Sartain has added a solo career to an already impressive list
of artistic,academic and projessional pursuits.
eople are talking about Beck and Will Sartain.
The two lanky rockers with a penchant for experimentation both boast
hearts on their sleeves. Of course, the former artist is cloaked
in fame, but his success is based on years of experience. The local
artist is already well on his way to becoming established—and
he’s only 19. It might sound a bit pretentious to compare
the young, bespectacled multi-instrumentalist with an iconic Hollywood
hipster, but Sartain is so humble about his talent that drawing
such parallels seems an appropriate method for accurately conveying
his abundant potential.
He has already gained significant acclaim through his work with
local indie-rock group Redd Tape. As bassist, Sartain strikes a
complementary pose to the other equally talented and playfully eccentric
artists. His infectious charisma would overshadow less unique performers,
but drummer Lindsay Heath and vocalist/guitarist Scotty Fetzer are
also capable of holding their own.
Still, Sartain is the only member to test his musical prowess in
solitary waters with his new album Beep! There are no battles for
creative control inspiring his decision to record a solo album—he
simply wanted more room to pen lyrics.
“My whole goal is to be honest,” he says. “I don’t
like superficial stuff—most music is so unreal.”
Sartain’s father, who earned a master’s degree in music,
and older brother Mike (lead vocalist of local band Starmy) are
responsible for introducing him to new sounds. A few spins of Weezer’s
“Blue Album” helped plant an urge to perform at age
11—so Sartain picked up sticks and started pounding the drums.
The itch only grew and soon he was playing guitar, bass and keyboards.
Playing in several high school bands helped Sartain gain increased
technical ability. However, it was spoken word that taught him how
to comfortably approach the stage. At age 16, he relocated to Colorado
(where he lived with his mother) and discovered poetry slams. “[I]
learned about opening up and being exposed. There were lots of supportive
people,” Sartain says. “It was very good for me to do
performance poetry. I stopped doing it because it stopped expressing
Expression is crucial for Sartain. Although his music is not consciously
constructed around subjective experience, he still wants to put
an imprint on each song. Sartain says, “The best insights
are when I realize where I am in life, where I am going—when
I take the time to recognize that I am becoming something that I
wasn't aware of.”
In the past, frustration over limited involvement in musical projects
has compelled Sartain to seek collaborators who would hear him out.
His role as drummer for indie-pop band Starmy became increasingly
dissatisfying as the group headed in new directions. “The
overriding goal was to be famous,” Sartain says. That meant
adhering to a fixed form already yielding desired results. Fortunately,
he found Fetzer and Heath. In Redd Tape, Sartain was able to pursue
his love of songwriting. Nearly two years after its formation, the
band’s democratic nature has led to each member’s full
participation in the song-making process. While the development
certainly contributed to Redd Tape’s progression as whole,
Sartain craved expansion. A solo project was just what he needed
to get his message across. Only there isn’t any ego-driven
agenda. Sartain aims for something in between isolation and uniformity.
“I played one show [by myself] and realized that I didn’t
want to do that—I wanted a band,” Sartain says. “You
can make a lot of money playing by yourself, but I wasn’t
really interested in that.”
Beep! took five months to record. Sean Mcarthy and James Perry of
Arrogant Hipster Records produced, mixed and engineered the album.
They also contributed to four of the nine tracks.
“I started off with drums and classical guitar,” Sartain
says. Unhappy with the results, he rerecorded with an acoustic guitar.
The result is a stripped-down sound—a perfect accompaniment
for slightly melancholic songs. Although Beep! carries no obvious
influences, one can’t help but notice strains of Beck-style
“I totally take that as a compliment,” Sartain says
in regard to the reference. He’s hesitant, however, to compare
his work to the man responsible for such evocative albums as Mutations,
Odelay and Sea Change.
“I know it’s good, but I’m not totally confident
to take it all the way—to tour constantly,” Sartain
says. “I do want a good label, though. I want distribution
for it.” Doubts regarding Beep!’s success aren’t
indicative of confidence. Sartain might be humble, but he’s
definitely not unsure of himself.
“I could make music with most musicians and feel good about
it,” he says. “I would love to do something with Ben
Folds—if he was willing to share—and Doug Martsch…if
he was willing to share, too.”
Sartain is happiest when performing. A positive reception toward
his live show has been especially rewarding.
“I love life deeply. Traveling and being in different places
playing music you love,” he says. “It’s so intense.”
Sartain has plans for a western tour starting in February. Charlie
Lewis (Blue Hour) and Mcarthy—two musicians for whom he holds
tremendous respect—will accompany him on the month-long stretch.
Sartain’s position as a booking agent for Kilby Court affords
him the rare opportunity to observe underground talent.
“The Salt Lake music scene is getting better. I'm really trying
to get bands together that are similar for some nights, and bands
that are different on other nights at Kilby,” he says.”It's
important for bands to know what's out there in the city.There
are a LOT of local bands that I'd never heard of until I started
working at Kilby.“
Sartain understands what it takes to become established—talent,
persistence and heart.
“It doesn’t have to be emotional to be good, you just
have to feel what’s there,” he says. Soon everyone will
be feeling his vibe—just like that other introspective rocker
with thin limbs and big ideas.
Sartain’s solo album, Beep!, will be unveiled Nov. 20 at the
Urban Lounge with Tolchock Trio and the Downers and Nov. 21 at Kilby
Court with Coyote Hoods.