What is your name?
My name is Sarah Grain.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Indianapolis. I traveled overseas a bit and always thought I would end up living in a foreign country, which I suppose I still might. But I am feeling more rooted and fulfilled here in my hometown than I could have ever imagined.
Where do you live?
I live in the urban core of Indianapolis, in an area my neighbors and I affectionately call Clifton on the River.
When did you realize that you wanted to be an musician?
I did not grow up in a musical family, but as far back as I can remember I secluded myself in my bedroom to sew, write poetry, sing, draw, pretty much any kind of craft or art form that I could do with the materials available to me. Creative expression wasn’t a choice I made,but was a natural yearning that became an essential part of my healthy self as I discovered the world around me. I came upon my mother’s small-bodied Gibson folk guitar in the family attic when I was 15. I learned three chords and wrote a song immediately. I remember performing it in front of a roomful of peers a few months later, and that was a defining moment. Writing, singing and performing have always been interwoven for me. At this point, I realize it would take much more energy for me to not do my art, than for me to do it. I have to prioritize writing and make time for it, but when I do, it is there as a meditation and a healing practice that makes every day bearable and a celebration.
Who influenced you as an musician?
My most profound influences have always been my friends. People that I know inside and out and inspire me with their courage, vulnerability, resiliency and tenacity. These aren’t always artists. Most of the time they aren’t, actually. But some of my best friends are amazing artists and I constantly draw from their wisdom and bodies of work.
What is your favorite thing about being a singer- song writer/musician?
I have always been a jack-of-all-trades, and it truly surprises me how I have stuck with songwriting this long. The lovely thing about songwriting is that a work is never finished. My most beloved songs are the ones that I have been playing for years and I still have more to learn, still have intricacies to discover and new approaches, new people to collaborate with that will make the song sound like something I have never heard before. I never have to put the song away on a shelf, never have to sell it. It is always mine; something I can revisit and return to if it feels like the work is not done. On the flip side, because there is often not a physical remnant, some songs are like feathers in the wind. It is there for a moment, and if I get distracted before I write it down or record the idea, it’s gone. It’s incredibly frustrating sometimes to think about the amount of songs I have lost over the years. But, it’s oral history. Unless the song is repeated over and over, remembered, unless its recorded, then you have to let that bird fly and hope when it returns that it will bring you something dazzling and insightful to make up for the loss.I often take long breaks from songwriting, but I never let the creative space loom empty. When my children were born I turned to other creative outlets – specifically, toy making and doll making. I have knitted special stuffed animals and made beautiful dolls for each of them. It’s so satisfying to watch them play with a doll that I poured my blood, sweat and tears into, literally, and that holds my essence and my love. And the satisfaction of working with real, hard materials – that is something I can truly appreciate coming from the intangibility of songwriting. Right now I am working on a family quilt, and helping my 4 year-old daughter design her own doll quilt and pillow for the doll that I made her.
Do you have a studio where you create music? Where is it?
My studio is my piano, my kitchen table, really any place I can get a quiet moment to hash out an idea or just play. I have ended up writing a lot of my songs on piano in recent years because my children can sit with me and play and I can easily stand up and wipe tears or pour some water for a child in need. I am not a piano player and I usually transfer my songs onto guitar, but it has been nice that I have a basic knowledge for songwriting purposes.I do desperately need a space outside the home where I can go when I do have a few hours free, especially in the winter. Last year I wrote a song called ‘Meadow Blue’ when I was in search of a quiet place to write. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day and I ended up settling on a sunny field in Marrot Park. The chorus goes like this: “I need a quiet little room/ A sunny little window where I can just stare / But I guess this field will do / Meadow blue, open air.”
When did you become a mother?
What are your challenges as a mother musician?
One of the greatest challenges to me as a mother artist is defining success for myself, and facing confidently the expectations that others have of me. Even in my own mind, there seems to be a very clear interpretation of what ‘success’ looks like for a musician. I would no doubt have a terrible time managing motherhood if something inside of me was pulling me toward the road, toward a life of late nights and touring; if I felt that I couldn’t do one without giving up the other. But, the truth is, I have always preferred going to bed before 10 pm. And I am a homebody, not a roadie. I used to think that I was just making excuses so as to not have to assume the courageous role of taking my art seriously.But now, I honestly don’t feel like I am making excuses, and I do take my art seriously. This is who I am and who I have always been, and my focus now is to find the “third way” – creating and performing inspiring music while always honoring the rooted, grounded, stable creature that I am.
What has been the driving force behind keeping a balance between being a mother and an musician?
