Sabrina Song revels in the feeling of being truly seen and understood by another in her newest single, “To Know You,” a feverish indie rock track that gracefully straddles the intersection between love and loss.
Stream: “To Know You” – Sabrina Song
I’ve accepted that I’m never gonna grow out of that feeling of uncertainty. It’s not a stable career to have — the trajectory is never going to be linear. That’s something that I need to accept and remind myself of every day: Why I’m doing this.
Being in love is an addictive sensation; the euphoria that comes with it is incomparable to any other feeling on the vast spectrum of human emotions. And thus, with hearts aflutter, we chase this notion of love with every waking moment, scouring the earth to find our soulmates. However, once we find this love, the task of holding on to it is a different story. More often than not, relationships fizzle out, leaving us in a state of perpetual solitude until the next connection comes along. Losing a relationship that once felt so permanent is an experience that comes wracked with sorrow; but what many ignore, is that even in the midst of this pain, there is still room for gratitude.
Indie pop sweetheart Sabrina Song taps into this deep appreciation with her newest track, “To Know You,” released today (Sept. 30, 2022). The song situates listeners in the present moment, allowing them to revel in various moments of simplicity that we so often take for granted when it comes to relationships. Song’s bright vocals soar over dreamy instrumentals as she romanticizes mundane everyday activities, such as “making the bed”; proving that gratitude and a profound sense of loss are not mutually exclusive feelings.
When it all comes crashing down
We’ll make the bed
Take our time
Turn the lights off to save power
Give ourselves another hour
When it all comes crashing down
We’ll resign to simple life
I’ll write you a million songs
Play them for me when I’m gone
Marked by her savvy navigation through adolescent growing pains, Song’s discography is ruled by an omnipresent sense of compassion. Her indie-pop melodies provide the space for her to peacefully surrender to her emotions; and thus, the singer-songwriter embraces and wears her heart on her sleeve in every track she releases. Though, a recent shift has occurred in the threadline of her songwriting — there is much more nuance to her occasional sadness and momentary struggles, as notes of optimism pervade through even the deepest of melancholy.
“I used to be more of a pessimist,” she confesses. “It was born out of insecurity in a way. I used to be so cynical and self-deprecating […]. I needed to have a shift in my mindset, where now I’m more optimistic. My songs now aren’t necessarily optimistic, but they’re hopeful of change. Even if I’m not seeing the change, or if the song is exploring a fear of something more negative, it’s not coming from a place of ‘life sucks,’ and ‘this is gonna go terribly.’ It’s more like: ‘this is one thing that can happen, and I’m exploring it and always hoping for the best outcome.’”
This optimistic modus operandi Song touts pervades through every note of “To Know You,” as the singer/songwriter doesn’t dwell on the possibility of a relationship failing, instead choosing to make the best out of the present circumstances.
She is not threatened by the looming sense of loss creeping up on her, alternatively comforted by the presence of someone so dear in the present moment, singing: “When it all comes crashing down / We’ll make the bed / Take our time / Turn the lights off to save power / Give ourselves another hour.” We so often get swept up in notions of romantic grandeur that we end up ignoring the little details that make the mundane moments of life beautiful — something that Song astutely points out within this cathartic unleashing of devotion.
‘Cause even when it’s good
There’s an empty feeling
You fill me up
Talk me down
Even when it’s bad
I know there’s a ceiling
A place in your arms and in your head
Just to know you
There is nothing more comforting than being with someone who intuitively understands you — you can be your most authentic self with them, and the entire relationship seems effortless. Relationships like this are rare, but of life-altering magnitude when you do find them. “Whatever else is going on in your life outside of knowing this person, you find so much peace in being grateful for them,” Song asserts. “It’s so grounding.”
I try to take moments to feel grateful. It’s so corny, but a few years ago I would be so proud of what I’m doing now. You have to really try to ground yourself in that: I am learning and trying to learn every day.
For Song, just having known this person is enough to make life meaningful.
“You have to be able to find the things that the person brought you throughout that time — nothing is wasted time,” she argues. “Whether you like it or not, every relationship is going to shape you and change the trajectory of your life […]. The littlest things that someone said or did — for better or for worse — can shape you. This song acknowledges that no matter what happens, and no matter where we ended up, having met you, knowing you and experiencing what it’s like to have you in my life has completely changed everything about my perspective of love or friendship, or whatever it might be.”
