Inspired by pop legends like Britney Spears and Janet Jackson, singer-songwriter Sabriel (pronounced Shaw-bree-elle, according to her phonetically-self titled debut) always knew she’d become a musician. “I don’t remember there being a specific lightbulb moment,” she tells Audiofemme, though her love of performative dance certainly played a part. “When I was a kid… I wanted to be like Britney Spears. I draw inspiration from movement, or certain stories. Performance always has to have a story behind it.”
With her latest single “Pulse,” Sabriel unpacks the way we perform in our everyday lives, and the manner in which we draw comfort from telling ourselves stories – for better or worse. Written and produced in her bedroom, Sabriel analyses her experience with an emotionally abusive partner, zeroing in on the way in she portrayed the relationship in a more romantic light to outsiders and how this performance not only fooled others, but had the effect of fooling herself.
“I was in a really toxic and abusive relationship, since I was 20 and until I was 25,” she explains. “When the pandemic hit I went from codependent abuse to isolation in a matter of a week or so. I began having these feelings of ‘God, I feel alone… remember when he would comfort you?’ but he would only give me affection conditionally.”
“Pulse” embodies the now-familiar adage coined by Stephen Chbosky in The Perks of Being a Wallflower: “We accept the love we think we think we deserve.” Sabriel pours her soul into verses that describe her desperation, desiring nothing but to be in the arms of the person hurting her most. “The song is about moments of being really sad,” she says, “and just wanting that support, even if it came from somebody who usually doesn’t give that to you.”
Incorporating neo-soul elements with an ethereal, tropical vibe, the track has a relaxed air that reflects a sense of isolation, but feels less like a lonely island of anxiety than a bubble of safety where Sabriel can finally give voice to her painful realizations. “Today I was revisiting lots of thoughts of you/And now the words, they feel like abuse,” she sings, documenting the ways her understanding of the relationship has changed with the passage of time.
Throughout the track, birdsong adds an extra layer of ambience and atmosphere, projecting a theme of serenity and peace in stark contrast to the lyrical content. Adding birdsong came naturally from Sabriel’s love of bird watching. “I would sit outside for hours with binoculars in the backyard and would record bird noises,” she recalls. “I started to really recognise the birds.” Various types of birdsong can be found on each track from her upcoming EP.
When it came to creating the music video, Sabriel kept it simple; partly a result of the COVID-19 restrictions and partly because of the vulnerability of the track, the music video builds on the song’s retrospective theme. A projection of Sabriel in bed, clad in neutral shapewear, plays behind the glitter-dusted singer, now wrapped in layers of puffy organza as though steeling herself with a “show must go on” mentality.
“I found this costume shop in Vegas that has all these old showgirl costumes; I wanted to do a full showgirl outfit because I wanted to represent the performance aspect of being in an abusive relationship where you’re just kind of putting on a show for everyone around you but deep down you’re sad,” Sabriel says. “100%, to this day, I still gaslight my own self into thinking maybe it wasn’t that bad.”
Melancholic blue and pink filters give the scene a fuzzy home video vibe, creating a layer of intimacy that might not have been achieved had Sabriel’s original plan for the clip come to fruition. “Originally, I wanted to film the video on in a theatre stage… but with COVID I couldn’t… so I just recorded it from my bedroom,” she says. The video is a display of cold solitude, as though Sabriel is alone with her thoughts and memories, yearning to feel the fragile happiness of the lie she’d been trapped in and wondering why she still misses it.
Marking her first venture into producing, “Pulse” is Sabriel’s favourite track from her forthcoming EP, as well as its namesake, and it provides the perfect introduction to what we can expect from the project. Even with minimal “technical training,” as she puts it, Sabriel took on the mammoth task of producing everything herself, making the upcoming EP a milestone in the singer-songwriter’s career.
“I am very proud of this EP,” she says. “I don’t know a lot about music theory or anything, so the fact that I was able to put this together… I remember when I was making it, it was getting to the point where I was being told, ‘Maybe we should get some other producers on here…’ But it needed to come from me. It’s specific to me.” Rich in sound and lyricism, “Pulse” demonstrates Sabriel’s progression from singer-songwriter to fully-fledged producer as she experiments and expands past what she previously knew, setting her innermost feelings to the comforting sounds of the natural world.
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