Q: How has growing up in the San Francisco Bay area influenced your music?
SARA LAINE: I live in the San Francisco Bay Area now, but I didn’t grow up here. I spent my early childhood years on the East Coast, in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. (and you can still detect a little southern accent in my singing voice). My family later moved to Los Angeles, and it was after high school in L.A. that I then gravitated to the Bay Area.
When I was growing up, I listened to a lot of R&B music, with a little Country, Jazz, Rock, and Pop thrown into the mix. In the early days, my parents mostly had show tunes and artists like Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, and Barbra Streisand on the record player. I would sing along. My older siblings were listening to Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Motown. Some of my favorite artists were Aretha Franklin, Esther Phillips, Al Green, Stan Getz, Billie Holiday, Patsy Cline, Linda Ronstadt, Neil Young, The Beach Boys, and Jackson Browne. There was so much good music that I can’t begin to list them all. The diversity of the musical influences I had growing up is reflected in the multi-genre music I write and record today.
Where I live now in the Bay Area, Marin County, is a hub of musical talent. It always struck me (pre-pandemic) how you could just wander out to the small Marin County town of Fairfax on any given night of the week and happen to catch world-class music or someone like Carlos Santana sitting in. I’ve had the good fortune to play in bands and work with some stellar musicians over the years. The music community here is very supportive of local artists like me. I have been supported on my records and at shows by musicians who have deep ties to the Bay Area music scene, such as guitarists Tom Finch (Big Brother & the Holding Co.) and Mark Karan (Rat Dog/Grateful Dead). I was also lucky to have met local producer Dan Shea (who has produced artists like Mariah Carey, J. Lo, and Celine Dion) who heard a living room demo of my song “Rays of Sunlight” and asked to produce that track. It seems like everyone here is connected somehow, and one musical opportunity leads to another.
Q: When did you first realize music is what you’d like to do for a
LAINE: I was kind of late to the party. I’ve always loved music, written songs, casually sung in bands, and known that music would be part of my life, but I did not realize that I would be recording or performing so much until about 10 years ago. I had been busy with a professional career and raising twin girls. After the twins grew up a little, I started recording some of my original songs with Tom Finch. Then I transitioned to working with producer and multi-instrumentalist Robert Powell and released an album with the help of both Tom and Robert. The title track of that first album is “Be My Muse,” and it remains my most played song. After that release, I was contacted by several Marin County venues to perform, so I put my own band together.
Q: I love the vibe of “Sign of Love.” Can you tell us more about the
LAINE: I’m so glad to hear that you do. I write whatever comes up, and thankfully this fun song popped out. The song’s message is a nudge to the objects of our affection to let us know how they feel about us. I think we all have wondered if someone we like is romantically interested in us, and we search for whatever signs we can find to confirm that they are. The “signs,” however, are often figments of our imaginations, and that’s why “Sign of Love” is a little tongue in cheek. The inspiration for the song was a young, handsome blue-eyed guy who once worked at the club where I still work out. While I was on the elliptical machine, he would often pass by (sporting a man bun), and I would look, wish, and hope for signs from him—even though there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell they would ever materialize. Indeed, “Sign of Love” was the only result achieved from this exercise. The lyrics to “Sign of Love” have a nautical theme, so we incorporated marimba and congas into the production to give it that tropical vibe.
Q: Since venues are opening up. What would you say was the best gig you
LAINE: I think the best gigs are those to which the audience responds the best. We once played at the now-defunct Fenix Supper Club in San Rafael, and I loved that show because there was a live audience and the sound system was phenomenal. I had an eight-piece band (including sax and trumpet), and we played mostly original music. People were dancing and having a great time. At one point late in the show, Susie Davis and I sang a very stripped-down, quiet version of my song, “Compassionate,” and the audience loved it.
Q: Has your journey with music been smooth? What are some challenges
LAINE: The business side of music has always been the most challenging for me. Like most artists, I find it time-consuming, sometimes tedious, and often frustrating. It’s true that, if you want to introduce your music to a wider audience, you need to get it (and yourself) out there. But, that takes time, money, and a lot of effort—it’s a big investment, especially for the typical artist whose last thought is self-promotion and marketing. While there are always challenges in composing songs and finding the right lyrics, arrangements, harmonies, instrumentation, and players, that is a creative process that I really enjoy. That part of my own musical journey has been the smoothest, simply because I love doing it.
Q: What are you currently working on?
LAINE: Right now I’m working on my third album. I have two tracks left to go. Like “Sign of Love,” the remaining tracks are light-hearted songs in the pop vein. I hope to release the album next year and return to the stage for some performances.
Interviewed by Katrina Yang
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