When it all comes crashing down
We’ll make jokes about the end
Find the beauty in the nothing
Tell ourselves we’re onto something
When it all comes crashing down
We’ll be the last one out the house
Lock the door, firm behind me
Make sure you don’t turn around
There are lessons to be learned from every relationship. So often do we fixate on tragedy that we forget how even the smallest moments have the potential to inform our growth as individuals. Where the conclusion of a relationship brings with it an immense sense of loss, Song finds comfort in the fact that relationships as meaningful as these have fully altered the course of her life. She takes the lessons she learned from this relationship one into the next, striving to grow into herself more with every passing moment. “Relationships shouldn’t be painful work, but they do take nurturing,” Song stresses. “Making people feel valued, loved, and really listening and being present with them is definitely something I really try to do.”
Song will undoubtedly continue to spread love through her music, especially with the release of her sophomore EP, When It All Comes Crashing Down, on December 9. But until then, if you’re in need of a little more of that uplifting Sabrina Song energy, continue reading below to learn more about her creative process, how she carves out space for others, and of course, to get the inside scoop on “To Know You”!
Nothing is wasted time. Whether you like it or not, every relationship is going to shape you and change the trajectory of your life.
A CONVERSATION WITH SABRINA SONG
Atwood Magazine: Before we get into your music I want to know a little bit more about your journey as an artist. When did you know that you wanted to be a musician? Was there like a specific lightbulb moment, or was it something that was always in the back of your head?
Sabrina Song: From the beginning, I always enjoyed music. As a kid, I was a singer; I would do plays and post covers on YouTube before I could understand what a career would look like in music. I was always singing and playing piano and all that stuff growing up. In high school, my music theory teacher […] encouraged me to keep a journal and try songwriting. I had written around three finished songs before I applied to college — that was really where I got the understanding of what it would look like to be an artist and what that would mean to me. Now I’d say for the last maybe two years, it has felt like I’ve actually started that journey as an artist after all this time of what felt like learning how to get there and what I wanted and what I wanted to say. I was unsure for so long, but I was always doing music and singing. It just became more real in the last few years.
That's so awesome. I've seen that you incorporate violin into some of your live performances as well — that's really cool. How long have you been playing?
Sabrina Song: That was my instrument from fourth grade when my school made us all choose one. I played all through high school every day, and then took such a long break when I graduated, but kept my violin. Then I got a DM from my friend in Pom Pom Squad, because they were looking for a violinist. I was super grateful to have a reason to start playing again, and play totally different stuff than before. It definitely rejuvenated my love for playing after so long.
Classical training can really hammer the love for an instrument out of you. I'm glad that you were able to find a new medium for your playing because it's so important to not get burned out.
Sabrina Song: Yeah! Now we can experiment. I luckily have the technique to anchor it, but there’s no rules, and I’m not struggling to barely play the hardest piece.
That can be intense, especially in high school. Going off of that notion of experimentation — you wrote this really wonderful personal essay for Atwood where you mentioned that you had been feeling a lot of self doubt around creating the perfect song and the notion of perfection around music. What do you tell yourself now to alleviate this pressure to create the perfect song or the perfect record or the perfect EP?
Sabrina Song: I still struggle with this idea of there being someone out there who has the answers of what the right and wrong way to play is. A lot of the time there’s infinite different ways that are all acceptable. You can reach them all through different paths. When I was first learning how to write and especially produce, I was like: ”How do I know if I’m doing things right? How do I know if this is the best it could be? How do I know if I’m using the right sounds?” — all of these arbitrary questions […]. The purpose should not be about what is “correct” — there’s no actual answer to that. Hearing other producers that I love talk about how they came to find a sound, or how the song took shape; things are so much more accidental and subjective than I was ever treating it. I was just trying to succeed in it instead of making something I liked and doing what was best to serve the song. My approach was really off, but also fueled by my desire to get a stamp of approval from people I saw as real producers at the time, or people who I thought knew what they were doing. To some level you need to know the language and you need to know why you’re doing what you’re doing, but as long as I can stand by why I made a decision, then there’s no one else I need to get to validate it. That was just something I was really struggling with for a long time.
