(photo: Emily Dulla)
Words by Michelle Kicherer
I’ve had lots of conversations over the years in the anguished I-was-born-in-the-wrong-decade vein. We’ve sat there daydreaming about what it must have felt like to sit in a dim bar while Jefferson Airplane performed flute-kissed lullabies; we’d watch with glistening eyes as Christine McVie played her first solo album; as Nico performed some of her less depressing hits. And I mention these musicians specifically because they’re the type of vibe that our newly-discovered Hectorine brings to the table, and we’re pleased she’s of our time.
Hectorine, known off-stage as Sarah Gagnon, takes influences from some of her favorite music — the aforementioned and other ’60s and ’70s folk and rock — and uses that inspiration, in part, to create her music. This January she released her first album, the self-produced, self-titled, Hectorine. The album opens with “Motel Song,” a track reminiscent of Nico’s “These Days” — a delightful guitar-picking melody juxtaposed with a low-voiced, melancholy, yet hopeful narrator. It’s a strong start to the otherwise dreamy, haunting feel of the album, where each track preceding the opener is unique: a flute here, a harpsichord there; the keys and harmonies and storytelling all blending to create a refreshing folk-rock collection.
When asked about the band’s unmistakable ’60s psych-folk feel — and her very Nico-esque voice — Gagnon is refreshingly honest. “That’s just my voice,” she smiles and adds, “It’s not an affectation, I’m not doing something to make it sound deep, that’s just the range I’m most comfortable in.” As for her old-timey feel? She shrugs it off as an obvious answer: How can the music she loves so dearly not play an influential hand in her songwriting?
Gagnon hasn’t been a practicing musician as long as many of her contemporaries. She’s newer to the scene, and it shows in the purity of her dedication to her music. Over the years, she’s studied literature, dance, composition; worked in a bakery, as a writer, in publishing. And in these last few years, Gagnon realized it was time to choose: You can’t put equal focus into everything. “At some point,” she says, “I realized I just had to choose music.”
We sat down for coffee on a warm March morning in Gagnon’s home of San Francisco and talked about how it feels to hit the music scene a couple years later than the rest of the crowd. We spoke, too, about some of her biggest musical influences and the ways in which they appear — or don’t — in her work, and how she responds to people asking this fun question: How do you make your voice that deep?
The Bay Bridged: So, Hectorine: What’s the origin of that name?
Sarah Gagnon: Hectorine is my paternal grandmother’s name. Before she died back in 2015, I told her I would name my first-born child after her. I must’ve been caught in the quagmire of grief, though, because I’ve never wanted to have children, and I still don’t. So when I was thinking about which name I wanted to perform under (because Sarah Gagnon seems a little dull to me for a stage name) I thought of Hectorine, because I was giving birth to something: my music. I wanted to honor the promise I made to my grandmother in the only way that I could.
TBB: When I first heard your album I had to look at what year it was made, just to make sure it wasn’t a vintage re-release. How’s that feel? Do a lot of people compare your music to ‘60s; ‘70s folk — specifically, to Nico?
SG: Sure, certainly. I listen to a lot of older music, it’s what I love. So it naturally works its way into my songwriting. I feel like I’m paying homage to people who’ve influenced me in the past while staying in the present. I’m not trying to write music like Nico, per se. Honestly, the songwriting process to me is very mysterious.
TBB: So what genre, if you had to choose, would you call yourself?
SG: I’m definitely not just a folk person…that’s just what my first album is. I love a lot of music and genres and maybe my next album will be something different, I don’t know. I probably won’t feel the need to desert folk entirely, but I like the idea of my music changing; morphing. I listen to a lot of Kate Bush — her influence isn’t really translated into my music, but she’s someone I listen to more than anyone else. Maybe if I ever write synth-pop, she’ll influence that a little.
TBB: You’ve been involved in a lot of personal projects: different jobs, writing projects, studying music and dance. How did the big switch feel?
SG: I’d consider myself a dreamer-realist combo. For a few years after college I worked in publishing and I remember this day I was having my yearly review. I was supposed to be filling out this self-evaluation and I got to this question: Where do you see yourself going with this job? And I couldn’t think of a single thing to say. In that moment I got up, told my boss I had to leave and she was like, are you sure? I knew I’d figure something else out — and I knew I couldn’t sit in that gray cubicle anymore…and I’m happiest now, which is very freeing.
TBB: Was it hard to get into the music industry starting out a little later than a lot of people?
SG: …Yes (she laughs). Especially as a woman; in the production process and