Sarah Hills comes from a rather ubiquitous background in the artistic sense. As an acoustic/bass guitarist, singer and songwriter, she’s not only musically gifted but has also cultivated her craft in visual disciplines such as painting and fine arts.
Sarah Hills was born in England but has spent most of her life in South Africa, and is rather well-traveled. Her skill-set of talents saw her being part of a band called Sunways, which she toured the UK with. She then delved into the film industry and worked behind the scenes there. Now back in South Africa, since the dissolution of the band, she has since recorded a collaborative project titled Ambient Anarchy and a solo album titled Child Of Ancestors.
Lavatory Records had the pleasure of talking to amazing talent and touched on a variety of subjects, from her artistic beginnings, her experience with Sunways, the classification of her style of music, her film production experience and much more.
Lavatory Records: Who is Sarah Hills?
Sarah Hills: I’m friendly!
LR: How different is Sarah Hills the artist from Sarah Hills the person?
SH: I’m easy going but fairly driven when it comes to making things.
LR: Would it be fair to call you an all-round fine artist? What kind of artist do you consider yourself as?
SH: Yes – I began as a fine artist, majoring in painting. When I was at school I learned a bit of guitar and was in the choir but concentrated on painting and drawing. Then I got a job designing album covers etc. for a record company. Following that I joined the theatre as a poster, flyer and programme designer. I do portraiture and also have made wire and stained glass fish sculptures for many years which I sell at galleries and privately. My online portfolio is available to view.
Musically, I’ve always thought of myself as more alternative but I’m still exploring my style so who knows what the next album will sound like.
LR: Do you feel that acoustic musicians are becoming less popular these days?
SH: Not so much in places like the UK but I don’t hear much acoustic music on South African radio stations. There are internet radio stations all over the world which play non-commercial songs. I was delighted that my song Twilight Entwined reached number six of indie internet radio station NBT Top 20 songs of the year shortly after my album was released.
LR: You performed with an Alternative Rock Band named Sunways. Can you tell us about how Sunways came to be and how the experience was?
SH: On the whole it was a very exciting experience and I learned many skills. I did the publicity, graphic design, videos and obviously rehearsals, performances, and live and online interviews. We started playing in 1998, while I was a graphic designer at the Playhouse Company. Soon the band became full time and we were touring a lot so I gave up my job and concentrated on the band. I was very new at playing the bass guitar but we put out our first album, No More Heavy, shortly after the Sunways band begun.
We did very well. Our track Venus In Her Eyes was number one on East Coast Radio and received two SAMA Award nominations. We were playing as much as we could in Durban but it soon became clear that we would have to relocate so that we could be nearer to more venues and festivals, so we moved to Johannesburg. We put out two more albums (The Moon Is A Spoon and Three). The Moon Is A Spoon won Best Rock Album in 2002 at the SAMA Awards and we had a number one single on Five FM with Colour Me In.
Although we worked very hard and had critical acclaim, especially for our live performances, we never made much money and were battling. In 2003 we decided to move to Northern Ireland – we had had a fantastic tour there at the end of 2001 and decided to base ourselves there. We played all over Northern Ireland, Southern Ireland (including club gigs we also played the Hard Working Class Heroes Festival which was wonderful). Unfortunately, due to pressure from having to do day jobs, Sunways broke up a couple of years later. Robert Boake and I continued to write together and we also had a side project called Ambient Anarchy which consisted of bass and guitar. I began writing my own solo material and my first song was a ballad called Dirty Slut which can be found on my MySpace page along with a few songs which I didn’t put on my solo album.
LR: We know you’ve only had one solo album, is there a possibility of you recording more solo albums in future?
SH: I have a new solo album ready to go but all the musical equipment I owned was stolen a few years ago and I don’t have much money for studio time so it’s going to take a while. I have a friend who has offered me his studio to work in for a very low rate so I’m going to record song by song. My solo album Child Of Ancestors, had some lovely reviews and I sold some on Bandcamp but I’m hoping this time I can get to press some copies. The album is available for streaming and download on Bandcamp.
LR: Following the experience of being in a group/band, how has the transition towards a solo career been for you?
SH: It’s difficult in some ways but easier in others. I just need my acoustic guitar and my voice. I would love to do more collaborations with other artists. I sang on two Kalahari Surfers albums (One Party State and Agitprop). Warrick Sony mixed my album for me in Cape Town and released my album through his record company, Sjambok Records.
LR: Do you see yourself being signed to a major label? If yes, why and if no, why not?
SH: As Sunways we were signed to three different indie labels and the last label that put out our album was Sheer. They were very supportive and were in negotiations with English record company, Beggar’s Banquet, to sign us over there. We almost got signed but the label thought we were a bit too commercial for them. There are pros and cons to both indie and major labels. I wouldn’t mind being signed to a major but the downside is that you can get swallowed up by the ‘big’ artists. My ideal scenario would be to get signed to an international label which would suit my style of music.
LR: You’ve also had a stint in the film industry, what was your involvement? And what was that experience like?
SH: Yes, I was involved in the film industry in Northern Ireland and was fortunate enough to have worked on the biggest film to be shot in Belfast and its surrounds called City Of Ember as well as a number of other projects. I worked in the Wardrobe department, in Locations and as a trainee Assistant Director. It was very hard work and the hours were long (sometimes twelve hour days) but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Unfortunately there isn’t much opportunity in terms of being involved in Durban as most of the films and advertisements in this country are shot in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
LR: What changes would you like to see in the local music industry, given that you have been exposed to the UK/European scene?
SH: Much more support in terms of live gigs, support for buying of local CDs and especially radio play. In places like Australia and France the music quota was increased substantially, forcing their radio stations to play a much bigger proportion of their own music and their industries took off. We have massive talent in this country and I am sick of hearing American music being played on our radio stations.
LR: Are there any projects you are working on that we should look out for?
SH: I write a bit of poetry and wrote a children’s story last year. Otherwise I’m going to be continuing writing songs and I’m intending to start playing live again soon, because I haven’t for a while. I also paint murals and on canvas so I hope to do some more of that too. But I’m mainly concentrating on getting my second solo out this year.
LR: Do you have any special mentions you want to shout out?
SH: All the people who have supported me over the years and I have to make special mention of Warrick Sony of Milestone Studios in Cape Town who has been a huge help to me.