Sarah Levins’ Butterfly Effect
Get to know the emerging Sydney-based folk-pop singer-songwriter and her enchanting new single
Image credit: James Tarbotton
It’s an exciting time to be Sarah Levins.
The Sydney-based folk-pop purveyor, relatively new to her solo mantle, has gone from strength to strength in the last year. In the nine months since she debuted with Arm’s Length, a tender tale of romantic disengagement, Sarah has kept busy writing, recording, and collaborating alongside friends and musical peers. Her new single, Butterfly, is a testament to that patient growth; a richer rendering of her vision steeped in a vibrant creative community.
Borne on strings, backed by a choir, and laced with a saxophone, Butterfly is a confident refutation of negativity. If the refrain seems defeatist — “tell me all the ways I’m wrong”, as Sarah softly sings — the culmination of the track is a hearty laugh, one that shakes off the shackles of pessimism and sees her roll with the punches. There’s a real sense of personal triumph on the soft-yet-soaring build, with the unfurling crescendo itself mirroring the liberation of a positive perspective.
In the midst of a short stay in Melbourne, we caught up with Sarah to talk about Butterfly her creative process, and what she’s got planned for the rest of the year.
For those of us just meeting you, tell us a bit about yourself and your music.
The artist project really came around a few years ago. I've always sort of written and sung and done lots of music outside of my day jobs, but I really committed to putting together an EP and the artist project probably two or three years ago now. It kind of all started when my partner bought me a guitar, and I'd never played that before. I was always piano and vocal-based. I picked up the guitar and wrote, and that was really the catalyst for this.
It was only last year that you introduced yourself with Arm’s Length, and Butterfly feels quite different. You've called it a “new beginning” — what does that mean to you?
I think, because I did only really start songwriting a few years ago, the journey has been quite fast for me. I think I'm sort of discovering new ways of writing quite quickly, and also, I've met a whole bunch of people that I now work with who have really changed my sound quite a lot. Listening to Butterfly, it's got a lot more instrumentation and layers compared to Arm's Length, and I feel like it's just this whole other palette that I've gained access to, that I'm loving making use of.
We've got strings, we got sax, and it's all played and sung by my close friends, which is really awesome. It feels like a real tribute to this community that we've got going on in Sydney. They were literally all just over for dinner, and I said to them, 'Hey, do you want to just see if you like the track, see if you want to play on it?' We got this sort of magic that they added to it, which was cool.
Butterfly came with a really lovely music video — is that also a product of collaboration with friends?
Definitely. That's sort of the running theme for this project, for sure. My good friend James Tarbotton created the video with me and he also plays strings on the track, which is really cool. He's very much a double threat in my life. We had lots of different ideas for the video, and we sort of painstakingly went through a bunch of different ideas and then, to be honest, we got to the week we were shooting it and we were both exhausted.
We needed a day off and we were like, let's just go to the beach — let's go to the Royal National Park in Sydney, which we both love — and basically filmed me having a day off, which was really great. We just sort of like ran around! My brother came and assisted on the shoot, which was awesome, and he got to actually be part of the video in the end, which was unexpected but great. It was just literally me feeling great, having a day off, and feeling free running around on the beach, which is kind of my favorite thing to do.
Can you tell us a bit about SongCycles, the live show you’re bringing to the Gasometer on Wednesday?
It came about in Sydney last year. We put on a gig with two other songwriter friends — it was four of us altogether — and basically, it was like a tribute to our own songwriting collaborations. We played each other's songs and reimagined them with different arrangements, and the idea is we're taking that format and then applying it in Melbourne. We're working with Hannah McKittrick and Ruby Gill to basically do the same thing: reimagining our music with a whole bunch of different instrumentation, and sharing the songs that we've all loved and been big fans of for so many years.
You're down in Melbourne at the moment for SongCycles, Butterfly has just come out — what's next for you?
It's not yet announced, but I am going to release an EP in October of this year, and we’re in the process of mastering it and finishing it… which is super exciting! It feels like Butterfly really has set in motion the chain of the songs that I've got coming out. It's just a real feeling of excitement in the air, and a lot of joy to finally be putting the music out. I feel like in the songwriting process, you hang on to the song for so long, so it's nice to actually just get to share it with people and hear what they think!
The plan is to do lots of touring for the EP. I'm supporting Chris Lanzon at Golden Age in June a couple of times, he sold out a few shows there. I'm doing another support for Glenn Hopper, who's a fantastic Sydney-based indie-folk artist, also at Golden Age in July. Beyond that, I'm just going to see where the EP takes me, to be honest, but the plan is to do lots of touring. Playing live is one of my favorite things to do out of the whole process of making music, so I'm really keen to do lots of that.
You can catch Sarah Levins in Melbourne, playing at The Gasometer, on Wednesday June 21. She’s also supporting Chris Lanzon at Golden Age in Sydney on June 29 and July 6, and opening for Glenn Hopper later that same month.