Sarah Gargano’s debut EP, “Paper Girl” is a ball of Ingrid-Michealson-esque quirky, pop joy. Don’t be mistaken by her sweet voice, however; Gargano’s lyrics are beautiful, fierce, and powerful. This week I spoke with the musician about college hookup culture, John Greene novels, and her passion for anti-bullying.
What inspired you to become a musician? When did you start playing music?
I always loved music and singing along to my favorite songs. I started to really play music in high school, though, and have always felt like I owe it to other people to potentially save them with my music, the way I felt I was saved by other people’s music in rough periods of my life.
Love and human connection is what gives us meaning in a virtually meaningless world – and the fact that we have the power, as humans, to care so much is sort of magical.
Speaking of rough times, I read you’re passionate about anti-bullying; can you speak a little about that?
I think we live in a take-down society and we can all be a little more thoughtful in how we treat each other, in being a little kinder than necessary— I can too! Severe cases of bullying are often a domino effect and usually the people involved aren’t bad people — I was very bullied when I was in 7th grade; I couldn’t sit down at a lunch table without everyone looking at each other and moving to another table or walk through the halls without everyone whispering about me – which also goes back to my concept of being a “paper girl” because I believe that people are good at heart and for a vast amount of people to treat another human cruelly, there must be an element of dehumanizing— of not realizing the actual effect you have on that person being bullied.
A notable moment for me at the end of middle school was when I ended up cheering up someone who was one of the main perpetrators of my social isolation and she said to me, “but you always look so happy…” and in that moment, though she did very specific things on Facebook, in person, etc. that would clearly be considered bullying, I realized that she had no idea how much it all actually broke me.
Wow, that is super powerful. So what inspires your lyrics? I noticed you write a lot of love songs…
I’ve always been in love with love, whether that be romantic love, platonic love, familial love, etc. Love and human connection is what gives us meaning in a virtually meaningless world – and the fact that we have the power, as humans, to care so much is sort of magical.
View this post on Instagram
I am beyond touched and humbled by the feedback I’ve been getting on my new single “Second Chance.” Thank you for trusting me with your stories of personal experiences with bullying and depression. You are all lovely and deserve the love you pour into the world. Check out the song if you haven’t yet — link in bio!
I love the track “Paper Girl.” Can you talk a little bit more about the concept behind that?
I read the John Green novel “Paper Towns”— one of my favorite books — when I was in 9th grade of high school and it made me realize a lot about myself and society. There’s a part at the end of novel in which the main female character, Margot, who is depicted as a ‘manic pixie dream girl’ type character admits that as fake and two-dimensional as other people may be, she plays a role in feeding into her own fake-ness and objectification:
“I didn’t really look down and think about how everything was made of paper. I looked down and thought about how I was made of paper. I was the flimsy-foldable person, not everyone else. People love the idea of a Paper girl. They always have. And the worst thing is that I loved it, too. I cultivated it, you know? We love sharing our highlight reel on social media, showing a specific version of ourselves. When I started college, I was very taken aback by the hookup culture and decided to tie my idea of being a paper girl to the culture – because even though I didn’t like that guys I hooked up with treated me as a two-dimensional person without thoughts and feelings, I still participated in the culture and allowed them to treat me that way when I started college.”
I’m such a fan of that movie as well! Now, If I’m not mistaken, there’s a ukelele on that track. How many instruments do you play? Do you have a favorite for composing music with?
I play ukulele, guitar, and piano! Using the ukulele always makes me feel inclined to add a cutesy element to whichever song I’m writing which is fun — the process of writing a song in general, though, is always sort of random and intuitive, though, and often won’t even start with an instrument in hand but, for instance, while waiting for the 6 train in New York.
How do you go about composing the other instrumentation on your tracks?
The two producers on the EP (Aaron Sprinkle and Shannon McArthur) did the bulk of sort of decorating the instrumentation — Shannon came up with the catchy guitar riff for “Deadline” and Aaron thought to add drones to “Careful Now,” etc. It’s really cool when artists come together and think of new ways to make the art come alive.
Your debut EP was recorded in Nashville; what inspired you to head there?
Shannon McArthur found me through a video I posted on Instagram of one of my songs and eventually also introduced me to Aaron Sprinkle — they were interested in recording an EP for me and Aaron’s studio is located right outside of Nashville, so that’s how it all happened! The chemistry ended up being wonderful — they completely understood my visions for my songs.
That’s so cool you found each other like that! So, how has studying at Oberlin influenced you as an artist? Is it stressful being surrounded by so many talented musicians?
Most people here are really into music, even if it’s just on the level of being a passionate music fan. Going to shows here and hanging out with people of different musical backgrounds is inspiring! I can see how it might be stressful for some people — I definitely have my moments of imposter syndrome, wondering how I can be perceived as talented when there are so many other talented musicians.
But, I think it’s important to remember that there is space for many different talented musicians and to remind yourself what it is you want and what makes you special as a musician!
Snaps to that. So you’re originally from New York City — what are some of your favorite spots there?
I love going to open mics at Caffe Vivaldi and Sidewalk Cafe. I also spend a lot of time journaling in coffee shops, etc. Sweet Corner in the West Village has my favorite cookies, so that’s a personal favorite.
I’ll have to check that out! Now that you’ve released your debut EP, what are your plans for the future?
I’m always writing music. Though there are five songs on my EP, I’ve written hundreds of songs, so I’ll always be writing. I’m also planning on doing a bunch of shows this summer so look out for tour dates!
I saw you listed “dreaming of dismantling the patriarchy” as a hobby on your website. What does feminism mean to you and why is it important?
Equal opportunity for people of all genders… I’ve dealt with the constraints that come with being a woman in this society my whole life – whether it be rerouting my route to school because of cat-callers or having my art be diminished because I’m soft or emotional.
I think it’s important to remember that there is space for many different talented musicians and to remind yourself what it is you want and what makes you special as a musician!
You can find upcoming concerts and songs on Sarah’s website. Be on the lookout for summer tour dates!
Also published on Medium.