My husband Tedd and I both feel that one of the most important gifts we can offer our children is the value of meaningful work. We want them to discover what is meaningful to them, and to feel confident in pursuing those passions and developing their curiosities. “It’s all modeling,” we often tell each other. When our children see us engaging in meaningful work that fills our souls, they are that much closer to understanding and tapping into the magic for themselves. Tedd is always singing and playing guitar here at home for the family, for fun. He is utilizing his creativity on home projects, taking long adventures on foot, and bringing attention to his health and fitness. I am writing songs, quilting, making dolls, baking. We are constantly in a cycle of meaningful work and creativity that I know is laying a foundation for them to know themselves intimately. The legacy is what drives me. I know that the songs I write are somehow creating a historical context for my children to understand themselves in the chaos of modern life. It’s a place they can go to, if they want, when they need a compass or comfort; when they need my guidance but don’t want to ask me for it.We often get into the car and I ask them, ‘What music should we listen to?’ “Momma’s songs,” Stella replies. That is what drives me.
When do you spend time making music?
I am lucky that my art does not require much set up or clean up. I find time to sing or fine-tune a song idea for twenty minutes at a time throughout the day, like after washing the morning dishes when the children have run off to the playroom, wrapped up in the novelty of the new day. I tend to do deep dives into my art. Meaning, I may be working on a song or preparing for a performance and every time that a quiet moment pops up around the house I use that time to write or practice. But at other times, weeks may pass where I don’t pick up my guitar at all, and I focus more on the other aspects of my life.I also have begun to rely on collaborations much more as a mother. I need others’ creative energy, ideas, and : all this helps propel me forward and inspire me. So, though I do a lot of idea creation and work shopping here at the house in the bits and pieces of time available to me, I also find time away from the family to bring those ideas to life and give them depth with other musicians. I have also had to “dig deep”, as Tedd and I call it. This past six months I have pulled quite a few all-nighters in the studio because I needed to be up with the kids at 7 a.m. and nighttime was the only hours I had free. It can wear on me, as I have gotten sick and even lost my voice recently because I wore myself down so much, which in turn had a negative impact on my family. It’s all choices, priorities, and those priorities are always shifting and taking turns calling out to me.
How many children do you have? Do you want more?
I have three children: Idalina (pronounced ee-dah-leen-ah), 4 ½ ; and twins Stella and Luca, 2 ½ . My family feels complete, and after breastfeeding twins until they were 2, I am just so happy to be out of the nursing haze!
Have you ever considered giving up music in order to be a mother?
For me, music and mothering go so hand in hand I have never asked myself that question. I have never desired to be the performing artist that spends most of her time on tour or at late night gigs. I am untraditional in that way, perhaps. Indianapolis culture can support an artist like me playing out once a month, maybe once every two or three months. That feels right to me. I am doing this at my own pace. There isn’t an expectation that it will feed my family and I am good with that. It’s just feeding my soul. I have been doing this for 15 years and it is who I am and who I will always be. Whenever I think about that, I let out a huge sigh of relief and just enjoy the process.If anything, I want to challenge myself to do more playing and singing in an informal way, around the house. Tedd is so good at picking up the guitar as soon as he gets home and playing silly songs, fun songs, carols. He is the family troubadour. I have always approached music from a more serious standpoint, a therapeutic standpoint, and I would like to loosen up and be sillier and help my children truly enjoy music. When they get older, I want them to say that they “grew up in a musical family.” That would be a dream come true.
Do you have support from your family and friends to keep making art?
I am lucky to say that I feel very supported by my friends and family. My mother, Tedd’s mother and his grandparents are all staple caregivers for the children, and though I do not always use that time to work on my art, the time away is rejuvenating and makes the possibility for creative expression seem more accessible to me. My sister, brother and my friends all listen to my work, come to performances, and tell me when a song I have written is accompanying them through their life journey. The thought that the songs I create can be a steady backdrop in the lives of the people I love fills me with awe.
From the very beginning of our parenting journey, Tedd and I were very intentional about giving each other regular time away from the family to pursue our own interests and spend time with friends. I have Saturday mornings free, and he has Sundays. We always come back refreshed and ready to jump back in. I can choose to spend that time on my art, or meandering aimlessly through a park, or errands I want to do without three kids in tow, or an intimate breakfast with a good friend. No matter how I spend it, it is an essential part of my creative rejuvenation. As far as my art specifically, the most important way that Tedd has shown support for me is by gently asking, “What is your motivation here?” So many times as artists we do art just to do it, without asking and asking again that very important question which in turn serves as our guiding compass. 15.Do you feel like you are taken seriously as a mother artist?I know I am taken seriously when someone tells me ‘That song you wrote has really helped me’ or ‘I have been listening to that song over and over again.’ Recently, a musician that I utterly respect said, ‘I think that is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard.’ Whoa.How can I not feel I am taken seriously when someone says something like that to me?
