Down with the sickness9/30/2015
Evolution is not always a painless process. It is, however, vital for continued survival and growth. Abisha Uhl, front-woman for Minneapolis-based power pop act Sick of Sarah, has understood that and has been willing to embrace it.
In 2010, Uhl and Sick of Sarah became one of the most downloaded bands of all time by embracing a move that would get U2 drawn and quartered four short years later: They bundled their album with popular software.
In Sick of Sarah’s case, that software was for the file sharing program BitTorrent. Their then-newest album, “2205,” was featured on BitTorrent’s “Artist Spotlight” and was automatically downloaded by the program’s users. The result was right around two million album downloads.
“We wanted to do something big to reach people,” Uhl said in a phone interview. “We wanted to try something new. Our label was like, ‘Hey, we should do this. Give it away.’ So we did.”
In addition to evolving with the technological times, Sick of Sarah has evolved its sound as Uhl’s goals and vision for the music has changed. The most noticeable evolution is in the band’s lineup.
When founding drummer Brooke Svanes left the band in 2010, Uhl looked long and hard for another female to replace her, eventually landing on Glenwood, Iowa, native Jessica Forsythe. At the time, Uhl said in interviews that it was important to her to find another female and keep the all-female lineup intact. Now, the 2015 iteration of Sick of Sarah features two men.
“It’s about the music,” Uhl said. “I just want to play with people who are passionate, whoever they are. At one point, I wanted to play with all girls, but I’m over that.”
The men — bassist A.J. Stone and guitarist Jack Swagger — were fully briefed on what they were undertaking. Sick of Sarah had established a strong following that included a number of fans who were devoted to the band’s all-female lineup. The addition of males might be looked upon as a betrayal of that unspoken contract.
“It’s not like we didn’t know that was going to happen,” Uhl said of the reaction to the change. “We lost some fans, but it’s like, what are you going to do? You just have to stay positive. This is what’s gonna happen. Some people are all about the fact that we’re women. That’s sad to me, because I’m all about the music, but whatever.
“I want everybody to feel welcome. Eventually, new people are going to see us and only know Sick of Sarah for what it is now.”
And what Sick of Sarah is now, is pretty goddamn good. Having Swagger add backing vocals to the band’s songs give them a level of sonic depth that they did not have before. Uhl says they feel more dynamic now, and she appreciates being able to see the songs in a new light.
No matter who picks up the instruments, one thing that has not changed about Sick of Sarah is the band’s commitment to at-risk youth programs. The band has been involved in the Rock In Prevention program, and this year joined up to help promote the Torn Labels Project.
“There’s a lot of bullying that goes on in schools,” Uhl said. “We were all bullied. A lot of our fan base is young, and we really care about our fans. We see the struggles that they go through, and we want to be there to help them. They look to us for kind of guidance, and we thought if there’s more that we can do for them than just music, let’s do it.” CV