Sarah Walk on Another Me and reclaiming her identity
Feature written for GoldFlakePaint
For the first time in her life, Sarah Walk is feeling herself. After the release of her debut album Little Black Book in 2017, the singer-songwriter took some time to examine her place in the world as a queer woman, and came to realise she felt no ownership over it. Rather than resign herself to the pit of anxiety and self-doubt she was sinking into, she took a deep breath in, collected her thoughts, and began a long process of self-investigation. Almost three years later, she’s emerged with Another Me: a devastating, triumphant meditation on sexual identity and reclamation.
“I was really deep in therapy when I started writing this album,” Walk tells us over the phone. “I was trying to figure out how to exist and take up space, and not apologise for it.” Although Walk has long identified as queer, she was never given the opportunity to officially come out, as, being masculine presenting, her sexuality has always been assumed. “When I was a teenager, people would say, 'You know who you are, that's so amazing', but I don't think I did. I dressed how I dressed because I didn’t know any other way. That doesn’t mean I knew who I was.”
Now 29, Walk reflects on how being denied that agency has affected how she sees herself today. “The coming out experience is such an important moment in learning how to exist and take up space in the world”, she says. “Being told by other people who I was at such a formative age meant I never had to put in the work. Only now am I actually going through that self-investigation.”
Walk realised early on that she needed to be the focal point of Another Me. When the men in her life assumed the follow-up to the heartache-heavy Little Black Book would revolve around her now-fiancée, she stopped to consider why her entire identity was being reduced to her romantic life. “This idea that my queerness and my relationships are the apex of my emotional experience is completely untrue,” she says. “In fact, it’s men – straight men – that have actually hurt me the most and made me feel like I wasn’t good enough.” Right from the first lines of blistering opening track ‘Unravel’, the album takes aim at male entitlement: “You hear my concern as anger / And no one wants an angry woman”, Walk woundedly sings over subtle synth tones. “In a weird way,” she continues, “taking on the patriarchy is actually a part of my coming out experience.”
Another integral step in the process was learning and accepting that her mental health is woven into her identity as a queer woman. Deep in self-examination and discovery, Walk experienced intense feelings of anxiety and depression that influenced her songwriting. The chilling “What if it never comes?” refrain repeated throughout most of ‘Nobody Knows’ was written after she spent months trying – and failing – to think up lyrics. Worrying that the words would never come to her, she decided to instead centre the song around her severe writer’s block. Likewise, the repetitive hook on ‘What Do I Want’, which haunts the track like an intrusive thought, captures the paralysing indecision Walk bows to when faced with choices in her life.
These songs, on the surface lyrically simple, are among the most significant on the album, says Walk: “Those little moments often get overlooked. Things that might seem weak or trivial actually represent a significant part of the process of reclamation for me. If anything, ‘Nobody Knows’ and ‘What Do I Want’ are more important than the tracks that are making big statements or that are more conceptual. The songs that I can barely sing because I’m trying not to cry are the ones that mean the most to me, and will probably mean the most to other people.”
Though almost uncomfortably personal, Walk’s lyrics touch on universal experiences. “Another me is waiting / And I won’t let her die”, she sings atop heavy piano chords on the album’s overwhelming title track. It’s a sentiment that will ring true for anybody who has ever conjured an image of a better version of themselves they are yet to actualise. “I know there are a lot of people out there that need to hear this kind of music,” says Walk. “People who are struggling to come out in their lives. I figured if I could just muster up the courage to sing those songs out loud, then it would at least get those ideas in people’s heads. And hopefully that will help them feel like they've got the ability to grow and get stronger like I am.”
This journey is reflected in the album’s sound. Enlisting the help of Leo Abrahams for the production, Walk sought to echo all the lows and highs of the album’s lyrical content in its instrumentals. Songs like ‘The Key’ personify her anxiety, scored by frantic synths and skittering percussion, while the triumphant piano line on the chorus of ‘Take Me As I Am’ punctuates its declaration of independence. “I really wanted this album to feel like an anxiety-induced chaos that turns into reclamation at the end, a freeing experience of learning how to your own agency. I think that the sonic landscape of this album is fitting for that.”
While the past three years have been monumental for Walk, she’s under no illusion that her work ends with the release of Another Me: “Writing this album and putting it out into the world has been an important step for me, but I know I will be on this journey for the rest of my life.” Nonetheless, the songs on the album represent the progress she has made thus far, relics from her darkest moments that she will forever carry with her. “I’m definitely at a different place than I was. I understand myself more and know what my needs are.” She pauses, taking a deep breath out. “I’m so grateful for all the pain I’ve had to go through.”