The talent next door: Will Sartain is a local nobody whose music makes him a somebody

Will Sartain is something of a normal guy.

He lives in something of a renovated attic space above an old Westside Liberty house with an assortment of unassuming family members and friends. He loves ping-pong. He loves his mom. He plays his fair share of kickball. He listens to a lot of music.

In fact, were it not for Sartain’s deity-like reputation amongst Salt Lake City scenesters (which the down-to-earth artist is largely oblivious to: “I’m really not that popular,” Sartain insists) and his undeniable talent as a musician (Sartain has been a part of a handful of significant local music endeavors, ranging from fan-favorite Redd Tape, now renamed The Tremula, to his popular solo work, to a kitschy little collaboration called The Buttery Muffins), there would be little to distinguish Sartain from a sea of modest 20-something college kids.

Which is just how Sartain wants it.

“[Flattery] doesn’t really do anything for me because I know it’s not important,” Sartain said. “Praise is not necessary or important. People could hate [my music] and I’d be fine with it. It doesn’t really matter.”

Even though Sartain has unknowingly amassed an undeniable reputation around the Salt Lake scene-the local musician is responsible for establishing much of Kilby Court’s impeccable underground street-cred as a booking agent for the venue and a regular featured performer-his almost-famous name hasn’t gone to his head.

“If I’m out on tour and I meet some people that I like, I just want to hang out with them,” Sartain said. “If they like me, whatever. If they think my music is sub-par, whatever. I’m just trying to relate to myself. I’m trying to be honest and open with myself. If I’m honest and open with myself, I’ll be honest and open with everyone else.”

It’s this dedication to his own musical ideals that might have something to do with the fact that Sartain is largely his own biggest critic-in the wake of his first solo release, the wildly well-received Beep!, Sartain might be the only person to call his bubbly bundle of indie-pop catchiness “just OK.” Around town, the album was called a classic. Go figure.

“I just wasn’t that happy with Beep!,” Sartain said. “My songwriting went through a huge transition [after that album] because I wanted to write more rich, organic, natural songs.”

Despite Sartain’s genuine humility, his work deserves much of the recognition it receives-even if Sartain invariably demurs in the face of glowing praise.

With the upcoming release of his sophomore effort, The Listening Booth, Sartain had better get used to the praise, too-his new album is a mature, realized update of his burgeoning indie-pop-ingnue sensibilities. Listening Booth retains the bright-eyed enthusiasm of Beep! while injecting it with a degree of experiential objectivity-whereas Sartain was wandering about life with saucer-sized eyes on Beep!, he’s looking a little more critically on Listening Booth.

“I’m still really nervous about whether or not people will like [Listening Booth],” Sartain said. “It’s more vulnerable. It’s more honest and open. It just kind of happened, and it’s kind of new emotional territory for me. I was just ready to push myself to do something more.”

Especially on his new record, Sartain crafts a musical persona that is at once sage and youthful. Sartain’s new work renders a portrait of the artist as a young man simultaneously self-aware and self-conscious. Sartain’s music is the type of song-crafting that teeters joyfully on the fence between confessional personal candidness and universal reflection. Sartain’s songs are celebrations, melodies basking in the possibilities of wonder-Sartain revels in the hope and beauty of a world that can, at times, seem largely hopeless and unattractive

“I see something beautiful in nothing,” Sartain said. “I attribute this to my family-my mom taught me to take a second look at the world around me. My sister also helped. She’s just this rare and extraordinary person. In a personal sense, those are my influences.”

On “Piano Song #2” Sartain sings of his quotidian life, “I go to work/ I come home and sleep/ What kind of life is this for me?” The young rocker then proceeds to go and do something quintessentially Sartain-he flips common associations with a youthful lens, rendering his normal life ethereal, “So I know/ I believe/ There’s still a mystery/ If we close our eyes and breathe deep.”

It’s this ability to glorify the average that makes Sartain’s music so relatable-and likely, so popular.

Sartain manages to remain an everyman, while always illuminating the amazing possibilities of normal existence. Think of Sartain as a light bulb: Though his subjects are largely mundane, the illumination he provides renders them extraordinary.

“It just has to happen,” Sartain said. “I’m never out there looking for anything. I’m not looking for the song, the song finds me.”

Come bear witness to Sartain’s unique brand of songwriting this weekend-before Sartain packs up his bags and heads out for a European tour-at his CD release parties Friday March 25 at 7 p.m. at Kilby Court (741 S. 330 West) with Tolchock Trio and the Red Bennies, and Saturday March 26 at the Urban Lounge (241 S. 500 East) with The Tremula and Magstatic. Tickets for the release parties are $5 and available at the respective doors, which will be opening around 7 p.m.

For a listing of Sartain’s European tour dates, check out www.willsartain.com.

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