“I ended up in the trunk of a car after the show in China, recently, and was held for ransom. I guess kidnapped is the word I’m looking for.”
This is not the expected response having asked about Blues star Sari Schorr’s more memorable touring experiences ahead of her upcoming gig at Chester Live Rooms on October 2nd. The expected response was more like ‘Oh I played a zoo once’ or maybe ‘on top of the Empire State Building’. Being held captive? Nope. it wasn’t even on the airfield, let alone the radar screen.
“Nothing will compare to that, I guess, even though I was released pretty soon after, which kind of begs the question as to what my worth in China actually is.”
Well, yes, but obviously, gathering more detail as to exactly what happened is now a must.
“We were playing these massive concert halls they have over there and the shows were filmed for television. Afterward they’d want to hold an interview on stage and I’d always try to crack a few jokes, which more often than not would lose something in translation. Anyway, this particular night I was backstage when some guys grabbed me shouting ‘let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!’
“We ran out the back and into the parking lot – and when I say ‘ran’, what I mean is I was ‘dragged,’ more or less – where I was thrown in the trunk of this car. The funny thing is, honestly, it was only when the lid slammed down I remembered watching a 60 Minutes broadcast highlighting the fact that American singers were being lured to China on the pretext of performing, but really to be kidnapped and sold into slavery. That program had been on TV in America just before I’d left and only came to mind when the lid of this car’s trunk was slammed shut with me inside.”
“Anyway, although I knew my family would be concerned, I really wasn’t because I knew full well I’d make a terrible maid or waitress or whatever. I was in absolutely no doubt they’d return me and ask for their money back, ASAP, which turned out to be the case. The promoter worked everything out, I was released very quickly, the kidnapper or whoever was paid off and they never bothered me again.”
The laid-back manner in which what must have been a terrifying experience is recounted, is almost as amazing as the tale itself. “In all honesty, my overriding feeling was one of confusion rather than concern or fear. The experience really didn’t last that long – although my concept of time is so awful it might have been ten minutes or ten hours and I’d have no clue – but, yeah. Confusion reigned in my head throughout it all pretty much. Nevertheless, that ranks pretty high on my list of gig experiences. For obvious reasons.”
“I’ve had a lot of memorable and inspiring experiences thanks to music. In Haiti, where I was volunteering after an earthquake destroyed everything in a little village … everything, that is apart from the church … I was asked to sing. Everybody was exhausted from working to clear this rubble, and filthy dirty, but everyone still went to church dressed in their spotless, beautiful Sunday best.”
“They wanted me to sing something acapella and I chose, because I hoped everyone would know it, We Are The World. My God, when these guys – the whole congregation – started singing with me, it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. It was so heartwarming.”
Sari Schorr is talking to me on the grounds of a hotel that’s nestled in the foothills of the Swiss Alps. The principality of Leukerbad isn’t a bad location to conduct an interview, right? It’s a dazzlingly bright Sunday lunchtime. The air is cool and crisp and the atmosphere, when settling down to chat about Sari’s upcoming appearance in Chester, is both metaphorically and literally chill.
The only real problem, in fact, is that I’m not with her in person. No. Thanks to the miracles of tech, I’m speaking to the Force of Nature singer via FaceTime and can only take in the spectacular vistas she’s showing me with such unmitigated glee, second hand.
Ah well. One day. Maybe.
The smokey-voiced Sari is in Switzerland writing songs for a new album, her third solo studio outing, which is penciled in for release in Spring next year on the Manhaton label. Having been shown where she is, it can only be assumed inspiration is surely right there on the doorstep. “Things are really good right now. That said, though, I did spend two hours writing a line yesterday,” she laughs. “If it carries on like this, my record company will be growing very impatient.”
Sari laughs a lot. Not only that. A warm, welcoming infectious optimism emanates from her that’s nigh on impossible to ignore and which shines brightest through her vocals. There’s a positive, determined drive there, too: a drive that is, at a time where everything is seemingly embalmed in negativity, welcomingly refreshing.
“I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think believing it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sometimes, just moving helps the creative process when things get a bit stuck. Then sometimes, like with Damn The Reason, songs just arrive fully. The thing is to just stick at it in the tough times and believe it will come right. It’s one of the mysteries of the creative process. Nobody really knows how it works, when it works. It’s just important to realize it doesn’t always work on demand. When Burt Bacharach got stuck on the piano, he’d go to the bathroom, come back and finish the song. Perfume works for me,” she laughs again.
In the interim six years since we last spoke, a lot has happened. Force of Nature, her debut album, received rave reviews the world over in 2016 and, in 2018, Never Say Never saw Sari Schorr hit the heights again. Then, in the midst of the pandemic, Live Over Europe came out and brought the singer’s renowned powerhouse performances to an even wider audience.
