitchell) sometimes a more speak/singing tactic works, but I was most impressed in the choruses of "To the Ocean" and "Siren" of her vocal quality."
Music for the Myspace Crowd
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"Donner...has her own distinctive, half-spoken, half-sung, all-quirky style. She sings with a highly..."Donner...has her own distinctive, half-spoken, half-sung, all-quirky style. She sings with a highly expressive, conversational demeanor, employing well the nuances of the language and an ability to change her dynamics to induce a sense of drama in her songs...
She projects an air of serenity and intelligence." -Kevin L. Carter
Overrated New Year
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'Overrated New Year' Passage Theatre marks the season with a Holiday Musicale Wednesday, December ...'Overrated New Year'
Passage Theatre marks the season with a Holiday Musicale
Wednesday, December 9, 2009 1:38 PM EST
By Anthony Stoeckert
Singer-songwriter Sarah Donner is one of the performers in Passage Theatre's Holiday Musicale.
SARAH Donner takes in all the hoopla surrounding New Year’s and wonders if any of it lives up to the expectations.
All those people celebrating around the world, making resolutions and convincing themselves that this year will be different — does it ever live up to the hype?
”I think we see these giant parties on TV and have these expectations that our evenings should be so exciting,” the singer-songwriter says. “But most of us are gathered with our families or at home with a glass of wine or something like that. It’s like something life-changing is supposed to happen on that evening but it doesn’t.”
Those feelings are reflected in “Overrated New Year,” a new song Ms. Donner will perform during Passage Theatre’s Holiday Musicale at the Mill Hill Playhouse in Trenton Dec. 12 and 13.
Ms. Donner’s mid-tempo number features her folksy vocals and acoustic guitar, accompanied by backup vocals, bass and cajon drum.
”Here we are together” she sings, setting a scene of freshly baked bread and overfed people relating to one another. “Overrated New Year/ Our promise is put on trial.”
”Overrated New Year” is the second holiday-themed tune Ms. Donner has written following last year’s “Houses,” which was influenced by her Christmas visits to her home town of New Bedford, Mass.
”It’s about my travels every year, trying to get home and back, and realizing Christmas isn’t about lights on the houses and trees and everything — it’s about people,” she says. “The holidays for me are about family and home and the feelings of comfort that come from Christmas. Those songs tend to reflect my feelings toward that, I try not to put any jingle bells in there if I don’t have to.”
Ms. Donner’s appearance at the Holiday Musicale will mark the first time she’s performed on Passage’s stage, but she has worked with the company before, starting at the box office and then working on scenery and props, as well as teaching songwriting to young artists as part of Passage’s educational program.
”That was a wonderful experience,” she says of teaching. “I really enjoyed that and I learned a lot from the kids. They teach me probably more than I teach them when it comes to the music they listen to.”
This appearance will also serve as the release party for her new holiday EP, Overrated New Year. She’ll be accompanied by Brad Sicotte on the cajon, a box-shaped drum.
”It’s a nice acoustic, warm instrument that lends itself to somebody like me who tends to just play the acoustic guitar,” Ms. Donner says of the cajon. “It’s not a full drum kit but there are a lot of sounds that you can get out of this wooden box.”
Another musical outlet for Ms. Donner is the monthly Indie Music Night she founded and hosts. During the winter months, those showcases for local talent will take place at the Arts Council of Princeton’s Paul Robeson Center for the Arts before returning to their regular home at the Griggstown Pavilion.
”It got a little cold at the Griggstown Pavilion last year,” Ms. Donner says. “It gets a little bit nippy so we’re trying to expand our audience and alert the Princeton town folk that we’re out there and doing this.”
Passage’s Holiday Musicale will also feature performances from Miche Braden, who starred in The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith at Passage and at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, Christopher Coucill, Liz Fillo and pianist Samuel T. Frisby.
Not everyone will be caroling during the Passage show. Ms. Fillo will share some Stephen Sondheim songs, including “Send in the Clowns,” which she has performed regularly since singing it in McCarter Theatre’s 1977 production of A Little Night Music.
Her husband, Mr. Coucill (who just starred in Passage’s production of Blood: A Comedy), will perform a monologue and “Try to Remember” from The Fantasticks, which he starred in off-Broadway in the 1990s.
Ms. Fillo will also perform an original song, “Eliza Quinn,” which she wrote for her granddaughter. It’s a special song for her because she wrote it right after her granddaughter’s birth and sang it to her when she and Mr. Coucill got married in 2001.
