Sarah Harrison is a brilliantly bright, talented lady, who has worked at her craft and taught herself how to DJ.
Since then, she's had the chance to work with some amazing people. She landed into DJing almost as a mistake, and has been training in musical theatre all her life, envisioning herself mostly as a singer and producer. She bought the equipment on a whim, having no idea how to use it but now she's on-air Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 1-4pm on BANG 103.6 FM. Since I interviewed Sarah earlier in the year, she's been to Atlanta where she linked with key players like Birdman, T.I., Future, Rae Scremmurd, Mike WiLL Made It and many more, cementing her place in the music game. While she was there, she worked on and released her new mix CD 'L.I.T.T. In ATL.'
Ceylan: Tell a bit about how you got into DJing.
Sarah:I went to Sylvia Young Theatre School, then I went to Lanes but I kind of fell out of love with musical theatre half way through. That's what made me listen to hip hop, it became part of a release for me. It wasn't just "oh I listen to hip hop just to be cool." It actually gave me a release from day to day life, so I just wanted to get heavily involved in it and wanted to increase my knowledge. I thought let me start DJing cos I used to DJ in my head when I used to go out and I thought "I could make a living out of this and concentrate on music". There was an advert on Twitter saying "we need a cover DJ for September," and I was like "I'll do it!" literally not knowing how to use the equipment. I watched someone use it and I just went into it without any inhibitions. I think that's the most important thing to do in life, anything you wanna do just go do it with no inhibitions. So that's how I got into it. A fluke.
Ceylan:Do you still focus on singing and producing? Would you still do it in the future?
Sarah: I definitely wanna do it in the future, I can't say I don't wanna go back to it at all but at the same time I can't say that I'm ready to do anything in the next 12 months. Whatever I do I like to do it with integrity and it has to be genuine. I don't wanna do something just because now I'm a DJ. It's not like that, it's all about timing. At the end of the day, music is an art form and you can not force art, if it's gonna be true to your heart and soul it's gotta be in the right time so I'll do it in the future definitely but right now it's taking the back burner.
Ceylan: So now you're doing DJing, what's a typical day for you?
Sarah: I think I'm quite a hippy. I just wake up and think "hmmm what's gonna happen today?" Because I do radio every Wednesday my life kind of revolves around that so Wednesday is almost like my Monday. It's kind of the centre of my week and it takes a lot of preparation to do radio. I spend most of my time researching and making sure I'm on top of music all the time. I have a passion for new talent as well.
Ceylan: Is that one of your favourite parts?
Sarah:Yeah. Discovering new talent and being in the position to make it heard, definitely. I've got a weekly feature on GRM Daily selecting the 5 hottest tunes from America so it's kind of taking my taste and putting it out there to a wide audience which is obviously where GRM comes in and being able to make it accessible to people here in the UK. I spend a lot of time looking at music from America because I've got a passion for hip hop which was born in America really. I'm gonna really try and get the production side of things going again so I can focus on using the equipment I've got at home. I've been really caught up in the hype of Sarah Harrison as s a DJ on the come up and she's kind of "everywhere" as people like to say and so I wanna take a step back and get back into the actual craft of DJing.
Ceylan:When you're doing your show on Wednesdays and you interview people... how does that come about for you?
Sarah:Making relationships with people, making sure I'm at the right events and events that are gonna benefit me is important. I don't really go out and socialize, I go out to network. So, I do all of that myself with regards to setting the interviews up, I've got an assistant on the show as well so she helps me out a lot.
Ceylan:Haha, ok so who have you interviewed recently? Or over your entire DJ life?
Sarah: It's been amazing actually, when I got the whole Sarah Harrison show brand, on Bang Radio...
Ceylan: How did you get that by the way?
Sarah:They had a change in management and they were getting DJ's on the come up so they put me on and it was like a group of four people but eventually, I was the last one standing. So they were just like "let's make it your own show"! I always had a vision of it being like something that people can really relate to the show and connect with, and it being something that people can tune into on a regular basis. Because I come from a music background, I approach the interview in a conversational way. I'm not interested to sit down with artists and just know who they're engaged to and all this gossip business. I wanna find out about you, I wanna find out about your career because I'm genuinely interested in it and I wanna learn from you. Keep it true to the music. I feel like I wanna be a person that other musicians out there can relate to.
Ceylan: That's cool. Sorry, I threw you off! Who are some of your recent interviews?
Sarah:The biggest interview I've done recently is Mack Wilds. His debut album reached a Grammy nomination and it was produced by Salaam Remi who produced for Amy Winehouse and Nas most notoriously so it was one of my most ideal interviews. I think it was my favourite interview to date. My interview was kind of like a advice session, he was giving me advice but in a modest way.
Ceylan: You want people to listen to it and take something from it.
Sarah:Yeah exactly, and what he said himself in the interview is that the biggest advice he got was was to keep the music first regardless of it being a business. So music is a business but if you keep the music first you'll never lose and things like that are really, really touch me.
Ceylan: Yeah they remind you why your're doing it as well.
