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Saturday, December 16, 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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"Collaborating is an evolution. I think that becoming better at recording is an evolution. It makes for a better album ultimately." — Sarah Dougher
Tatone: What artists have had and/or currently have a significant impact on you?

Dougher: The Magnetic Fields and PJ Harvey and Alicia Keys. I listen to a lot of contemporary country music. I'm really influenced by that kind of songwriting. So, instead of saying exactly an artist, it's more a genre that I feel like has a strong impact on me. Dolly Parton! I'm always really amazed by Dolly Parton. She's written like 3,000 songs! It's crazy! She's insane!

Tatone: I really like the song "The Bluff." I find the lyrics really interesting, and I was wondering if you could talk about that song.

Dougher: Uh-huh. What did you think it was about?

Tatone: I was thinking about someone that broke your heart, like being lied to, hurt in that way, like believing in something and then realizing you don't believe anymore.

Dougher: Oh good. That's great.

I wrote it about my grandma. My grandma, who's still alive, came to my show in Minneapolis. She's 92. She came with her walker. She got married when she was pretty young, although not too young. I think she was 23, 24 when she got married. I never knew my grandfather, so I don't know the guy I feel like made her do some certain things that she did. But one thing I do know about is the way that my grandma dealt with her husband being gone during the war. So, it's partly about that. Like, trying to deal with like, "Now I have five kids, what is my life turning into?" But then it's also about me and my experience. It's a way that I used to understand how she could have done what she did. I have a lot of respect for her.

Tatone: You were talking before about the meaning of the bluff, the geographical meaning and the lying. Is that in with that?

Dougher: Yeah. One thing I did with my grandma was, I took her to where she worked her first job, which was Red Wings in Minnesota. She took me up to the bluff above the river and said, "This is where your grandfather courted me." And she got kind of this misty look, but at the same time she looked... I couldn't tell exactly what she was thinking but it was very significant because it was this place like, oh my God, you could just jump off this cliff right now and die. It's like this boundary — you can go there and look out, or you can go there and jump off. So you have to come to terms. It's a coming-to-terms point like, "Am I gonna accept this or reject it? Am I gonna accept this self or am I gonna reject it?

Tatone: Could you talk about a couple songs on the album that you're most proud of, or that turned out in an unexpected way?

Dougher: I think "The Bluff" is the song I really love, because it's really long and it has this whole narrative in it. And "Must Believe" I also really like, and [it] came as a surprise to me. It's a pretty simple song — I always feel shivery when I play it. It has a pretty big impact for me.

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