Sarah Saturday sings and plays bass for the Wisconsin-based pop-punk band Saving Face. She also co-writes the group’s songs, which are reminiscent of The Ramones, The Runaways, and Green Day.
Saturday is also the band’s manager, marketer, and booking agent. Under her watch, Saving Face has earned a reputation as an ambitious, hard-working crowd-pleaser. Missouri hot-spot Rick’s Café described Saving Face’s music as “high energy power pop with punk attitude” and the band itself as “one of those hard-working underground success stories that the media chooses to ignore.”
In this interview with the Atlasphere's Joshua Zader, Sarah Saturday discusses the band’s history, her approach to songwriting, the inspiration she has drawn from Atlas Shrugged (which she discovered a year ago), and the punk philosophy of do-it-yourself.
The Atlasphere: Last night was your final gig of the year. How did it go?
Sarah Saturday: It went amazingly well. It was at a middle school in a city we had never played, and yet we sold tons of band merchandise, which is an indicator of the number of new fans we gained. We also returned to Madison at a decent hour, amazingly. When we got back to our practice space to unload our equipment, I told the guys I wish we could always play shows where we make lots of money and are home by midnight.
TA: Who are your biggest musical influences as a band?
Saturday: Ryan and I, who started the band and write all the songs together, share a lot of common influences from when we were in high school, like U2 and Radiohead. We still introduce one another to new music and influences, like The Weakerthans, Coldplay, The All-American Rejects, and Brand New. Right now I’m trying to get him hooked on Coheed and Cambria but I don’t know if it’s working. (Laughs)
Together, Ryan, Matt, and I are influenced by so many different bands and musicians that we probably span all of music — from 1940s big band to super thrash metal scream-core. At least we all have a soft spot for hooks in songs, and that’s the most important thing to have in common: the chorus.
TA: How did the three of you find each other?
Saturday: Ryan and I go back to 1996 when we were both high school sophomores in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Ryan, a guitarist, had just moved to town that year. And that same year, another kid our age who played drums moved to town. Rumors spread like crazy about the new kid who played guitar and the new kid who played drums, and apparently word spread to the two new guys that I played bass. So the drummer came up to me one day and asked me to be in a band with him and Ryan, and there it was.
At the time Wish was coming to an end, I was just discovering the punk community in Madison where we had both moved — and I was learning about the "Do It Yourself" ethics of the underground community and its infamous "D.I.Y." heroes, like the band Fugazi.
I was completely enthralled by the concept that you didn’t have to sit around waiting for the Major Label gods to swoop down and pluck you and your band out of an ocean of bands — that you could just get up and do everything yourself, from releasing your own albums on your own record label to booking your own tours around the country.
The first tour I booked was for Wish, toward the end of the band’s run. It was only four days long and consisted of two shows, one in Ann Arbor, Michigan and one in Detroit. It was an embarrassing attempt at booking a tour, but it was my first, and I love it now for what it was. I had tasted the D.I.Y. blood, though, and I was hooked.
By the end of 2002, our first drummer, Scott (who was older than us and married, with a newly-built home, full time job, and newborn son) was no longer able to tour as extensively or to potentially move out of Wisconsin, which we were considering. By this time Saving Face had gotten into the punk/indie [independent] scene in Madison enough that we knew all the local musicians, but it was actually Scott who suggested Matt, who had played drums with a few of Madison’s more prominent punk bands.
So that’s how we ended up with Matt, who has now been with us for a year and has already done wonders for the band musically and otherwise.
TA: You and Ryan refer to yourselves as ‘musical soulmates.’ What’s it like collaborating with a musical soulmate?
Saturday: Well, it’s good and bad. (Laughing) Bad in that you can’t ever abandon your musical soulmate no matter how much you sometimes wish you could — but good because it’s like writing music with a part of your brain you don’t actually have but really need in order to complete a song.
Ryan and I know each other so well now, and know each other’s styles of writing, and share such a similar taste in music and songwriting that the songs almost write themselves.... Almost.
