14 October 2023
TEEN IDLE is the musical moniker of NJ-based producer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Sara Abdelbarry. In middle school, Sara was convinced she would
become a cardiac surgeon – conveniently, her craft still gets to the heart, just with
sound instead of a scalpel.
She just released her debut album, titled NONFICTION. An enchanting collection
of diary songs, marvellously crafted and grippingly performed, with a vocal allure
and a musical tone that brings PJ Harvey to mind. Yes, that good.
TUTV invited Sara for a chat about herself and her top debut longplayer.
But first, as usual, we start an interview with a piece of music.
Thank you for taking
the time for this Q & A
When and how did you start your musical project TEEN IDLE?
“Teen Idle came to be in sort of a funny way actually. I had been writing songs
since I was 17 but never had an official band or music project. Once I was in my
senior year of college, I saw that a musician I’m a big fan of challenged herself
to write a song every day for a month.
I figured it might be cool to tackle this project for a week, so I did! I posted it on
Bandcamp under the album name July and some of these songs became Teen Idle
songs. That’s where the project started.”
What’s the story behind your moniker?
“I always sort of had the name in my back pocket since high school and told myself that whenever I start a band, Teen Idle had to be the name. I first saw the name because it was the title of a Marina And The Diamonds song, although I’d never actually listened to the song.”
Which track would you play to the people who never heard of you?
“I’d probably say “Birthday Cake” or “Every Night”. I think these tracks off the new
album are a nice bridge from the previous record to this one, but also show the
new musical direction I aimed to head towards.”
The album is titled NONFICTION? Why’s that?
I suppose the songs are non-fictional.
“In making this record I really felt like I was filling up the pages of a diary
with the happenings of my life during those few years. In some ways the
lyrics are really bearing my soul, and then in other songs the writing
was inspired by the lives and stories of those close to me.
So the combination of these things felt like a comprehensive account of what
it’s like to be a young adult, which felt pretty close to the bone and kind of intense.”
When did you know that these are the kind of songs that you
wanted to write and make them sound like they do, Sara?
“I’ve always had this penchant for writing really emotional music. It all started when I discovered Fleetwood Mac actually. I remember hearing the song Rhiannonfor the first
time and being moved by the intensity and rawness of it. That’s actually the feeling I’ve
been trying to chase ever since.
And since that point, my music has grown to be even more cinematic. I think my goal
is to really tell a story through song, which is why sonically there are so many peaks and valleys in my music, often with very climactic outros.”
What do you want to express with the album’s artwork and who designed it?
“I designed the artwork and I was looking to really get the literary themes of the album across because of the album’s title. Naturally, I settled on having this sort of disheveled bookshelf on the cover, which I feel like really encapsulates the theme of this album: personal, messy, yet somehow put together.”
Were you listening to other music/artists when
you were writing/making the record?
“I’m always listening to music. But in the making of this, I was only listening on off hours when I wasn’t working on the record. I never came into my studio with a song I was actively trying to reference or sound like.
I know some people make concept albums or have a clear sonic references before they begin a song, but that really wasn’t the case here. I was listening to a lot of music, from jazz, to more indie stuff like Angel Olsen and Phoebe Bridgers, to Middle-Eastern funk music, all of which are bound to have had some subconscious influence on the album.”
I always wonder how and why a musician becomes a multi-instrumentalist like
you are one, Sara. How much time does it take to become one and what’s the goal
“Interesting question. I think ever since I picked up the guitar at age 9 there was always this curiosity in the back of my mind for just music in general. At that age I needed to specialize in an instrument, because kids obviously can’t do so many things at once and hobbies are more focused. But as time went on I really started to be interested in piano,
as I listened to more and more music, and decided to teach myself.
The other instruments I think just came to me as I became a producer and learned that
I knew how to craft a song. Especially in the case of drums, it’s really just a tool for me to be able to know how to communicate to a drummer or record a rough take of drums on
So I suppose you played all instruments on the album?
“I did in fact, except for the drums and the brass. The drums were done by my talented friends Samir Tawalare and Danny Murray. The saxophone on Saccharine was recorded by Travis Sullivan and French horn was done by Claude Lumley.”
Single BIRTHDAY CAKE is a bittersweet gem. What is the song
about, and how did the song come together sonically, Sara?
“Birthday Cake” is really about this sort of anti-hero archetype, a person who you really want to root for and help, but all of their actions keep getting them into trouble. It’s about the person like that who we all know. Sonically, I’m pretty sure I had the chorus finished before any other part of the song.
I was sitting with a guitar one day and once I landed on the particular
melody for the chorus, I knew right away that it was a keeper.”
Suppose NONFICTION was the soundtrack
of a movie, which one would it be?
“Hmm, I’d definitely say some sort of coming-of-age A24 film.
And maybe a Greta Gerwig movie about emerging adolescence.”
What’s your next step, Sara?
“Going to be continually promoting this record and hopefully go on a tour in the next year, even if just a small weekend tour. And as always, just continuing to write and write more material.”
Thank you very much for this interview, Sara.
May the road rise with Teen Idle.
BUY Album HERE