“I’m so grateful to be able to do what I love,” says Sari Schorr. “My whole life I always wanted to try to do something to create value for other people, and for a long time I thought my love of music was a selfish pursuit, just something making me happy. I didn’t appreciate the fact that my music could actually be a benefit for other people.
“When I finally was able to see it more objectively and could accept that people really do like what we’re doing, and it’s important to them, and in some small way we’re creating something that people enjoy, that really empowered me to be able to embrace this 100%,” she continues.
“I was trying to save the world – I went to Haiti after the earthquake, I do social work in India – but all these problems are so much bigger than what I can do. I don’t have enough money to throw at these problems, to really make an impact. But then I finally realised: ‘I can do something in my own little tiny way through music’.”
She’s being modest about the sheer power of that music. It’s damn near impossible not to be moved by blues-rock anthems like ‘Damn The Reason’, ‘Letting Go’, ‘Cat and Mouse’, and her fiery take on ‘Black Betty’, songs that sound like she was born to sing them. And yet Schorr, who has a voice as unique as it is powerful, almost ended up trying to sound like someone else.
“I was idolising singers like Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald, and I desperately wanted to sound like them, even though my voice was very different,” she recalls of her jazz phase, laughingly remembering having to lie on her back during recording sessions to make her voice smaller, and producers admonishing her for overpowering songs and drowning out the band.
“Because my natural singing voice came so easy, I took it for granted and I never thought it was good enough. So I always wanted to be something I wasn’t, until finally I really settled into being more comfortable in my skin, accepting I am who I am and not to be afraid of it.
“I was afraid to front my own band, I loved being in other people’s bands, I loved being in the support role to Joe Louis Walker. I would think: ‘How does he front his own band? How does he do these interviews? I could never do that, never, never’.”
So what changed?
“I was so good at having compassion for other people, I just didn’t know how to have it for myself. I was so critical of myself and I never gave myself a break,” she explains.
The lightbulb moment came when a yoga teacher noticed she was trying to force her body into a position it clearly didn’t want to be in.
“She came over to me and, in the most beautiful way, she said: ‘Honey, you’ve got to learn how to balance the effort and compassion. You’re all effort, without any compassion for yourself’. And that was it, it all changed. That lesson made me a better singer, it made me a better person.”
Since then she’s released her debut solo album, 2016’s ‘A Force Of Nature’, and is currently recording the follow-up with returning producer Mike Vernon and her backing band The Engine Room.
“When we’re in a room together, the dynamic is just so perfect. First of all, there’s a real love we have for each other that seems very much like family, and because of that we all feel so comfortable and so safe. There’s no fear, there’s no risk of feeling like you’re being judged if you try something that doesn’t work.
“Everybody’s really all pulling for each other and, in that environment, you can really be so much more creative,” she says of the first recording sessions that wrapped last week.
That relationship is equally apparent in their live shows.
“It allows us all to take a ridiculous amount of chances, because I know that no matter what I do these guys are going to be there to back me up. They hear everything, everybody is so clued into each other.
“That allows us to be very dynamic and creative on stage and the show doesn’t get boring – because we never know what’s going to happen,” she laughs.
“I know that would normally scare the hell out of most musicians but for this band it just works.”
It also keeps Schorr, guitarist Innes Sibun, keyboard player Anders Olinder, bassist Kevin Jeffries, and drummer Kevin O’Rourke on their toes.
“When you’re travelling this much and working this hard, you’ve got to make sure you keep it inspiring, because the audience knows. You can’t fake that. The last thing you ever want to do is not to deliver 100%, and that’s not lost on this band – we appreciate every single person who comes to a show.
“Honestly, a lot of bands think the audience are there for them, but we recognise that the truth is that we are there for the audience, not the other way around. If we’re going to do it for ourselves, we can go into a rehearsal room but when you take a stage and you ask people to come out and spend their hard-earned money, you owe it to them. No matter what.”
SARI SCHORR & THE ENGINE ROOM – 2017 UK TOUR DATES
Tickets via http://bandsintown.com/SariSchorr
Bar Brunel, Bridgewater, Somerset Wednesday 15 March
Colston Hall, Bristol Jazz & Blues Festival Thursday 16 March
Crawdaddy Club, Essex Friday 17 March
Rockabella Blues Club, Frome, Somerset Saturday 18 March
The Borderline, London Monday 20 March
Fibbers, York Thursday 23 March
Scarborough Blues Festival Friday 24 March
Drummond’s, Aberdeen Saturday 25 March
Cottiers, Glasgow Sunday 26 March
Talking Heads, Southampton Wednesday 4 April
The Stables, Milton Keynes Wednesday 12 April
Huntingdon Hall, Worcester Thursday 13 April
Atkinson, Southport Saturday 15 April
The Hawth, Crawley Sunday 16 April
Keighley Blues Festival Friday 19 May
Redcar R&B Club, Cleveland Saturday 20 May
Beaverwood, Chislehurst Thursday 23 May
Flowerpot, Derby Thursday 25 May
Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham Friday 26 May
West End Centre, Aldershot Saturday 27 May