Normal based singer-songwriter Sara Quah said her mother is the force behind her love of books, writing, and words.
"She read all the time when I was a kid," said Quah. "I always had a book. I ALWAYS had a book. And still do."
Quah said she tends to re-read books obsessively, finding herself attracted to especially the classics.
"Sometimes somebody will ask 'have you read this?' And I'll think 'nope I haven't' because I've read Grapes of Wrath 55 times," Quah said before chuckling that her estimate may not be technically correct. But the point is made. "I just delight in that genius of what they do. John Steinbeck is my favorite author, but I have many that I love."
And her "go to" loves' tend to be American authors, citing Nathaniel Hawthorne as another favorite. She said that repetition often reveals new layers and textures within the stories.
"I hope someday, something I write will have THAT kind of depth," said Quah.
For someone who has immersed herself in books and writing for decades, it was somewhat surprising to hear Quah has only been writing songs for roughly five years. She said her early stabs at songwriting went "slowly and hesitantly," and referenced public radio host Ira Glass as someone who helped her work through early doubts about her writing ability.
"He talks about how the taste level of people just starting out are so much higher than what their abilities are," remembered Quah. "He says you have to keep going through that awful stage of not being able to do what you know is good enough to make it. It really helped me, because it's almost like you have to get it out so you can get to the next stage.
Quah recalled her early writing being somewhat amateurish, and not who she wanted to be. But she also feels she hit "the next stage" quickly because she had already written, read, and lived quite a bit.
"So I felt I got to point fairly quickly that I was happy with something I wrote and felt like 'wait, this has layers, this has a point, this has a message.' And it's still artistically balanced," said Quah.
Political activism is a new dimension to Quah's repertoire. She offered that she's always been passionate "in her own little world" about what is good, true, and right. But she never saw herself as someone who would be out front giving speeches or starting organizations based on those feelings.
"I was a little bit afraid of the personal relationships being affected by being so openly political," said Quah. "I'm done with that kind of thinking. If regular, middle of the road, thoughtful, well educated, people don't speak up, the screamers are going to win."
As a newbie to overt politicism, Quah said her songs haven't yet reflected those new feelings, including her soon to be released "Take Me Back" album. But that's beginning to change.
"The songs I've been writing since we recorded 'Take Me Back' are very driven by the sadness I feel, or the fears and injustice I feel in myself and others," said Quah. "I wrote a song called 'Bleeding Heart.' That's an insult for a liberal to be called a bleeding heart, but I decided to be proud of that. Your heart should be bleeding at this point. There are people that are really hurting, and if your heart isn't bleeding, then there's a problem."
Sara Quah plays The Eaton Gallery in Bloomington Friday, March 3 as part of the Downtown Association's First Friday festivities. She is currently targeting early May for the release of "Take Me Back." You can listen to the interview below to preview one song from the album, and hear Quah detail previous recordings.