Your Weekend Playlist, Courtesy of Saara Untracht-Oakner
Saara Untracht-Oakner is a multidisciplinary artist who has had her hand in various creative spheres ranging from photography and interactive exhibitions to several different music projects. Featuring gritty, dazzling sounds and hauntingly stunning visuals, her latest record Dancing Spots and Dungeons offers a promising insight into her unique creative vision and unapologetic message to be yourself.
Milk talked to the New York-based artist about her video for her single, ‘SUO” and the importance of vinyl, all while providing her go-to playlist for inspirational, feel-good music.
Does your work in so many different mediums complement one another? How much does it influence your music?
I don’t feel productive if I’m not making something. Sometimes I don’t feel inspired musically so I’ll make a painting, or vice versa. I like taking photos because it feels like a more passive creation, not necessarily creating something but capturing something through a subjective lens. Sometimes the themes overlap, but I feel like most different inspiration calls for different mediums. There is usually not much continuation of one single idea over mediums.
How did you come about creating your music video for “SUO”? What inspired the dark, grungy undertones?
I knew the single was going to be “Unsatisfied Blood”. When I showed my friend the song she suggested I juxtapose the poppy feel with a dark plot. It worked perfectly to take the metaphor of “Unsatisfied Blood” literally. I had a short time frame to make this video happen and I was out with Remy Holwick one night and she was talking about some video work that she had coming up and I pitched a really rough idea of what I was thinking, some inspiration mood boards I had, and my time frame. I sent her the song and she got really excited and I got really excited and we met up shortly after to hash out a plot and logistics. Remy is so focused and driven and knows some great people who were willing to come on to the project. She was the director, producer, and videographer. We got a crew together and my girlfriend offered her house up in Rockaway as a home base for an overnight shoot. Remy works with VHS which was a perfect fit for the campy horror vibe we were aiming for.
I noticed that you are selling your upcoming record “Dancing Spots and Dungeons” in various formats – how is the “unsatisfied blood edition” different from “the junkie edition”? Why was it important for you to package your music this way?
The packaging of a record is so important. It’s half of what makes the entire experience of owning and listening to a record so exciting. Especially in a digital age for us to own something, hold it, look at it in full size. Al from Stolen Body Records always does limited edition colored vinyl. We made these two different versions of vinyls so you can collect them all!
Do you have a sentimental attachment to physical copies of music/records?
Yes definitely, to all of the physical copies of music I own. Records are like musical instruments for me; once I have them even if I don’t really use them, I don’t like to get rid of them. I’m not lucky enough to have some rare collection from my parents or anything, but I do have records from a lot of bands I’ve played shows with over the years. My copy of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is probably my most valued record.
How did working in Los Angeles affect your art-making process? How did you go about finding people to work with on this record?
I knew I wanted to be in LA for the winter and I wanted a reason to be there, so I set up an art show at Alex Knost and Daniella Murphy’s gallery for the first week I was in CA and I hit up Kyle Mullarky who made the last BOYTOY record Night Leaf. I had all these demos of songs I had written but never used for BOYTOY along with a few new ones that I wanted to make into something. Kyle has a studio at his little ranch in Topanga and it’s one of my favorite places to be. Brooks from The Growlers actually introduced me to Kyle first. BOYTOY was out in LA doing demos in 2016 and Brooks was like, if you ever need a spot to record this place is the best. So I brought the songs to Kyle and we got Nick Murray to track drums, and Kyle and I recorded everything else for about two and a half weeks in Topanga. Some days I was pig sitting (they have 2 pigs) or we were surfing so we weren’t working crazy straight hours.
My friend Marina came to visit me one day at the ranch with their partner Monika and we ended up shooting some photos. Alex was in Bali for the month so he graciously let me borrow his super photogenic car during my time in LA. Monika had taken some backlit photos I really liked so we tried something with that style, using the headlights and a spotlight in front. I loved the photo we took so much I was like “this is going to be the cover.”
I chose Raissa Pardini to do the text for the album art. She’s got such a good graphic eye and good style. I knew I wanted something classic and sexy and she totally got it. I wanted to incorporate an illustration of a red cowboy boot (like the ones I’m wearing on the front cover) with a chain to go with the album title “Dancing Spots and Dungeons,” and Raissa was able to whip that up as well.
For the insert of the record, I had an idea to do a barbershop haircut example poster. My friend Noelle Duquette who I’ve shot with a lot before shot the photos and Dylan Chavles did the hair. They’re both such good artists with a strong style and image so it was perfect. It ended up working out nicely using the photos to preview the songs as well.
You mentioned this album is a “post-gender eruption of power, something beyond the constructs of social normality”. Tell me more about this message you want to share with your audience.
It’s not so much a message as it is just me. This whole record really feels like me, and my different sides. I’ve always been in pretty democratic bands and this project has been able to just flow out of me as it comes and as I want it. The songs are all very different but fit cohesively as a package. I feel like I present in many different ways and have since I was a child. I wore a dress to my brother’s bar mitzvah service and a suit and tie to the party the next day. I wore boys bathing suits to the beach and then gave boys gifts and chased them for a kiss to be my boyfriend. People have said to me at various points “you’re such a boy,” and sometimes I feel like a boy but sometimes times I feel like a powerful woman and then some. I feel very much in the middle of the spectrum, where I’m not defining myself in any way. I go by she/her but my energy feels like it fits in the middle and sways both directions. I’ve never felt fully like a girl or like a boy, or fully straight or fully gay, or even non-binary or bisexual by solid definition. I feel like I’m all of it. That’s what this record feels like to me. It’s hard to pin down one thing it is in genre or tone or style because it is an amalgamation of all of it. Everyone makes up their own interpretation depending on context anyway.
What else do you have in store for your fans? Are you working on more visuals?
I’m really excited to see the physical record with the record sleeve of the hairstyle photos from Noelle Duquette. I’ll have a new music video at some point after the record comes out. I have some limited edition t-shirts from Rock’n’Roll repeat that will be available at shows and on their website. October 17th is my record release show at The Sultan Room with Faux Real and Nyssa. I will hopefully set up some LA shows this winter and an EU tour in 2020.
Tell us about this playlist. Set the scene.
This playlist is mostly my friends who get me excited and inspired. There’s nothing better than going to see your friends play a show that makes you want to immediately go home and make something, or even just to listen to what you just heard again and again. Then there’s a few that have had a heavy rotation throughout different times of my songwriting process.
These songs are the ones that make my gut fuzzy, make me smile without noticing, that makes me move my body without trying. They’re the ones that stuck with me on the first listen. I’m a sucker for hooks and good songwriting.
Stay tuned to Milk for more Weekend Playlists.