SUO’s Saara Untracht-Oakner on Juggling Hats and Raising Pups

COLUMNS|Pet Politics
SUO photo by Monika Oliver.

Saara Untracht-Oakner is a woman who wears many hats on the Brooklyn scene: musician, visual artist, booker, DJ, and model. Perhaps best known as guitarist in BOYTOY (co-founded and c0-fronted with college buddy Glenn Van Dyke), she has also made guest appearances in other bands, like Roya and Habibi. Her latest project SUO showcases her solo work.

Saara has tour all over the United States, Europe and the UK, booked countless bands at The Broadway, slung drinks all over Brooklyn, and DJed around the borough. She has created visual art through illustration, painting, photograph collaging, and more, while still finding time to surf. She does this all while rocking the dog mom hat with style too; she is parent to a precious Puerto Rican pup named Pachi. Hear about Pachi, Saara’s history with music, art, animals, and her plans for the new decade below!

Pachi and Saara (Photo Credit: Juliet Wolf).

AF: Please introduce us to your current furbaby.

SUO: Pachi is my current fur baby. He’s a Puerto Rican street dog mix. 32lbs and 18”x18” (I had to measure him once for an airline).

Precious Pachi (all photo credit to Saara Untracht-Oakner unless otherwise noted).

AF: How did you and your pup pal meet?

SUO: My roommate was going to Puerto Rico for vacation, actually a week before hurricane Maria. I had taken home a Puerto Rican dog a few years before; sadly he was hit by a car six months after being in NY. He was extremely special and his name was Rico. I have his name tattooed on my arm. So knowing I loved Puerto Rican mutts (they’re called Satos), and knowing I had some time off in between BOYTOY tours, I asked my roommate to keep an eye out for some street puppies. She texted me about two days before the hurricane and said she wouldn’t have time to go to a shelter because they were trying to get off the island ASAP. An hour later she sent me a picture of baby Pachi (three months old) in the back seat of her car. She pulled over to look at a map in the middle of nowhere and he ran out from the bushes, chewing on a T-shirt. A vet check up and rabies shot later and he was on a plane to NY and escaped the hurricane. We’ve been in love ever since.

Pint-sized Puppy Pachi

AF: Did you have pets growing up? If so, what species?

SUO: Growing up I had a few pets. I really just wanted a dog but my parents weren’t convinced so they got me turtle named Nikki that only ate ground beef, then a guinea pig named Ginger who died while we were on vacation, and then they finally caved and got me a dog. She was a chocolate standard poodle and she loved to hug but definitely thought she was above me in the pack. I had a gerbil I got from school named cinnamon, and of course goldfish every now and then. I had sea monkies three times but every time they got spilled.

AF: When did you first know you wanted to be a musician? Was there a particular moment, icon, or song that you can recall?

SUO: I was always singing and sitting at the piano and messing around. There’s a video of me when I was four and I got a microphone toy for my birthday. I was going to a pre-school where we put on plays and so I sang the whole medley front to back and got mad when my dad interrupted me. I loved performing. I remember sitting at the piano and making up songs with melodies. Melody was always something that stuck out to me. I would sing all the songs from Disney movies, especially The Lion King, and have contests with friends of who could sound the most like Simba. I was also obsessed with Raffi. I would know the track order when listening to his tapes before the next song started.

Saara during a SUO performance (Photo Credit: Remy Holwick).

AF: What was the first instrument you learned to play?

SUO: I think it was piano. I took lessons in Kindergarten because my parents thought I was interested since I always sat down to play. I was interested, just not in learning scales and chords. I wanted to make up my own stuff. I played cello from 3rd-5th grade, trumpet from 4th-12th and sang in chorus. One summer I brought home a clarinet and taught myself how to play from a book. I was in plays at summer camp a lot too.

AF: What was your first favorite song?

SUO: When I first started talking I used to go around saying “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” So probably that. I still love reggae.

AF: Tell us about SUO. How did the band form and what is your writing process like?

SUO: SUO is my solo project I created with a handful of songs – some that were meant for BOYTOY but didn’t make the cut, some older personal songs, and some new ones. I recorded with Kyle Mullarky who made the last BOYTOY record Night Leaf with us. We brought Nick Murray into the Topanga studio to track drums and then Kyle and I formed the songs from the scratch tracks to what they are on the record. I knew I wanted a full band to cover all the parts from the album and have lots of harmonies, so I sent out some feelers to some other NY musicians and curated a supergroup. Everyone in the live band now currently fronts or has fronted other bands or has multiple projects.

