To create new album 'Fear & Impermanence,' the musician first had to tear everything down
After Sarob released his 2017 debut EP Seeing in the Dark, he felt, for a moment, as though his path were better illuminated, and that he had started to find his way, both as a musician and in his life.
“When I made that project [at age 22], I had just graduated college and I was navigating the unknown, and it was like, ‘If I can just turn on a light it will help me find my way,’” Sarob said in an early December interview Downtown. “And I felt like I had found it, like I could see better after making [the EP].”
But less than a year later, the musician, now 25, started to realize that even though he was ably navigating this now-brighter outside world, inside he still felt lost and uncertain — struggles that were heightened by a long-term relationship Sarob described in co-dependent terms. “If you’re entangled with another person, you can’t fully discern who you are,” he said. “And that didn’t seem fair to me, and I told her that it didn’t seem fair to her, and that’s where things fell apart.”
In the aftermath, taking inspiration from French philosopher Rene Descartes’ search for self, Sarob, who studied philosophy in college, began a process of peeling things back, attempting to make himself a blank canvas, in a sense, in order to better define his existence.
“And I just started digging into that idea, and what it meant, because everybody has to serve some kind of purpose,” he said. “Just as Descartes stripped away everything, knocked over the whole building, that’s what I had to do. And because of that, I built a more authentic foundation. … Now that I understand who I am, that’s what guides me. It’s not so much learning how to navigate the world and looking outside for a light. I learned I have to just trust my own light. I have to trust my own internal compass.”And that internal compass is telling you to sign up for our daily newsletter
Previously, Sarob approached music with the idea it needed to be neatly packaged. “I thought it had to be this super solid thing, like, ‘I am this,’ and, even more so, ‘If I’m this, then this is what I do and this is my audience,’” he said, a concept that never fit with his eclectic musical tastes or his wide-ranging abilities as a performer (Sarob, an Alive Bands to Watch alumnus, ably swings from soul balladeer to tongue-twisting, melodic MC, often within a few bars).
But in the midst of this personal reassessment, Sarob started to write without any kind of an album or agenda in mind, embracing the process as a means of documenting as purely as possible the steps he was taking in his own life, first capturing brief musical vignettes, and then, gradually, more fully formed songs, many shaped by soul and R&B and colored with piano, strings and horns.
These revealing tracks form the backbone of Sarob’s new album, Fear & Impermanence, which will be released Monday, Dec. 9, and which the musician will celebrate with a release show at the Basement on Saturday, Dec. 7.
“I used to go into recording and I would be like, ‘I have to make this song because that’s what people want to hear.’ … And I would link up with producers who were known for making that kind of sound, and who could provide the precise blueprint for what I needed to make in order for people to be excited by it,” Sarob said. “This time … a lot of the songs were just things that came into my head, or that I worked on in my room or jammed out with band members. … The musical world was so open. I was just doing whatever felt intuitively right.”
Lyrically, a handful of songs are informed by Sarob’s breakup (“Still fade away, that’s my signature shot,” he raps on “Sweet Nothing,” which appears to hint at his own emotional withdrawal from his ex), as well as the crisis of confidence that followed the release of his debut. “If there’s beauty in the struggle then I’m gorgeous,” he offers on the album-opening “Viper,” rapping atop glass-fragile violin and world-steadying breakbeats. “Scales,” in turn, finds the musician questioning his past eagerness to play different roles.
There are no easy answers, either. “Where would I be?” the musician repeats throughout the murky “Where,” never quite hitting on a resolution. And yet, Sarob has never sounded quite so confident, moving stridently amid unsolid ground — a reflection of his growing acceptance that life is always changing and hard to define, meaning that it’s OK if his art reflects that reality.
“And that bothered me a little bit for a second, because I have this fear of being unclear, and that if I’m not conveying an idea in a way where people can receive it, I’m failing,” Sarob said. “But I’m a human being first, and my humanity is what helps me create. And humanity is complex and nebulous, and we don’t fully understand it. And I’m finally learning how to roll with that.”