Dead Sara didn’t plan for there to be a cohesive theme running through their new album. But, as they were putting the final touches on Ain’t It Tragic, vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Emily Armstrong discovered something special about it. Or, at least, her friend did. “It’s funny,” she said during an EXCLUSIVE interview with HollywoodLife. “A friend of mine, who’s going to be helping us play guitar — he’s coming on tour with us – he’s learning all the songs, and he [says] like, ‘there’s this theme to this album.’” And that theme, Emily shares, is tied to the message found within “Heroes,” the single that preceded Tragic’s release.
“Heroes” – a three-minute alt-rock headbanger with surging guitars, an undeniable bass groove, and Emily’s knockout vocals – takes the concept of “never meet your heroes” and twists it, seemingly transforming it into a self-empowering anthem. Though Emily sings, “All my heroes are dead, and they’re living in my head,” it’s hard not to feel energized while listening to it. It’s less about the death of actual persons and more about the concept of “heroes” itself. “Used to think when I was younger / Somebody gonna come and save me,” Emily sings at the start of the song, and by its end, you feel like she’s more than capable of saving herself.
While “Heroes” is one of the eleven tracks that make up Ain’t It Tragic (out today, 9/17), Emily says that the band – her, Siouxsie Medley and Sean Friday – began work on the song back in 2018, when they released their Temporary Things Taking Up Space EP. “This [song] was one of those born in that time, but it was merely a demo. It had a completely different bridge, different chorus, but there was a vibe to it. It was a vibe. And there was always something really fun about it. And that was a transformative time because we really started really going into songwriting. Before that, we weren’t necessarily songwriters. We were just a band in a room and what sounded good, sounded good.”
“Around that time of the EP,” she continues, “We were really homing in on it. That was the hard part for us. So, we just kind of started to really look at that part. Like what is something that’s going to make us grow? And that song came about. I think it was a Susie riff. I don’t know how it started, to be honest. We took it down to the piano, we messed with some chords and created a world to it, and we’re like, ‘okay, cool.’ And then just sat on it for a few years. Didn’t make the EP.”
When it came time to make Ain’t it Tragic, the band – now signed with Warner Records – revisited the song and brought it to the label. “When we went to Warner, they were like, ‘yeah, this is good. This is good. There’s something to this one.’ And we’re like, ‘cool. All right, well, let’s finish it.’” Emily remembered being in the studio and looking down at her phone, having written the phrase “my heroes are dead.” It was then when it all clicked.
“I was spitting words. And I was like, oh, ‘all my heroes are dead.’ And I was singing that. And the band was like, ‘wait, that’s really cool.’ And it was at that point, I understood what the song was. It’s refreshed. It’s not that song that it was [in 2018], and it was more like a loneliness. That’s what I remember, it’s just being sad, and it’s almost like the heartbreak-y song at the beginning. So it does have that feel. The chords and the melody and stuff like that. It has that kind of heartbreak and loss. And then with ‘all my heroes are dead’ kind of put like, oh, putting those words to that feeling created something where it was it felt complete.”
Instead of the “heartbreak-y” vibe, the song had transformed into something different, a defiant burst of energy and light. That vibrancy is best viewed in the song’s music video. With a fish-eye lens (“That’s an ode to a lot of the Beastie Boys videos, which we love so much,” says Emily), the DIY visual shows the band having fun, which was essential to Emily. “I felt like I wanted to get away from anything that might’ve made the song feel dark with all my heroes are dead and it being a time of coming out of a pandemic and a world just feels like it’s imploding.”
“I didn’t want it to be dark,” she said. “And when we did send out for treatments, a lot of it was Emily gets up out of bed, looks at the world and decides that it’s the end of the world kind of a thing. I wanted the opposite. I wanted to have fun with it and be energetic.” She also shared that the DIY approach to the “Heroes” video came because they had scrapped another video they shot for the song. With the deadline approaching, they brought in their friend, Matt Odom, to help finish the video.
“It was like a race for time,” says Emily. “We just did it DIY, just ran around with a camera, had some locations in mind, like a friend’s apartment on top–and Susie’s apartment and then his house. So that added to the spontaneity of it that looks–I loved it. And we’re like, cool. This is exactly what it needed.”
Ultimately, that chaos and spontaneity and unfiltered Dead Sara experience is the message of Ain’t It Tragic. That friend, who will be joining Dead Sara on tour, thought that “the theme of ‘Heroes’ was about ‘fuck you, but also not really, not in like a very antagonistic way,’ but just like, ‘I’m going to do me.’ This is literally everything he said. And he thinks that that is the theme of the whole album.”
“I got to listen to it more, but I’m like, well, I was trying to argue with him for fun sake,” she says with a bit of a smile.” And I think he’s correct, and I do get sarcastic at times and stuff.”
Whether or not everyone takes that vibe from Ain’t It Tragic – that you’re strong enough to where you don’t need saving, that the world can f-ck off and ‘I’ll do me,’ that after a heavy year of darkness, it’s time to let the light in – is up to interpretation. Thankfully, Ain’t It Tragic is out now, allowing fans to make their own minds up. Plus, today (Sept. 17) is the start of Dead Sara’s headlining 2021 tour Click here for dates.