”My granddaughter’s song is interesting (especially for) people my age (who) have grandchildren,” she says. “It’s a pretty little song for a newborn granddaughter, my only granddaughter.”
Passage Theatre Company’s Holiday Musicale will take place at the Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 E. Front St., Trenton, Dec. 12, 8 p.m., Dec. 13, 5 p.m. Tickets cost $25. 609-392-0766; www. passagetheatre.org. The next Indie Music Night takes place at the Paul Robeson Center, 102 Witherspoon St., Princeton, Jan. 16, 7 p.m. $5 suggested donation.
Reluctant Cat Lady
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It's often too much of a good thing with cats, especially the feral ones who recognize a soft touch... It's often too much of a good thing with cats, especially the feral ones who recognize a soft touch. One sad little feline comes around for free food and the next thing you know there's a caboodle of kitties, including one who is pregnant. You're running to the store for cat food, naming them, worrying about what will happen to them in the cold — but mostly trying to find people to adopt them.
This was Princeton resident Sarah Donner's story. John Street must be some primordial home for feral cats because when she moved in, there they were in all their furry glory.
"I named them all," she says. "They all have their individual personalities. We did a good job, though, I found homes for 16 kittens and there weren't any new kittens this year."
That's how the singer-songwriter found herself reluctantly becoming the neighborhood "cat lady." It so inspired Ms. Donner that she named her first CD Reluctant Cat Lady and released it on her own label — Cat Lady Records. The front and back covers of the CD are of part of a quilt Ms. Donner crafted, with a black and white kitty on the front and the feral cat family tree on the back. Names like Nanuk, Skitz, Crotch Rocket and Arlo are stitched in red thread.
The felines also inspired at least one track on the CD. "Wishbone" is an homage to "...the big papa cat who sired many a kitten," Ms. Donner says.
Ms. Donner, host and founder of Indie Music Night at the Griggstown Pavilion in Franklin, will be playing at the Acoustic Summer Fest in South Brunswick Aug. 3, at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick Aug. 20, and celebrating Reluctant Cat Lady with a CD release party at Griggstown Pavilion Sept. 8.
A graduate of Westminster Choir College of Rider University, Ms. Donner had more of a classical and musical theater background before she picked up a guitar and taught herself to play and write songs.
"There was no encouragement there for pop music," she says. "There was even a stigma to (pursue music) outside of the classical music realm. It wasn't a kind of creativity that was fostered."
Ms. Donner is able to keep her hand in theater as a scenic painter for McCarter Theatre in Princeton and Passage Theatre in Trenton, where she also teaches songwriting through the State Street Project. After various singer-songwriters encouraged her to experiment and boosted her confidence, Ms. Donner vowed to share her skills with newcomers to the form.
"My songwriting didn't take off until I lived in London," she says. "I was a nanny and the boy's mom was relocated to London and I had this amazing opportunity to go there too. I brought my guitar and while he was in school I would write songs."
At night she would venture out to singer-songwriter friendly pubs, network and further her playing skills.
"I had a lot more respect for singer-songwriters (after my stay in London)," Ms. Donner says. "I don't think I would have gone so far in my career without connecting to this great community of songwriters there. It's different from over here where you have to go to an open mike night if you want to play. That's why I started Indie Music Night."
The 11 songs on Reluctant Cat Lady jump back and forth between humor and reflectiveness and run the gamut on subject matter. "Sons of Women" muses on the phenomenon of dating men who turn out to be gay.
"College seems to be a big coming out time," she says. "Myself and my friends joke about the men we dated who are out now."
"Quandaries at a Hardcore Show" will appeal to certain women who dutifully follow their boyfriends to hardcore gigs and stand around bored to death, wondering what all the fuss is about.
"My boyfriend at the time used to listen to hardcore punk bands and he would take me to live shows that would usually consist of an incredibly loud band and loads of high school and college boys moshing on the floor," Ms. Donner says. "I noticed the large number of girlfriends, including myself, leaning up against the wall watching and looking rather pained to be there. I just didn't understand the music. The bands and fans took it so seriously, but to a number of us looking on, it was ridiculous.
"For me the lyrics are of utmost importance," she adds. "If you can't understand what I am saying, then all you are hearing is accompaniment. It doesn't inspire, it doesn't move people's minds. I try so hard to write with honesty and unpredictability. So yep, that is where that song comes from."