TA: Your song "One Brite Star" has a true romantic streak to it. It’s my favorite Saving Face song. How did the lyrics and music for that song come about?
Saturday: First of all, thanks for compliment! The great thing about that song — and I’m so glad you picked it out because of this — is that I wrote it for myself.
I wrote it at a time in my life when I was sure I would never meet someone who would write me a kick-ass love song. The lyrics were inspired by idealized memories of past relationships I had been in, and idealized feelings I had in the relationship I was in at the time. Idealized being the operative word there.
One Brite Star
(Music: Saving Face; Lyrics: Sarah Saturday)
Do you wanna remember, or do you wanna forget
How you got here in the first place, baby?
We all have our reasons; we try to believe
That the reason holds its truth in something
I know how you feel about what you want to be
You believe in yourself, but you also believe
That the world will come down crashing on you
I tell you to listen to everything I’ve been saying
Since I met you, because
I know how you feel about what you want to be
I watch you sleep, I count the hours
Till you wake up and the day will be ours
You tell me things you dreamt about
You dream of flying. I figure out
That you don’t belong with the rest of us
You’ll be leaving soon
And I know you’ll make it after all
I know you’ll make it
In this world there’s only room for one bright star
And there you are
While writing the lyrics, I couldn’t help but notice that the point of view I kept returning to for the song was the point of view I hoped someone would have of me one day, and be able to put into words. So when I finished the song, I thought, "Screw it, this is for me." And that’s the story I’ve stuck with since.
"I know how you feel about what you want to be" is still one of the best lines in a love song I’ve ever heard, in my humble opinion. (Laughing) Too bad I can’t tap into wherever I got that from more often!
TA: Your band’s fan list is called the "slutlist" and your message board is called the "ultimate slutboard." I’m guessing there’s gotta be a good story behind the slut moniker.
Saturday: (Laughs) Oh boy, the "slut" thing. I guess I know where it started but I don’t really have an explanation for why it’s stuck around for so long.
I vaguely remember that in high school when we were making up our own versions of popular slang words like “cool” and “rad,” Ryan started saying “slut” in this monotone voice that for some reason made the word extremely hilarious. Our group of friends picked up on it because of how funny it sounded out-of-context like that, so we just started saying it under our breath as our very own slang word. We thought we were oh-so-funny.
When Saving Face got started, I was reminded one day of how we used to always say that and how funny it was, so I started saying it on stage. I think I just liked the shock value that it carried. Not to mention that in using the word so freely it started to lose its derogatory meaning and become just a funny word — which wasn’t such a bad thing in a world of uptight feminazis who can’t take a joke. …Oops, did I say that?
Anyway, it just stuck. Everyone got the joke, and before we knew it "Slut!" was being chanted at our shows and we were writing a "Slut Song" which, I’ll have you know, was actually conceptualized by my mother.
Our e-mail list became the "Slutlist" and now our messageboard is the "Slutboard," and honestly we don’t see the word going away any time soon. It’s quite an experience to watch something go from being an inside joke with oneself to being an inside joke with hundreds of people.
TA: Aside from singing, writing and playing bass for Saving Face, you’re also the band’s manager, marketer, and booking agent. That must be exhausting. What’s the hardest part? And what’s the best part?
Saturday: If I could play drums and guitar as well as I play bass I would probably have gone solo by now.
Just kidding! But sometimes I wonder how I went from being the shy girl who stood frozen in her place on stage to being, well, the person in the forefront of every aspect of the band.
It was a natural progression which I touched on in my answer to the question regarding the formation of the band. But yes, somehow I have evolved over the years into the band member who takes charge of everything, and I love it.
Exhausting? I’m sure it’s exhausting but I wouldn’t really know. When I’m working towards the goal of booking a tour, or promoting the band in some new way, or having meetings with important people about things involving the band, all I feel is exhilaration. There is nothing as rewarding as bringing an idea to fruition, like the first time I booked a five-week tour all by myself.