Sarah:Exactly! So I've done Mack Wilds, I've also done Elliot Wilson who owns Rap Radar (also previous editor of XXL magazine and does his own interviews called 'The Truth' on Life and Times, Jay Z). I did Cam'ron. A lot of the interviews I have done, I've kind of got like a Sarah Harrison alumni now, whereby since I've interviewed them they've been signed or they've gone on to amazing projects for instance K Camp an artist from Atlanta is now signed to Interscope and he's just buzzing. He's got like 2 hit club records 'Cut Her Off' and 'Money Baby'. Another one of my other favourite acts is duo Rae Sremmurd who are signees to Mike Will Made It. No Flex Zone? It's them. I was the first person to ever play that record in the world, on radio. Ever! They're such lovely people.
Ceylan: Who would you wanna interview that you haven't?
Sarah:Oh my god... loads! But I think the most... Justin Timberlake. I wouldn't want him to think this is an interview and that's it, I'd wanna be his friend. This is the problem, I have to be aware of how I'm acting cos I can be a fan. I'm a music fan first and foremost so when I get these interviews I'm a bit like "what the hell". Cam'ron wasn't too bad, Dipset I've grown up on but not too tough, I'm more of a Justin Timberlake/Timberland/Pharrell. If I was to sit down with Pharrell, I dunno. I think he's so wise I'd be so nervous.
Ceylan: Who are your big influences? People you wouldn't get bored of listening to...
Sarah:I listen to Hot 97 all day I'm not gonna lie. I just think New York is the home of hip hop and nothing beats it, there is no other station that I feel really represents hip hop and all the DJ's and presenters on there are just amazing so I really just keep that on loop to keep my motivation levels up, keep my ambition up. I only really started listening to Hot 97 when I became affiliated with them. When I went out in New York I made a connection with Cypher Sounds and he brought me in there. It's very much a kind of mentoring scheme where you start from the bottom but they're very willing to help you if you put in the work. I listen to it so I know the market. I look at the greats like Funkmaster Flex, DJ Camilo, DJ Enuff and the Heavy Hitters.
Ceylan: Any UK DJ's are working towards making London a bit more of a scene for hip hop?
Sarah: Obviously Semtex does a lot of hip hop here. I've never really looked up to anyone more than Tim Westwood. I'm positive that he is the Godfather here and will always be. He is the figure that people know about in the US. He is the nicest person I've ever met in my life literally and I was humbled to know that he knew who I was. It was insane. That was at the Future concert, he was like "oh, you're that girl on Bang radio?" It was crazy, I was starstruck I'm not even gonna lie. And then he was DJing in Malta at the same party/getaway thing, we hung out there. He went up to my dad and proper introduced himself to him, I can't even explain how genuine that guy is, he was like "your daughter's doing very well." It's something to tell me that I'm in the right direction and the right people are watching so yeah.
Ceylan: Are there any girls out there at the moment, maybe female artists that you think are doing really well?
Sarah: I love Jessie J, I think she's so in control of her music, her whole persona. You can tell that she's the brains behind it which is what I love about her. She is nowhere near a product of anyone else's strategy. I think she's at the top in the UK, maybe not statistically but I still think that she has had a lot of hits and she's written for other people, she knows exactly what she's doing. I think she's gonna be around for a long time.
Ceylan: What about US?
Sarah:It's really hard, I don't look at females as much. Nicki Minaj, she's great.
Ceylan: What do you think of Iggy?
Sarah:I like her, yeah I really do. I was gonna mention her because I think she is beating a lot of barriers. The fact that she's an Australian but she lives in America, but it's like so what? She's sick. It might not be your cup of tea but it doesn't mean that she's not good, she is literally the definition of girl power. She's shut off all the opinions and made it work for herself. She's got a lot of different aspects to her, she started off in the mix-tape game and she's had a really good transition into the commercial world and her track 'Fancy', I love it. I think it comes from TI. He's a great crossover artist, from Atlanta. One of the Trap Kings into him being on Blurred Lines and No Love so I think he's kind of modelling Iggy on himself but for females.
Ceylan: He knows what he's doing.
Sarah:Yep. I really do think that she's genuine, a lot of people say that she's not but I think she is. All this business about her having ghost writers and stuff I can't really buy into that. I think she does what she does well, she's good to look at. She's hot. We need that. Even when she comes off the stage and you hear her talking, she is an artist. You can't just be any old person, like the girl next door. But she has that girl next door edge to her, she's sick.
Ceylan:If I went through your wardrobe what would I see?
Sarah:I'm quite sporty, I would say I'm kind of a tomboy. I'm kind of obsessed with sneakers, I wanna be a collector like Jordan's and stuff. But that came with hip hop to be fair, it was like a natural choice. Timbs. You'll never catch me wearing heels ever. I'm quite tall anyway and at the moment, I've not found the time to include it in my lookbook. I like to be comfortable cos most of the time when I go out I'm DJing. Even so, I make it a point that people don't respect me as a DJ or follow me because I'm a "hot female" or because "oh my God, she looks amazing in that tight dress and heels DJing", I wanna be a DJ because I'm a DJ. I wanna be judged and listened to on my skill, not on my look or the way I present myself. I keep it cool, I just like to look cool, I do like to turn heads.
