Sadurn might not have all the answers, but on 'Radiator' they're asking all the right questions - WXPN
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We seem to crave absolutes more than ever, seem desperate for truth we can grasp, for something so right it cannot possibly be wrong. And yet, the more we aim for such certainty the sillier it seems to try to hold onto it for more than a moment. Think of all the things you’ve been sure about, absolutely, and you watch as those infallible fires you huddled so closely against go up in smoke. “Honey, I was wrong,” sings Geneive DeGroot, frontperson for Sadurn, on their song “Snake”, the first lines we hear on their incredible new record, Radiator. It’s an admission, a humble acknowledgment, a moment of clarity, and it lasts only a verse. “Honey, I was right,” they sing just a moment later, a distorted shadow of our introduction, admitting that, actually, there’s nothing to admit, because they’re still figuring it out, just like we all are. 

These moments pop again and again on Radiator, a debut album that, while sonically beautiful and almost hauntingly spare, does not offer easy answers. “Snake” itself seems intent on exploring the inherent dichotomy of any single idea. It’s a song that eats its tail lyrically, arriving and departing from the same old problems. “But I am not afraid, I’ve heard we’re all gonna die, in a cascade of system failure or in the blink of an eye,” they sing, holding even the certainty of death at arms length. There’s two sides of everything, they seem to say, even the end. As I got to know DeGroot and the rest of the band over a series of conversations, this idea only solidified. Sadurn is a young, talented, up-and-coming band made up of friends with a genuine love for one another. They are also a band figuring it out, fighting through the stresses of a debut album, open and susceptible to the pains of vulnerability. None of this is absolute. 

Sadurn - "snake" (Official Music Video)

And I Will Always Circle Back To My Beginnings 

The Moses Kill is a 22-mile long river in upstate New York, a branch of the Hudson River that finds its beginnings in the Taconic Mountain range, not far from where DeGroot grew up. Though they can remember singing for their entire lives, DeGroot didn’t pick up a guitar till much later. This was around 2015, after college, and things progressed modestly from there. Singing had always been a passion but true songwriting no more than something to be goofed around with in a loose, unfocused way. That is, until DeGroot began spending time around other songwriters, giving them a model for what they may be able to accomplish themselves. “I was really excited about meeting people who were songwriters and I was starting to identify as one myself,” says DeGroot. “It felt like a nice way to connect with people.”

Eventually, DeGroot made the move to Philadelphia, somewhere they knew would not only make for more diverse and eclectic surroundings but offered a thriving do-it-yourself music scene. It was within this scene, at a house show open mic in West Philly, that DeGroot first met Jon Cox, a bit of DIY kismet that would lead to the earliest incarnation of Sadurn. “We talked afterwards and realized we lived right across the street from each other,” says Cox. “So we hung out and eventually we were just playing songs for each other.” From there Sadurn grew, the two finding their footing as a duo, releasing singles and EPs and playing as many as 36 shows in 2019 alone. 

This was Sadurn at its most pared back. You can hear it on early standouts like “Dirt May,” a hushed, fingerpicked song that finds DeGroot and Cox in almost eerily perfect harmony. It’s clear that whatever these two had, it was exploring further. The next step was expansion; of sound, of scope, and, eventually, of the band itself. Sadurn soon came to include Amelia Swain on drums and Tabitha Ahnert on bass, filling a rhythm section to help back Sadurn’s newest batch of songs. A key here, though, is the fact that DeGroot, Cox, Swain, and Anhert were all friends before they were bandmates, a seemingly small distinction that continues to shape and influence the band’s direction. 

“And I will always circle back to my beginnings,” DeGroot sings on “Moses Kill”. It’s a song whose beginning is intentionally disjointed, whose fingerpicked melody is cut short for just a moment before it fluidly picks up again, joined by a second guitar, weaving seamlessly. This instrumental duet between DeGroot and Cox is very much where Sadurn begins and a place they come home to again and again through Radiator. That’s not to belittle Swain and Anhert’s contributions whatsoever, but to highlight how a band like Sadurn, like a river flowing from deep within the mountains, grows stronger as it flows.