Staying up working until six in the morning every night for weeks on end, agonizing over every detail, organizing all these people and dates and times into one big coherent Plan, and then executing that Plan and watching all my hard work unfold ... it’s better than, well, anything. So the exhaustion is never a problem. I think I was born to do this kind of stuff.
I would have to say that the hardest part is the impatience that I have. I want to know what’s in store for me and for the band, to see the future, to know how it’s all going to end up. I get frustrated really easily when I feel like I have worked so hard for so long and yet I’m still sitting in an apartment I can’t afford, or eating ramen noodles days on end or just not eating at all, or having to take the bus because I can’t afford a car, or having to sew patches on my clothes because I can’t even afford new ones from the thrift store.
It’s that feeling of knowing you are meant to do something great, but not yet knowing exactly what that great thing is or when you’re actually going to see yourself doing it. And then comes the frustration of not being able to just give up and walk away. Like Dagny and the railroad — oh, how I wish sometimes that I had a cabin in the woods to run to for a month! (Laughs)
The best part? The joy of solving problems, of using my mind and my will to make things happen for me and my band, of catching glimpses of proof that what I’m doing is working, of learning new things, and of gaining the respect of people in the music industry whom I admire.
TA: How do you see yourself fitting into the punk music scene?
Saturday: I’ve always remained on the outskirts of the community but have always had a soft spot in my heart for it. There was a time in my life for a couple of years when I immersed myself in the scene and tried everything I could to feel in my heart like I fit in. But as much as I loved the people and the ideas and the music that I found there, I couldn’t shake the notion that something about it wasn’t sitting right with me and my values. I even tried voting for Nader in the 2000 election, hoping I would finally feel like a bona fide rebel!
But nothing totally clicked. I’m still working on my hypothesis about why it didn’t click. I don’t know enough yet to put it into words. I’m still attracted to the punk community and am friends with the people I find there but I know that I will never be a "punk" by today’s standards.
The thing that I keep getting stuck on, and the thing that makes me truly believe that there is a way to tie in the purest form of the punk scene — specifically, the punk music scene — with Rand’s philosophy, is this "Do It Yourself" thing that was spawned by and for punk rockers.
With D.I.Y., it’s expected you’ll do your own work and pave your own path, never ask for more than you deserve, trade value for value — shows for shows, places to stay for places to stay, etc. — use nothing but a code of honor in making and keeping contracts, and work your ass off for every penny that you get. I can’t shake the notion that this is the foundation of every character in Atlas Shrugged!
But the theory breaks down when it comes time for a band using the D.I.Y. ethics and method of making a name for itself to start, well, making a name for itself. It seems as soon as anyone wants to rise above and make money for all their hard work, and hire other people to help them do all the things they had been doing by themselves before, and gain recognition for their talent and ambition, suddenly the tables turn and the "punks" hate them for "selling out."
One of the most persecuted bands in this respect has been Green Day, who are still accused — by the very people who used to watch them in garages when they couldn’t afford to eat — of "selling out" and "only doing it for the money."
So I’m trying to introduce my own spin on the D.I.Y. ethics, a spin that allows a band to succeed and not feel sorry for that success. I call it "E.I.Y." or "Earn It Yourself." It incorporates all the values of D.I.Y. and also encourages a band not only to work for what they want, but to view themselves as earning everything that they get.
E.I.Y. allows a band to rise out of the underground and yet not be forced to feel guilty when underground friends turn to foes, forcing the band’s members to doubt themselves when they should be patting themselves on the back for a job well-done. We’ll see if E.I.Y. catches on.
The punk community has so many wonderful ideas. I just wish they knew how much more joy they could receive out of life if they allowed themselves to succeed. At the same time, I must say that there are some true punks, like true hippies, who are extremely happy living minimalistically and altruistically and I respect anyone who chooses their own set of values and does not compromise their values or their integrity.
