Sara Jackson-Holman, felt a bit like a nomad. She was trying to write a second album among the Central Oregon ponderosa while flitting off to Portland any chance she got.
Eventually the Rose City proved too beguiling for the classically trained piano player who's enjoyed great success recently, including having her single "Into the Blue" close out the last episode of season two of ABC's Castle.
Last September, she made the move west. The decision was an attempt to take her career to the next level, and also to be among surroundings that had long roused her heart.
I recently met up with the pop R&B singer, whose voice has drawn comparisons to Adele and Amy Winehouse, at one of Portland’s most iconic events, the Portland State University farmers market. There we found a slightly shaded park bench and discussed her first year in Portlandia and the album it helped complete.
The feeling of having one foot in Bend and one foot in Portland led her to write Cardiology’s first track, “Cartography” and was perhaps the song that allowed Jackson-Holman to talk herself into finally making the move.
“I kind of felt like I was doing this wandering thing,” said Jackson-Holman. “I hadn’t started recording my record yet, and things were kind of up in the air.”
In a perfect ode to her change of address, half of the songs on Cardiology were written in Portland, while the other half were penned during her final summer in Bend. According to Jackson-Holman, the Central Oregon environment helped keep those early songs a little lighter.
“I think the songs that were written in Bend were my happier songs,” said Jackson-Holman. “Especially the ones I wrote last summer while it was warm and beautiful.”
Once in Portland, Jackson-Holman was able to immerse herself in the city for the first time as a songwriter. She ended up finding something amorous in the climate.
“The imagery in Portland is more romantic,” said Jackson-Holman. “I like the rain for song writing. It’s very conducive to being productive. Earlier this year I lived right next to this little garden and I would walk around it. They had these enormous wind chimes that would make all these beautiful sounds, and the textures [of the garden] would inspire me.”
However, being in the city she loved was only part of what stirred her creative juices. Events in her personal life, some of which she was hesitant to divulge, provided insights that informed her music.
“There was some relationship stuff,” said Jackson-Holman. “I wish I could talk about more. But I can’t.”
At the same time these things were happening, Jackson-Holman experienced the passing of her beloved grandfather, Albert. Four songs on Cardiology were composed in the months that followed his death including “For Albert.” The lyrics of the songs were about moving on.
“He was very blunt and would always say, ‘Just get over it,’” she said.
She’s developed musically, as well. Her new album is more robust than the first, with a substantial increase in the instrumentation layers.
“With the first album I would sit down at the piano or have poems I would put to music,” said Jackson-Holman. “I didn’t do that for a single song on this album. A lot of it started with a beat or a very simple melody or a little hook. It was a different approach to songwriting.”
Her more mature sound is winning hearts all over in her new home. She has played at popular venues like Doug Fir Lounge and Mississippi Studios. Now, she hopes to branch out and start working with other artists from Portland’s stout music scene.
“I would like to do some collaborations,” said Jackson-Holman. “I told Nathan from Tango Alpha Tango that I want to work with him. Songwriting has been a very solitary thing for me. I would like to stretch myself and see what other kinds of music I can do.”
Jackson-Holman has already proven she’s a bit of a risk taker, so her ability to explore new genres should be interesting. Now in an environment that suits her, the only thing between Jackson-Holman and the continuation of that journey will be finding new stories to tell. And her new city is full of those.
Photos taken by Ethan Maffey.
Friday, Aug. 17, 8 p.m.
Cascades Theatrical Company
148 NW Greenwood Ave.
$10, tickets at www.sarajacksonholman.com