The heat wave had begun. In a few days, the soaring temperatures would turn to fires, covering this city in ash, burning in the distance like flames from factory smokestacks. But before the conflagration and the consequent destruction, Sara Lov floats around her small kitchen, making jokes and Italian coffee, tossing quips at her dog, Noodle. She suggests we put our coffee on ice, with a sparkle in her blue-as-the-Adriatic eyes. Lov, 38, may be best known as half of the dream pop duo Devics, with whom she showcased a wafting voice that could just as easily tiptoe as take flight. But to know about Lov involves understanding more of her story than merely her discography.
“My life is an open book,” she says, pouring soy milk into her drink.
“My childhood, like most people’s, molded how I view the world and how I create,” Lov says, instructively, before opening her metaphorical tome and reading from it. Lov was 4 when her mother won custody of her and her older brother after a bitter divorce. Lov’s father fought hard to get them back, even threatened to kidnap the children if he had to. Lov’s mother, she says, warned the court that her father was volatile, but he found a sympathetic judge and finagled five visits with his children during their preschool recess. After the fifth visit, he earned time alone with the kids — and made good on his threats by kidnapping the two children and leaving for Israel.
“I remember being in the airport and he told us, ‘If for some reason I’m not on your flight, just find someone official in the airport, and they will take care of you,’ ” Lov says. “We freaked out and prayed: ‘Please, God, let him get on this plane.’ Then he went up to the stewardess and charmed them into helping my brother and I onto the plane. Once onboard, he left us and sat in an empty seat. We saw him sit down and we cheered.”
As a 5-year-old, Lov couldn’t process what had just happened; this was her father, the man she trusted. When they landed in Tel Aviv, her life was uprooted. “We were immediately put into first grade, and I didn’t speak a word of Hebrew,” Lov says. “I was very isolated. I hated school, but music was my thing.” Her father introduced her to the Beatles, and the Beach Boys, and Lov would record entire radio shows with a tape recorder and sing along. “Besides my dad being a criminal, he was the one who encouraged me to be creative,” she says.
“He said I was funny, and that my voice was good,” Lov continues, while sipping her iced coffee. “But that other side was terrible.” She and her brother bore the brunt of his temper and physical abuse. He couldn’t stay out of jail, and the women in his life were not the matronly type.
When Lov was 11, her father met a woman who convinced him to return to America — Minnesota. After six years abroad, Lov had to relearn English and integrate herself into school; she had to relearn how to be an American kid.
But her father became more erratic, and her isolation grew. “Everywhere he went, he’d leave a path of destruction,” she says, “but music was my sanity. It was the thing I could turn to to escape.”
She and her brother eventually moved in with her uncle in California, leaving her father behind for good. “My uncle saved my life,” she says, “going from chaos and welfare to a stability that I never knew existed.”
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Lov first gained attention for her songs with the Devics, which she founded with Dustin O’Halloran in 1998. When he became involved with solo piano projects in the mid-2000s, Lov forged her own path. too. With the help of Zac Rae, who produced Fiona Apple and Annie Lennox, she began work on her solo album, Seasoned Eyes Were Beaming, a melodic musical diary enriched with swaying string sections (“Fountain”) and tinkling toy pianos (“Touched”), all sewn together with Lov’s simple strums and bittersweet lyrics. The album, re-released by Filter records in late August (after a false start from her former label Nettwerk, which first released the album earlier this year), will literally accompany Lov as she tours with indie crooner and sometime-collaborator Sea Wolf. She plans to take the stage with only a guitar and a record player, which will provide the backing tracks. These minimal, intensely intimate shows don’t scare Lov — nothing seems to shake her. Instead, she thrives on baring her soul. “I always feel vulnerable onstage, but that’s the beauty of it,” she says. Then again, she’s had some experience with difficult emotions.
At 15, Lov reunited with her mother after 10 years. By this point, her mom was a stranger. It was difficult, Lov says, but they grew closer as time went on. When she was 16, her father killed himself. “But I’ll save that story for the book,” she backtracks, perhaps after seeing that I’m a bit exhausted.
Lov smiles and jokes while cleaning our coffee cups. “I was never that kid in all black, writing-poetry-in-the-corner girl,” she explains. Instead, Lov’s music cuts through the fog of isolation and sends out hope with each song, like messages in bottles. “When I was a kid, listening to the Smiths helped me know that others could feel [like I felt], and that I was okay. Now, I feel that I need to give back to what was given to me and balance darkness with hope.”
Sara Lov performs with Sea Wolf and the Afternoons at the Troubadour on Thursday, September 17.