Her tastes have evolved from musical theater to college-era influences like Tori Amos and Fiona Apple, both of whom inspired her to try writing songs on the keyboard. The music of Dar Williams and the percussive guitar of Ani DiFranco led Ms. Donner to try guitar herself.
"Now I don't listen to them at all," Ms. Donner says. "I'm always on the lookout for someone interesting, like Regina Spektor. I'm also inspired by the people who perform at Indie Music Night. A lot of my influences come from the CDs I pick up in the bargain bin at Princeton Record Exchange. If I see something that looks interesting, I'll buy it, so my influences are often accidental."
Ms. Donner did practically everything herself for Reluctant Cat Lady, recording the tracks in the basement of her place last winter. Four cats kept her company.
Sarah Donner will perform at Acoustic Summer Fest, Beechwoods Park, 137 Beekman Road, South Brunswick, Aug. 3, 8 p.m. She will also perform with Eric Ginsberg at the Court Tavern, 124 Church St., New Brunswick, Aug. 20, 9 p.m. (732) 545-7265. Ms. Donner will host a CD release party at Griggstown Pavilion, 373 Bunkerhill Road, Franklin, Sept. 8, 7 p.m. All three events are free. Reluctant Cat Lady is available at Princeton Record Exchange, 20 S. Tulane St., Princeton. Also available through www.cdbaby.com and through iTunes. (609) 672-1813; www.sarahdonner.com
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"Phenomenal, engaging, and real...in addition to having a beautiful voice, great chops, and a pen to..."Phenomenal, engaging, and real...in addition to having a beautiful voice, great chops, and a pen to be envious of."
American Musician has her new CD reviewed by one of her contemporaires, just because her music is that good.
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American Musician has her new CD reviewed by one of her contemporaires, just because her music is ...
American Musician has her new CD reviewed by one of her contemporaires, just because her music is that good.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PRLog (Press Release) – Feb 02, 2009 – Not being asked to write this review, I feel compelled to on the premise that the artistry of humanity links souls in manners and fashions becoming of such notions as inherent in the Latin term Agape; from a place of genuine respect do these words arrive into our shared reality to serve the purpose of exalting talent or, at least, to call attention to some component of life that enriches the intrinsic value of being alive….and whatnot.
Sarah Donner, the princess of Princeton, New Jersey, has conjured a second complete set of original songs freshly engineered and duplicated for the year 2009, “The Sleep You’ve Been Missing” that offers some of the best in sonic enhancements that our contemporary times have.
Even if you don’t know her debut album, “Reluctant Cat Lady,” “The Sleep…” is more than mildly entertaining. Sarah’s pleasing timbre and great control of her voice is the core of her music.
Her light melodies and brilliant lyrics are steeped with subtle allusions to deeper insights; Sarah Donner is less quirky than one may assume she is upon first inspection of her music. The singsong sway of “Whalers and Sailors” is well balanced by the whispers permeating the melody of “Suffragette,” and the bouncy rhythms from various instruments, coupled with the at times haunting harmonies display her affinity for songwriting and are, quite frankly, a joy to experience.
For those who have known her previous album, and know of her hectic live performance schedule AND her cultivation of the Indie Music Night in Griggstown, New Jersey (literally building a music scene out of what used to be a barn), “The Sleep You’ve Been Missing” depicts her evolution as an artist and composer.
The seamless inclusion of electronic elements in the songs “Wall Street” and “Infinity” as well as the live percussion and rock feel of the song “State of Mind” are indicative of her further development.
The more she progresses, the better refined her own sound becomes; her confidence in her abilities has improved and her music shows such with a glorious triumph of an independent album.
Sarah Donner is truly one of the exemplary musicians of our time and needs to gain more public attention for the beautiful works she creates. While America is readily importing songstresses from England, perhaps we would do well to also celebrate one of the unique and masterful musicians arising from The States.
