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07 November 2016

Interview with Sarah Potenza



I get a lot of pitches to cover musicians and musical acts. My usual screening is based on my time and a quick web search. That's when I realized that Sarah Potenza is not the usual musical artist. She's making waves with the title track of her album, Monster, including its fun video (posted at the bottom of this post). I had the chance to chat with Sarah as she prepares to return to Chicago for a show at The Hideout on Saturday, November 12th. This is not a transcript, but taken from notes.  

VLF: I really enjoyed your album. Right now you are getting a lot of praise for your song, Monster. It has been called an empowerment song. Over the past few years, empowerment has been used to describe a lot of things. So what does empowerment mean to you?

Potenza: Empowerment is something that makes you motivated. Something that makes you feel a certain way. I read something about body love and since then, over the past year I have made an evolution about how I feel and see my body. I use to feel "ewww" about my body parts. But I read a story about a woman who learned to love her body, her juiciness, all of that. It empowered me to love my own body. I follow a lot of body positive people on Instagram and Twitter and it matters. When you see someone who can wear a bikini and have back fat it empowers you. It changes the way you see yourself. Especially to see yourself from a more powerful position. As feminists we need to be ok with being powerful. Feminism doesn’t mean angry. Empowered doesn’t mean angry.

VLF: In an interview with NPR you talk about not being taken seriously because of your flamboyant style. Is that one reason that drew you to audition for “The Voice”? That you would be judged by your voice and not your visual style?

Potenza: No, not at all. I auditioned because I believe in saying yes to every opportunity. Not letting your inner hipster stop you from doing things either. Too many people say no to things they think are beneath them, but I think nothing is below you. I saw "The Voice" as a way to elevate my career and platform. So I decided to walk through that door.

VLF: Oh, great! I asked because I know about the research about blind auditions being great for removing many biases. The classic one is about orchestra auditions and how once blind auditions became standard, orchestras went from being mostly dudes to a better balance. 

Potenza: ARGH!! I hate that. You know I use to send emails with a man's name because I knew I wasn't being taken seriously by some in the music business. Now my husband handles the business side of my music business because he is taken more seriously. This is just one of the many reasons why I early voted! I have been so incredibly hurt and disgusted by the many men I know who hate Hillary. They have a loathing for no reason, but I know it is because of what she represents as a woman.

VLF: Agreed! OK, pivoting back to your music.... Monster is bringing you such amazing attention because in our thin-obsessed society, being proud of your not-size-zero body is radical. Do you worry that the attention is too focused on this one song, this one radical message and won’t carry the rest of your amazing work to people’s ears?

Potenza: No, I don’t really…I'm honored if people just get this one song. I do a lot of work with young women. I teach workshops and I have a lot of fans who are young girls. One girl did her 7th grade career day project on me. I don't know her, but she lives in Michigan. I encourage girls to be their own best friend. My mom and I are now great friends. My mom use to put a lot of energy into her looks. She's a life-long member of Weight Watchers and I use to feel bad that I would never be a size 4 like her. I want to be the role model for girls who will never be a size 4. But yes, I definitely want people to explore the rest of the album.

VLF: What does success look to you? Do you have it?

Potenza: It is weird. After you have been on "The Voice," everything seems small after that. I have had so much success already. I do feel successful in a lot of ways. At the same time I know there are so many more mountains to climb. Success looks like Bonnie Raitt, Neko Case, Alabama Shakes. I’m going to be playing The Hideout and having a hundred people will be a success. I want the longevity. I want to become iconic. I want to get to be where I can be an artist and do what I want to do. I'm always creating. It's funny, promotion wise you’re always living in the past because I recorded the album a year ago and wrote Monster long before that. For me, success is closing that time gap between creation and promotion. Yeah, I want Lemonade success - to write, create, and distribute as quickly as BeyoncĂ© does.

VLF: How do you practice feminism within the music industry?

Potenza: wow...This is a hard question, good, but I haven't thought about this. I think I practice feminism by being myself and being a role model, by writing the music I want to write. I am not writing songs where women are only doing things they "should be" singing about. I do not want to be participating in the gendered nature of song roles. I practice feminism by writing about things like the election, without being preachy in songs, but writing about them. I've been touched by Leelah Alcorn's story. I am thinking about writing about her. But do it from a clever, non preachy way like Monster. Not angry, not sad. I'll be following along the steps laid by Neko Case.

VLF: Thanks for taking time out to talk to me. Good luck in Chicago! And the rest of the tour. 

Potenza: Thanks for wanting to talk!



Sarah Potenza
Saturday, November 12, 2016
Doors: 8:30 pm / Show: 9:00 pm
The Hideout
$12.00 - $15.00

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