Sarah Brendel: The German singer / songwriter talks about life after Nashville

Sunday 24th May 2009

Tony Cummings reports on German folk rocker SARAH BRENDEL who duetted with Larry Norman on his last recording

Sarah Brendel
Sarah Brendel

When Fierce! Distribution cranked up the publicity machine for the release of 2005's 'Sarah Brendel' album big things were predicted for the German-born singer/songwriter. Yet despite good reviews and seeing the song "Fire" reach 86 on Billboard's Airplay charts, it didn't quite make her into the international star that her impossible-to-pigeonhole synthesis of rock, folk and pop deserved. But now Sarah has come bouncing back with a fine new album, 'Early Morninghours', which is attracting considerable interest both for its quality (Cross Rhythms reviewer called it an "artfully crafted set of pop songs") and also the fact that Jesus music pioneer Larry Norman made an appearance on the album shortly before his death - the last time the rock legend recorded. In a recent interview Mike Rimmer asked Sarah how the unlikely musical paring had come about. She explained, "I had a really good guy who was my manager who knew the tour manager for Larry, and they talked and the tour manager invited us to come to the hotel where Larry stayed in Switzerland. We really had a nice time talking and eating soup, and afterwards I played some of my songs for Larry. He enjoyed it and asked me if I would like to sing a song on his next show with him. I said, 'Yes', of course, and 'what do you think about singing a song with me on my next record?' He said, 'Okay, I will think about it' and two days later he said, 'Come on, let's record it in Berlin.'"

The song Sarah recorded with Larry was a Brendel composition, "Back To The Dust". "I wrote it for my mum because my mum had a strong heart attack and she nearly died. It's a song about leaving this earth and that we can't take anything with us, just ourselves, not our friends, not our music, no money. I told Larry about the story of my mum's heart attack and that she nearly died, and he really understood that because I think he had three heart attacks and survived them all. When I played him 'Back To The Dust' he seemed to be touched. Of course I didn't know that would be the last song he would record and that he would die because of a weak heart shortly after recording it."

Sarah Brendel: The German singer / songwriter talks about life
after Nashville

Sarah said recording with Larry was an experience she'd never forget. "It was very intense. I grew up with his music and he really influenced me and my music and my life, and also in my faith. Then to record with him was just really intense, and I don't know if you could hear it, but his voice was pretty weak at the end because he didn't have much breathe, and he didn't feel very well. You could see that he was really sick, so it was a very sensitive recording."

Sarah was born and grew up in Dresden. At 16 she became a Christian and shortly after that picked up an acoustic guitar and taught herself to play. After honing her musical skills in front of her five sisters (one of whom today lives in England) and getting support from her church family, Sarah began to play local concerts. By 1998 she had been signed to Christian label Pila Records and recorded a five-song EP, 'Higher Hope'. Cross Rhythms reported that it sounded "fresh and invigorating delivering with the passion of someone like Jennifer Knapp" and with a "lyrical intensity that stops you in your tracks." A year later Intercord released a single "Danke 2000" by the duet Florian & Sarah and in 2001 Pila issued Sarah's first full album, 'Subrosa'. More singles followed, "Be With You" and "Go Tell It On The Mountain", the former spending two weeks on the German charts reaching 86. The 2003 album 'Under The Fire' and the single "Take My Heart" written by Sarah for the movie thriller the Poet pushed her to national attention in her homeland. A national TV programme on RTL, All Star Project, gave Sarah a huge push with the smash "Du Bist Nicht Allein". Sarah went on to entertain 100,000 at the Stuttgart Stadium. But all the while Sarah was keen to be more than a successful pop rock singer. She said, "I try to be real with what I'm doing and let people see my heart. For me it's about sharing my faith with as many people as I can who don't know Jesus. The fact that my music gained recognition back home is really what I wanted for that mission. My goal wasn't to get attention when I walk down the street."

It was at 2004's GMA Week in Nashville that executives at Inpop Records, the Franklin, Tennessee label owned by CCM stars the Newsboys, were passed a copy of Sarah's 'Under The Fire' album produced by top German producer Udo Rinkin. Sarah was signed to Inpop and with additional programming from Tedd T and the Newsboys' Jeff Frankenstein and remixes from Frankenstein and Tony Palacios, 'Under The Fire' became the 'Sarah Brendel' album. It was a truly eclectic set with tracks that included what the Cross Rhythms reviewer called a "New-Order-electronics-meet-Nirvana-thrash" on "Commodity", the ethereal ballad "No More" and the folksy, acoustic "King I Love". Said Sarah, "There are so many elements I wanted to incorporate into my record and I think it successfully showcases my appreciation of different styles. Sometimes the record leans in the folk direction given the acoustic guitars, but there's also songs with electronic features and unique sounds that I've taped in random places and woven into the album texture."

Sarah Brendel: The German singer / songwriter talks about life
after Nashville

Clearly the conservative CCM world wasn't ready for such rampant eclecticism. Despite Sarah temporarily relocating to Nashville, 'Sarah Brendel' wasn't the big hit it deserved to be. Now living back in Germany, Sarah is grateful for her season in Nashville. She said, "I think living in Nashville really helped me to get back to my roots because I started listening to a lot of songwriters while I was living there. I really still like [the 'Sarah Brendel'] album. I know it's much more pop, but I think it was a period of time which was a good time in my life, and it was honest and authentic too. But right now I'm more into folk music and older songwriters."

Back in Germany in 2006 she released 'One Day Recordings'. And now comes 'Early Morninghours'. Sarah is very contented with her role as a have-guitar-will-travel troubadour. "I just finished the album 'Early Morninghours' and I'm doing lots of concerts. I've just come back from a prison tour, which was really cool. Right now I'm thinking about recording a seven inch on vinyl, with four or five songs. Also, we've started an artists' community in Dresden. We are living now in a castle because somebody bought us a castle and everything is very weird at the moment, very exciting. We have lots of room to record here and a lot of space to write songs. I hope to record my next album here in the castle. We are living with three families in this castle. We are all Christians, but we also love to have people who don't know God, or who never heard about God. We are very open for everybody who wants to come. One guy is a producer and one other girl is a singer and then we have a graphic designer, and my husband also plays bass in my band and is doing the booking for us. We also want to run a school every year for a few months, an artists school."

Talking to Sarah one gets the impression of a creative artist really at peace with herself. Having had a taste of both the Viva (Germany's MTV)-plugged world of popdom and the insular subculture of Nashville CCM, Sarah has now found a third way to make music, untroubled by the vociferous demands of hyperactive A&R men and radio programme controllers. She's clearly enjoying her time at the Zeichen der Zeit (Sign Of The Times) arts community and looking forward to a new role as a mother (Sarah is currently with child). Her passionate, powerful music continues to have the power to touch all who hear it. She said, "I want my music to touch everybody, whether or not they are a Christian. When I'm writing and singing these songs I want to aim straight for the heart and use my experience and my faith to draw the audience in. I want to move them in a way they've never felt before. My hope is that as time goes on Christ would enter their lives, just like he did mine." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


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