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Sarah VonderHaar released her EP, “P.D.L.,” on Aug. 24. TheCelebrityCafe.com’s Jaclyn Baldovin spoke to the energetic and talented singer/songwriter over the phone about her new album, experience as a contestant on “America’s Next Top Model” and work as a photographer and motivational speaker for students.
TheCelebrityCafe.com: What was the inspiration for your new album, “P.D.L.”?
Sarah VonderHaar: I guess the inspiration for the first track of the album would be this guy, Jace Everett. He’s a phenomenal songwriter. He actually did the theme song for “True Blood.” That’s how I discovered him and he’s a phenomenal musician. I bought all his music on iTunes. I guess the inspiration is just I hadn’t released an album in a while and I got kind of antsy. I went in the studio and decided to record.
TCC: What would you say is the greatest difference between your first album, “Are You Listening Now?” and “P.D.L.”?
SV: I guess the greatest difference would be probably, you know, we grow up. When I first did my “Are You Listening Now?” album, it was fall of 2007. I had just turned 21 and right now I’m almost 24. So, it’s like, you grow up. Not only you’re growing up as a person, but you grow up as a songwriter and you discover different things and different stuff you want to write about and I’m realizing that. For one of my favorite songs on the EP – it’s “Howling at the Moon” and it’s basically, that’s one of those stops that I’ve taken to kind of show all my audience and all my fans where I’m headed with my career. You know, where I want to head. So I think it’s just that I’ve evolved. I’m evolving as a songwriter and a musician. A little less bubble gum is what I say.
TCC: I know P.D.L. stands for Pretty Damn Lucky. Why did you choose that particular title for you album?
SV: Well, we were going to do “Pretty Damn Lucky” on the album and then I realized putting a swear word on the front of your album is probably not a good idea. So I was discussing with my manager what we should do. He’s like, “Well, why don’t we do ‘P.D.L.’” You know with all the texts messages [abbreviations like P.D.L.]. He [VonderHaar’s manager] said, “Well, why don’t you do that one?” I said, “Sure. That sounds fun.” It’s something different. It’s an attention grabber and I was like, “OK.”
TCC: I know your record release show will be held at Schubas in Chicago on Sept. 2. What other upcoming concerts and appearances do you have planned in the near future?
SV: I’m going to be at Goose Island here in Chicago. And then Oct. 2, I’m going to be out in Flatlanders in Lincolnshire, Ill. I’m playing there Oct. 2. But then I’ll be out on tour in October going to the East coast.
TCC: Are there any particular music artists that influence your music?
SV: Growing up I listened to music from Sheryl Crow. You know it’s so funny, lately there’s a club here in Chicago called Kingston Mines and it’s a blues club, like straight up Chicago blues. And I literally go there every week. It has such great music and great atmosphere and everything. They know me there by name. I think that lately with my musical style, it’s [blues music] definitely coming out [in VonderHaar’s music] because I love blues music. I think it’s just, it’s phenomenal. You get that grit in someone’s voice and it’s like, “Ahh.” You can hear the soul basically coming out.
TCC: Did being on “America’s Next Top Model” influence your music in any way and if yes, how?
SV: I don’t know if it influenced my music. I guess a little bit in my songwriting basically talking about, you know, struggling. I guess I could say it prepared me for the music industry because it’s actually very parallel from being on that show. In the music industry some people can be extremely blunt, extremely harsh. Even being in the modeling industry since I was 17, if they don’t like you, they just don’t book you again. They basically say it to your face. But in the music industry they do too. I guess it kind of prepared me for that. When I think about “Top Model,” I say it was the most physically and emotionally draining experience of my life but the best at the same time. I would say they’re [modeling and music industries] very, very similar. Well, it’s different though. Here, you’re judged basically on your talents. But within the modeling industry, you can’t basically change who you are – what you look like or how tall you are or whatever. When it comes to the music industry, it’s a talent that you cultivate – songwriting and playing music and stuff like that. So you can always get better, better, better, better. But with modeling, I can’t grow an extra inch any more unfortunately. It’s fun because as a musician you can continue to grow. You continue to work on your craft. You can’t necessarily do that as a model, per say.
TCC: How did you initially get involved with music?
SV: I’ve always loved music. I’ve always played. I got my first guitar when I was like 12 years old for Christmas. It was in the little box set that came with the amp and the guitar. I still have that guitar. It doesn’t work anymore, but it’s awesome. I’ve always played. I’ve always loved to write. I’ve been into poetry since I was a kid but never really kind of looked at it as something I could do for a living until my mom met my stepdad and he said, “Why don’t you do anything with this [VonderHaar’s music talents].” And I’m like, “Well, I don’t know how to go about doing that. I don’t know that industry whatsoever.” But, I was like, “Well, yeah, I would love to do this.” So he kind of took me to the studio and kind of groomed me as a musician and helped write with me, so I decided I love this. I should’ve been doing this my whole life. I want this to be my career. You start with a song and you start with just maybe one lyric or one line and you just go through all the process of writing it. It’s like little the baby steps. It’s just an amazing process.
