Graced with a strangely stunning voice—youthful and emotive, gloomy and perceptive—Falcon Jane (singer-songwriter Sara May) has just released a sophomore album, Faith, the follow-up to 2018’s Feelin’ Freaky, via Pittsburgh-based label Darling Recordings. On it, cathartic verses ascend to soaring heights as the Ontario-based artist ponders existential questions about life, death, and what lies beyond.
The emotional depth on Faith is hard won. In 2019, prior to the pandemic, May found herself attending a funeral nearly every two months—the songwriter lost both her grandmothers, an uncle, and great uncle within a year. “Going to a lot of funerals really makes you think about the afterlife, so it was something that was on my mind a lot when I was making this album,” May explains. “I still have no idea what the afterlife holds, or if there is one at all, but part of my journey of relearning to have faith was believing in an afterlife again. I kept having vivid dreams of people who had passed; my family members, and people I didn’t even know very well. It felt like they were trying to tell me something. I don’t know what it’s like on the other side, but I definitely feel like my family who has passed is still with me in some way.”
These losses set her on the inevitable path that the world, in one way or another, has been facing since the pandemic began. “It’s been a hard year for pretty much everyone, me included,” she admits. “I’ve been feeling a lot of anxiety this year, and I’ve had to find new coping mechanisms now that my usual ones—playing shows, getting together with friends, travelling—are few and far between. I’m staying hopeful though. I’ve learned a lot about myself this year.”
That’s evident in both the sonic palette an lyrical themes throughout Faith, as May explores the transitory nature of life and relationships, as well as the natural cycle of grief—shock, disbelief, sorrow, and ultimate acceptance. The result is an album that is as cathartic as it is hopeful, even joyous at times (“Beautiful Dream”). Tracks like the dazzling “All of a Sudden” are balanced with themes of sadness, regrets and lingering questions that can no longer be answered. Somber and magical, “The Other Moon” evokes the solitude of mourning—while loss is felt by many, everyone must navigate those feelings in their own way. Throughout, Falcon Jane’s courage to tell her story—particularly on “Had Enough”—is spellbinding in its plaintive boldness.
Standout single “Heaven”—a transcendent track imbued with a sense of freedom, with a gorgeous video shot in the reserve of Neyaashiinigmiing 27, Ontario—reframes the idea as one of earthly bliss, not unlike the Belinda Carlisle hit. Though inspired by artists as diverse as icons like ABBA and Fleetwood Mac or peers like Julia Jacklin, Angel Olsen, and U.S. Girls, Falcon Jane’s sound touches on spaces all its own.
It’s one she’s had to grow into, having no formal vocal training. “I can’t do a bunch of fancy stuff with my voice. I think I am still growing into it. It’s always changing,” she explains. “At first that felt like a barrier for me, so I decided to embrace the uniqueness of it, and that felt like a doorway. That was like 10 years ago, so I’m a better singer now, but I still push myself to keep learning and trying new things. There are vocal techniques I use on Faith that I couldn’t dream of doing when I was recording my last album, Feelin’ Freaky.”
Sara May wrote her first song at 16, which officially opened the creative floodgates. “I think I wrote about one hundred songs that year,” she remembers. “I had been playing guitar since I was about 12, but it never really stuck with me until I could play my own songs.” Later, blogs like GoldFlakePaint, Atwood, and The Grey Estates would situate her sound in the “Plez-Rock” genre (short for Pleasant Rock), a term coined by the band members to describe “chill, groovy music that’s got a harder rock edge to it.”
Feelin’ Freaky marked Sara May’s adoption of the Falcon Jane moniker. “I have always loved the name Jane—wish it was my real name—and I’m also intrigued by the ‘every-woman’ attributes it has, for example: Jane Doe, Plain Jane, Dick and Jane. The first time I said, “Falcon Jane” out loud it just felt right to me,” she says.
Describing herself as “guarded,” the pseudonym has allowed her a gateway into new (and old) unexplored sides of herself. “It’s nice to be able to talk about my musical project with a bit of separation. So, I can say, ‘Oh I’m working on Falcon Jane stuff today,’ or ‘the new Falcon Jane record sounds really good,'” May explains. “It also leaves room for more creative collaboration. Falcon Jane has been a variety of different bands and combinations of people over the years, and the musicians are always part of ‘Falcon Jane’—not just [my] backing band.”
Though this release contains contributions from other musicians and mixing help from Evan Gordon (SLEDD, Islands, The Magic, Skeletones Four), Faith was mostly performed by May and her partner Andrew McArthur. Despite its scaled-back nature, May says there’s “all kinds of music magic to the songs,” including McArthur’s little sister, who makes a “super cute” cameo appearance on several of the album’s songs.
Once completed, May discovered that she had made the album she needed most. “Once the record was done, I noticed the word ‘Faith’ appearing over and over again in the songs,” she says. “I think it was a theme I was personally dealing with a lot over the course of 2019 while we were recording; learning what to believe in, and how to believe in myself.”