Somewhere between sailing around the world as a child and living in Austin as an adult, Sarah Dashew found her musical voice. And, as evidenced on her new album, Roll Like a Wheel, that voice draws its water from myriad wells. “I started singing in a gospel choir in college,” Dashew says, attempting to organize her influences. “And growing up sailing… you’re in the Solomon Islands and you row ashore with your guitar and, all of a sudden, 20 different people come out with all these instruments you’ve never seen and start singing in perfect, five-part harmony that is nothing you would ever hear and you’re six years old, absorbing it. Then, your dad gets to choose dish-washing music and it’s Janis Joplin.”
She laughs, adding, “I’m imprinted, obviously, with a lot of different sounds. They start to combine and turn into their own thing at different times in your life, depending on what you’re doing. I think it turns out that I’m old enough now to understand that who I am and what I sound like is who I am and what I sound like… and it’s okay.”
All those disparate artistic impressions colliding on Roll Like a Wheel may seem counter-intuitive at first blush, but Dashew doesn’t see it that way. “That was what was fun,” she insists. “Maybe I’m a little naïve, but I feel the different sounds colliding are the thread of continuity for the record. It’s chaos and control. There’s a way in which, I think, structure gives you a lot of freedom… which also sounds kind of counter-intuitive… but there it is.”
Really, so much of Dashew’s life has been counter-intuitive collisions. She was born in Los Angeles in a hospital that is now Scientology HQ. When she was four, the family began a seven-year sail around the world, spending one of those years building a boat in Capetown, South Africa, during Apartheid. “My parents took it as an opportunity to teach us about integration,” Dashew recalls. “We were having a launch party at the Capetown Yacht Club. They said ‘whites only.’ Dad said, ‘Absolutely not. We’re having the whole boat crew.’ But, then, the boat crew was scared to go, so we chartered a bus and all rode it together, and had a great time and a barbeque.”
The inevitable comparisons to Graceland that her record will attract aren’t off-the-mark. Dashew came by those influences honestly… and directly from the source. “I heard a lot of music in South Africa that I loved,” she says, adding, “but, Graceland was the only album cover I ever hung on my wall. I loved Ladysmith Black Mambazo and I also loved doo wop. And I also sang in a black Pentecostal gospel choir, as a half-Jewish white girl.” Counter-intuitive collisions strike again.
In the here and now, Dashew lives in Los Angeles with a new wife and a new record, both of which she takes in stride. “Being gay doesn’t precede me,” she offers. “Maybe I’m lucky because I live in this day and age where it doesn’t have to be my political identity. It just happens to be that my partner is a woman. I want to be allowed to be who I am and not have it be a big deal and not worry about who will and won’t know… but I also don’t need it to be the topic of conversation.”
She continues, “Maybe I’m sort of a Pollyanna, but I’ve always been an optimist. I love what I do, so I do it. I figure out a way to make it work. And there’s such an enormous need in the world for something that helps us feel. Selfishly, I do it because it gives me a chance to work through what I need to work through and feel what I need to feel. Hopefully, it affects a few other folks at the same time.”