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Friday, December 15, 2017 
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Inquisitive

Sarah Dougher's Transformative Music

A conversation with one of America's most important singer/songwriters.

Interview Jenny Tatone Photography Jim McGinnis
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"I'm always really amazed by Dolly Parton. She's written like 3,000 songs! It's crazy! She's insane!" — Sarah Dougher
Tatone: Then are there personal-growth hopes out of making music? Self-fulfillment hopes?

Dougher: I find it highly satisfying. It's the thing I love the most in the world. So I love to do it. There's no other way I can get this feeling than when I write or when I'm playing. And when it's going well, I'm the happiest I can get — intellectually, emotionally and physically. When I'm performing, too, I start to concentrate on being attuned to what the process was when it originally happened. Then I can make it happen again for myself. I hope that gives people access to the emotional core of what it is I'm trying to talk about in a song.

Tatone: Do you ever wonder if there's a purpose other than the obvious?

Dougher: I don't, really, because I know that other people's art changes my life, and I know my art changes other people's lives. That's not an egoistic statement, it's just a function of what music and art can do for people. And I think that's remarkably transformative and important. In fact, in some ways, it's more important than ever because it gives people a way of understanding emotive points of view, or psychological situations, or problems that might be very different from their own, but might actually resonate with their experience in the world.

Tatone: Do you hope your music will affect or influence people in certain ways?

Dougher: I want people to feel brave and happy when they listen to my music. Mostly I want them to feel like I feel when I play it, and I want it to reverberate. But I'm not like, "ERA right now!" I don't have a political agenda per se, although in some ways I'm developing one right now, especially with the war. I think it's more important to be clearer about the ways that it affects women on the international scale, and in the States too.

Tatone: If you had to pick one of the biggest injustices to women right now, what would you say?

Dougher: Capitalism, the institutionalization of capitalist culture. And, again, that is so broad, and sounds like I'm a fuckin' Marxist. But I think poverty is so connected to the underachievement and under-representation of women across the board — the reasons for poverty are so clear to me.

Tatone: Is it something you see getting better or getting worse?

Dougher: It depends on who you are. In some ways, some things are getting better for some people. It's an issue of trying to understand the whole net of experience. I think, within the hierarchical structure of capitalism, [everything] is connected. The reason that there's a top is that there's also a bottom. You have to acknowledge that.

To speak to the way it looks in the music world, if you look at any of the year-end lists of the major magazines. Magnet, for example, or the recent Spin issue that has the 50 greatest bands — check out the representation of women in those lists and tell me what you think. It is a travesty, and it's not getting better. It was the same last year. That's not getting better, and I don't understand why.

Tatone: I don't think enough women get involved in music because a lot of them aren't raised with the confidence to take those chances like men, who aren't so worried about how they look to the world.

Dougher: Yeah, it's possible. But I also think there are women who are out there. What about the Björk album Vespertine? That's on no one's list. That's a fucking great album. There are women who are doing and changing things in their own ways, and they're not being acknowledged. [Editoršs note: Actually, Vespertine rated #3 on the Village Voice's critics poll for albums released during 2001].

Tatone: Because, in general, women just aren't taken seriously.

Dougher: Uh-huh. I think that the music industry is just as sexist as anything else.

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