sarah barrios interview
photo: Samuel Fisher / press

Sarah Barrios – Letters I Never Sent

There were a number of things we learned about singer-songwriter, Sarah Barrios, who comes from a small town in Connecticut. One, she is a major bookworm. Two, she loves writing things down and is constantly walking around with post-its on her. And three, she’s just released her first EP that will remind you of early 2000’s girl pop we all loved and grew up listening to. 

Letters I Never Sent follows Sarah’s debut single, “I Didn’t Mean To” which is included in the four-track EP along with ballads “Mourn the Living,” “Emotional,” as well as the upbeat “Love Songs.” Her lyrics are honest and vulnerable, which is what makes it so easy to resonate with each of the songs. If listened to in order, they tell the story of something personal that Sarah went through and wanted to document because she had so much to say and reflect on with the relationship she lost. 

We spoke with her about her musical upbringing, books, and her new EP Letters I Never Sent.

You grew up in a musical household as both your parents were in bands. What was that like?
They weren’t in bands when I was existing but they had done a lot of stuff together when they were in college. I was born into the house just being surrounded by it. My dad’s a drummer and plays guitar, and my mom sings. It would be something as simple as little lullabies, or songs that you would play with your family. It was a big piece of my childhood growing up and still is, you know, we would play music while we cooked, we would play music while we ate together, we would play music while we literally did anything, so it was always like a running theme in my family. There was always music where we were. And it’s something that I’m very grateful for now because I still go home for Christmas, and my dad will be like, “should we jam?” It’s really fun. I really like it.

You’ve gotten inspiration for your songs not only from other artists but Jane Austen and sci-fi novels as well. In what ways do books inspire you?
Books are a really interesting thing for me. I feel like in one way, they’re inspirational because when I read a book, I feel like it’s a fully immersive experience. I’m feeling everything with all of my senses, and I always talk about it like it’s VR, but cheaper. Because every time I read a book, I need to be in that place as that character at that moment, and I really wanted to make music and put together an EP that has that same feeling so you could listen to it and go to a certain place, whether that be exactly what I was writing or something completely different. I wanted to try to mimic what I felt from books in the music that I was making. 

And then on top of that, I feel like with books I just really enjoy the way that I can become that character and escape, and I wanted to give that to someone else. I write songs for myself to get these emotions out of me and kind of for therapy, but once it’s out of my system then I’m like okay this is going to be in someone else’s hands. Once it touches someone else’s hands, it’s a completely different story. And that’s how I feel with these books. I’m sure the authors have certain things in mind when they write them. But once they get into the hands of the reader, I feel like the entire thing changes.

How I see a character is different from how someone else sees the same character, so I wanted to be conscious of the fact that someone else will have it. Will it make sense for them and will they be able to feel something like that as well? But books are a running theme for me. I owe a lot of my musical career to being able to read and enjoying, you know, all types of literature. I think it’s really important and special, and it helps to create a story that’s not necessarily there yet. 

So, in a way, writing helps you get things off your chest?
I had this 9-5 job before I was properly doing music, and I would be sitting there and have an idea for either a song or a book or a feeling. My parents got so annoyed with the amount of post-it notes that I would come home with. I would just pull post-it notes out of the drawer and write everything on there. Just the act of writing it down somehow, for me, is like the thing that helps me remember. When I write songs, I don’t use a computer. I literally can write everything because it’s just easier for me. It’s kind of how I learned originally.

sarah barrios interview
photo: Samuel Fisher

What was the last great book you read?
I’m currently on the last chapter of The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes, the Hunger Games prequel. I won’t give my opinion on it because I’m not 100% through yet. I think the last book series that I read that was incredible was A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. Since Harry Potter, it was one of the few books series that I’ve read where I thought it was so good. The author is an Oxford professor and she meshes in these plots of vampires and demon worlds with actual history. So, you are getting both fiction and nonfiction at the same time. I love it when books make me want to go and Google them afterward. Like I read the books and there’s a certain wine that they drink and it is an old one. And I’m like okay, let me Google it and see if it’s real and it was, and I tried it and I’m obsessed with it. It’s so good. 

