Quiet Takes is the project of Iowa native Sarah Magill, a self-proclaimed “Midwesterner who makes music for feelers.”
With elegant lyrics and folk-psychedelic instrumentation, the music of Quiet Takes appeals and relates to a wide-scale audience.
Magill grew up on a farm in southwest Iowa where, growing up, she would sing jazz music, play classical piano, and write songs in her head. Now, based in Kansas City, Missouri, she continues to write constantly, whether it’s in her head, about her dreams, or venting her anxieties.
Between the release of her Ahem EP and the recording of the San Fidel EP, Magill experienced a series of personal hardships that influenced her work. During her difficult times, she was able to transform these experiences into somber lyrics and melodies, finding comfort within feelings of yearning and loneliness.
Quiet Takes’ latest single, “Guess Who Showed Up Again” (9/28), is a breezy mix of synth pop, folk, and soft vocals. These themes find further refinement on Magill’s forthcoming third EP, Weekly, Weakly (November 2021). The EP was recorded in weekly studio sessions throughout the pandemic, with the overarching theme being all about finding comfort and familiarity within the melancholy.
We got the chance to catch up with Magill and discuss the single, her influences, definition of musical success, and more.
Growing up on a farm in the heart of the Midwest, who were some of the biggest musical influences of your youth?
One of my uncles got my twin sister and me a Born in the USA cassette when we were way too little to be running around singing, “…I wanna change my hair, my clothes, my face…” The songwriting influence was planted young. I listened to a lot of Top-40 radio and love En Vogue—they were one of my producer David’s childhood favorites, too, which is probably why vocal harmony days are some of the most fun tracking days at Aorist Studio. And then one of my friends put on Little Earthquakes, and another played me The Bends, and then 45-minutes west of our farm, the Iowa Western Community College radio station went to a music format—which gave me access to all of this indie music I had known nothing about—and then I started my first band. A natural progression.
Quiet Takes has a unique sound that is both delicate and psychedelic. Which artists continue to shape and influence your current style?
Thanks for that! I’m always listening and learning, so I’m sure the combination of whatever I’m obsessing about in the present shows up in my song sketches. And I have my go-to songwriting greats that I try to summon when I get stuck. (What would Sufjan do? What would Fiona do? What would Justin do?) But the real influences will always come from the friends I’m making music with.
Producer & instrumentalist David Bennett’s (Akkilles) psych leanings and melodic ideas have really expanded my sound. His dedicated artistic practice encouraged me to take my craft seriously, too. I’m in a performance collective called RubiX that has deeply influenced my work. In 2019, musician Conner Giles took some of my songs and reinvented them to create a score that we played live for a series of shows. I learned so much from that experience—to hear in new ways, to see a song as a starting point that can expand or contract to be whatever you need it to be. That was also the first time I worked with choreographer Haley Kostas; I hear music much more physically now, thanks to her genius. I think about the movement of it now when I’m writing.
So you just released your single, “Guess Who Showed Up Again”, and you also have an EP dropping in November. Tell us about all this new music you have coming out.
I made the upcoming Weekly, Weakly EP exactly as titled: During weekly Friday sessions at Aorist Studios with David (producer, engineer, instrumentalist) while feeling extremely weak. I was living alone during the pandemic and coping with isolation, depression and anxiety. Both the process of making music — refining lyrics, experimenting with new textures, collaborating on harmonies — and the commitment to the weekly process kept me relatively grounded and connected. I’ll forever be grateful to David and his wife, Kayla, for creating a safe space to continue working at Aorist during such a limited time.
What does a day in the life of Sarah Magill’s songwriting process look like?
I get up and free-write every morning. I write down my dreams, write out my anxieties, just get the words going. On good days, I get to spend a couple hours right away at the keyboard, songwriting, demo-ing, working on lyrics. Sometimes that has to happen at night or on breaks: Like most musicians, I have another job, too. Thankfully mine is very flexible (freelance copywriter), but my deadlines do influence how much music time I have in a given day. I also get a lot of songwriting work done on road trips—singing to myself, getting new ideas, working on melodies or unfinished lyrics.
When it comes to creating music, what drives you to continue, even in the face of adversity?
It’s what I love. I’ve been writing songs since I was a little kid, and it’s just how my brain works. I’m the healthiest, happiest, most authentic version of myself when I’m creating music in a sustained, disciplined way. That’s what I have to ask myself: “Do you want to be happy today? Ok, then work on some music.”
As an artist, what does success mean to you?
Connection and collaboration. Am I making music that I’m connecting with? That my friends are connecting with? That other musicians are connecting with? Am I working with people who are teaching me new things? Am I able to offer other people something meaningful in those collaborations? That’s success.
Finally…live music is back! If you could share the stage with any living artist, who would it be?
I’m going to get sentimental on this one and say that right now, I really, really want to be on stage with the friends who have made me a better artist—David, Conner, Haley and the whole RubiX crew. I’m putting together a release show on November 5, and working on making that a reality.
Photos by Ali Happer