Natureboy is the musical project of singer/songwriter Sara Kermanshahi and producer Cedar Apffel. I’ve been watching them play for years in Brooklyn and recently caught their June series of shows at Pianos in the Lower East Side. Their work is defined by Sara’s unique voice, which perches atop a canopy of echoing guitars and synths, managing to sound both sullen and beautiful. Knowing that they were just finishing a new album, I invited them over to my house for beers and whiskey and asked them about their album, their music and their favorite books.
You just finished your residency at Pianos. How long was that going for?
Sarah: We did it every Thursday in June, it was fun.
Did you guys play with any interesting bands?
Cedar: Yeah, we got to play with some great bands. We played with Caged Animals and covered one of their songs. We also got to play with Shilpa Ray, and Cat Martino. At the last show Sharon Van Etten came and did a couple songs with us.
That’s awesome. So you guys just finished an album, right? What was the
process like this time?
C: Just fucking agonizing (laughs). Just, day after day. We did stuff like five times.
S: We take a long time.
C: It was fun for me, because I spent a lot of time trying to make it as good as I could. There was a lot of learning involved, through trial and error. Our approach was that if any part of it could be better, we’d do it over.
S: Our first album was kind of a demo, but then a lot of people ended up liking it.
Who released it again?
C: Own Records put it out. They’re based in Luxembourg.
I’ve always loved the depth of the song writing in your stuff. Are there themes that you’re trying to draw out in your material? Is there a consistent Natureboy theme?
S: I don’t really know how I write my songs, they just kind of happen. And I have
writer’s block a lot of the time.
In the song “Heart to Fool” I was wondering what the narrative is, who the characters
S: It’s first person for sure. It’s basically about a relationship going wrong. Wanting to feel like you’re okay, but you’re lying to yourself.
The song is very repetitive, in the best sense, because it reiterates a really compelling musical theme over and over. Does that interact with the story within the song?
S: Yeah, you could say that.
C: It’s an intuitive process, but the theme of the song deliberately fits the vibe of the music.
The song is about a relationship that’s falling apart, and I wondered if the musical repetition reflects that idea, of people in a relationship just listlessly repeating the same activities over and over again.
C: Ha, that might be a stretch.
S: We build songs slowly, with lots of layers and then subtract, so I think that’s where the simplicity comes from.
C: One thing that I would say about Sara’s songs is that they’re very honest. They’re not made up stories. They’re totally autobiographical, and everything in them is totally accurate. And every songwriter knows it’s hard enough to avoid writing a song that doesn’t sound contrived. It’s harder to write one that’s true and also makes sense but is also manages to be slightly cryptic and poetic.
What about the song “Blow To The Head”? It’s kind of a journey. It starts off very urgent and hectic and textured, and then the second part is in this blissful, more languid space.
S: A lot of the lyrics are about lying in a relationship, realizing that someone’s been lying to you for a while.
C: “All your lies, they don’t compare to mine.” Those lyrics really cut to the bone for me, Sara.
What are you guys reading lately?
C: I’ve just started The Nick Adams Stories by Hemingway. I also just read The Island by Aldous Huxley.
S: I’ve been reading God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens.
Do you relate to that, in any way?
S: Yeah, more and more. Because I think religion is man-made and just exists for our own purposes. People are looking for something.
I also really like this book called Apathy by Paul Neilan. It’s about a regular guy who gets involved in a murder mystery. But it’s more about his thoughts. He’s a very directionless and apathetic dude. I guess that kind of feeling inspires me to
make music sometimes.
I also dig that book Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman. It’s a fun read. He has a funny approach to subjects. It’s like a good conversation. He writes a lot about drugs and music and being a music fan.
I like fiction that’s about the human condition, like the stuff by Herman Hesse. Have you heard of Romain Rolland?
S: He’s this French writer who lived a long time ago and he wrote a series of books called Jean-Christophe. His writing is very emotive. I cried a bunch through those books, because he makes you feel a lot for the characters. It’s very humanist, looking at how people function, and why they do what they do. The character is a musician whose life is shaped by pretty tragic circumstances beyond his control. The way that the character is written, the way he thinks of music and experiences music, is really powerful.
How do you react to people who are fans of your music?
C: They’re almost always total weirdos.
S: I make music for myself, but it’s always nice to make an impression on people whose music you yourself admire. I like it when fans are also musicians.
There’s that joke that every Radiohead fan just wants Thom Yorke to tell them that they are the only one who understands his music.
C: That’s what he said to me when I met him (laughs).
How do you guys feel about the music industry right now?
C: I think the thing that differentiates it from the past few decades is that the turnover is so fast. A popular record is popular for like a week. You’ll be at a bar and they’ll play a record that hasn’t even been released and everyone will roll
their eyes, like “Oh, this old thing.” Now it’s almost shameful to like a record for longer than three weeks.
S: I think a lot’s changed in the Internet era.
C: Then again, in some ways I don’t see a huge distinction between then and now. It’s always been tough. Back then, only huge bands made money, and now only huge bands make money.
Natureboy will perform on September 16th at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan.