Sarah Saint James is a pop-star on the rise. The breakout singer-songwriter has amassed more than 2.4 million streams thanks to the viral TikTok success of ‘Mad At God’. If you have a conversation with Sarah she will poignantly explain that this song changed her life, and she’s not wrong. Since releasing the track she’s signed a management deal with Hutch Collective, a distribution deal with Community Music, and has built a growing fanbase who have immediately connected with her confessional pop.
Following a string of singles she has finally released her debut EP ‘Home Is Where The Hell Is’, and this collection feels like a fitting biography of the foundational moments in her life. All set in her teenage years of growing up in Adelaide where she was heavily bullied and found herself struggling to find any representation of people that looked and sounded like her, Sarah is finally filling that void for anyone that shares those thoughts. Through these five tracks she opens her diary to the listener and creates an experimental palette of pop and rock music to bring these thoughts to life. Every song is deeply personal while still weaving in these ear-worm hook you will be ready to scream out at one of her future live shows.
I recently chatted to Sarah Saint James about the honest stories of struggle and resilience behind her debut EP ‘Home Is Where The Hell Is’, and reflected on the global viral success of ‘Mad At God’. Check it out BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: Your debut EP ‘HOME IS WHERE THE HELL IS’ is an experimentally charged and honest collection of tracks that takes the listener straight into your bedroom as a 15 year old where you were frantically writing your thoughts into a diary. From writing and recording this EP, what advice would you go back to give that younger version of Sarah who felt lost and confused?
SARAH SAINT JAMES: The number one piece of advice I’d give myself is to stay true to who you are, regardless of how many people tell you it’s wrong. I spent so much time thinking being called ‘weird’ and a ‘loser’ was a bad thing, but as an adult I see it as I was always meant to do something different. I absolutely am weird, and loud, and all of the things I was called growing up – and that’s not a bad thing!
TB: ’Borderline’ is an angsty and honest pop-punk inspired moment which is all about your journey with BPD. Can you explain the creative process behind this track?
SSJ: I wrote the song in the midst of lockdown over Zoom, so it was kind of difficult. But one morning over breakfast with my manager I had this idea about falling for men in positions of power because I was always looking for male validation, as it was the validation I lacked from my Dad growing up. The entire first verse came first, and I doubted whether or not to pursue it into a full song because it was SO revealing, but on the other hand I thought, why not? It’ll cause some friction, but so many people can relate so whatever I’ll just do it. When we worked on the track instrumentally I wanted it to be experimental, and weird, which I think it is!
TB: How important was it for you to create a song that gave that representation for people diagnosed with BPD and struggle with mental health? Because it’s something that still isn’t talked about as much as it should be.
SSJ: I absolutely agree. There is a stigma around BPD, that we are some unhinged horrible people – but all BPD is, is unhealed trauma. BPD stems from complex trauma – often caused in childhood or adolescence. It’s not something I chose to have, nor would I wish on my worst enemy. Growing up with it was hard, but with regular therapy, and mental health work I have a firm grip on it now.
TB: The title track ‘HOME IS WHERE THE HELL IS’ is sonically so experimental and is an exciting journey from start to finish. What were your key references and inspirations for this track?
SSJ: My biggest influences musically are emo/pop punk, and theatrical pop. There is a song by Panic! At The Disco called ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ that uses these really dramatic synths and choirs which I wanted to incorporate. I wanted the song to feel dark but powerful at the same time, so we used about 30 tracks of choirs throughout the track – all made from myself, Cyrus & Aston yelling into the mic. The song had to feel like a set opener OR encore, and I feel like it hits that for me!
TB: ‘Heather’ is a punchy pop-punk moment that uses 80’s nostalgia through the use of referencing ‘Heathers’. What was it about that movie that triggered a collection of memories from your own bullying experience?
SSJ: For me, and most people really, there was always a ring leader within the group. At my school, in my group, there was one girl who led the pack – unfortunately the other girls weren’t too bright and succumbed to peer pressure whilst she convinced them of a rumor about me. So when I watched ‘Heathers’ it all just rang true. I felt just like Veronica, the one who refuses to be just another cardboard cut out.
TB: What song on the EP went through the most versions to get it to where it is now?
SSJ: Definitely ‘borderline’! The song started out as a very heavy/rocky sound, and after a lot of manipulation we ended up with the electronic meets emo sort of song that we have. I just wanted to try something super different and fresh.
TB: ‘Mad At God’ changed your life quite literally after it went viral on TikTok with so many people sharing their reactions and stories to the heavy and honest themeS of the song. What were some of your favourite TikTok’s you saw using your sound?
SSJ: It still blows my mind that so many people resonated with the song THAT much to make videos using it. Some of the big standouts for me are @kaitlin.gabrielle’s video, signing the lyrics using ASL. Seeing my music resonate with the deaf and hard of hearing community was mind blowing and just incredible.
Another video that I actually use in the Canvas on Spotify is a video by @kitana_plays who wipes slurs off her face while lip syncing to the camera. Absolutely incredible!
TB: Being a proud queer creative yourself, who are some queer creatives that you are currently obsessing over that you think people should check out?
SSJ: Right now I am obsessed with ANYTHING Leith Ross creates. They have the most incredible lyrics, and general energy. They’re blowing up on TikTok currently, and very deservingly. Some of my other fav creators and musicians include Isaac Dunbar, G Flip, Lauren Sanderson, Chrissy Chlapecka, Xana, & Cloudy June.
TB: Let’s play a quick game of rapid fire questions about ‘HOME IS WHERE THE HELL IS’. Are you ready?
TB: The emoji that best describes my debut EP ‘HOME IS WHERE THE HELL IS’ is…
SSJ: The little flame heart emoji.
TB: The song that nearly didn’t make the EP was…
SSJ: ‘borderline’ – it kept going through so many changes, that for a while there I wasn’t happy with it. Then one day Oscar and I did a zoom and just smashed it out!
TB: The song I’m most looking forward to performing live would be…
SSJ: Hands down ‘HOME IS WHERE THE HELL IS’. I have big plans for her!
TB: Another name for the EP I was playing with was…
SSJ: None! I always knew it would be ‘Home Is Where The Hell Is’.
TB: The first song from the EP I’d want you to play to your friends if they haven’t heard of me before would be…
SSJ: ‘fake ass friends’! A nice little soft intro before the others *laughs*.
‘Home Is Where The Hell Is’ is out now!
You can catch Sarah Saint James at The Great Club in Sydney on April 13. Tickets are available here.