AF: What about BOYTOY?

SUO: BOYTOY started when Me and Glenn’s previous projects ended and I moved back to NY. The writing process was a collaboration. Sometimes songs would come from jams we made together or something was part of a song that one person would bring to the group or a whole skeleton that the other members would then add their parts to.

BOYTOY Reunion Show at Market Hotel 11/21/19 (Photo Credit: Natalie Kirch).

AF: Have you ever written a song about a (non-human) animal?

SUO: One of my first songs I can remember writing was about animals. I was with my parents and my dad’s mom in LA and we took a trip to Joshua Tree. My grandma and I wrote a song a capella in the backseat that went:
“Cats and dogs run free in Joshua Tree
Cats and dogs run free in Joshua Tree
They eat lots of plants
They eat lots of bugs
They eat whatever they find
Cats and dogs run free
clap clap clap
In Joshua True “

I still remember the melody.

AF: Favorite song about (non-human) animal(s)?

SUO: “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by Iggy Pop. I was actually just thinking about this song as I was snuggling Pachi the other night. I read in an interview with Iggy that this song is about seeing women with their dogs, how they love them and cuddle and kiss them, how the dogs have the most intimate relationship with their owners, and how he wants to be treated like that by a woman. It’s hard to not kiss Pachi tbh.

Saara Getting Some Smooches from Pachi.

AF: What is your favorite country to tour in?

SUO: Australia was really amazing. It’s so beautiful and the crowds are so nice and rowdy! We got to surf. Spain and France are also really fun. The food is incredible and the crowds are the best.

Flyer for BOYTOY Australian Tour (Photo Credit: David Evanko).

AF: Favorite US city or state to tour in?

SUO: Miami and Chicago have really fun crowds and people really come out. LA is fun cause I get to see so many friends and play with bands I love. These are my favorite for partying. Then there’s the little random small towns that have the best hospitality and nicest crowds because everyone is just so excited that something is happening that isn’t a cover band.

AF: What do you miss the most about your pup when you’re on the road?

SUO: I miss sleeping with him and just having him around. He’s comforting. And he’s a good excuse to take a walk, although you do that on tour anyway to kill time.

Sweet Pachi.

AF: What non-human animal do you think reflects your personality the most?

SUO: I think I’m probably some kind of large cat.

AF: What is your favorite mythological creature?

SUO: God.

AF: You are also a visual artist. What is your favorite medium?

SUO: I realized I don’t really have definite favorites with anything. What I’m into always changes. But it’s mostly painting/drawing, building and photos.

AF: Have you ever created any visual art inspired by (non-human) animals?

SUO: I made this painting awhile ago and kept trying to paint a fox. It wasn’t working out right so I painted a snake instead. The painting ended up being unintentionally really political and prophetic (this was before Trump’s election). I believe there is a divine touch in creating art beyond human reasoning. I also painted a cartoon cat for my sister-in-law which now resides in my niece’s bedroom.

AF: If your pup could have a human career, what field do you think he would be in?

SUO: He’s very passionate and strong and fun and also a bit anxious. He loves being near people and always wants to make sure everyone is safe. Maybe a volunteer fire fighter or something.

AF: If he were in a band, what instrument would he play and what genre of music would he write?

SUO: He’d probably be the singer and write songs like Ricky Martin.

Pachi Living La Vida Loca.

AF: If he were a visual artist, do you think he would be more of an illustrator, painter, or sculptor?

SUO: Maybe an illustrator. He’s very clean and thoughtful.

AF: How did you transition into the booking field?

SUO: It kind of fell into my lap. A mutual friend of the owners of The Broadway told me his friends were opening a spot and if I knew any talent buyers. I was in LA at the time and didn’t have a job lined up for when I got back. I figured with my ten years of touring, booking my own gigs, all the bands I knew, and the knowledge of what makes good clubs good, that I could do the job well.

AF: Any big plans for the new decade?

SUO: I’m going on tour in Europe with SUO in February and will probably spend a couple weeks in LA in January and play a show out there. It’s about to be the roaring ‘20s!

Photo Credit: Babak.

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