Ceylan: What brands do you like or would like to collab with someday?
Sarah:Because I'm from Malta and because my mum has been involved in fashion before, I look at the Italian brands a lot. It would be amazing to do something with Valentino which is totally opposite to what I wear now but obviously as an artist or a personality, your fans want to see you transition, it's not good to be the same all the time, you've gotta evolve. MCM, a backpack collaboration would be cool cos that's part of my look, I'm a backpack and Timbs kinda girl. A Timbs collaboration would be sick, something out of the box. It's all good having these Nike and Adidas and Puma but I would just be another alumni, I wanna be someone that's pioneered a collab. MCM and Timberlands.
Ceylan: Where do you wanna be in the next 3 years? I wanna know where you think you'll be.
Sarah: I definitely need some sort of international visa, I can't stay here. I hate planning though, I'm more of a vision kind of person, I have a vision and it's the steps to get there it's like a blank page. It's not a map, it's like a park. Imagine it's a park of grass and you need to get from one side to the other, there's so many paths. In 3 years, I wanna make an album as a DJ first. I wanna do like a DJ Khaled kind of thing and have big artists on there collaborate. The fact that I've said it now makes me wanna do it so ideally sooner than three years to be fair. I need to continue building the Sarah Harrison brand, push it out further, get it more into a viral thing cos obviously the internet is so powerful.
Ceylan:Can you imagine the career you have now without social media?
Sarah:Absolutely not, I can say that 100%. No way. My first big break on social media was Snoop Dogg finding out about me via SoundCloud. He found one of my productions and messaged me within 5 hours of it being uploaded and was like "this is dope as fuck, I wanna work with you." I was just like this is some parody account and then he sends me his email so we kept emailing and then he was coming to London so he gave me his number. I called him, but he didn't pick up so I was like this is such a joke, then he called but I was on a phone call so he left a voicemail. Social media is everything. This was me before even being a DJ, this was about 2 and a half years ago and then I went on tour with him, three gigs and I recorded two songs and they're still there with the engineer. When I came back, I had a different approach to music, I thought "I need to do something else to give me an edge, let me just be a DJ."
Ceylan: Tell me something I don't know about you. This Snoop Dogg thing is a revelation.
Sarah:I still can't believe it myself. I sang to Quincy Jones at a party. I don't know how I did, I had a glass of wine down me, thank god cos I probably would have collapsed. That was such a special moment. That and the Snoop Dogg thing were just the most treasured moments of my life.
Ceylan: Do you still keep in touch with them?
Sarah:Yeah yeah, Snoop Dogg I'm in touch with his management a lot and his engineer as well, who was so supportive and this is what makes me wanna not give up singing and not give up the music because they kind of showed me a glimmer of hope and support. They weren't ready to put in the time and effort then but they had time to show me that there was potential there so as I said at the beginning, I'm all about timing and it took me a while to accept timing. I used to always be like "why am I not here? why why why?" but that's just long, you keep saying that to yourself you'll go round in circles. You'll just become too caught up in that, just be confident in fate. I believe in God so I believe everything in his time and even if something is a mistake or you didn't accomplish something, its because something better is round the corner. For some reason you will come back to a situation that you wanted to be in and be in a better position to approach it. That's why timing is everything.
Ceylan: So you're going on tour with Mischa?
Sarah: Yeah, doing a few dates with her. I went to Atlanta in September and hosted the International Music Conference which was the beginning of me having a network in Atlanta. I'm a go-getter and I'm literally a hustler, that's in my spirit. I think I get it from my dad, whatever I set my mind to, I do it and I never say never. Again, no inhibitions. When it comes to situations I'm quite shy, that's why a lot of the time I go to places by myself cos I've got no-one around me to say "you can't do that" or "you can't talk to that person". I like spending time by myself, you know exactly what you want in life when you shut out all the outside influences.
Ceylan: Any places you wanna go to and visit? DJ at?
Sarah:I think Vegas would be absolutely amazing to DJ at, I wanna go there. Where else? Not to DJ specifically, but I love nature and I really want to be based somewhere I can be close to the sea. Miami of course, I wanna give that a shot. I hear the parties are absolutely crazy. You know what? The vibes I get from DJing here in London I've not really gotten anywhere else, club nights in London are really really high energy.
London is just a beautiful energy, it's hard to break certain barriers, like me playing brand new music but it's a challenge of DJing that I love.
Ceylan: What should we be looking out for?
Sarah:Just follow me on Twitter. @imSarahHarrison. I'm a very spontaneous person I don't really plan ahead if things work out they work out. Constantly evolving is the most important thing. Don't stay still, keep moving.
Her new release combines 28 of the latest ATL-bred tunes and Sarah showcases her amazing vocals as she sings the opening lines of DJ Khaled's 'Hold You Down.' You can listen to it here: bit.ly/littinatl Starting her monthly night off on Friday 23rd January, Sarah is going at full speed and won't be slowing down anytime soon, working hard to push the 'Sarah Harrison' brand. For more information on her monthly night, click here: http://bit.ly/1AZpjVM