by Silke Hartung

NewTracks New Artist: Saharaa

by Silke Hartung

NewTracks New Artist: Saharaa

From small local shows around her Waiheke home, pop artist Sahara Adams has moved via studying pop music at  Auckland Uni into working with local producers Will Henderson and Joel Jones, slowly gathering momentum and attention for her music. Releasing music as Saharaa, her latest single Getting Better was included on NZ On Air Music‘s NewTracks compilation in December.

What’s your full name, where are you from and what instruments do you play?

My full name is Sahara Adams. I was born on Waiheke Island and am lucky enough to have lived there my whole life. I played flute when I was younger but it got to the point where I realised if I wanted to be a singer-songwriter guitar would probably be a better option! My parents got me one for my birthday when I was about 10 (which I have kept ever since as it is signed by Taylor Swift). I taught myself how to play and started writing songs. I also know basic chords on piano and find it quite a useful instrument when writing.

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

Waiheke has an incredibly strong music community. I feel like there were so many opportunities to grow as a musician. There were mic nights for kids, theatre, The Big Sing, Carols by the Sea, kid bands, busking at the Waiheke Markets, gigging at venues on the island and honestly I did it all. I took music as a subject at Waiheke High and then went on to study a Bachelor of Music majoring in pop music at UOA. It was an amazing degree! I made so many connections and learnt so much. Auckland uni was definitely where I started honing my craft as an artist. I am still in touch with a lot of people from my degree who are in the industry now, so that’s amazing. I also learnt a lot from the incredible guest speakers who came in. Overall I feel the degree for sure pathed the way for where I am now in my career.

Any other projects that we might know you from?

As a teenager I was lucky enough to be a part of a project called Team Ball Player Thing. It was such an incredible opportunity that came my way. I got to sing on it at Roundhead with so many NZ music legends. It was such an incredible opportunity and a day I’ll treasure forever. I think little me was too terrified at the time to fully appreciate who I was standing in a room with, let alone the fact we were about to be on a song together.

It was a project put together to raise money to find a cure for Batten Disease. It involved many people in the music and entertainment industry in New Zealand. The song was used as a charity single for the All Blacks’ 2015 Rugby World Cup.

How has your writing evolved from your beginnings in songwriting to now?

I started writing when I was about 10 with no idea of how to write a song! I think I had big ideas and the emotion was definitely there but maybe not so much the technical side of things. When I started studying I felt my degree forced me to be a lot more technical for a while. I think when there are criteria involved and it’s an assignment type situation it’s easy to lose a bit of the emotion or to be a bit less creative. I think since then I have found a happy medium. I now have all the tools to write a great pop song, but I think at the end of the day the best songs come from the heart – the rawest emotions – and I think that should always come first.

What made you choose Saharaa as your artist name?

Sahara is my birth name and growing up I performed under my full name Sahara Adams. When it came time to releasing my first single and choosing my artist name I felt shortening it to Sahara was the perfect choice. I’ve always felt that my name is unique enough that I don’t need to change it to something else, but just ‘Sahara’ was taken and after playing around with a few options I settled on Saharaa.

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date?

I honestly would have to say hearing my song on the radio for the first time. I think every artist dreams of that moment and to have Cam Mansel from ZM play my first single Never Leave on his show was such an incredible experience. It coincided with the release party for my debut single so to share that moment with my favourite people as they danced and sang along made it extra special. Just a real dream come true if you ask me!

What makes Getting Better stand out for you as a single?

I think what makes Getting Better stand out for me is the message behind it. I think everyone goes through struggles or hardships in their life and that’s something people can definitely relate to. Also that no matter how hard it gets, things always get better. I think it can be really scary being super vulnerable, but also the best things can come from the rawest emotions. To me Getting Better is the type of song you can cry, scream at the top of your lungs or dance your little heart out to.

What is the story behind Getting Better?

It’s a song about deep personal struggles. Life has definitely thrown some big curve balls my way… and when I thought I could get back to living my best life I got hit with another one. Getting Better is about tough times we all go through at some point in our lives. It can be hard to understand, easy to not feel like yourself anymore and to not know where to go next. I always like to write about things that are going on in my life at the time. The thought of writing about such deeply personal topics was terrifying. However I also think there is always something good that can come from a bad situation. Writing this song was such a therapeutic experience for me. 

