The oft-trod path that Sarah Tromley took – moving from her hometown (Portland) to L.A. and living in her car while knocking on studio doors in an attempt to break into the industry – doesn’t usually work out. The streets here are littered with shattered dreams. But as Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” Occasionally, musicians score.
Such is the case with Tromley, who grew up singing in musicals and choirs, and got serious about her art in 2016.
“I always knew I was going to be in music,” Tromley says by phone. “I never doubted it for one moment. My family never really supported it. Growing up, they were always trying to push college on me and what-not. So I did the college thing for about a year and my sister was living down in L.A. When I went down to see her, I just went into the studio and they interviewed me on the spot. I said I wanted to be in the industry, and never went home. I just pretended like I lived in L.A., which is crazy. I took that flight home that night, drove my Toyota Corolla from Portland to L.A., and made it happen.”
The studio she’s referring to is in fact Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music; Tromley started interning there when West dropped the Life of Pablo album.
“It wasn’t anything super glamorous at the beginning,” she says. “Doing a lot of Fatburger runs at 2 a.m. But I definitely built a lot of great relationships there – people that are still my mentors now. Che Pope, one of Kanye’s partners, he’s still a mentor and actually helping me on my EP. The whole journey has now come full circle, which is nice.”
Regardless of personal opinions about West, that’s quite a break to have made, and the sort of thing that Tromley feels wouldn’t have happened back in Oregon.
“Portland has a great music scene – it’s a little more of a grungy metal vibe,” she says. “Similar to Seattle, I would say. Really, for me to grow as an artist, I just had to get out of Portland. Maybe I could have started my career there, but for me the main thing was getting out of my hometown, and doing it on my own. Getting uncomfortable was a huge part of my growth in the music industry. My parents both went to the same high school I did. If I’d never left I would probably never have been so bolshy, putting myself out there and doing the whole struggling artist thing.”
It all worked out, and Tromley is about to release her debut EP having put out a string of singles and videos this year so far. All showcase her sultry, velvety soul voice and gift for hooky pop melodies. Her sound, she says, has evolved after she initially played it safe.
“The Adele sound is what I was going for [at first],” she says. “I really wasn’t sure what my sound was. Growing up in choir, I didn’t realize that the whole first years of my life I was singing in my head voice, and in 2016 I realized that I had a whole chest voice to work with too, working with different vocal coaches. So now, my new EP that’s coming out is going to be more of a Frank Ocean meets the Weeknd vibe with like my own tone on it. I don’t even know what to call it yet but it’s exciting. It’s definitely evolved from singer/songwriter to more current and vibey that way.”
Openly bisexual, Tromley’s lyrics cover sexuality and self-discovery, as well as life in general in Los Angeles, particularly during this current lockdown.
“I’m a cancer at heart,” she says. “I feel very deeply, so emotions always inspire me, whether it’s a new love interest. Now, I’m writing about, in COVID, self-discovery, struggles I’ve experienced so far. One of my songs talks about living out of my car, and another is about the virus and what’s going on in L.A. The opening line to my song ‘Timeless’ is ‘Open up my window, let a little light in, put on a little music, for drowning out the violence. I don’t wanna see the news, I don’t wanna be sad, you’re the one that makes me smile when the world’s going bad.’ So it’s kind of like talking about everything currently and the world that we’re living in today.”
That world is, of course, insane right now. Tromley has been staying sane by indulging in safe staycations and chats with neighbors. Plus work.
“Staycations have been awesome – just driving to the beach for the day when it’s open of course,” she says. “I’m lucky to have a good relationship with my neighbors and we’ve gotten really close. Working with people via Zoom and Facetime has been huge. I actually got more work done during COVID than before I think, because we were all just so dfocused. My producers here in L.A., we just had to get creative. I’m thankful for that.”
Tromley’s debut EP is due out in October, and she’s super excited for people to hear it. The EP has been engineered by Vic Wainstein (Mac Miller, Frank Ocean, Tyler, the Creator), and she says that it’s better than she expected. Meanwhile, she’s been pleased with the response to the singles she’s put out so far in 2020.
“My first single ‘Maybe’ showed a jazzy sound, and now ‘Burnside’ is the first song I’ve connected with as an artist,” she says. “It’s one of those songs that I put out and thought it would maybe do ok. But it’s gotten the best response and I think it’s because I wrote from a place of home, being misunderstood, having a hard time fitting in and making friends. I think that’s something a lot of people would connect with in L.A.”
When the EP drops in October, Tromley will turn her attention to live performances of some sort. We still have no idea what the end of 2020 is going to look like, so planning is hard. But she’s figuring it out.
“My hope is to tour somehow,” she says. “Whether it’s online. I would have loved to do a festival – that’s what I was really hoping for next year. I really hope the world opens up, but if not I will be putting out a couple of songs after the EP comes out and then next year, I’m already starting ideas for my second album. So a lot more to come.”
Sarah Tromley’s debut EP is due out on October 9.