Supple & Spirited
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"She practically attacked her guitar, and her left hand clocked a lot of mileage on the fret board. ..."She practically attacked her guitar, and her left hand clocked a lot of mileage on the fret board. Her songs are restless, almost unable or unwilling to slow down and let you catch up. A supple and spirited vocal, and an engaging presence. And the songs are interesting and quirky."...Z. Mulls
Sarah Donner - Cat Lady Rock and Roll
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A gifted singer and a talented songwriter. Sarah Donner plays the kind of cute singer/songwriter pop...A gifted singer and a talented songwriter. Sarah Donner plays the kind of cute singer/songwriter pop that you might hear as a soundtrack for a Jason Reitman film (If you don’t know, he directed Up in the Air and Juno.) It’s the kind of music you can listen to and just relax as you enjoy the film. And then something hits you, maybe a line that isn’t just quirky, but actually profound with songs like "These Things" ( We know how you want it to be/but sometimes these things are bigger than you think/ You want to go back to New Jersey/but sometimes New Jersey’s not as big as you think). Sarah writes the music that returns you to earth. With gentle melodies along with passionate, insightful, and often quirky lyrics, Ms. Donner has been creating a special place for herself in New Jersey’s indie music scene for nearly a decade. Sometimes her songs adult drama and sometimes her songs are about cats, and she would not be above writing about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s monster musical. She has released two albums, 2007’s Reluctant Cat Lady and 2008’s The Sleep You’ve Been Missing, as well as three holiday EPs, and is now working on her third album.
A young lady with music smarts. A graduate of Westminster College, Ms Donner has been involved with music since she was 5 years old, singing in church choirs, musical theater or wherever she could be heard. Not only is she a renowned indie act, but she also puts on a monthly indie showcase of Mercer County’s best indie artists. She is also always on the road, playing 100 hundreds of shows every year, creating new fans at every stop.
A cat lady rock star. A package of great songs and a unique worldview, Sarah Donner is laying down the foundation for one of the greatest indie music careers this decade.
How long have you been playing?
Sarah Donner: I’ve been playing guitar for about 10 years, but I’ve been singing since I was 5 or so. I just always enjoyed performing in any capacity- church, musical theatre, opera, bands, orchestra, and choir. The singer/songwriter in me didn’t really blossom until college when I had pianos and practice rooms in the dorm.
Your sound and subject matter is very unique and very personal and sometimes very silly. What influenced the music you make?
SD: Oh, why thank you. My lyrics are usually influenced by the people around me. Nearly everything is based in reality. I don’t think I’m a great storyteller as far as imagination goes. I take someone else’s drama and torque it into some quirky words if I can. Words are the most important part of my music so I spend a lot of time working them into something that is worth listening to.
The silly stuff is a reaction to my serious songs. I try not to take myself too seriously. If I write a song with heavy subject matter, I try to balance it with something light hearted. I have an earthy sometimes dark sense of humor. I think it can get boring listening to an artist play only songs that are too careful and introspective. There are so many words in our language and songs can be enhanced by choosing the slant rhymes and multisyllabic words and cramming some unexpected lyric in small rhythmic spaces.
How would you describe your sound and how would your audience describe your sound?
SD: Oh, I would call it quirky, rhythmic, and vocally driven. I’ve been told I sound like Alanis Morissette and Joni Mitchell, so maybe their love child? Or maybe Ani Difranco if she had been brought up in a classical tradition vocally.
You also have an excellent voice (and she really does), how long have you been perfecting that?
SD: Thank you; I am still paying off those student loans from choir college so I’m glad you can tell!
I started voice lessons in high school, but I was singing in choir and church since I was a little girl.
.A rare interview question,but what bands and artist do you hate?
SD: Hate is so strong, but I am passionately clicking the thumbs down on my Pandora radio station every time it suggests a Jack Johnson song. I’m not a fan of country music in general; the twang kind of grates against my ears, and the subject matter just doesn’t keep my attention. The whole scene just reeks of sequins, leather tassels, and boots that don’t look good on my calves, but who I am to talk with my pink hair… Oh I basically hate any artist on the radio/soundtrack that they play in Michael’s craft stores too.
How many releases have you put out? Are you currently on a label?
SD:I am currently working on my third full length album. I’ve put out two so far, as well as three holiday EPs. I own my little label CatLady Records.
I see you tour and play live a lot, how often are you on the road or at least playing live, and what kind of feedback do you get from your shows?
SD: I do play out a lot. I think last year I played over 120 shows! I try to travel as much I can by car on weekends, since I often have to work during the week. If it’s a listening room show, I often get great feedback and sell the most merch. If it’s a noisy bar, usually I get free beer. There are some venues that just aren’t for artists like me, and I can only figure out which ones they are if I try! People often say kind things about my voice or lyrics. Guys will notice that I can play more than three chords on the guitar. I got heckled once by a nut because I didn’t play any Cream songs.
Any funny stories from the road or any strange shows?
