There’s a moment midway through Nonfiction, the “largely autobiographical” debut album from Teen Idle, where New Jersey songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Sara Abdelbarry is saying everything without saying anything at all. It comes during “Dance Inc.,” and the bass-driven dance-pop tune’s extended instrumental outro, which takes on a hypnotic quality, barreling on with each note and each beat like a well-worn, and well-received mantra. The song itself may be about Abdelbarry’s frustrations with the corporate world, but it takes the listener to a far-off dance party, a great distance – both real and imagined – from the stiff world of suits and business that first inspired it.
The escapism at play is magnified. And so is Abdelbarry’s ability to tell her own stories in a way that allows the listener to experience them alongside her.
These stories have already begun to take shape through a series of singles, and now coalesce in kaleidoscopic fashion through Nonfiction.
“I named the record Nonfiction because it’s literally what it would be like to open up my journal and read my thoughts over these specific few years in my life,” says Abdelbarry. “That being said, I hope whoever listens to this album can appreciate the varied experiences that come with growing up and see my own version of the moments of heartbreak, joy, and anger that come with that. The album is brutally honest and lays it all out on the table without any sugar coating – besides a song literally titled ‘Saccharine’ [laughs]. So, anyone in search of honesty will find a nice companion in these songs.”
Nonfiction and its various storylines and aural alchemy have already begun to blossom through a string of summer singles, from July’s yearning “Birthday Cake,” where Abdelbarry watches a friend continue to make bad choices; to August’s buoyant “Norway,” a song about being trapped in one’s hometown as an emerging adolescent and needing escape; and this month’s indie-pop bop “Saccharine,” which centers around a relationship that’s starting to fade. The Abdelbarry-directed music video for “Saccharine” was just accepted as a finalist at the Prague International Music Video Awards.
“I think each single sounds more different than the one that came before it. They all progressively build up to an idea that’s prevalent on the record, which is that our experiences can be made up of multiple textures that are seemingly different from one another but are really just parts to a whole. As multi-faceted human beings, we have all these different parts to us, identities that might seem to be at odds with each other but ultimately just make us the unique people we are. I’ve never phrased it that way before, but I guess I just realized what I’m actually trying to accomplish by making albums.”
All of the songs on Nonfiction were written, produced, and engineered by Abdelbarry, who performed much of the instrumentation on the record, such as vocals, bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, parlor guitar, slide guitar, drum programming, upright piano, synth, tambourine, maracas, sound effects, and a water bottle. To help augment her overarching vision, she employed those in her creative circles: Danny Murray (drums on “Things You Say, “Spiderwebs”, “Dance Inc.”); Samir Tawalare (drums on “Saccharine”, “Birthday Cake”, “Norway”, “Winter”); Travis Sullivan (saxophone on “Saccharine”); Claude Lumley (French horn on “Norway”); and Nat Chippy & Nick Timoniere (background vocals on “Winter”).
Nonfiction was recorded at Abdelbarry’s residence in New Jersey, Philadelphia’s Drexel Recording Studios, Connor Hanson’s studio, New York City, and the Copenhagen metro, when Abdelbarry studied abroad in Denmark. It was mixed by Evan Rudenjak (except for “Epigraph”, mixed by Sara), and mastered by Kramer.
“This isn’t a fantastical, fictional record — all the lyrics are pretty grounded in reality,” Abdelbarry admits. “Even if in some songs, like ‘Birthday Cake,’ I build upon stories that friends told me. If the song on the record isn’t directly about me, then it’s probably about someone close to me and their experiences that have left some impression on me. The themes on the record are your run-of-the-mill human experiences – heartbreak, joy, disappointment, longing – just filtered through my eyes of course. I was really interested in bringing beauty to, and putting a spotlight on, the mundane.”
That notion continues to fuel the sentiment that Nonfiction reads a bit like a memoir, with each song opening a new chapter into Abdelbarry’s creative world. Nonfiction is Sara Abdelbarry – the creative, the person, the storyteller – in this moment, drawing from the world around her and filtering it out through her creative lens. She’s harnessed her life experience over the past few years, starting in 2018, enduring the global pandemic, and emerged out on the other side of the most challenging period of her life. It’s a moment in time, documented through her music, one story and sentiment at a time.
“I wrote the first song for the record, ‘Stranger’, in the spring of 2018,” she describes. “I’d just come back from studying abroad in Copenhagen and had such a transformative time there that I was sad to leave that behind. That song is really a love song to the city itself and its people. I never knew that song would lead to an album. The rest of the songs I wrote during my last year of college and after I moved back to New Jersey after graduating college and leaving New York City. That’s why the record has this real coming-of-age feel, because I was literally figuring my life out and who I was in terms of my relationships with other people as I was writing the songs. The songs really came out of a period of frustration in my life where I was feeling down and writing became my outlet. The songs written later, once I felt more grounded in myself, have such a different feel — like ‘Saccharine’ and ‘Dance Inc.’ You can sonically hear me growing up in real time on the record.”
And though her sound has evolved from her more bedroom-pop origins to something a bit more rounded out stylistically with greater substance, earning comparisons to the likes of Japanese Breakfast, HAIM, and Maggie Rogers, Nonfiction carries forth Abdelbarry’s musical vision of what she dubs “emotional rock with a cinematic tendency.” The singles from Nonfiction so far have landed Teen Idle on Spotify’s highly sought-after Fresh Finds Indie playlist; the blog pages of Big Takeover, Various Small Flames, If It’s Too Loud, Rock & Roll Fables, and Turn Up The Volume; and the digital airwaves of KEXP, DKFM, Eardrum Buzz, BumbleBee Radio, and several other independent and college stations and platforms around the world.
From the lyrics and production in “Every Night”, to the guitar work on “Spiderwebs” and “Dance Inc.” to the Herculean task of actually finishing atmospheric star-gazer ballad “Stranger”, Nonfiction is a source of pride for Abdelbarry. And she has no problems opening up this memoir and letting others ride shotgun alongside her – even if it reveals some personal vulnerability.
“I’m too much of an honest and unabashed person to try to shroud the lyrics in mystery or something,” she admits. “I used to do that when I wasn’t comfy with the subject matter, perhaps, but I’ve kind of realized that if someone doesn’t like the lyrics they don’t have to listen to the song. If someone is personally offended by the lyrics, well, there’s probably a reason. I don’t try to intentionally hurt someone with my lyrics, so if they make someone look bad it’s probably because they did something bad!”
Though the excitement over releasing Nonfiction to the world consumes her, there is, after all, that jolt of knowing the listener will finally get to experience what’s been bubbling up inside her for the past few years.
“Maybe I’ve already said how excited I am,” she concludes. “It feels weird to me that other people will actually be able to hear these songs, since I’ve probably listened to them about 1,000 times at this point during the whole process.”
Featured image by Emma Murphy.
SOURCE: Official Bio