I love what you said about not having to get someone else to validate your work. Even though your music is released for other people to listen to, it's also for you as well because it's so personal. You have to enjoy what you're creating. I really love that.
Sabrina Song: Thank you. I was losing sight of what the goal was. Why was I even doing this if I was going to torture myself with it?
You mentioned that you have experience producing and co-producing tracks for both yourself and other artists. How does your experience producing others’ music inform your work and process as an artist?
Sabrina Song: For my own music as a solo artist, I produce and write everything essentially by myself. I could see that changing someday, but for now, it’s what works for me. The process feels really intimate, and I feel 1,000% comfortable to take my time and wait for the songs that come. When I write now, I feel like I already have the production brewing in my head. I’m emptying out my head production wise, and filling in the blanks. What I’m producing for other people and writing with other people has been such an amazing exercise in collaboration, and also takes away that personal weight of wanting to say everything and having to stand by every word in my songs and having to really take my time. Whereas with other people, I can throw out 10 ideas that could be a great fit, and then it’s all about what their taste would warrant. It’s so much fun to write outside of my own genre, and to write outside of my own head with other people since I don’t get that collaboration with my own music by choice. It has definitely led me to be a little more experimental and to have a little more freedom when I’m creating by myself, because it opens another part of my creating brain.
There's nothing like a good collaboration that can open your eyes. You are based in Brooklyn — how has the New York City music scene influenced you as a musician? There's so many wonderful bands out there, like Ok Cowgirl, and others! What's the scene like there?
Sabrina Song: It’s so crazy because there’s definitely — since it’s New York — microcosms based on colleges. I was part of my college community within the city. At the same time, you’re on the campus of your college within Manhattan, parallel coming up alongside people from other schools, and people who aren’t in school who have been playing there forever. There’s all this mixing and mingling, and I’ve been super inspired. I’ll go to see my friend opening for someone, and see three other local bands that I hadn’t heard of previously. That’s what was really cool about Ok Cowgirl — even though I knew they were based in Brooklyn, I found them on Instagram and then decided to go out to the show and they ended up knowing who I was. It’s such a small world. It’s also funny when you meet people who you live around the block from, but you meet them in LA or another place. The more I go along in music, anyone I meet, no matter how or what avenue, we have multiple mutual people. That is a huge part of why I love living in New York — you’re constantly going to be introduced to new artists to love, and they probably know someone that you know. It’s very tight knit. New York has a great indie scene across very specific venues that are an incredible breeding ground for people who are just bubbling under the surface of breaking out in a bigger way. It really feels like you’re watching people rise in real time.
You really captured how strong the community is there. What you mentioned about venues is so important too, because oftentimes people don't realize how crucial venues are for the development of rising artists. Going off of that — New York is a big city full of artists; the industry as a whole is a bigger reflection of that environment. It's so oversaturated with creators putting out content on social media, and things like that. How do you prioritize your well-being as an artist and stay grounded in an industry that can be so intense and take a lot from the psyche?
Sabrina Song: It feels really exhausting. It’s frequently an ebb and flow of working on a song that you love, and then the next day, you’re like: “Why am I doing this?” Then you do something the next day and book a show and you’re like: “Oh, that’s amazing.” I’ve accepted that I’m never gonna grow out of that feeling of uncertainty. It’s not a stable career to have — the trajectory is never going to be linear. That’s something that I need to accept and remind myself of every day: why I’m doing this, nobody’s making me do this. There are so many cons to it, but there are cons to any career. I try to focus on the things that I really enjoy, look at the bigger picture and not rush myself. I’m not failing, because the pace of how things are happening [in my career] can be different at different points of what I’m doing. Social media is a necessary evil when you’re at this level.
I do get really frustrated sometimes, because the only advice that you get sometimes from anybody is: “Go viral on TikTok.” As much as I don’t want to participate, you shouldn’t close yourself off to anything. It’s about finding balance, and not letting yourself get burned out — not creating expectations that are impossible to meet, while still having discipline to meet your goals. There was a little bit of time where I was almost demonizing discipline, and was like “everything should just be easier.” I’m naturally type A, and discipline has gotten me to where I am now — as long as I’m not overworking myself or burning myself out to the point that I start to hate what I’m doing. I’m happy to work as hard as I can, and to believe in what I’m doing enough to know that things will come as they come. I enjoy it as I go, because a lot of people just hate it until they’re famous or until they get to whatever the end goal is for them. I love playing the venues I’m playing now and meeting the people I’m meeting. I try to take moments to feel grateful. It’s so corny, but a few years ago I would be so proud of what I’m doing now. You have to really try to ground yourself in that: I am learning and trying to learn every day.
