Dallas — In the nearly 10 years since North Texas singer-songwriter Sarah Jaffe dropped her debut album, Suburban Nature, her sound has become more electronic — she cites dance-pop greats like Robyn as big influences — but the folk-pop that marked that first album is still evident, as recently as her 2019 EP Smut. You can also hear acoustic string instruments throughout her career, notably on her 2012 album The Body Wins, filled with violin and even harp accompaniment.
In fact, her concerts have sometimes featured a violinist and cellist. That will expand tonight when Jaffe — who has spent much of her career as a resident of Denton, although she grew up in Red Oak and elsewhere in Texas — makes her debut on the main stage at the Meyerson Symphony Center, in a concert supported by members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (co-presented with KXT/91.7 FM), as well as the Booker T. Washington Gospel Choir. The main stage caveat is important, as Jaffe has played in the Meyerson’s lobby before.
Thinking of her catalog with the addition of more strings and orchestra instruments resulted in a re-evaluation of her work.
“I looked at every single record that I’ve put out for the past 12 years,” Jaffe says in a phone call from Brooklyn, where she relocated at the end of 2019. “A lot of it was based off thematic content and think of what would work with more strings. It was about the vision from song to song.”
“I had to think about it differently, cross-referencing previous songs and previous sets,” she adds.
Fiona Brice, “an amazing violinist” in Jaffe’s words, wrote the orchestra arrangements for The Body Wins and helped with arrangements for the Meyerson concert that Dallas audiences will see,
Jaffe, 34, started writing songs when her mom bought her a guitar at the age of 10. She was playing her songs for friends in high school, and a couple of months before graduation, she ventured into public performance at an open mike at the famed Club Dada in Deep Ellum. Her drive didn’t end there.
“I would use my parents’ giant Mac and make my own press kits and send them out to clubs and that’s how I started getting booked,” she says. “I played at the Door a lot, and the Curtain Club.”
Since breaking through — KXT was among the stations keeping her song “Clementine” from Suburban Nature on heavy rotation — Jaffe’s albums have been populated with songs about relationships and heartbreak, subjects for which her understated voice than can range from a plaintive whisper to a defiant growl are perfectly suited. On the new EP, Smut, she comes out with confidence from a divorce that informed her two previous EPs, This is Better, parts 1 and 2.
“I was going through a divorce [in 2019], so everything I was writing was rooted in that world, and it ended up being a very cathartic process,” Jaffe says. “We released those two EPs, and by the time they came out we started working on Smut.”
On her transition to a more electronic sound, she says, “Electronic music has always been my go-to. With each record that I make I get a little gutsier with it. Everything is still very lyrically based for me.”
Those lyrics, coupled with a mix of electronic and orchestrated acoustic sounds, will be the focus of tonight’s concert at the Meyerson, a show for which she admits she’s a little nervous.
“I always get anxious,” she says. “I’m my own worst critic. But it’s not about performing, it’s about my nerves and the need to be in control.”