It just tends to be the case that most people, punks or not, don’t ever choose a set of values to stick to, but rather adhere to whatever values the majority in their group tells them to hold. I think most people are afraid of actually deciding what their code of values is.
TA: How did you come across Ayn Rand’s writings?
Saturday: I first read Atlas Shrugged a little over a year ago. And there’s a bit of a story behind that.
When I was nineteen, shortly after the Columbine shooting, I wrote a one-page opinion essay that ended up getting a lot of attention worldwide. The essay had a lot to do with how "the liberals" are destroying the world, and that their lack of morals and values is what is producing the kind of people who will take a gun to school and kill everyone. I had political figures e-mailing me, and I was being interviewed on Canadian radio stations and receiving over three hundred e-mails a day.
I still hear about that essay being used in sermons and classrooms from all over the world. Weird! All I did was e-mail it to my mom and she e-mailed it to her friends.
Anyway, the essay also caught the attention of a young man in Seattle who was, I came to learn, an Objectivist. He had been a very strict Christian and then discovered Atlas Shrugged, left the church and became an Objectivist. I, with my religious upbringing and very serious personal spiritual beliefs, did not want to hear about this guy’s Objectivist viewpoints. Looking back, of course, I realize that my article said a lot of things that Ayn Rand talks about in Atlas Shrugged, and this guy thought he had found his Dagny Taggart and was going to deliver me to Galt’s Gulch.
He ended up flying from Seattle to Wisconsin with the book in hand. The meeting was horrible — I had no idea what he was talking about, and he was convinced that by all his calculations I was supposed to be the Dagny Taggart to his John Galt — and he left disappointed. Being stubborn, I refused to read that silly book of his, out of pure spite. I kick myself now at the thought that Atlas Shrugged was stuffed under my bed for nearly four years! Ugh.
Anyway, my younger brother eventually dug it out, read it, marked it all up, freaked out, begged me to read it, and gave it to my mom. She read it, marked it all up, freaked out, and begged me to read it. Finally last year I picked it up. I loved it.
Right now I’m six hundred pages into my second reading and loving it even more my second time through.
TA: What do you like best?
Saturday: Oh, so many things.... I like Ayn Rand’s style, which surprises a lot of people who consider it to be too old-fashioned or difficult to follow. I love the way she writes and I don’t think her ideas or philosophy would be nearly as effective if written differently.
I also love her razor-sharp perception of the world — like how she can cut an interviewer off with her answer to his question before he has even finished asking it, simply because she already knew what he was going to say.
I like that in Atlas Shrugged, written half a century ago, she used a narrative to present her philosophy, rather than a summa or straight philosophical treatise, and dramatizes her philosophy through characters who represent every kind of person there is.
I successfully compare everyone I know and meet to one of the characters in her books. A perception of human nature that can span fifty years of different people, movements, and world events — and make perfect sense to a girl in a rock band with tattoos and piercings — has got to hold some truth in it.
TA: Do you find your interest in Ayn Rand influencing your music, either creatively or professionally?
Saturday: Yes and yes. I have been so inspired by Ayn Rand's writing that I can attribute much of what I have accomplished recently to the encouragement and energy I received from Atlas Shrugged. The book reassured me where I needed reassuring, and showed me the kind of world I would love to be a part of.
It’s hard to use a philosophy to write a song, but there is a certain logic that can be applied to songwriting; so I guess I could say it affects my music as well.
But mostly, my interest in Rand has been fuel for a fire that has always burned. It just burns a little brighter when I’m reading or re-reading Rand’s writings.
TA: What’s next for Saving Face?
Saturday: Oh, man. Things tend to change, and happen so quickly. For now we are focusing on writing songs for our new album which is due out in early 2004. I plan on booking another tour for us in the Spring, then looking into relocating, probably to the West Coast.
We just have to keep pushing ahead and trying everything we can think of while maintaining the level of output and ambition we’ve always had. Hopefully we’ll break through to a new level by the end of next year. I’m excited for what’s to come.