Spotlight On... sarya

Following the release of their latest single only girl, we shine a spotlight on occasional local poet and singer-songwriter sarya

Feature by Tallah Brash | 14 Sep 2023
  • sarya

It's always exciting when former Edinburgh resident, Taiwanese-American poet and singer-songwriter sarya announces a new release. Their latest single, only girl, is the second in a three-part collaborative series which sees sarya working with Edinburgh producer Robin Brill, aka Birdfish. While the single sees sarya tackling complex subject matters like internalised homophobia, musically it's light, airy, bouncy and playful, calling to mind the likes of indie-pop troupe Superorganism. To find out more, we caught up with sarya to help shine a spotlight on their work and the new single.

I love that in the press release for your latest single, you were described as being “occasionally local” – am I right in thinking that you used to study here? Where are you currently based?
"Occasional local" is the new way I refer to myself after having read your article. Having lived in Scotland for around six years, it's hard not to feel like one when I'm here. I moved here for uni in 2013 and was living here for a few years afterwards. I didn't really even do music until my fourth year, so it's crazy to remember that I became a musician! I used to be based in Taipei after I moved from Edinburgh but have recently moved to Seattle (cue Grey's Anatomy music). I've never been in a music scene in the US before, but I'm very curious to find out more and report back. 

You’re back in Scotland at the moment having played a single launch show in Leith at the weekend – how was the show?
I think it went rather well! The show was a cauldron of friends (new and old) and musicians, some of my favourite people in the world, all huddled together in a charity shop full of random knick-knacks. New Teeth Records, run by members of The Micro Band, secured Settlement Projects as a venue, which is just [near the] top of Leith Walk. I very selfishly used the show as an opportunity to see a bunch of my friends perform, as well as force all my friends to meet each other because I think they're all so COOL (muahaha). There was also a lovely group of artists who had come to sell their work at the show, and it all felt so queer and DIY and squishy. Morven and the Mcardles, lonely carp, maniatrix, and rufus were among the lovelies who came out to play music with me, and I think you should all check them out. 

On your latest single, only girl, you say it’s the sound of you “reclaiming self-confidence” as you “tackle themes of internalised homophobia”. You also describe the song as a “bitter revenge bubblegum pop song”. Can you tell us more about the song, and what inspired you to write it?
I won't go into the details, but essentially it's about the first relationship I was ever in, and how the girl I was dating refused to identify as queer even though it was obviously a queer relationship, and when we broke up, said some really horrible homophobic things to me. And the saddest part was, I let her! I was a bit too heartbroken then to respond, but I eventually came to understand that I felt sorry that a combination of cultural background or upbringing made it probably very difficult to fully come to terms with the fact that she even could be queer. But what is pretty funny to me now is just the fact there was so much cognitive dissonance. It's not that difficult to be straight, is it? Or like, to be nice? 

The song is high-key spiteful in a "this-is-a-cliche-gay-experience-but-damn-it-still-happens-and-maybe-one-day-you'll-regret-it-and-have-a-mid-life-crisis-about-this-one-repressed-memory-and-i'll-have-the-last-laugh" kind of way, and it's dedicated to every queer person who has been hurt in this very specific trajectory, usually by the first person they ever tried to love. Now that I'm older looking back, having healed from that whole scenario, I'm feeling queer joy, euphoria in my community, and so incredibly grateful to be part of the LGBTQ+ community, and I can't believe I ever let someone like that make me ever hate or doubt that part of myself for a single second. 

Portrait photo of sarya, sitting in a chair holding a pair of keyboards.
Image: sarya by June Ku

For this single, the beats are provided by Edinburgh producer Birdfish – the second of three songs to be produced by him – how did this collaboration come about? And what has the process been like?
Birdfish, aka Robin Brill, is simply a dear friend of mine who I met through other super cool musician cats in the Edinburgh music scene – specifically, from The Honey Farm, who Robin also produces and makes music for! (He's also in many other great bands, like racecar and Dr. Salad to name a few!!!)

Working with Robin is divine. He's a drummer at heart, but can play many instruments and also is an extremely solid producer. All I really did was sing this song at him when it was just lyrics and melody, and within the hour, he made the barebones structure of what the song became. We would meet up a few times to discuss styles and whether we liked it to be banging this way or that way, and he would finalise and mix and master the tracks. The other songs  I made with him (say something, and DO I TRY) were also very smooth sailing in the process. 

What’s next for you? When can we expect part three in the Birdfish trilogy? And are you going to be sticking around for a while in Edinburgh, or are you on the move again soon?
I've been in Scotland since July and I am going back to Seattle at the end of the week. I aim to be back in Scotland some time next year around spring/summer, and I'll be trying to get some festival gigs for sure! Edinburgh will always be my second home, and I intend to come back periodically as long as it is possible! Maybe one day in the future, I'll be back for good.

I imagine the third song (DO I TRY) will be out sometime before the end of the year, so it was really a treat to have at least one release in the trilogy be in the place where they were all crafted. Look out for DO I TRY before the end of the year, which is a song that's actually about leaving Edinburgh and moving back to Taiwan. 

only girl is out now via New Teeth Records