Sarah Durbin is a Junior in the Lyric Theatre program. During quarantine, Sarah continued to create even after performance venues shut down. Recently, she dropped her new EP About Time on all streaming platforms. We are so excited to have had the opportunity to sit down with Sarah and talk about this project with her. Be sure to check out her EP, About Time, on all streaming platforms.
Talk to us about your new EP, About Time.
About time is a compilation of my favorite songs, two of which are covers. Originally, I was going to do a full cover album during Covid, but I got too busy and decided to include the two covers I already had recorded with four of my originals. It kind of made sense to me to throw them together in the way that they were.
I wrote “Killing Ghosts” when I was 15 or 16 and although it had different meanings to me when I wrote it, it has lived with me through now. I wrote “Behind My Closed Eyes” in August, and “Stars” my boyfriend and I wrote together; he plays keys. I wrote “Over You.” in the middle of quarantine. It is about a person whose actions were influenced by COVID-19. A Covid version with alternate lyrics may be coming in the near future!
Technically I have been working on this album since 2013, but over all I probably spent 60 hours total not including post production.
How did you come up with the title of your album?
It was actually a point of stress for me. None of the songs were more important to me than any of the other ones, but this album was such a long time coming. All of the songs have aspects of time embedded in them, and I thought “It’s about time that this album came out.” The title was born.
Tell us about the album art for About Time.
I knew this girl from high school, Mia Knutson, who does graphic design and computer animation. I was looking at her instagram (@mia.is.sketching) where she did this inkwork sketch around Halloween and it was spooky and so cool and I knew that I needed her to do the album art.
Describe your creative process.
I begin my process when I have a certain feeling or emotion. I might not know exactly what it is yet, but I let it simmer and sit until I feel like something is going to come out. Then I sit down with my guitar or piano and start to play. Usually, like with “Killing Ghosts,” the instrumentation comes first and then I start singing until something sparks and I run with it. I trust that the right words will come out eventually, even if it’s not on the first try. For “Behind My Closed Eyes,” I started with the bridge and completed all of the vocals and lyrics before beginning the accompaniment.
Are there any easter eggs or hidden meanings in your album?
In “Killing Ghosts,” there is a line that I wrote about my AP U.S. History class. Ryan Groff, my producer, sings in “Behind My Closed Eyes,” and he also has music on Spotify for you to check out! My sister, Delaney, sings with me on “My Motto”. The story that “Over You.” is about is about 4 years long. The person in the song finally crossed a line so I put a period at the end of the song title to represent a final end. Another LTI student, Lisa Buhelos, is the other voice in the intro to this song. Finally on the album cover, the boy that is reaching for the girl represents me and my boyfriend; the line on the boy’s arm is reflective of a tattoo he has in real life.
What first interested you in writing music?
I love playing [guitar and piano] and singing, and I love doing that in front of people, so I started writing my own stuff to perform.
What makes your music different from other music we may have heard?
My music is special because I have so many influences. My dad played everything from classic rock to Shakira to the Dixie Chicks. Two of my biggest inspirations are Brandi Carlile and Taylor Swift. In the world of musical theatre, I am inspired by Sarah Berellis and Jason Robert Brown. People often tell me I write like Taylor Swift but I didn’t start doing that purposefully until recently. I played rock from 7th grade through senior year of high school. Studying at LTI and adding musical theatre and opera to all of my other influences gives me so much material to pull from.
How does the music you write compare to the material you work on at LTI?
It is a lot different from musical theatre because I take inspiration from Americana and pop. I don’t write to tell a larger story— each song is it’s own little story capsule. I think about the songs less as a way to communicate my feelings to someone else and more as a way of reconciling with myself and breaking the feelings down in a way that I can palate emotionally.
My studies at LTI have given me the technique I needed to sing this album. I actually left a lesson with Sarah Wigley and immediately recorded “Behind My Closed Eyes.” It is also really fun to get to play with new styles. We have to research and learn about so many different materials. Pulling from everything we learn in my writing and arranging is a big crossover of my own writing and the work I do at LTI.
Where is your favorite place to sing/perform on campus?
I love singing in the Tryon Festival Theater at the Krannert Center. To see all the seats in front of you and be on stage and have your moment is an incredible feeling. I also love singing at the Krannert Center amphitheater.
Since physically being in enclosed spaces with other people is a challenge during Covid, how and where did you record About Time?
My producer, Ryan Groff, lives in Champaign and has a studio (Perennial Studios) in his backyard. He is in the local band Elsinore and I generally meet with him weekly. “Over You.” I recorded in my home studio since this was the only track we recorded after Covid started. To do the final touches on the album, we all got tested, met up at Perennial Studios, and knocked it out in 5 hours.
What was the most challenging part of the process for this project?
For “Behind My Closed Eyes,” we wanted to write a string quartet. It wasn’t sounding right, so we scrapped what we had and redid it. The most challenging part of the process is the bump in the arrangement process where you feel you have done everything you can but it just isn’t right yet. In the end, my boyfriend wrote the first 8 bars of the string quartet and I finished it out.
I want to give a special shout out to our string player, Eliza Haddon, who played all the string parts.
What’s next for you?
“Killing Ghosts” was picked up by the Champaign radio station WEFT and will be played and eventually performed through this station, so be on the lookout for that. I want people to listen to “Behind My Closed Eyes,” as well, and I think a lot of people will like the, as my dad says, ‘weaponized ukulele’ on “Over You.”
I am planning a whole record with a release date TBD. I have a few singles coming out soon, and I am listening to as much music as I can absorb so that I am constantly being fed and inspired by creativity.
Our season may be over, but you can catch our students performing all over Illinois, the Midwest, and the world this summer!
For many music students, a week full of classes, rehearsals, and time in the practice room is enough for the great college balancing act. Now add traveling to New York City and premiering two brand new musicals in one semester. For some it’d be too much, but for 19-year old sophomore Lyric Theatre major Sophia Byrd, it’s about more than just another chance to perform. “I want to use my artistic platform for a purpose.”
Sophia found her love of music singing in the Chicago Children’s Choir. While college brought her to Urbana-Champaign, her connections with the Children’s Choir have continued to provide opportunity. One of those opportunities was this past October, when Sophia traveled to New York City to perform a brand new musical.
Place, written by USC composition professor Ted Hearne, features a six person cast and tells the story of gentrification and displacement in Chicago. While the role Sophia performed was originally written for Allison Sims (a UIUC alum herself), scheduling conflicts for the New York production found Sophia bumped up from understudy to leading lady.
Fully produced by Beth Morrison Projects and the Los Angeles Philharmonic and performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Place features just about every musical element a singer could ever run into all in one piece. “It has everything. Classical, atonal, post-tonal, contemporary. Each number was a different genre,” Byrd said, sighting her combined jazz and classical training as instrumental in helping her learn the piece.
When asked what experiences as a part of Lyric Theatre were most helpful during her process, Byrd also immediately sighted faculty members. “I could not have done this without Sarah Wigley. She helped me with vocal technique, all the way up to the day of the performance. She’s completely changed the way I think about singing.”
Sophia initially came to UIUC to major in jazz vocal performance for the opportunity to write her own music. However, her involvement with projects like Place has found her passions drifting elsewhere. “I’ve realized that performing someone else’s words gives you so much more freedom to actually focus on bringing a message to life, which is so different from actual composition.”
This month finds Sophia back in New York City premiering The Good Swimmer through the BAM New Wave Festival. While the end of the semester brings more tests, final projects, and deadlines than usual, it’s not stopping Sophia from being involved in projects she’s passionate about. From one show onto another, and we can’t wait to see what she’ll do next.