TCC: Where do you see yourself, in terms of your music career, in the next five years?
SV: Oh golly, that is a very good question. You know, I never like to look that far in the future because I try to live my life week by week because, especially in the [music] industry, people tend to look past you. You just keep on pursuing what you love and you keep on hitting the pavement. I guess five years down the line – touring, touring, touring, touring, touring and continually writing music and going around the world and being able to share my music with everybody. I guess that would be the best case scenario.
TCC: What has given you the motivation to work so hard at achieving your goals in music?
SV: It’s a love for writing and recording. I love music. I think it’s such a beautiful, beautiful thing because you can touch somebody’s heart with one song. Actually, when my father passed, a lot of music helped me through that time and that’s when I really fell in love with music and realized that music just has such a power, so powerful.
TCC: I know that you said you play the guitar. Do you play any other instruments or plan to learn?
SV: I play piano very poorly. I write on the piano, but I won’t play it live because I haven’t taken any lessons. I’m not very good. But I write on the piano, love writing on the piano. But that’s about it – guitar. I want to learn the stand-up bass because I think that – oh, that’s just beautiful. So we’ll see if I have time to do that.
TCC: I read that you do some photography. Do you have any plans to take your photography career further?
SV: I actually did finish a shoot the other day. But yeah, I still do photography, still love that. But I dream of being able to combine music and my photography. Possibly do a documentary of going on the road. Put something together, so people can kind of get a feeling for what touring is like and experiencing all these little nooks and crannies of the United States that you would never experience unless you were out on the road. Like who’s going to take a vacation to Kearney, Neb.? I don’t know anybody. But, it’s so much fun there. I would love to do that [put together a documentary]. I still shoot, love shooting so much, but it’s just finding time in between everything to be able to do that.
TCC: How do you balance all of your activities without getting overly stressed?
SV: My iCalendar. Everything’s in my iCalendar. Let’s say for some odd reason my Mac died, like it didn’t open up, I would have an anxiety attack. Like I said, I live life week by week, so I put everything in my iCalendar that I’m doing for every month and then Sunday comes along and I look in my iCalendar for what I have to do for the next week. I love the saying, Carpe diem – seize the day. So you just take every day and try to do as much as you can. Yeah, it’s a balancing act because sometimes it gets interesting. Sometimes you get worn out and get sick, like I am currently. But, you know, it’s fun. You have to pursue all the things that you love.
TCC: I read that you speak at schools to encourage girls to follow their dreams. How did you initially get involved with that?
SV: Actually, a good friend of mine and a musician here in Chicago, Mark, had originally said “Do you want to accompany me? I’m going to go talk at the school.” I’m like, “Oh my God, yes, I would love to!” So we started going around to a lot of different elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. I have to say, nothing has felt better, just basically talking to people about following their dreams and saying to them, “You’re so young. You have so much potential. You can do anything you want.” My mom had a great saying: You find something you like to do and you learn how to make money doing it, then you’ll never be happy in life. So, it’s so true. So I started doing that [speaking at schools]. I played at one middle school and it was like 500 kids or something like that on the auditorium floor. And I had everyone, literally 500 kids, singing na-nas with me for “I Got Sunshine [song from “Are You Listening Now?”]. It was by far such an amazing experience. Sometimes that works at shows, sometimes it doesn’t and then I look like an idiot singing na-nas by myself. But yeah, it’s so great. I actually go back to my high school all the time. I speak to a girl’s group – basically if a girl is going through a hard time, and there’s a social worker in there for all the girls. And I was actually involved with that in high school as well, so I go back there and I talk to them. I play a couple tunes. I love helping those girls because I was in the exact same place as them back then. You know, offering a little bit of advice like, “You know what, I know that that guy dumped you and it seems like the end of the world but in reality no. You’ll get over it. Just wait for the boys you meet in college.” And my mom’s a teacher too, so I go to her school all the time and she’s actually an English teacher, so when she goes through poetry, she’ll have all the kids bring in song lyrics that they like and then I’ll come in and discuss writing lyrics. And it’s really fun to get students enjoying poetry.
TCC: Out of all your experiences you’ve had so far, as you’ve grown as a musician and promoted your music, which has been your favorite and why?
SV: Oh golly, that is a tough one. There’s so many. I look back on the experiences that I’ve had so far. I guess it would be touring and the one thing I can say is I celebrated my 22nd birthday out in Lincoln, Neb. and the crowd was so amazing. We had the whole house packed and I sang “I’m Just a Girl” by No Doubt. Oh my God, the crowd was just so energetic and so fun. Spending my birthday out on tour – I love touring. It’s so fun. I see every fun place. I got to go to, in Iowa, the largest truck stop in the world on I-80. I guess that would be a highlight moment. Even that first day going on “Top Model” was a world-wind experience in itself. Doing my record. It’s hard to put one on top to tell the truth.