It's all about embracing the uncertainty and persevering forward. I think that's really beautiful. If it's alright with you, let's change topics and talk about your upcoming track, ''To Know You.'' How are you feeling in regards to its upcoming release?
Sabrina Song: I’m super excited. This is one of the songs that I’ve been most excited to release, and also really excited to play live — which I’ve only done maybe once in an acoustic set. I was in this groove the last year of feeling more validated for myself and what I was doing. It allowed me to really push myself as a producer. I can stand behind the song, and really love how it turned out. It wasn’t one of the ones that came super easily to me, production wise, but I knew from the beginning while writing it what it could be if I just stuck with it. I’m super excited. It’s more crazy because I’m like: “Oh my god, it’s almost October.”
It's a beautiful song. It's so comforting. It's all about meeting someone who you feel truly seen by and having your life changed by their presence. But even if they leave your life, it doesn't really change the fact that they had a positive impact on you. That's such a profound thought. How do you separate the feeling of loss of a relationship with the happy memories that occurred during the relationship?
Sabrina Song: It’s honestly so hard. It’s funny, because I feel like I’ve experienced what you just asked about in a different relationship — but this song is about a different relationship from that one. You have to be able to find the things that the person brought you throughout that time — nothing is wasted time. Whether you like it or not, every relationship is going to shape you and change the trajectory of your life […]. The littlest things that someone said or did — for better or for worse — can shape you. This song acknowledges that no matter what happens, and no matter where we ended up, having met you, knowing you and experiencing what it’s like to have you in my life has completely changed everything about my perspective of love or friendship, or whatever it might be. That’s something I think about. The song is born out of a lot of the classic, or tragic love stories; like Orpheus and Euridice, or Romeo and Juliet. There’s always this tragic element, and the stakes are so high. I was trying to write so that it was clear that even in an imagined end-of-the-world scenario, I would be happy making the bed, waiting it out with you and having a last conversation with you. The things that you really care about are sometimes so simple. Whatever else is going on in your life outside of knowing this person, you find so much peace in being grateful for them. It’s so grounding.
It really comes through in the song, because even if there's a tinge of melancholy around losing this person, it's still such a bright and warm track that affirms that it's normal to enjoy the time that you had, and to enjoy the simple things — you really captured that. The song discusses a good relationship, one that betters your life. What do you — as a friend, or a partner, or a family member — do as an individual to be that person for others. How do you nurture others in your life?
Sabrina Song: When I’m having any feelings of resentment, or even annoyance on a day to day, I’m always trying to put myself in the headspace [to know that sometimes] you’re just not going to get the best piece of people. They could be having the worst day of their life, and there’s no way for me to know that. I try my best on a daily basis to give people breaks. It’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction when someone does something where you can’t understand why they did that. I try my best to put myself in their shoes. People really want to feel heard. The times I’ve felt the least understood, and the least valued in my relationships is when I could tell that people aren’t really taking in what I’m saying — they’re kind of zoning out while I’m talking, or they forget about a big thing that’s happening and it feels you’re not really not at all near the top of their priorities as a close friend. Relationships shouldn’t be painful work, but they do take nurturing. Making people feel valued, loved, and really listening and being present with them is definitely something I really try to do.
Being present is something that's so underrated, especially in today’s society. A theme of compassion is really present within your discography; instead of shaming yourself for feeling painful feelings, you show yourself kindness in the midst of all of these growing pains. Do you consider yourself to be more of an optimist in your songwriting, or is writing these positive affirmations a way to convince yourself to realize and recognize all of the good in your life?