SD: I played at Wild West City, this nostalgic on the verge of run down recreation of an old West town in north Jersey. There were stage coach robberies on the hour and the Sheriff would choose kids from the audiences to decide whether to invoke corporal punishment on the criminals. Basically, my cue to start my set was whenever somebody got shot. I hope they have me back this year; I will bring many friends.
I’ve played some strange shows where the booker obviously didn’t care about the billing or cross promoting audiences. For example I opened for this rapper in New York. Clearly I am not of the hip-hop/R&B/rap genre. The rapper had back up dancing girls and choreography/miming in his act. He was definitely more entertaining than I was. I also remember a show with a guy who did Billy Joel covers on the harp.
Whatever the show, I try my best to be supportive of the other artists and gracious to the host/bartender/owner. After all, you never know who is listening.
Any other special messages?
SD: I think I owe some of my first NJ shows to Trenton at the ol’ 449 Room!
Thanks so much for taking interest in my music and passing it along.
Checkout more of Ms. Donner and her many shows at http://www.myspace.com/sarahdonner
Cat Magic: Catster's First Music Video Columnist
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Monday, December 5, 2011 Cat Magic: Catster's First Video Columnist Singer/songwriter Sarah ...Monday, December 5, 2011
Cat Magic: Catster's First Video Columnist
Singer/songwriter Sarah Donner made her way into our cat-crazed consciousness last year via a viral music video for her single, “Treeline,” which featured one very sleepy (and undeniably adorable) kitten. We loved her spunk and style so much that we invited her to be Catster’s personal songstress, and our very first video columnist. Every Friday in her “Ask a Cat Lady” segment, Sarah answers a question from readers in (what else?) song. Describing the offbeat magic Sarah’s humor brings to these videos is difficult, so we invite you to have a small taste.
We recently sat down with Sarah (virtually) to quiz her on her column, her cute cat-lovin’ husband and all things kitty:
When did you first realize you were a Cat Lady? And how did you come to OWN it instead of running from it? I did run from it at first, kind of how I still run from the term “Jersey Girl.” I am from Massachusetts! I just happen to have resided in NJ for the last 10 years. Anyhow, my first album is titled Reluctant Cat Lady, which tells you how I was still scared of being judged by others. I actually used to make fun of my sister-in-law who had five cats. Now I have anywhere between four and nine cats in my house, and she only has one! I didn't jump wholeheartedly into the cat lady scene until my Sleepy Kitten video went viral. Suddenly I had loads of fans who were cat lovers too, and I realized I didn't need to live in fear. I harnessed the marketing power of cats on the Internet and began steering my music towards animal lovers.
How many cats do you have to have before becoming an official Cat Lady? It depends on if you want to be a “cat lady” or a “Cat Lady.” I know some very enthusiastic cat ladies with only one or two cats. Those are lower case cat ladies. Cat Ladies need to have three or more cats. Crazy Cat Ladies end up on episodes of Hoarders.
Your husband is a bigger cat person than you are. Tell us about that, we love cat guys! This whole cat operation wouldn't be possible without my husband Michael. Last month he stayed up until 2 a.m. to catch Oatmeal. He took apart my car to fish Crumpet out from my engine compartment. He gets under wheel wells, in bushes, and behind sheds to rescue kitties. Michael even digs the holes to bury kitties when they have passed. Last year we had a litter that needed to be bottle fed every 4-5 hours, and he would take the early shift at 5 a.m. His parents raised him with a compassion for all living things that I rarely see in other men. I'm pretty sure it's because he had a pony growing up. We make a great team, and I couldn't do it alone. Clipping claws, taking temperatures, administering antibiotics, and wiping poop wouldn't be nearly as much fun without Michael.
How do you come up with your songs and videos for Catster? I have a file of questions from Catster readers, and I choose the ones that to lend themselves to a fun song. I try to choose quirky and universal issues that cat lovers face. Once I have a topic, I do research and take notes that inspire lyrics. With a guitar or piano handy, I start noodling around with chords and rhythms while humming melodies on top. Usually if I can compose a verse and chorus, the rest is cake. Writing one song every week takes great discipline, and it forces me to write without pretense. You can't take yourself too seriously when singing about wet meat and hairballs. After I write the song I set up my studio or kitchen with many clip lights, put the video camera on a tripod, and hope that some cat will cooperate and perform with me. It usually takes an hour to film one song. I also try to get footage that pertains to the subject. It's hard though because cats often stop 'performing' once I grab the camera. In the end I sit at my computer and edit all the clips into a three-minute spectacle, complete with outtakes and cat shenanigans.