Sadurn - "Golden Arm" (Official Music Video)

I Watched A Whole Forest Grow From Seeds

DeGroot and Cox may have set down the roots of what would become Sadurn’s final form, but it wasn’t until it was time to record Radiator that things fully began to flourish. After a series of fits and starts, DeGroot and the band were finally ready to record, packing and setting off for the Poconos, a way to isolate themselves from both distraction and COVID-19. It was here they began to fully work out the arrangements for the songs they had written, some of which DeGroot and Cox had been playing as a duo for some time. They were also, in many ways, figuring out what this full iteration of Sadurn could truly be. “We didn’t really play that long as a full band before we recorded the album,” says Anhert. “I feel like G (DeGroot) had written most of the frameworks for the songs by the time we started working together but the arrangements were an organic thing where we all worked together.” 

“There is something really special about making a record with people you love. I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.”

It’s here where I must take a minute to introduce Heather Jones. Jones, in many ways, seemed to serve as a fifth member of the band, not only serving as engineer for the record but as a helping hand throughout the process. Jones was also a friend and collaborator for years previous to the recording, helping, again, to solidify Sadurn as a group where trust and friendship serve as important touchstones. Jones transformed what was your run-of-the-mill Pocono AirBNB into a makeshift studio, allowing Sadurn to make the best album possible without the pressures of a more typical studio environment. “I can’t imagine doing it any other way,” says Swain. “Being in the cabin together was such a big part of the process.”

Heading up to an AirBNB for two weeks with relative strangers is a whole different prospect than spending two weeks working on an album with friends, for a lot of reasons. Any creative endeavor performed in a group setting will surely lead to disagreements, both minor and major, but pushing through those differences is what separates fulfilling environments from more toxic ones. Of course, things are never totally seamless. There were moments where tensions ran a bit higher than others, especially as the band fully fleshed out the songs’ arrangements. This is where the fact that Sadurn is a band built on friendship can become a bit of a mixed blessing. As we all know, loved ones are often able to touch on our most sensitive soft spots, whether they mean to or not. “It is mostly easier but there are things that are tougher about it,” says Jones of the almost familial relationships within the band, though she wouldn’t really have had it any other way. “Maybe emotions will get high, but it will ultimately lead to discussion and collaboration. There is something really special about making a record with people you love. I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.”

Sadurn spent over two weeks in “the cabin,” as it came to be called. These were long days full of hard work. Things were not always easy or seamless or fun but you get the sense that, above all else, it was an incredibly rewarding experience for all involved. Let’s not forget the importance of timing here as well. After months of quarantine and isolation, these five friends were able to not only express themselves creatively but emotionally as well, something they hadn’t gotten to do in some time. In between hours of arranging and writing, full-band tracking, recording and re-recording, there were pillow forts, home movies and the kind of aimless joy you can only experience around close friends. “I think it was really nice that we all got to spend a bunch of weeks together,” says Jones. “It was a dream, honestly.”

Maybe I Am Frightened of What Happens If I Start Saying What I Have Been Thinking

“This shit is so vulnerable,” says DeGroot late into our second conversation. In almost every review or description of Sadurn, the first thing people mention are the lyrics, and it makes sense. The spare, unadorned arrangements, the delicate vocal delivery, the honey-sweet production, it all puts focus on DeGroot’s words. And as much as they seem reluctant to talk too much about the specifics involved, the lyrics are themselves diaristic and, frankly, pretty captivating. “I know my fault is that I speak every damn thought in my mind,” they sing on album opener “Snake,” a kind of dual mission-statement and self-effacing apology. Later, on “White Shirt,” things become less straightforward, but no less evocative. “And I found you smoking in the park, you had no idea you’d dragged me through the dark,” they sing, a story forming from the border of those two lines alone. “Moses Kill” might be the most vulnerable, though, a nakedly exposed admission of defenselessness. “And if you say you don’t like what I brought before you, then all my cards are on the ground,” sings DeGroot, before adding. “And you were looking smaller than I had ever seen you, and I never really made you proud at all.” In merely two verses “Moses Kill” gives a view, though murky and shadowed, of wounds fresh and scarred. 

I get the sense that writing these kinds of emotionally bare songs is not much easier than talking about them. Several songs on the record, DeGroot admits, led to tough conversations with those involved in their most specific references. In fact, the only reason much of Radiator exists at all is because they fooled themselves into vowing never to share the songs with anyone. “When you start to write a song with no intention of anyone hearing it, it takes the pressure off, it makes it easier,” they say. “But then I’m left with the song that I actually want to share.” This makes for a kind of double-edged sword. Yes, these songs can sometimes feel like, in their words “an overshare,” but without the outlet, these thoughts and feelings would be left to linger, unresolved.