“I just wish I’d matured a little bit in between. I absolutely refuse to grow up. Seriously, though, it has been a journey filled me with gratitude for what I have.”
“Singing and performing have always been my passion and I, basically, signed up to be a struggling artist just to be able to do what I love doing. Never in a million years did I ever expect to be where I am in my career right now. Finding out that I have the support that I do and the fanbase that I have, it has been just an overwhelmingly amazing gift to discover that. So, yeah. Gratitude is the overwhelming feeling I have.”
“I also believe it’s the job of all creatives to lift other people up and take them out of whatever might be troubling them, if only for a short space of time. It’s so easy to bring people down, so to be able to inspire people, to make them happy, it’s a wonderful job to have and I wake up thankful for it every day. That’s why it’s okay to spend two hours writing a line to a song. It’s okay because, if it’s the right line, if it conveys meaning to just one person, my time’s been well spent.”
Covid has had a huge impact on the music industry – and the entertainment industry as a whole – over the course of the pandemic. Bands and artists rely heavily on touring through ticket sales and merchandise. Venues rely on bands and artists to employ staff to host them when they arrive for a gig. Lights, sound, caterers, hauliers, stage designers, costumiers and more all found themselves struggling. Some still are.
“It was so frustrating and worrying. I feel I lost my identity to an extent. I didn’t know who I was or what my purpose was. The silver lining was that I’d never been home so much and was able to re-evaluate. To realign my priorities in a lot of ways. To focus on what I could do for others.”
“Early in any career, the pressure to succeed and to keep succeeding is immense. Your attention is so easily diverted to everything surrounding the work rather than the work itself. Lockdown took some of that pressure away and allowed a little breathing space. To step back a little. When I was allowed back out, I got it in a much clearer way and appreciated it more – not that I didn’t before – but in a more rejuvenated, re-evaluated way. It was a time of introspection, which has made things easier for me.”
In the midst of the pandemic, when halls were empty and the tills stopped ringing at live venues across the world, Sari released Sari Schorr: Live In Europe., which received massive praise from both fans and critics alike. “I’d wanted to record a live album for a while because studio albums, although I adore doing them, are one thing but the spontaneity of going on stage, all the little nuances and unexpected idiosyncrasies performance provides, they’re all there frozen in and of a time. Live albums give a little snapshot of what it’s like to be at one of my gigs.”
“A lot depends on what the audience wants too. What the room is like, what’s happened in the news, what the weather’s like, what time of day or night you are performing. The size of the venue. All of these things make a performance unique and capturing it on a live album forever, well, that’s special.”
“Live albums are – or at least should be – honest representations of what you do night-after-night on a tour. That’s what I love about them. Each show and each song can be interpreted on different levels each night you sing them. It’s that which makes live performance so special.”
Sari is a seasoned artist. She even goes so far as to state on her Website that ‘her home is her suitcase’. Chester provides an intimate atmosphere, whereas outdoor festivals are more open and feisty affairs on the whole.
Being so ridiculously busy and spending so much time away from home touring or, as she is now, in front of a computer keyboard writing – or indeed being held ransom – it would be easy to speculate that, in her downtime, Sari might put her feet up and relax. That speculation would be misguided, however. During a recent break, Sari became involved with raising money for charity and cycled from New York City to Niagara Falls – all five hundred and forty miles of it.
“We did it to raise money for the Roswell Comprehensive Cancer Hospital. They do the most remarkable work and research there, helping save lives on a daily basis. There’s a network of people with whom they work around the world so, with around two hundred and forty others, we managed to raise $2.4 million dollars on the ride.”
“It was a tremendous event to be a part of, but my only wish for next year, is that they concentrate on the downhill stretches more than the uphill ones. 2,800 hundred feet of elevation throughout the ride hurt but, you know what, I’d love to do it over. Once I’ve finally learned how to sit down again that is.”
On Friday evenings, Sari hosts a virtual chat room, via her Facebook account, called Sari Schorr’s Green Room. This is a space that sees Sari interact with fans, where she discusses not only music but world events of a serious and, at times, more lighthearted nature. As with just about everything she does, the Green Room is proving immensely popular.
“I really struggle with social media sometimes. I find it pretty insincere and impersonal. As a musician and artist, though, oftentimes I kind of find myself in a position where I have to say ‘Hey, this is what I’m up to’ and ‘this is what I think of X, Y and Z’. I get it’s a kind of responsibility to my band, my promoters, and my record company to do that kind of promotional stuff. The Green Room, though, is a place where I can be more open and honest about things. A place where I can say I’m having a bad day or here’s something interesting I think you might like. A place where it’s not all about the promotional aspects of being, well, me. It’s kind of my little backstage to hang out with friends.”
