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Sara Routh’s new album is not her “pandemic record”

When the pandemic began in 2020, all of us suddenly had a lot of free time, and with it the opportunity to take on some projects we’d been putting off. For Sara Routh, it meant finally recording some songs she’d written over the years.

The result is “Heavy Love,” Routh’s new album, which was released in November. Despite the timing, Routh doesn’t call the release her “pandemic record.”

“Some of the songs were written years ago, and hadn’t found their way to a recording,” said Routh. “I had a lot of audience members and fans who were wanting to hear certain songs, and they weren’t able to hear them other than coming to a show. They were just sitting in notebooks.”

When the pandemic hit, Routh found herself with the creative space she needed to record her songs without having to worry about scheduling or any of the other external pressures. Routh says the result is a record that reflects this moment in time for her.

“I think I’m able to deliver my thoughts in a new way than from my other records,” said Routh. “I think it’s more vulnerable and relatable to the audience, whereas my old records were just about me. I trust that the listeners are connecting in their own way, and it’s more relevant to their life right now at this moment.”

The album does contain one specific reference to the events of 2020: a song called “George,” written about the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

“For sure, ‘George’ was in the moment,” said Routh. “I’m not a person who goes out in the streets and protests and holds signs. That doesn’t mean my heart isn’t with those very strong leaders in our communities. For me, my sadness and my anger needed to happen and come out at the piano, and it was important for that to go on this record. I mean, the title is ‘Heavy Love.’”

“Heavy Love” features a version of Aimee Mann’s song “Save Me,” and Routh has released several other covers in recent months, including a version of Linda Ronstadt’s “Don’t Know Much,” performed as a duet with Des Moines singer Patresa Hartman.

“As I’ve grown as an artist, I have found that there are so many songs that really point to different, beautiful moments in my life, and when I find a song that does that to me, I’m like 'Okay, how can I make this a Sara song?’” said Routh. “I wanted to work with Patresa Hartman, and I wanted it to be a love song between two women, and have it come out during Valentine’s Day, and Galentine’s Day. So to bring new life to these songs that you heard growing up, but now they can mean something new.”

Elsewhere in her musical life, Routh has been involved with the non-profit group Girls Rock! Des Moines, dedicated to “lifting up the voices of girls and gender-expansive youth by giving them access to all things in the music industry,” in Routh’s words. Routh advises anyone who’s interested in pursuing music to “just take the jump and do it.”

“You’re never gonna have enough time, you’re never going to have enough money, you’re never going to have enough space,” said Routh. “Try everything, meet as many people as you can, and collaborate. It’s okay to make mistakes, and it’s okay if a song is a super bummer and it doesn’t work out. I have a lot of those, but then there’s just that one that catches someone’s attention.”

Above all else, Routh says “You’re doing it for yourself, not for others.”

Sara Routh is IPR’s Artist of the Month for March. “Heavy Love” is available on Bandcamp and major streaming services, along with the rest of Routh’s music.

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IPR Music Iowa Artist of the Month
Tony Dehner is a Studio One Host