When Sarah Addi hit the road in 2016 to scout out music-centric cities for a possible move, the singer-keyboardist admits that Austin, Texas, “was one of those places that was not even on my radar.”
“I didn’t know much about it,” recalls Addi, who took her 30-day trip around the United States with guitarist Alex Whitelaw of the band Spirit Ghost. “I heard of South by Southwest, but there are so many national festivals, and being so far [from our home base of Massachusetts], I didn’t connect the dots.
“When I got to Austin, I was blown away by the live music scene, the weather was beautiful, and it felt really great. So after that trip, the two of us definitely wanted to be there.”
At that time, bassist John Bergin and drummer Billy Hickey, who had been Addi’s bandmates in Calico Blue, “were in Chicago and Hawaii [respectively] doing their own thing for a little bit,” she says. When Addi gave her take on Austin — that it was the city she and Whitelaw felt was the best place “to make music work and give it our all” — Bergin and Hickey agreed to join them.
By early 2018, a few years removed from Calico Blue and Spirit Ghost playing gigs together at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and elsewhere, the musicians had settled in Austin. Once there, they became Sasha and the Valentines, with friend Tim Zoidis becoming the fifth member and serving as an auxiliary percussionist.
Finding their place in Austin took a lot of effort.
“Coming from the scene in New England and Massachusetts, which is very tough to break into, we had experience learning how to find the bands that fit our style and how to talk with bookers and venues,” Addi says. “So we came with this mindset of, ‘OK, we are going to go to a lot of shows’ and just get on the ground and meet people and talk to them one on one.”
Along the way, they discovered whose sounds were similar to theirs, which acts were drawing big crowds and “who is really nice and willing to talk to us and help us,” Addi says. “Social media helped bridge that gap as well. There is this really big network across the U.S. once you start to get into a genre where you’re connected through social media, so [through that] we saw different musicians and went to their shows.” Eventually, Addi and her band were playing shows of their own in Austin at such venues as Cheer Up Charlies and Beerland.
With the 2019 EP Green under their belts, Sasha and the Valentines were all set to be a showcasing act at South by Southwest 2020 until the pandemic canceled the event. When contacted to participate in this year’s virtual edition, Addi says it made sense to do so, “even though streaming will never take the place of a live show. We felt like we had enough people supporting us that it would be a good idea to be somewhat of a representation of Austin.”
Sasha and the Valentines filmed their SXSW 2021 performance at Hotel Vegas, and Addi says the Sixth Street venue handled the recording and mixing, “so it wasn’t like we had to do too much heavy lifting. [Our performance] was pretty straight through, which is always fun because it gives you a little bit of a live-show feeling.”
Their set was among the best of SXSW 2021, and it featured choice songs from their debut album, So You Think You Found Love?, which was released April 16 via Oof Records. The 11-song effort was co-produced by Erik Wofford, who first crossed paths with the band at the 2019 Hot Summer Nights festival in Austin.
“He was like, ‘Hey, I really like your sound. I think your EP doesn’t do you justice. I’d love to record anything you have coming up if you’d like to do a trial day,’ ” remembers Addi. The band accepted the producer’s offer, and with time on their hands once the pandemic hit, Addi and her bandmates spent about five days in May 2020 recording the album at Wofford’s Cacophony Recorders facility (past clients include Gary Clark Jr., My Morning Jacket and Bright Light Social Hour).
“He met our match and made us sound really big and really lush, which is what we were looking for,” says Addi.
— By Chris M. Junior
Photo by JB Bergin