Ami Saraiya: Come to the (indie) cabaret
Ami Saraiya & The Outcome sound like a band from another era on their new album, Soundproof Box. Saraiya’s somber, upper-register vocals make her a dead ringer for Billie Holiday and the gypsy-like music has a real cabaret vibe. Saraiya recently phoned in from her Chicago home to talk about the album and the band’s upcoming tour that will culminate in a CD release party in her hometown.
Talk a little about your previous endeavors and how they inform the type of music you make now.
Radiant Darling was the first band where I was writing songs and doing my own material. A lot of those songs we still perform. I wasn’t playing accordion yet. Pelvic Delta was the band before that. It was an R&B band and I was the singer. That was a lot of fun. I wrote my own lyrics but I didn’t write the music. It was more collaborative. And before that, I was in a blues band called Backward Black. We got to do a CD with each of the bands.
Your music has been described as folk-punk. Is that accurate?
It’s funny that that term has been used. I don’t know about that. I think we’re more indie cabaret. We have a couple of songs with a punk element to them. People have a hard time categorizing the music.
The album sounds as if it were recorded in another era. Is that intentional?
I feel like I was never trying to go for anything. I was influenced by a lot of old-time music. When I write, I create whatever feels strongest to me. I know that I’m bringing in older elements from big band jazz. The string arrangements were done by Mark Messing, who also produced the album. He’s in a great band called Mucca Pazza. I have a couple of Mucca Pazza members in my band too. He helped give it that gypsy, old school sound, as did my band members, who are amazing. I think that’s where it comes from. Growing up, I listened to a lot of that stuff as well as a lot of ‘80s music. I know so many people who hated that music, but you now you get nostalgic for old Madonna songs. I like the powerful voices of the ’80s. Nowadays, the lilting voice is more popular.
I still like the Talking Heads.
I was just listening to them. I love David Byrne.
Talk a bit more about the recording process and what Messing brought to the project.
He wasn’t trying to change the songs too much. His string arrangements helped round out the sound. He brought in some weird extra production sounds. We did some stuff with wine glasses and he added some digital stuff as well. He’s got a great ear for that. He doesn’t try to be a dictator. He’s great at pulling out great performances. He’s really positive. That helped create the sound on the album. I was a huge fan of Mucca Pazza and their sound. They’re very gypsy and Balkan, but very quirky as well.
What inspired that opening song “I’m Pregnant”? Is it autobiographical?
It’s not autobiographical in the sense that I’ve never been pregnant. I was playing the accordion once just messing around. I thought that’s what it must be like to be pregnant and carry a big heavy thing around. It’s a combination of my different ideas about what being pregnant is. It’s even a metaphor for writing the song and letting it grow. People always ask me if I’m pregnant and then tell me I shouldn’t be having so much whiskey. I was imagining a delivery room and what would be on the TV when my mother was giving birth to me. I tried not to get too gross. I’m not always good at filtering myself.
I know you were awarded a big grant back in 2011.
It was really helpful. I got $15,000 and it’s still lasting. I’ve been really good with my money. I was also working as a registered nurse and I have some money saved from that. I do need to go back to work, at least part time, in the fall.
How do you manage to tour with such a big band?
It’s expensive. As a band just starting out, you don’t get paid a whole lot. You have to find a place to stay and you have to eat. It’s an expensive thing.
Upcoming 2013 Tour Dates
Cleveland, OH – Beachland Ballroom
Atlanta, GA – Star Community Bar
Lexington, KY – Willy’s Locally Known
Louisville, KY – Zanzibar
Chicago, IL – Old Town School of Folk Music