Sabrina Song: Overall, I used to be more of a pessimist. It was born out of insecurity in a way. I used to be so cynical and self-deprecating. A lot of my old songs and even some that now cannot be found online were very ‘woe is me.’ It’s okay to write songs like that, obviously, but they were without nuance. It was a defense mechanism; I couldn’t take a compliment and I was insecure, so I wanted to beat people to the punch and be like, “Oh, yeah, I’m the worst at this.” I felt like I was the one saying it first. I was in control of the narrative. I was manifesting negative things. I was putting out an energy where if that’s the kind of stuff you’re saying about yourself when you meet new people, how are they going to perceive you other than what you’re directly telling them? I needed to have a shift in my mindset, where now I’m more optimistic. My songs now aren’t necessarily optimistic, but they’re hopeful of change. Even if I’m not seeing the change, or if the song is exploring a fear of something more negative, it’s not coming from a place of “life sucks,” and “this is gonna go terribly.” It’s more like: “this is one thing that can happen, and I’m exploring it and always hoping for the best outcome.” It was a matter of growth and then just looking at things with a lot more nuance than I used to, and understanding all of the factors that could lead a relationship to end or lead, or cause a relationship to start. It was very black and white when I was 19 — when I was really starting to write music for the first time. Maturity has brought me more optimism, whereas before I was very hard on myself and negative.
There's always room to grow! You do a really good job of holding space for all of the possibilities that could come with the circumstances. That's really beautiful. You have a beautiful zine out in the world — LOCK AND KEY — could you tell me a little bit about that project as well?
Sabrina Song: I feel like that was such a blip! I loved making that! I would love to do something like that again. I made it in April of 2020, during the first few months of true lockdown during COVID when everyone was processing what was happening. In the fall before COVID, I had gotten the chance to study abroad in Berlin and once COVID started and I was inside, I was so grateful that I had gotten to travel before this period of isolation and being at home. Even right before COVID I had already been working toward putting out this two-track project called 20. I wanted to have a little document to capture my time in Berlin, and also the people who I was with and their experiences. What were the photos they will look back on the most, and what music were they listening to? I was having this existential moment where I was obsessed with the fact that we were alive in this time when this crazy thing was happening. I had just gone from this complete whirlwind opposite experience months before. I’ve always kept a journal — I would always collage on the front of my journal, and I was also in my house, so I had a printer which I didn’t have in my apartment, and construction paper and time. That never would have happened if I hadn’t been at home those first few months. They were very inspired by those songs and entering my 20s. Everything felt like it was in such a weird unwavering place. I wanted to try to capture that in a physical document. It was really fun to design and lay out when I had so much time on my hands.
It's so beautiful. The way you laid it out is just gorgeous, and I'm such a sucker for a good zine. I loved looking through it.
Sabrina Song: Thank you! I’d taken a class with the music writer, Liz Pelly, in school and we did a class on zines. I had really never explored that medium before. When I had that introduced to me and explored it more myself, I really felt like I resonated with it as a medium.
I'd love to see more if you ever feel like making another one! What impact would you like your music to have on listeners?
Sabrina Song: I’m very lyrically driven. As much as I obviously care about every aspect of my music, I try my hardest to distill a feeling in the most distinct way I could put it. I love analogies in regular life. I like to say things in as many different ways as possible to understand the feeling as deeply as possible. Even if the song is sad, it’s not just sad — it could be mournful, it can be resentful, it can be painful. That level of nuance and specificity of the emotion is what really helps people latch on to it. I’ve done what I set out to do when people are able to understand that specific emotion I was talking about, even if it applied in a different way to them. The production and the actual chords and melody are all in my mind trying to serve and create this sonic version of what I’m trying to make the lyrics do. Everything is serving the same purpose.
You do a really good job of capturing these feelings that might feel so individual but transfer them into such a universal message. I always like to end my interviews on a positive note, so I wanted to ask: what has been giving you joy lately?
Sabrina Song: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m renting this electric scooter — typically a city biker, or a walker, but I live in a part of Brooklyn where the one train I take has been messed up for months. I always feel that when I’m in transit, that’s where I come up with new song ideas. When I listen to my podcast on my commute to whatever I’m doing — whether it’s work or meeting friends — is always such a nice quiet time. So, probably that, and then the weather changes to this actual beautiful fall weather. I feel like New York goes right from blistering summer to Christmas Snow cold, so the combination of being outside in transit at this weather changing time of year. I love the winter and fall; I’ve been waiting for this for months. This is my favorite time of year, so being outside this time of year is just amazing.
Relationships shouldn’t be painful work, but they do take nurturing. Making people feel valued and loved, and really listening and being present with them is definitely something I really try to do.
Stream: “To Know You” – Sabrina Song
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