London Activist & Folk Singer-Songwriter Sadie Jemmett Releases Reflective Cover of Townes Van Zandt ‘At My Window’

Critically acclaimed UK singer-songwriter Sadie Jemmett has brought it home once again with her new single, a cover of the Townes Van Zandt 1987 classic, “At My Window.”

It’s been well established that Jemmett is accustomed to the idea that much of the music we consume is derived firsthand from pain. It’s also been no secret that when it comes to her own music, Jemmett is particularly acquainted with using pain to institute a fresh take on the human experience. With this in mind, it seems like a no-brainer that if she were to release any cover, it would be this one, since she herself has described the song, with its melancholy lyrics, as one that “captures the collective mood right now, one of longing and isolation.” And when has she ever not used music to talk about the world’s state of affairs and hardships?

Jemmett originally recorded the song back in 2017 for her brother, theater director Dan Jemmett, who asked her to arrange a stripped-down version of it for his play, Clytemnestra Apocalypse, which toured Europe that same year. She then later chose to drop the song officially this year, along with a new video, where she was accompanied by the superbly talented Phoenix Band, which included Ian Cuthbert (keyboards), Andy Philips (drums) and Mark Sykes (bass). 

It’s rare for Jemmett to cover other artists’ songs, but she doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. With her soothing but powerful voice that gently sweeps from one line to the next, she has recorded “At My Window” with a quiet sensitivity paired with a confident strength that expertly captures the heartfelt meaning the song was always intended to convey. 

Jemmett was able to give us more insight into what this song means to her, as well as the importance of speaking up and being honest.

It hasn’t been long since we last chatted. How have things been going for you? Anything new you’ve been up to other than the single?

I’ve been rehearsing with my new band quite a bit which has been a lot of fun, and it’s so nice to be playing with other musicians again after doing a lot of solo livestreaming during lock down.

Speaking of the single, a great Townes Van Zandt song, what compelled you to release a cover over your own? 

I don’t do many covers, but I wanted to cover this particular song because (apart from being a huge Townes fan) I love the sentiment of the song. The title alone spoke to me  a lot during lock down, people at their windows watching the day go by, and there is also a message of smiling in the face of adversity, which I think is very apt for this time. 

What is it about this song that draws you to it personally? 

I originally did a stripped-down version of this song for a play in France that my brother was directing, and I’ve  loved it ever since . The melody is beautiful and the words are so bitter sweet. He talks about death in such a beautiful way I think.

“Step lightly upon their faces, leave gentle traces upon their sleep.

That line especially I found very moving when I first heard the song.  

Would you say that Townes has a strong musical influence on you and your sound as a whole? 

Not especially, not compared to other artists such as Leonard Cohen or Joni Mitchel, who have influenced my songwriting a great deal. He has more of a country style than I do, but I admire his songs tremendously, and I guess he has a great freedom and originality to his lyrics, which I always aspire to in my own work.

“If it is just a vehicle for your success, then it might not matter, but if you really have something to say then be honest, drill down for the gold.”

You worked with The Phoenix Band on this single as well. What was it like working with them? 

Discovering and working with The Phoenix Band has been one of the highlights of my year. They are such a great group of people and musicians, and we work really well together. We’ve been very busy rehearsing my back catalogue of songs (4 albums worth) and I’m really excited to start touring and playing live with them…. Whenever that may be! My next tour has now been pushed to April 2021 due to Covid restrictions here in the UK.

As someone who isn’t afraid to say what you need to say, do you believe there is enough being “said” in mainstream music nowadays? 

Great question! I think that for a lot of mega mainstream artists it is very difficult for them to get too political with their work, as the big labels (who are now often merged and affiliated to huge corporations) don’t like taking any risks. I know that even for an independent artist like myself it was difficult to get radio play for “Don’t Silence Me” (my song about #metoo) because producers didn’t want to take the risk. It’s very sad, and I feel like we live in an age where the protest song is no longer valued in the way that it was, but I do think that in other musical genres, for example rap, people are less afraid to say what they feel, and it is still a vehicle for protest and for change. 

Do you have any advice for artists that might be scared to speak their truth in their songs? 

In the end, it is down to why you want to be an artist and what your songwriting means to you. If it is just a vehicle for your success then it might not matter, but if you really have something to say then be honest, drill down for the gold. It’s painful, but your work will be all the better for it. 

What aspect of your music are you most proud of?

Lyrics are very important to me, and I take a lot of time with them. I’m constantly trying to improve, and although I’m very critical of them, I’m quite proud of some of them too.

What drives you creatively? 

At the moment I am very driven by injustice. I’ve found that as I’ve gotten older, my songwriting has become less about myself and more about other people, and what is going on in the world. While this has been a nice transition for me, I do still always need to find my personal relationship to a story, otherwise the song isn’t believable. It’s always a balance…macrocosm and microcosm.

Is there any musical achievement you deeply desire to reach at some point in your career? 

I’d love to write a musical . I have soooo many ideas, I just need the right time and the right people!

What might fans expect from Sadie Jemmett to close out the year?

I have an album of covers that I did during lockdown called Lockdown Live, which we will be making available through my website http://www.sadiejemmett.com, so that will be available soon. People can get alerts through joining my newsletter. And hopefully some live shows and streams with The Phoenix Band!

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