I could have become an ass!” says Will Sartain, reflecting on his musical upbringing. It’s good his father, folk enthusiast and bassoonist Gene, made instruments available to Will and brother Mike, who plays with local rockers of renown Starmy, because “music keeps me in check. It makes me stable.”
Stable, eh? This is the lanky, bespectacled lunatic who, when fronting frenetic Salt Lake indie rockers Redd Tape, drops his bass to mosh with crowds, band members and stoic stacks of amps. He even attempts hiking the drum kit.
He doesn’t look stable then, but that’s rock & roll. He’s different offstage; the picture of mellow, quick to offer a smile or handshake, even a hug. This is the Will Sartain who made Beep! (ArrogantHipster.com), a solo bow full-up with personal, brooding pop tunes, although the maniac behind Redd Tape’s skewed tunes lurks.
In RT, main lyricist Sartain’s views and feelings bubble up often in a loud, hyperkinetic context. Beep!, against all appellative indications, is a quieter affair. After the mod-punkish “Face Against the Glass” (the only fast song on the record), the tempo eases and Sartain becomes a more spruce manifestation of the indie/lo-fi bummed-out bedroom bard. Sartain conjures Elliott Smith’s sad, lilting melodies. The arrangements (for instance, the tinny snare, tentative piano and minimal sonic embellishments on “The Piano Song”) are given to Flaming Lips-on-Ritalin analogies. His words, and how he sings them (dig, if you will, a Doug Martsch whine and Wayne Coyne naso-warble), are most charming, and perhaps a little frightening.
On “In the Dark,” he sings of a fear of intimacy, dressing it in a stark, literal-ethereal gown. A simple subject is articulated with a simple acoustic arpeggio, around which a swirling vortex of confused keyboards reads between these lines: “I’ve been scared to/undress next to you/I can’t do it/I can’t change my fears tonight/I know I’m scared.../got to fuck in the dark/God knows what for/I can’t do it/I can’t take my mind off/all the images/that have made me/the way I am.”
“I have always liked weird stuff, sincere stuff,” explains Sartain, who has been writing songs since he was 13, making tapes for girlfriends on a four-track. Two of the songs on Beep! he wrote at 17, the rest within a year of recording. He’s 19 now, so remnants of his proto-teen innocence remain, providing just enough optimism to salt the depression and bleakness of songs like “Easy Enough” (“Everyone is angry at nothin’/or somethin’/lookin’ into my scars/I don’t know where you are/ I don’t know what you mean/when you say/you like somethin’ better”).
That’s also likely where the “weirdness” comes into play. His sanguinity, which can have a somewhat “Free to Be You & Me” air, is perplexing, knowing what lies beneath. For instance when he invokes the Will Sartain Manifesto.
“I love life—that’s important. I have always treated people with compassion, I am respectful to my elders, and I know who I am. As I get older, the more and more I am OK with sharing that out loud,” he says.
The touchy-feeliness seems totally contradictory, like the guy who wrote the songs couldn’t possibly be the guy who’s always damn glad to see ya, even if it’s for just the second or third time. But the truth of the matter is that this duality is the propellant behind the songs. But that would be a too-academic assessment. He played almost all of the instruments on Beep! himself (RT mate Sean McCarthy contributed some piano; Arrogant Hipster VP/producer James Perry provided synth and “drum clickys;” some guy calling himself “1h86335” played a little guitar) and as means to animate his songs, which are just simple, honest expressions. That’s as procedural as he gets.
“I have never wanted to copy anybody,” he says, sidestepping talk of Redd Tape, perhaps to underline the point. “Especially for Beep!, I didn’t have a formula. I just tried to be me and make the songs who I am. I think I accomplished that.”