J. Rod’s Music World

Justin Rodstrom

I recently had the remarkable chance to catch up with one of today’s up-and-coming stars of rock and two-time Grammy nominee, Sarah Kelly.

Sarah, how did you get your start?

You need dedication; if you’re not willing to go on the road 260 shows a year and if you’re not willing to sell 100,000 albums a year out of your trunk in order to make ends meet, in my opinion, you really don’t have much business doing it. When you start, you’re sleeping on club floors just hoping to get enough money for gas. I wouldn’t trade one minute of the ride; I wouldn’t be who I am without those times.

I started off as a piano teacher to pay my way through college. I started to get noticed as a songwriter because I always taught my students to write their own songs. There became such a demand for my music from all these colleges that I just put them down on a demo and ended up selling about 25,000 copies of it, and that was the album to get the 2005 Grammy nomination. It made it to No. 6 on the Christian charts, and I was like, “Wait a minute; I’m not a singer. I’m going to be an English teacher, what’s going on?” I didn’t even know how to dream for this.

What inspires you to write music?

The last album was all about making it through adversity and just keeping your head up through the hard times. If I didn’t feel like that album was going to truly help some people on their journey, I would have just kept it to myself – it’s not for me that I do this; it’s for the listeners.

There’s got to be something that makes you get up in the morning and play; there’s got to be that heart behind it, more than just fame. I write music to bare my soul, as an outlet to get me through the highest highs and lowest lows. [Music writing] is the one place you can be honest. When you can’t always be honest with your family, you can’t always be honest with your friends … Songwriting is the place where I’ve gone to truly find reality, find honesty, and that’s why I have such a passion to share [my music] with people.

What kind of music did you grow up listening to?

My parents were always playing Christian rock. My big brother was pumping classic rock in the house when my parents weren’t at home. We were in a household where we weren’t allowed to listen to rock-and-roll, so whenever my parents went away, we would turn it on loud.

There was one Christian artist back in the day named Keith Green. He was really controversial, and he made me think for myself. The fact that he wasn’t afraid to ask questions – Christian radio wouldn’t play him at first, but when he died he became this hero.

Another band is Led Zeppelin; my brother loved them. I mean Robert Plant – there is just nothing like his vocals in the whole world. I think if I had one wish it would not be a Grammy; it would be to be alive during one of their shows and go to it, and then I could die after that – I’d be fine.

So how was working with Slash on the new album?

I love Slash. When he talks to you he looks you straight in the eye. He’s so humble. He’s worked hard to be where he is, and I learned a lot from him – not to mention the solo that makes every hair on my arms stand on end. I almost died when I heard his solo [on “Out of Reach”] the first time; I was speechless for a couple days. He’s one of the nicest people I’ve met, and we’ve become friends. I mean, I’m a new artist; he doesn’t need to play on a new artist’s album – I don’t know very many big artists that would do that for someone.

I remember when he called me I didn’t believe it was him; I thought it was my friend Ben or someone. He told me how he loved and related to the songs and wanted to play. It took me a good five minutes to believe it was him, and he thought that was just so funny. He just took the project to another level, and the fact that he related to a song so personal to me meant so much.

In addition to interviewing Kelly, I listened to her Grammy-nominated sophomore album, “Where The Past Meets Today”:

With her raspy, soulful voice, Kelly gives you the feeling that she has lived the hard life, and has a lot to share. Kelly has the lungs of Janis Joplin, the passion of Melissa Etheridge and a soul all her own. “Where The Past Meets Today” is Kelly’s first release recorded in a professional studio, getting the full treatment from legendary rock producer Mike Clink. If Kelly were able to garner Grammy attention with a demo-style first album, the sky would be the limit with her newfound resources.

Kelly is not one to hold back her emotion and delves into the dark, painful places of her life in an effort to break free and look forward to a bright future. Kelly told me that the album is the product of many long nights of writing and struggling with everything she’s been through in an attempt to give herself and her listeners a channel to understand and cope with the pain life can throw their way.

Far from regretting her struggles, Kelly looks forward to a future of better tomorrows. She is currently heading to the Grammys for the second time, as well as touring around the United States and Europe. Kelly’s music is designed to connect honestly to listeners. It is no wonder this young songwriter has garnered so much critical acclaim; her music is heartfelt, refreshing and unforgiving.

Keep listening: “Still Breathing,” “Between the Lines,” “Out of Reach,” “Fall Into You”

I give the album 4 stars.