So, tell us about your day job... As an artist, I have a number of jobs that keep the kittens well fed. During the school year, I am a charge scenic artist for various theatres in the area. I paint the set, the stage, props, and muslin drops. It's my job to take a designer's set model and realize it on a full scale. I also teach guitar and voice lessons in my studio. In the summer time I tour the country and try to spread my music as much as possible.
Do any of your cats travel with you when you're on the road touring? Heavens no. I don't even want to travel with me when I'm touring. I get squirrely after a few hours in the car. We have a wonderful friend who spends the summer in our apartment taking care of the kitties. And we take foster kittens on road trips from NJ to MA when we need to. Kittens in the van on I-95 for five hours is a team effort.
What is the most head-against-wall thing about cats? Puking. I swear they do it just to piss me off.
What's the absolute best thing about cats? Why should everybody have one? I love how cats are constantly present. They naturally live in the moment without worry or complaint. They can relate to us without words, which I find comforting. My Puma Bean will sit on my lap, curl against my torso, and just purr. It's an understanding we have at the end of the day, good or bad. In jest I do anthropromorphize my animals, but there is a relationship there that's worth all the money and time I give to cats. Whether you have one cat or a feral population, it's a routine of caring, simple and direct, that we all benefit from. I don't know that everybody should have one, though if they did we'd have a lot less homeless animals! I think everyone who has one should consider getting two. Cats are very social and usually enjoy the company of another animal, especially kittens. Two is also the gateway to Cat Lady status, and we should always strive to fulfill our potential.
Seeds Talks to Sarah Donner
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Sarah Donner is the indie-folk songstress you wish you could be. She’s got badass fingerpickin’ skil...Sarah Donner is the indie-folk songstress you wish you could be. She’s got badass fingerpickin’ skills, stunning vocal harmonies, sharp lyrics, classical training and a small army of foster kittens. Sarah’s been featured on NPR’s You Bet Your Garden and even hosts a weekly videoblog “Ask A Catlady” for Catster.com.
Sarah was kind enough to take a few moments away from rescuing kittens and being an indie-folk pop starlet to talk to us at seeds about folk music, emotional distances and everyone’s favorite topic, New Jersey.
SEEDS: I noticed that you’re based in NJ. I am, too. Can you please verify this statement for me: “New Jersey does not suck.”
Sarah: Alas, I cannot wholeheartedly.
Sarah: I was born and raised in Massachusetts, and I am still very attached to my New England roots. I do believe home is where the heart is, so I have never felt completely ‘settled’ here.
I think most people judge this state on Snooki or a drive down the Turnpike. It’s easy to overlook the nicer parts like Princeton. Here we have black squirrels, four ice cream shops, and a nuclear fusion reactor.
SEEDS: You’re a graduate of Princeton’s Westminster Choir College. What made you decide to pursue the singer-songwriter route instead of doing musical theater or choral music?
Sarah: I did some songwriting while I was there, but the school didn’t really foster singer/songwriters. The dorms had practice rooms downstairs, so it was very easy for me to write, especially when I was actually supposed to be practicing an aria or art song. I am easily distracted!
SEEDS: Join the club. Music’s a great place for people with short attention spans.
Sarah: After I graduated Westminster, I was accepted to NYU’s grad program in musical theatre, but they didn’t offer me any financial aide whatsoever. I didn’t want to incur more debt than I already had, so I decided to give up that dream and start writing for myself. I took a stab at auditioning for regional theatre and touring companies, but I was too impatient. Success as an actor depends more on the acceptance of others. I just wanted to perform, and I didn’t have time for that. Musical theatre is still very much part of who I am though.
SEEDS: Your love of cats has been widely publicized, but what do you think about dogs?
Sarah: I am a huge fan of all animals. Cats just happen to be the ones in need outside my door. I grew up with a cockerpoo named Teddy who passed away last year. Losing him was very painful, and I still get weepy when I think of him. Being a musician involves a lot of travel, and I don’t think it’d be fair to keep a dog at this point in my life. Cats are a bit easier to maintain, so they win my affection for now!
SEEDS: You make a lot of fun videos, sometimes featuring cute animals like kittens and polar bears. How involved are you in the music video process?