Has becoming a mother influenced your music?
Becoming a mother has most certainly impacted my work. I want to write songs that help people get through hard days, long days, and help them celebrate the little joys in all of life around them. I want to write music that help people feel connected to others and give them a deep sense of place; songs that positively feed their longings. I have learned more about all of this through my experiences as a mother.I also look for inspiration in my children. Recently, my daughter turned to me and said, “Mama, sometimes my whole self just feels like a rainbow.” How beautiful is that?! And now I have been singing a tune to it around the house, messing around on guitar, and surely in a few months it will be a completed song.
Do you think mother artists are taken seriously in society?
I don’t know about others, but when I find an artist that inspires me, the first question I always want answered is, “Do they have children?” I want to know what kind of difficult choices they had to make to advance their artistic careers. I tend to take them more seriously when they are parents, and find more depth in their work. I am not sure whether this is a societal perspective, but it is my own. Without children, artists can certainly do “more”. But the question remains, is doing more mean that you are going deeper? I am not so sure about that.
What do you say when someone asks “what does your husband do for a living?” are you offended by such a question?
I love talking about Tedd. Though his career isn’t in the artistic field, he is the most creative and innovative thinker I have ever met. Next to him, I feel stoic and old fashioned. When someone asks me what he does for a living, I say that he works in Community Development. If they probed me more, I would say he is a brilliant facilitator, strategic thinker and maximizer of human potential.
What is your story?
A defining moment in my life was when I began training Capoeria Angola, an Afro-Brazilian martial art, when I was a senior in high school. Because my teacher also taught in Bloomington, that twist of fate kept me in Indiana--Before Capoeira, I planned to bee-line for the west coast for college. Over the next 6 years, I traveled twice to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil to study Capoeira Angola with my home group, learned Portuguese, and this ultimately led me to meet Tedd, who spent his youth in Northeast Brazil. Now we raise our children bilingual in Portuguese, and our connection with that heritage is a cornerstone of our family culture.
What have you learned about balancing motherhood and your passions?
There will be times when it feels like everything is in perfect balance, where I am getting everything I need from the different aspects of my life. But more often, I will have to turn my back on one aspect in order to do a “deep dive” into another. In this way, it’s important for me to take the long view. It’s not about what I accomplish with my passions in a day, or even a week. I set goals over months, even years at a time.I am not one-dimensional, nor am I one-sided. Sometimes I feel like I am a dodecahedron, trying to balance 12 or more different sides of my passions and my time. But to really give my art the space it needs to evolve naturally, I must constantly reprioritize and simplify my commitments. This means saying “No”, always remembering that saying “No” to one thing means that I am saying “YES!” to something else. I want to say “YES!” to my art and my family. Anything that falls in line with those priorities I can fold in. Anything that doesn’t fall in line, is a mission-drift.
What advice can you offer other mother artists about pursuing their passions regardless of their situation?
Before my first child was born, a good friend encouraged me to prepare for everything taking twice as long. After adding twins to the mix, I try to give myself leeway for everything taking four times as long. Keeping that in mind has been one of the most helpful tools for me as a mother artist. Instead of expecting that I can work on my art for 6 hours at a time, I have to be more prepared, look for the clear stopping points, and break the work up into 30 to 45 minute segments. Sometimes, I get a few of those segments right next to each other, but those times are few and far between.I also try to befriend other mother and father artists. This year I’ve set up “getting to know you” coffees with two mother songwriters and one visual artist. Comparing yourself to the momentum of other artists that do not have children is unhealthy. It’s been life-giving to learn about the journeys and tools that other mother artists employ to progress their creative journeys. Developing these kind of relationships also give me the sense that I am creating in community, and not in a vacuum. I have one dear mother artist friend that I have established a mentor relationship with – and the mentor ship goes both ways – she told me that I am her mentor, too. She lives in San Francisco, but we have nice long therapeutic talks at least once a month about motherhood, work, music, and when I hang up the phone I feel at peace – like I am understood. It’s wonderful and I would suggest to any mother artist to seek out and nurture mentorships like those.
What do you want to be remembered for as an musician?
I want to write songs that heal, that are nurturing and help people be gentle with themselves. I want to be remembered for songs that connect people to everything around them and allow them to experience the natural and human world with the same reverence and awe that I do. I want to write music that is timeless … that can speak to others in places and times distant from my own generation. With the songs I write, I want to slow life down.
To learn more about Sarah Grain and her music visit:
**See Sarah Grain in concert**
Sarah Grain w/full band and featuring The Maple Trio
Saturday, March 22nd
Doors open 8pm; Music at 9pm
Indiana City Brewing Company
24 Shelby Street
(just South of Washington Street on the southeast side of downtown)