When you're as busy as Sarah Dougher, you have to devise creative ways
to squeeze songwriting into your jam-packed day.
Consider the 32-year-old indie-rocker's recent resume: In August, Dougher
(pronounced DOO-ger) released her solo debut, Day One (K Records),
which was preceded in April by her first disc as a member of the Crabs,
Sand and Sea. She also found time to work on a single ("The Old
Way") and the track "Fall Down" for the Mr. Lady Records compilation
album The New Women's Music Sampler.
If that's not enough, Dougher, who recently completed a solo tour, is scheduled to follow up with her second solo album, The Walls Ablaze, on May 16 (on Mr. Lady). And Out West, an EP by the guitarist and pianist's other band, Cadallaca, is due Feb. 15.
So, to find time to write, Dougher has to be inventive.
"Usually I'll fit [writing] in while my tea water's boiling," Dougher,
32, said recently from her Portland, Ore., home. "If I can write for
the amount of minutes that it takes for a pot of water to boil, I'm
psyched. If I can just write straight through for four minutes, that's
really good for me."
Even in a music scene renowned for myriad side projects, the fullness
of Dougher's plate amazes people. On top of everything else, she holds
down a half-time day job as an educator with a cultural-advocacy group
she preferred not to name. Dougher also is the co-author, with Nikki
McClure, of "Sent Out on the Tracks They Built" (1998), a study of
Chinese exclusion in the Pacific Northwest during the 1800s.
"I'm not rushing toward burnout," she said, although she does recognize
she tends to do so every now and then.
In contrast to burnout, the gentle rock that has become synonymous with
labels such as K and KNW-YR-OWN warms the laid-back, not-quite-jangly
songs on Day One like a low flame. But those songs cover an
emotional territory as steep and jagged as a rocky cliff.
"Secret Porno Collector," for instance, is a sad, complicated story of
deception. The title track (RealAudio
excerpt) adopts the language of addiction recovery, and its
corollary of self-forgiveness, to explore how people attempt to push
"Day one/ The first day, she always wants it/ She always wants to say/
It was the first day/ Started bad and ended worse/ Trade the cure into
a curse," Dougher sings.
"It's about the way that especially women tend to resolve things for
themselves," Dougher explained. " 'From this day forward ... I will
lose five pounds. I will spend more time with my kids. I will spend
more time reading.'
"These kinds of self-betterment resolutions ... will inevitably crumble
as time passes, and then get made again," she said. "It's kind of a
song about how it's really actually OK to have those days come over and
over. Because they never just come one time."
K Records owner and recording artist Calvin Johnson said collaboration
helps Dougher maintain her high productivity.
In Cadallaca, Dougher works closely with bandmates Corin Tucker (the
Sleater-Kinney guitarist) and the initials-only drummer STS, who also
played with Dougher in the Lookers. The Crabs include Jonn Lunsford
(guitar) and Lisa Jackson (drums).
"It's a whole different way of working," Johnson said. "When she's
working with Jonn and Lisa, it's not like she says, 'I ran out of songs,
I used them all on Day One.' It's like a whole new set of
Then again, working by herself means there was no one to veto her when
she decided to record a surprising cover of the Eagles' "Take It to the
Limit" for Day One. Eschewing all irony, Dougher rearranges the
song into a spare and delicate work about running oneself into the
"I'm fascinated by California rock from the early '70s," she said.
"Especially because I'm totally fascinated by Joni Mitchell. I wanted
to figure out, how did Joni Mitchell determine her identity as a female
songwriter in this really weird, totally masculine rock scene?"
In that light, her cover even made the grade for Johnson, a die-hard
"It's annoying that you have to admit that you put out an Eagles cover,"
he said. "But people don't even recognize it as an Eagles cover until
she gets to the chorus. I just like her voice. I could listen to her