Sara Simms is a performer, DJ, producer, and multi-instrumentalist with a love of both alternative rock and techno music.
The artist recently combined her love for alt-rock and techno in a unique cover of Nirvana’s ‘Heart Shaped Box’. Working with producer Graham Miller, the pair have constructed a traditional rock arrangement without straying too far from Sara’s electronic roots. Her ability to push musical boundaries by infusing new sounds with electronica make her an artist to watch this year.
Sara’s music video for ‘Heart Shaped Box’ was premiered yesterday on Exclaim! The video was directed by Katherine Kwan and pays homage to Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video.
We recently caught up with Sara to talk about her version of ‘Heart Shaped Box’, filming the music video, preparing for live performances and what 2017 has in store.
You recently premiered your new cover of Nirvana’s ‘Heart Shaped Box, congrats! Why did you choose to cover this particular song?
I’ve always been a big fan of Nirvana and grew up listening to the band. I thought the song had beautiful melodies and missed hearing it being played. To me, ‘Heart Shaped Box’ is a love song and I wanted to convey the romance and emotion in Kurt Cobain’s writing.
You’ve put your own spin on the track by adding an electronic vibe. How did you go about changing up the classic track?
I had the idea that this song could be recreated at a faster tempo and combined together with techno influences. I recorded the guitar in my home studio and sketched out the initial parts for the song with a friend. Next I contacted Graham Miller, a Toronto based producer to work together with me on the track. He’s really great with sound design and mixing and comes from an electronic/techno background like I do. Graham composed new parts for the track and arranged the melodies so that the song would be somewhere between rock and techno. He also mixed the track and did a fabulous job giving the guitars the ‘Butch Vig’ sound (who produced for Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Garbage) that I loved from alternative rock from the 90’s.
You look like you had a great time filming the music video. What was the experience like for you?
The day of the music video shoot was completely magical; the project came together perfectly but not without hard work, planning and a great team. The music video is meant to be a tribute to Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video. I wanted to film in the same type of grunge lighting and use similar instruments to the equipment that Nirvana used in the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video.
Once I had the vision for the video, I was introduced to Katherine Kwan, who’s an amazing Canadian director. We hit it off immediately and within a week she had sketched out the story boards for the video. The video was filmed in The Rivoli in Toronto, which is a legendary Canadian club. I had to source all of the equipment for the video and received amazing support from Fender and Marshall Amplification. One of my good friends, Erica EGR Balon, an accomplished artist played bass in the video and a lot of friends helped out behind the scenes and were in the audience. The old van at the beginning of the video belongs to my boyfriend who pitched in to help out with everything from driving to working smoke machines on set.
The whole video was filmed in eight hours inside The Rivoli. The only downside was we had to arrive a few hours early to do hair and makeup outside the venue, as the club wasn’t open until later on that morning. The hair and makeup artists styled Melle, EGR and me in the freezing cold in the back of the van before the shoot. It was a chilly morning!
What was it like to work with your sister Melle Oh during the making of the video?
Melle and I have been collaborating on projects for over a decade and it feels natural to work with her as she’s my little sister. We work really well together and and we’ve created everything from advertising campaigns for Genelec to live shows to photo and video shoots to our comic book series, ‘The Future Prophecy’. When I came up with the video idea I saw her playing drums in the video with her hair flying around, similar to how Dave Grohl (drummer from Nirvana) threw around his hair in the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video. Melle and I brainstormed the initial ideas for the video together; she’s got really good creative vision and came up with the idea for the intro of the video.
Judging from the choice of song and the reference to Nirvana videos in your cover, they’re one of your musical influences. Who else do you consider as musical influences?
On the techno side a few of my biggest influences include Canadian DJ/producer Richie Hawtin and Nicole Moudaber. My rock influences include Garbage, Hole, Smashing Pumpkins and my favourite alternative producer is Butch Vig.
As well as a multi-instrumentalist, you’re a DJ and producer. What’s been your DJing highlight so far?
Opening for the Friendly Fires in Cannes (the South of France) was definitely a highlight for me! I’ve been lucky to play in Japan and playing at AIR in Toyko was fabulous. I’ve also had the chance to play at Ultra Music Festival in Miami. There’s been quite a few highlights in my career so far and many more to come!
How do you like to prepare for a live performance?
For a DJ performance, I buy new tracks and sort through my collection. I’m lucky to have a pretty big music collection and I’ll create playlists that I think would work for the evening. I analyze new tracks with Mixed in Key, which is is great software that analyzes the key of each record so I can mix harmonically. I’ll end up playing a smaller selection of the tracks at the show, but I like to have a lot of music on hand so I can improvise during my sets.
With a number of creative elements under your belt, do you have a preference when it comes to singing, DJing etc?
I’ve actually been playing guitar and singing for longer than I’ve been DJing, but I prefer to perform live as a DJ. In the next year or two this may change as I constantly try to evolve my DJ and live setup and introduce new pieces of equipment into my sets.
What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
In 2017 I plan to create and release more of my own music. My track Heart Shaped Box is the third release on my new label Simmetry Sounds and I’ve got more releases planned over the next few months. This summer I’m planning to tour, so keep an eye out on my website for dates and hopefully you’ll be able to catch one of my shows!
Thank you very much CelebMix for interviewing me! :)
Thank you to Sara for her time! ‘Heart Shaped Box’ is her first single of 2017 on her label Simmetry Sounds. It is available on all digital platforms now.