Sabine Colleen on “Electric Heart,” Vocal Inspirations, and The Power of the Banjo


The title of Sabine Colleen’s new song, “Electric Heart,” almost sounds ironic from the first listen. This is not electric music; it’s acoustic, for one thing, and for another thing it sounds like it was conceived before Edison invented the lightbulb. Over the earthy pluck of a banjo and a raspy, sawing fiddle, Colleen sings in an eerily perfect voice, free of affectation or any nods to modernity. It may have been written over lockdown, but “Electric Heart” feels ancient and mysterious. It sounds like some midnight hundreds of years ago, illuminated by nothing but pale moonlight glowing through the trees.

The song is undeniably haunting, but it’s a credit to Colleen’s songwriting that it doesn’t feel like she’s trying to haunt you. It feels as though she’s expressing herself the best way she knows how. But when a songwriter possesses such control over atmosphere, and when she has an instrument as impressive as that voice, it’s bound to linger. Taking inspiration from the plainspoken sweetness of Jean Ritchie as well as Kate Bush’s piercing soprano, her voice sends up prickles all along the back of your neck–and you’ll want to be haunted again and again.

What inspired you to write “Electric Heart?”

Sometimes I don’t know what inspires my songs directly. I get a hunch that something is trying to come through. I’ll follow it and eventually it will lead to something, sometimes revealing an energy that I wasn’t aware of before. I almost never sit down and say “I’m going to write a song about {blank}” Inspiration for me is about unfolding some mystery that exists both within and without. “Electric Heart,” in a way, is an invocation of inspiration itself. It’s a call for the feeling of inspiration and love to move through you and be a guiding force through upheaval and chaos.

This song has a vintage feel, but it never feels slavish in its recreation of a past sound. How do you find the right balance between old and new?

People have often told me I’m an anachronism. I do feel this way sometimes. Still, I do not particularly like nostalgic aesthetics, which is something very common with the banjo culture. I think because of the banjo’s rich and complex history it has a magic to bring forth, a feeling of something old, the ability to move through time. I feel very tuned to this when I play it, sometimes to the point where I feel like I’m drawing out spirits and beings from the past that live inside the instrument.

As far as the new goes, It’s important for me to stay connected to this time, this plane and channel what energies are currently present in the collective and in my personal life. This doesn’t negate the connection to the past, however. The past is still living through us. Time is not linear…but that’s a whole other long conversation, no doubt, a constant inspiration for my music.

Who are your vocal inspirations?

I’ve always been enraptured by Buffy Sainte-Marie, her power, her rawness. She has so many different voices and characters that move through her when she sings. Kate Bush is another inspiration with that same kind of versatility. I love how daring she can be and unafraid to do something unconventional. Both are true role models to me in so many ways. I also love the clarity and humbleness of folk singer Jean Ritchie. Her soprano voice is so sweet and soothing.

What are your ambitions for the future?

As I’m gearing up to release Circle of Trees I have many other new songs ready to begin the recording process. I expect to start that in the new year. I hope to play more shows locally around New Mexico and, pandemic permitting, travel to the East Coast and hopefully the UK. As a DIY musician early in my career I’m still learning how to balance stability and my hunger for travel. My overall ambition is to create the channels so that my music can find all the right people it is meant for so that it can become theirs too. When someone feels moved by a song, when they see themselves in a song, then you know the work is working!


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