Ah, social media and its vagaries. In a world that’s almost Lemming-like in its desire to self-destruct, certain platforms seem to delight in providing space for chaos. “There never seems to be a middle ground on social media. It’s dangerously polarising at times, I feel. It makes it way too easy to shout at each other in soundbites. Nobody listens, it’s all output without any real input. This is one of my biggest problems with it, plus the lack of honesty. With Twitter, for instance, 140 characters don’t allow a lot of space for subtlety and nuance. Life is hardly ever black and white, it’s all shades of grey that Twitter doesn’t have the capacity to express. Of course, the issue with that is, when people only really ever express their feelings through 140 characters they then find it difficult to express their views in person in anything other than polarising vitriol.”
“As a result of that, we lose respect for – or ignore or ridicule – those who disagree with us. We have to learn how to like somebody even if their point of view is vastly different from our own, right? Yes, we can stay true to how we feel morally, but to push those beliefs and morals so forcefully onto somebody else, I think, is itself morally questionable. And, of course, once somebody starts ranting and raving about something, oftentimes in an abusive manner, that moral argument is lost and the tone of the discussion is clouded.”
“The passing of The Queen is a prime example. I see a lot of divided opinions out there. Yes, I agree she was a powerful role model for women. That she served her country tirelessly for seventy years from a time when women were just on the world stage for being wives, mothers, glamourous sidekicks and homemakers for great men. She was iconic around the world and managed to be this role model for seventy … years! Think about that for a second then try to grasp the changes she has seen in the world, while at the same time managing to keep her seat at the very top table of world affairs and keep the respect others have for her and her country intact.”
“On the flip side of all that, though, is the idea of being born into wealth and privilege. Should there be hereditary powers like those of a monarchy in the modern world, where so many people are desperately fighting to survive? I personally struggle with that particular concept because everyone has a value and it’s up to us to earn our own individual place in the world, not be handed everything because we have the ‘right’ name or whatever.”
“Social media, when it comes to these discussions, kind of demands a standpoint on an issue wherein the contributor has to take a view, one way or the other, and not be seen to change that view or else be seen as weak, worthless or uninformed.”
“You only have to look at the United States to see how social media has contributed to the country being torn apart. It’s desperately sad to see, but more so it’s frightening. I honestly don’t think we’ve seen the worst of it yet in America either. The conversation is being too easily led towards hatred and violence, as we saw on January 6th last year in Washington.”
“We have to establish respect and tolerance again, but it’s never going to be through social media. Not everyone who disagrees with us is stupid. Even thinking they might be stupid is in itself disrespectful and intolerant. My Green Room, while not professing to change the world order in any way, at least provides me and my friends a safe space, to be honest, and to discuss whatever issues that are raised without fear of reprisal. Plus, it gives me the chance – the blessed opportunity – to interact with fans from across the world, which I absolutely love to do.”
Sari’s upcoming European tour will be her last outing of 2022. A biter-sweet experience for her and the band. “I hate it when something comes to the end but I am excited though. We’re going to be playing some new songs, meeting up with fans, and focusing on what I love to do which is sing live. Of course, coming back to the UK is very exciting for me. The UK feels very much like home.”
Chester, with all of its grandeur and history, is a special place. That said, with such a busy schedule, it’s interesting to see how much of any place the tour comes to any artist gets to see. “I’m very much a morning person, so whether I walk or go for a run or a ride if that’s possible, I always try to go out and explore. You miss a lot if you don’t try to do that and it becomes a slog of bus, stage, hotel. Bus, stage hotel.”
“Places like Chester, with its Roman buildings and walls – and Bath, too – we don’t have places like that in America. So, yeah, wherever I go I always at least try to get out and look around.”
Sari will be airing her live show at The Chester Live Rooms on Sunday, October 2nd. To make the night extra special, she will not be alone. In fact, far from it. “The wonderful Ash Wilson will be with me on guitar and Phil, his brother, will be with us for the first time on drums during the first half of the show. Roy Martin will be taking over during the second half.”
“Matt Beable will be on Bass and Adrian Gautry will be on Hammond. That’s the family on the road. The beauty is that these guys are my brothers from another mother. My husband came to see us in Italy recently and he got just how much we care for each other and we have each other’s backs, on stage and off. It’s going to be a great night and I can’t wait to get out there in Chester and do it!”
Sari Schorr will be at The Live Rooms, Chester, on Sunday, October 2nd. Doors open 7.00 pm and tickets are £14, which are available by clicking on the image below.