Can you tell me about making your EP? How did you come up with the title and the songs?
The EP came about pretty quickly and for the most part, I feel like I knew that I wanted it to be kind of like a book. I knew I wanted to talk about this subject of love and heartbreak. I mean every song that you hear was how it happened to me in my life. I wanted to keep that structure of like, “I Didn’t Mean To” but I made a mistake, now this friendship and relationship are over, and I’m mourning the loss of that person. Now I’m thinking about all the great times that I had with that person, which is “Love Songs,” and then we end up in “Emotional” with just that last leg of thinking about the relationship. After every relationship, I always immediately go inwards and look at myself and how I acted, both in the relationship and afterward. And for me, this one felt very out of character for me to hurt someone else without really realizing it. There are so many things that I need to look at and figure out what the deal with my life is here. 

Then the EP title came about because I had originally written a letter to the person that the songs are about and I sent it. And, you know, it did the job. I apologize, and they were like great, but it’s a little too late for that, but I appreciate it. After I wrote that letter, I was like I have so many more things that I want to say, maybe not even to that person, but just that I feel guilty and sad and then happy that it was a good relationship until it wasn’t. I had all of these things that I felt like I needed to get out of my system. And, it wasn’t enough to be one letter, I had to break them down. So these are really letters that I never sent. They’re separate conversations as part of a whole, and thus I got the title Letters I Never Sent

Your single “Emotional” is a very vulnerable song. What made you choose that song over the others?
Naturally, I tend to lean towards sad songs. That was just kind of how it happened for me. It really did feel like that rollercoaster of being quirky, then falling apart, and then fun. So, it was me moving on from that relationship and looking inside of myself and being like why did I feel that way, why did I feel so guilty? I told my friends about, you know, the relationship and the mistakes that I had made and they were like yeah, that was really bad on your part but like you got to let it go. It’s not that intense, like, you don’t need to make it such a big deal. But it felt like such a life or death thing, I felt like I murdered someone. I feel like I really hurt someone so deeply and they’re going to take that and that’s going to be a part of their storyline for the rest of their life. I will be the bad guy in that story. 

I felt like it was a good conversation to have that sometimes, you know, being emotional is a lot on both the people you’re in a relationship with and yourself. It’s not necessarily a bad thing either. I think this was more about just asking the question of why do I feel this way, and not really having an answer. And I think that that’s how it was left off for me at the time. You know, I felt these ways and I didn’t really have an answer as to why but I felt the need to ask the question, which I think is a good first step to healing. And in the realm of all the other ones, it just felt like the right one to end with and the right one to continue the story on for later purposes.

sarah barrios interview
photo: Samuel Fisher / press

How was it making the music video?
That was absolutely crazy. I had really never done a full-blown music video. There were ten people there, multiple cameras, a set, and a hair and makeup person. I was a little nervous, to be honest. And because the song was so vulnerable, I feel like I naturally express myself and vulnerability, by trying to make it funny, so it makes me feel more comfortable about being like, “haha I’m sad, this is fun.” It’s an easier way to cope with the fact that this is a very vulnerable song. 

My creative director came up with the treatment, and I was like, oh, this is very much like baring your soul. There’s nothing quirky about this video, it’s exactly how it feels. And I think I was a little nervous to show the vulnerability in that and not make it funny. It was a little uncomfortable at first, but I think once we started, everyone was so chill and so professional. I mean they crushed the lighting and really made it such a special video, and so personal and so vulnerable. I think it came together really well. I’m really happy about how it turned out.

Which song do you like or connect with the most?
Everyone seems to think it’s “Emotional,” but I think the most personal one for me, ironically, is “Mourn the Living.” I wrote the song and recorded the vocals the day of, and so the vocals you hear on that song are the vocals from the first day we did it. I literally wrote it, recorded it, and then I was like I’m not doing it again, I can’t do it again. So that one was a really personal song to get out. I feel like that one will always have a special place in my heart. 

I think “Emotional” now is something that I feel personally connected to, in a different way from when I wrote it. Originally, I was writing it because I felt really emotional and very back and forth, which I still do. I’m still that person, but I feel like I’ve kind of accepted that. Recently, I came out with my sexuality as bisexual, so I feel like “Emotional” now has taken a new turn for me in terms of what it means to feel emotional in my sexuality, and being okay with talking about it and being okay with accepting myself, which I think is really cool. Music is similar to books in that you can read or hear something, then six months later read it again or listen to it again, and its got a completely different meaning. So I think “Emotional” right now is my go-to. 

What is next for you?
I feel like I’ve tried to make sure that I constantly have something happening for my fans, which I think is really special and also something that I really enjoy. I have a lot of ideas. But I’m letting “Emotional” live a little bit. I’ve got more music coming, and more content coming, and the storyline will continue. I really tried to make this whole project from the start be very similar to a book series, so we did book one. Expect book two.