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

I think one of my favourite lyrics from the song is “Don’t judge me if I come across a little fragile, I’m already giving myself a hard time”.

There can be times in life where you have no idea what someone is going through and it’s so easy to be critical or assume things. There’s been times when I’ve been more reserved because I’ve been struggling with something that’s not necessarily visible to others and maybe that comes across that you are disinterested or rude. I’ve learnt that it’s always better to be kind and not just jump to conclusions cause you never know, someone could actually be having a really hard time.

Who did you write/record/produce the song with and where?

I co-wrote Getting Better with Will Henderson at Parachute in Kingsland. I find Will such a great person to work with and he helped to turn all the sad girl thoughts from my notes app into a fully formed 02.57 minute song! Will also did all the production on the single. 

What would you like listeners to take away from this song?

It’s definitely a song about going through really tough times. Life can be brutal, relentless and hard to understand at times. However it was also important to me to get the message across that as hard as things feel at times, it is always important to have hope – and things do eventually get better. The saying ‘fall down seven, stand up eight’ is an expression I live by. We all deal with something big at some point in our lives. I hope listeners can connect to the song’s vulnerability and it helps some people to feel a little less alone in what they are struggling with.

How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?

I am a perfectionist so picking a song that might be a good single is a tough task. However I feel you just know when a song is special and one that needs to be released.

I think often great songs come together reasonably fast in the studio, but that is not always the case and there can be ones that you refine and add to over time. After the session for my first single Never Leave I got in the car to play it and straight away in that moment I just knew that was the one. I hadn’t felt the way about songs I had written prior to that. Getting Better was one of my favourite writing sessions and it felt like everything just came together so easily. I think you just always have to trust your gut. You will know when it’s good and the right one.

Who else is in your team?

I’m really lucky to be with DRM who’ve been so supportive in helping me navigate areas I honestly didn’t have a clue about. Archie Hamilton has given such great advice and has always been so available for support which I am very grateful for. I have primarily worked with Will Henderson so far, who I couldn’t speak more highly of, and have also done some sessions with a few other producers including Joel Jones.  I am an independent artist so aside from that I have done all the PR side of things myself.

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song.

  • Luca George: You’ll Never Know Me Sober
  • Navvy: Til You’re Ready
  • Rachel Leo: In My Dreams

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? Got any advice for others?

I have been super lucky that my only releases to date Never Leave and Getting Better have both been included on NewTracks. I applied for single funding for Getting Better but was not successful. That was my first time applying for single funding. I was super lucky that so many people supported my first single Never Leave and managed to reach the NZOA criteria to apply for single funding for Getting Better. I was also put forward for the NewMusic Development Funding by Joel Jones but we were unfortunately unsuccessful with that too.

After that even though I had been rejected twice within a matter of weeks, I decided to apply to NewTracks for Getting Better. I just believed in the song and felt proud of it. I thought, maybe there will be a different panel, maybe someone will connect with it and what is there to lose? It honestly is so hard sometimes with music as there is so much rejection and so many numbers that supposedly define success that it can really wear you down.

I think as long as your heart is in it, you believe in the song yourself, you feel proud of it, ultimately that’s all that matters. Honestly when I look back over all the years of doing music there have been sooo many hard times. It would have been easy to quit. I know it’s cliche but I think that life is so short you just have to chase your dream and try to stay positive. I like to live by the motto ‘rejection is just redirection’.

Was there an NZOA criterion you struggled with in the application? 

It definitely is hard to reach the criteria which makes sense. I went for the ones that I had a chance of reaching at this point in my career. Getting enough followers to meet the criteria when I was first launching my socials was hard. Luckily I have supportive friends and family so I am now gradually building that fan base.

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

  • Zane Lowe’s (Youtube) Apple Music interviews
  • Intros by Georgia Lines – has great interviews and performances from local talent
  • Call her Daddy (podcast) – a great podcast that has a lot of musical guests.
  • Hot Ones (Youtube) – Also gets on lots of great artists plus Sean Evans is a very good interviewer
  • Tiny Desk

Last words

Thanks so much for all the support so far it honestly means the absolute world! You can go stream my latest single Getting Better now. xx