In the '90s, singer-songwriter Sarah Borges had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time. She grew up about 40 miles outside of Boston. A teenager at the time, she gravitated to the city’s heralded indie music scene and regularly saw homegrown bands such as the Pixies, Buffalo Tom, Morphine and Throwing Muses.
“It was indie rock central,” she says of the time via phone from her Boston home. Sarah Borges performs on Friday, July 1, at the Beachland Tavern. “I could see all those bands play locally when I was a teenager. That gave me the mindset that anyone could be in a band. I thought I could be in a band. The first song I wrote was ‘Wisk,’ like the laundry soap. I can’t remember what the words were, but I know I was trying to be super evasive and serious — some dumb crap.”
As much as Borges loved Boston’s indie rock scene, she also took inspiration from the city’s thriving roots scene.
“I saw these country bands at the clubs in Boston,” she says. “It wasn’t the records I was hearing, but it was the bands I was seeing every night. I knew I wanted to do that. When I was writing songs in that vein, it was way easier than writing indie rock stuff. I could just speak plainly and tell a story about a murder or whatever, and it was completely acceptable.”
After playing a gig at a South by Southwest showcase in 2004, she signed her first record deal with Houston’s Blue Corn Records. She’s continued to tour and put out records ever since. In fact, after leaving Blue Corn Records, she’s returned to the label for her latest effort, Together Alone. Since she wrote and recorded the songs for it during the height of the pandemic, it proved to be a challenging but rewarding experience. Struggling to make ends meet, she worked as a courier and then found time when she wasn’t driving to work on the album.
“I’m no longer married, but I have a son who’s 10, and he lives with me, and you never want your kid to go without, so I felt pressure to earn money somehow,” says Borges. “It was a Craigslist ad that I answered [for a courier]. I thought I could do it because I could listen to music and plan my world domination. I’m trying to walk the fine line between being a responsible parent and doing what I love to do.”
Using her son’s closet as a vocal booth, she would write a song and make a demo on her phone and send it back to producer and guitarist Eric "Roscoe" Amble. He would send it back to Borges with a drum loop. He used people that he knew. John Perrin from NRBQ, for example, plays on a few tracks.
The album opens with “Wasting My Time,” a mid-tempo song that pairs Borges' supple voice with a hard-rocking guitar solo.
“It’s the first one I wrote, and the last song on the record is the last song I wrote,” Borges explains when asked about the tune. “I first did the vocals and acoustic guitar and we had drums. I lived with the mix of that for a while. With some of the stuff, we got lucky. I recorded on my phone with a special microphone. You can’t edit your track. You have to do it in one take. It has to be one continuous take. I had to sing them umpteenth times, so I got really good at some of them.”
“She’s a Trucker,” another highlight, possesses an Old 97s vibe as Borges uses poetic license in capturing her experience as a courier.
“A lot of [the song] is autobiographical,” she says. “That song is about me. I used to make some bad decisions. It was [Ambel’s] idea to write a song about a lady truck driver because there are no songs about lady truck drivers.”
At this stage in her career, Borges says she no longer takes things for granted. She’s excited to finally hit the road again even if it’s not particularly glorious for an independent musician.
“So much of the stuff I’ve done or was lucky enough to do, I was too young or drunk or too stupid to be properly grateful,” she says. “I’m 43 and sober now. So this time around, I love the truck stops and the shitty motels. [The live show will be] super loud but not scary loud. We have small amps. Here’s the thing with small amps. If you get the right ones, they’re perfect. It’s like when spaghetti sauce is just right. I just want everyone to come to the party. We’re so grateful just to do it. Right now, the world is so hard. Just for that 90 minutes, we’re all going to commune and have a good time.”
Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]