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It is literally from out of the blue that pianist/singer-songwriter Sara Jackson-Holman was launched onto the national music scene. For the then 20 year-old Whitworth University piano and writing student from Bend, Oregon, nothing could have prepared her for the trajectory her life was about to take; propelling her from student life, to recording her first CD, to hearing her debut single “Into the Blue” (from her debut album When You Dream) close out the ABC hit show Castle in the emotional Season 2 finale, all in a matter of months. Recently, her songs have been placed in MTV’s Chelsea Settles and CW’s Ringer, Her debut; garnered rave reviews and comparisons to chanteuses Adele, Amy Winehouse and Feist.
Her journey into the world of recording began with a simple fan post Jackson-Holman left for Portland, Oregon based Indie-pop band Blind Pilot after one of their concerts. Anthony McNamer, president of Blind Pilot’s record label, Expunged, doesn't know exactly what compelled him to click on the MySpace page where Jackson-Holman had posted some of her music – but after hearing her voice, they began a series of conversations that ultimately led McNamer to sign her to his label, despite the fact that she didn’t even have a formal demo.
While Jackson-Holman may have been new to the music industry when she met McNamer in 2010, she was a lifetime student of piano and a veteran classical performer; having fallen in love with the instrument at exactly the moment her seven-year-old fingers touched the keys of her family’s tired and old spinet piano.
She came to songwriting at the urging of her mother in 2008, and despite being just out of her teens, Jackson-Holman’s material on When You Dream is timeless and relevant with classic themes that contemplate everything from love and longing, forgetting and remembering, the sky and trees, and dreams to the sea. Her classical training and love of Chopin, Schumann and Bach is where this artist gets her affinity to minor, brooding music and sense of musical structure. It is the foundation upon which weightless strings and heavy layers of warm and soulful melodies swell as they weave through each song.
Where the songs on When You Dream were intended to be universal and interpreted by the listener, Jackson-Holman’s latest release Cardiology expresses a very personal journey, specific to the study of her own heart over the course of this last year. “This album centers around themes of love and loss and my experiences with each over the course of this last year. Some songs, like “Do I Make It Look Easy” and “For Albert” are about moving on from situations-- realizing and accepting that you can't change people, which is challenging, but at the same time empowering, because that understanding ultimately provides you with a sense of peace. I also wrote songs to sort through what it means to lose someone you love, and what you do with that feeling of loss.”
Compared to her first album, the songwriting and production process for Cardiology was very different, it took much longer and it was much harder. “Recording my first album was about learning the process; it was extremely informative. I had never been in a studio, so to see the inner-workings of production firsthand changed my entire perspective. For Cardiology, I actually produced full, 30-track demo versions at home for several of the songs on Garageband before bringing the tracks to the studio for final beats, synth sounds, and additional production. I wrote the songs in varied ways-- some originated from sitting at the piano, others from humming a melody, and still more from writing a beat first then crafting the rest of the song around it. From my first day in the studio to my last, the recording process spanned seven months.”
It was during that seven- month period that Jackson-Holman lost someone very close to her. “My grandfather was a big part of my musical upbringing and his death came as a shock. When I was young he would drive three hours from Portland to Bend just to watch me play for seven minutes in my classical piano competitions, and when I had branched out into pop music, he'd come to my shows in Portland. I was in the midst of recording and needing to be creative, so the process became an outlet for my confusion and grief. His death was profoundly influential as I wrote the final songs for my album. “Freight Train” is a song I wrote when I had no words to express my grief. “Come By Fire”, “Can't Take My Love”, and “For Albert” (his middle name) were also all written within three weeks of his passing. ("For Albert" is derivative of the classical piece “Für Elise”, a sort of homage to my background). I miss him very much, and to me, his being so much a part of my songs keeps him and his memory close to my heart.”
The production team for the album includes Keith Schreiner (Auditory Sculpture, Dahlia) one of Portland’s best known composers and performers who programmed synths and beats, and Skyler Norwood (producer of Blind Pilot, Horse Feathers, and Jackson-Holman's When You Dream) at Miracle Lake Studios, where tracking of organic elements and mixing took place. Contributing musicians include Skyler Norwood (Point Juncture, WA), drums and bass; Jack Norwood, bass; Jessie Dettwiler (Alameda), cello; Basho Parks (Jenn Rawling & Basho Parks), violin.