Sarah: It depends on the video. The ‘Going Under’ video was my idea, but it took about fifty more people to realize the project. The puppeteers, the fans who made the puppets, the friends who allowed us to take over their basement for a month, and a technical crew made it possible.
The ‘Someday’ video was happenstance. This polar bear at the Chicago zoo was swimming in circles, and I filmed it for ten minutes. She was breathtaking to watch, but her repetitive motion filled me with a kind of mourning for her freedom.
The famous ‘Sleepy Kitten’ video was a completely lucky situation where my foster kitten Lady Peanut decided to listen intently as I played my song ‘Treeline’. I always have a video camera nearby!
I’m improving my editing skills thanks to the weekly Ask A Cat Lady blog hosted by Catster.com. Who knows what I would make if I had a budget!
SEEDS: It sounds like you’ve got a real love for folk instrumentation/arrangement, particularly in the strings/percussion. Could you please share your thoughts on the arrangement process?
Sarah: The guitar lends itself to my writing because of the breadth of emotions that it can communicate. I can be joyful, tender, angry, frustrated, or goofy. It’s always the foundation of the song.
In terms of arrangement, my ears love to hear the unexpected. My percussionist Brad Sicotte brings a bag of ‘toys’ to performances, and I’m never sure what he will play.
When I am recording, I have a pretty organic arranging process. I lay out the keyboard, violin, thumbharp, microkorg, kaossilator, shakers, toy piano, xylophone, etc. I start grabbing instruments and recording different parts to see what works. I paint the picture with whatever colours I have.
SEEDS: You’ve got some real fingerpickin’ skills on guitar, by the way.
Sarah: Why, thank you very much! When I first started playing guitar, I covered a lot of Dar Williams. I had her songbook, and I learned the tab for songs like ‘February’ and ‘When I Was A Boy’. I also listened to Iron and Wine, James Taylor, and Patty Griffin. The more I liked a song, the more I would practice. I have an affinity for electronic music, too but guitar settled on me.
SEEDS: I hear a lot of distance in your music, particularly in the characters you create. They all seem to have issues of distance & separation, both geographically and emotionally speaking. Is this a fair assessment?
Sarah: I never really thought about it that way, but you sir, are very perceptive. Obviously I touched on the geographic separation above. Holidays and vacations are convenient times for me to sit and write, so that is certainly reflected in my songs because I’m thinking on family and home. Mostly it’s other people’s stories that drive my music, or at least get a song started. Sometimes it’s a release of thoughts and opinions that I can’t express otherwise.
SEEDS: So, overall, what would you say is the reason you make music?
Sarah: I’m like the dude in Monty Python, but with better hair. I just want to SINNNGG. I guess the deep down answer is…I’m a rather reserved person in a crowd. Performing my own music is my secret non-confrontational way of expressing my deepest feelings sometimes. Otherwise, it’s just plain fun. It’s cathartic to have a safe place to express your voice.
I’ve loved attention since I was a little girl. My mother would have to reprimand me during family gatherings when I would start showing off. She would say “It’s not the Sarah Show!”. That need to express myself isn’t going away, and since I seem to be getting better at it, I may as well try to make a living off it.
Thanks a ton to Sarah Donner for taking the time speak with us. Sarah will be releasing a new full length titled Fossil of Girl this spring. For more info, tour dates and music visit www.sarahdonner.com and check out her track “Dodgeball” below.
Possibly, the best thing ever.
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The Oatmeal Animates The Song "Dinosaur Disco" The Oatmeal animates Sarah Donner’s profane song ded...The Oatmeal Animates The Song "Dinosaur Disco"
The Oatmeal animates Sarah Donner’s profane song dedicated to flying thunder lizards, “The M*****F****** Pterodactyl.” Warning: the song is, how do you say? NSFW. It’s also, possibly, the best thing ever. [TheOatmeal.com]
A typical set is 60-90 minutes:
Fossil of Girl
Your Love Is My Drug
Motherf**king Pterodactyl (depending on venue)
Signs of Life
Shadows and Cold
The Cycles the Circles
Lovely, Lovely, Lovely
Whalers and Sailors
To Be Brave
Goo Goo Dolls
|Jul 7, 2013 Sunday||8:00 PM||Uncommon Ground||Chicago, IL, US|
|Aug 1, 2013 Thursday||6:00 PM||City Star Brewing||, CO, US|
|Aug 2, 2013 Friday||8:00 PM||Laughing Goat||Boulder, CO, US|