Sarah Kinsley
Photo: Yoel Reboh / Press

Introducing: Sarah Kinsley

There are more layers to Sarah Kinsley than any first-time listener of the artist might realize. First, there’s her stunning online presence, making waves on platforms like TikTok, refuting assumptions such as “Women don’t produce music” by posting videos of herself producing breathtaking music. Second, there’s her love and appreciation for music from all walks of life. From classical music to Fleetwood Mac, there’s no questioning where her melodies and harmonies derived from or how far back in decades they go. What Kinsley proves on her latest song, “Karma,” is that no matter what space she’s in, her music — whether drawn from inspirations of orchestral arrangements to the 1970s — has the power, uniqueness, and individuality to live on its own.

Following the release of her debut EP, The Fall, last year, Kinsley is hinting at a new future of sound for her music. “Karma,” the song whose lyrical rhymes broke the artist’s battle with writer’s block this past summer, is a new kind of sound for Kinsley — glittering post-disco pop, and from her layered harmonies to multi-instrumental backdrops, the single is a testament to the artist’s talent for blending inspiration with the heart of contemporary pop music.

Sarah Kinsley spoke with EUPHORIA. about the story behind her single, her love for classical music, and what’s coming up next on her musical journey.

What was the presence of music like growing up as a child? Was it always around and did you know from a young age that you wanted to pursue music as a career?

All-encompassing, really. It was always around. I have such fond memories of music in all forms. That’s hugely due to my parents and their tastes. It was first through classical music. I loved, and still adore, Chopin. Clara Schumann. Beethoven. Debussy. Ravel. I learned piano quite young, so instrumental music was a very central part of life. I’m grateful for those moments. Growing up, there was all of that, classical romantic music, my dad’s cassettes – ABBA, Sting, The Eagles, Foreigner, maybe even Madonna. Music wasn’t a large presence, it was just everything. It was always there. I think that was part of the reason why I had to do music, in some form. At some point, it just became inseparable from life. Or they were always just one and the same.

What’s the story behind “Karma”?

I like to think it’s a story of two worlds revealing themselves to me. The song was born out of a moment of frustrating writer’s block. Hardly unique, I think, just another voice memo of repetitive rhymes, things that have already been said. But there’s a moment where I finally reach this odd realization, where I’m combing through these two worlds. One of superstition, one of intuition. I was questioning big notions, fate, destiny, chances, choices. Wondering what our place is in any of it, or if there’s no control left to us, if everything’s meant to happen, if it’s all been decided already. And that inability to know, the terrifying truth behind superstitions, as scary as it was, was something I just wanted to dance to. Something I wanted to scream and cry to and move to. That’s what “Karma” was born out of.

Do you find that lyrics or melodies come to you easier when songwriting?

It’s funny whenever I approach this question. I seem to answer it differently every time. It depends on the moment. Sometimes there’s a story that’s yearning to be told. Some sort of experience, an epiphany that can only be contextualized through language. But sometimes that same feeling, that epiphany, has the opposite sort of arrival. The emotion is so strong that it can only be appropriately born through melody, through the limitless possibilities that melody gives us. So I guess, both.

You’ve been posting a lot of videos on social media of you singing! Have you found that singing online has been a creative outlet for you during this past year?

Yes I have! I’ve done that for many years now, it’s always been a lovely outlet for me. There’s a great joy in showing people the music so early on in the process, whether it’s a barely finished demo or the bones and skeleton of a song. That feeling of sharing written music has been much more real and visceral this year, as you hint to. I wonder if our value of emotional connection has changed. I like to think it has. I find that people are hyper-aware of the meaning threaded throughout my lyrics. There’s a desire to piece the words together, to construct their own story. It’s exciting to watch other minds decipher the beauty in those words. I hope it sticks past this year.

What do you think is the biggest lesson you learned when creating your EP, The Fall?

The EP in its creation was an entire act of learning how to fall. Of being vulnerable with myself in silence and in music. It was exhausting at times, really, and endlessly frustrating. Vulnerability is such a fleeting moment. It’s incredibly hard to capture, let alone fully submerge yourself into. Writing with the intent to be vulnerable was definitely something I learned, although I’m not sure if I can say it’s a lesson I’ve fully learned quite yet. It’s something that has to be nourished, I think, and lived with. I don’t know if I’ll ever know it fully, but I think I’m on the path to getting there. That’s something that’s really stuck since the EP. I’ve been trying to keep it with me ever since then and it’s undeniably a part of “Karma” and new music on the way. Falling into myself and my thoughts is an endless love, as fleeting as it may feel.

I read that you created the EP between recording in your college dorm and your parents’ house in Connecticut. Does the music scene in your hometown or the music as part of your heritage have any influence on your music today?

I mean, yes and no, to some extent. The idea of a hometown or even heritage has always felt scattered. I grew up in a few places and went through different eras of music throughout all of it. I think I’d consider that to be my own sort of hometown, or home, at least. That’s my heritage, of being influenced by the music of my parents, the music of their generation, the music of my own, discovering and revisiting lost music, buried music. That feels like home to me.

Revisiting The Fall and your song “Mist,” how did you go about building your own “orchestra” using the instruments around you? What inspired you to do that?

Orchestral music has been one of my greatest loves, especially while growing up. My brother and I played in ensembles, both orchestral and chamber music. We had the privilege to do that. He still plays – I can easily admit now that he’s a much better cellist than I’ll ever be at violin or viola, or any string instrument. But I wrote a few melodies for us to try our hand at. I find orchestral writing to be such a different world than pop, and the two together offers the chance to dive into an odd atmosphere of exploration. We set up a tiny booth in my bedroom at home and I put a microphone in front of him and just let him play. He even created some of his own melodies too. We laughed a lot during recording, it was difficult to get a solid take at first. We’re really close so I wasn’t surprised. And then I recorded my parts in my closet with a few blankets hung up with hangers. “Mist” had to culminate in brokenness, raw sadness. I think the meaning of the song necessitated that feeling. An emotion that could only really be conveyed through the singing quality of an orchestra, something so tangible and yet so abstract in its ability to capture pain and longing.

Who are some artists that influence you that we might hear in your future music?

Fleetwood Mac. Cocteau Twins. ABBA. Arlo Parks. Carole King. Kate Bush. Beach House. Recently I’ve been told there are many hints of Maggie Rogers or Chloe x Halle, Mitski, Phoebe Bridgers. My idols. They’re all just absolute geniuses in my eyes.

Your music is often eclectic, genre-bending, and you even say that your “style is unpredictable.” Is there anything you can share with us about what your upcoming songs might sound like?

I’ll stray from giving away too much, but I think unpredictability is something I really intend to weave throughout the music. Whether that’s across the thematic material of the songs, or the way they make you feel, I hope the music offers something continually new. A sort of pop that seems to shed skin or undergo a rebirth through every single or release.

What is one thing you want your listeners to know about you that they might not learn when listening to your songs?

This is actually a pretty difficult one to answer. There’s a lot I’d like people to know and maybe a few things I’d like to keep to myself. Perhaps that I’m not as decisive as I might sound in some of the lyrics I’ve written. Most of it feels like concepts I’d like to believe, or bits and pieces of things I wonder about or want to believe in. I don’t have it all figured out. Sometimes I think the lyrics feel comforting to us because they seem to answer questions. They’re meaningful and rewarding. But it’s not the final answer, hardly. I’m slowly putting it all together. My listeners and I, perhaps we’re sharing in the experience of learning equally, existing between what we know and what we can hardly imagine. I like to think we’re living through it together in the music.