That’s not even to mention all the people hearing DeGroot’s words, and finding solace within them. “can’t quite explain how this song found me just when I needed it and helped me feel everything I needed to feel, carrying this one into the future with fond emotion,” said a user on YouTube commenting on the band’s video for “Snake.” “A few days ago I heard this song, and needed it.  It’s only been a few days, but I’ve since signed up for group therapy, seeked the friends and help I needed, cleaned my space, signed up for classes, and feel much better.  I know the song didn’t do those things, I did, but the song has been so impactful that I’ve got it on repeat,” commented another.

“You know when you have a feeling or thought and you don’t really have a name for it, you can’t identify it?” asks Jones. “G’s songs have named thoughts or feelings that have sat in my mind for a very long time.”

Sadurn - "Radiator" (Live Barn Session)

But There’s A Slow Leak In My Tire, I Just Fill It Up Every Other Night, ‘Cause After Work I’m Fucking Tired

When I ask DeGroot about the time the band spent in “the cabin,” they can’t help but smirk. While the band did indeed start to call the place they recorded much of Radiator “the cabin,” it was really more of a cheap AirBNB than some kind of Bon-Iver style rustic oasis in the woods. “It’s not super romantic,” says DeGroot. Neither was the fact that DeGroot was forced to actually make the trek back and forth from “the cabin” to their day job several times throughout the two-week recording session, leaving them with not a single day off throughout. Or that a band at Sadurn’s level is forced to work largely independently, managing themselves and organizing tours on top of day jobs and, you know, writing and recording music. These kinds of hardship and constant work don’t typically make it onto band bios, which instead focus on the magic of creativity but the reality is what it is, Sadurn does not exist without hard work. 

I feel a little guilty, I must admit, adding to the band’s growing workload. Our second conversation comes only a few days after the band’s most recent tour and DeGroot admits that they probably shouldn’t even be doing interviews like this one, if only to save their voice. DeGroot has plenty of experience to draw on as a vocalist but playing shows almost every night, especially in a full-band setting, is a hurdle they and the band are figuring out in real time. “To hear myself is a really big challenge that I almost thought was insurmountable and has previously been demoralizing,” says DeGroot. “It’s a very intricate puzzle trying to lock in with myself and feel in control of the song.”

Then there is the logistics of touring on what is still a very DIY budget. DeGroot described themselves as type A person, someone who embraces leadership roles if only in an attempt to keep things organized. They get plenty of help, they say, from everyone in the band, but it’s DeGroot who has taken on the role of de facto band manager in lieu of anything more official. This, of course, comes with its own possible pitfalls as well. “It’s funny because now it is starting to become a business relationship with contracts and that is weird,” says DeGroot. These are the kinds of things that would test any fledgling band but, fortunately, Sadurn seems as prepared as any to take these challenges on. Every member of the band is more than willing to pitch in when needed, any ego seemingly checked at the door. “I am lucky that I am working with good friends that are easy to communicate with and that are all very flexible.”

Sadurn | photo by Julia Leiby | courtesy of the artist

And Your Mind Is Like A Fishnet, And Minе Is Like An Icepick

Sadurn are still very much a new band. Every experience – from releasing their debut album, to heading out on tour this summer, to their upcoming record release show on Monday at Johnny Brenda’s – is something they are collectively experiencing for the first time. These are the kinds of things you can’t fully prepare for and yet, you get the sense they’re ready for whatever the future might hold. Creative differences, arduous touring, expectations, vulnerability, connection, acclaim. These are all things a band on the precipice will experience, but can Saurn handle it all? Absolutely.

Sadurn’s Radiator is out now, and can be ordered via Run For Cover Records; they play Johnny Brenda’s on Monday, May 23rd with The Afterglows and Shannen Moser; more information on the show can be found on WXPN’s Concerts and Events page. The band will also be the guest on The Key Studio Session Tuesday May 24th on WXPN Local; listen to that at 8 p.m. ET on 88.5 FM in Philly or online at XPN.org.

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