Pop Artist Sarah Zanotti: On relationships, breakups, and why pain and joy go hand-in-hand

Musical artist Sarah Zanotti amplifies the intensity of her singing with the type of songwriting skills that will silence you into self-analysis. You might find yourself, mid-listen, processing past romantic relationships or dredging up burning hatred instead.

Zanotti defines her genre as pop, and her own style as “if Shawn Mendes and Katy Perry had a musical baby, and that baby’s part-time nanny was Julia Michaels.” (I couldn’t say it any better, so those are her words, verbatim.)

And in order to perfect her style (and presumably very photogenic baby), Zanotti pursued a degree in songwriting at Berklee College of Music in Boston, made a pit stop in L.A., and now resides in Nashville.

Listen to her latest single, and read on as the rising singer explains why it’s important to write about all parts of a relationship:

Q: A lot of your music focuses on romantic relationships, with your recent release, Unwanted, detailing the impending end of one – but with both parties not yet ready to cut ties.

When is it beneficial for you to draw on and sing about past experiences in a cathartic way, and when is it too painful and instead an issue you need to let go? How do you draw the line?

Yes, I seem to have a problem with constantly writing about the impending doom of a relationship. But relationships, in general, are so interesting to me. I think it’s the best way to learn more about yourself, because usually you end up attracting in your biggest mirror. Relationships have always reflected back to me the ways in which I’m not fully loving myself.

“Unwanted” is about our desperation to compromise ourselves just to feel good enough. And in this particular story, I was fighting to stay in something far past its expiration date, because I didn’t want to face rejection – even though I knew the relationship wasn’t right for me anymore.

I haven’t come across a major life experience that wasn’t beneficial to write about. I’ve realized, however, that it takes me a while to figure out exactly how I feel about something. Sitting with my feelings long enough to have a cathartic release and articulate them in a clear way is something that I’m still trying to master. If I jump straight into writing, it can be overwhelming and my song sounds more like a journal entry, rather than an accessible form of art.

In regard to something feeling too painful…I don’t mind feeling pain. I’ve learned that if I try to cure myself of pain too quickly, I simultaneously put a roof on the amount of joy that I experience, too. For me, it all belongs. I guess I don’t have a line. But other people in my life do, and the only time I hesitate is when I realize that I’m writing about something that involves other people who may not want their stories to be exposed. It’s been a process trying to navigate through honestly sharing my true experiences, while respecting other peoples’ privacy at the same time. Ultimately, I want to be an artist/actor that transforms fear-based belief systems, and sometimes that means being someone who pushes people out of their comfort zones.

Q: Pursuing a career as a singer and songwriter requires, first, talent – and then establishing your brand with a website, Instagram feed and social media, photo shoots, and more. What additional work and behind-the-scenes efforts do you have to spearhead that others may not know about? How many hours a week do you typically work?

Yes, pursuing an artistic career involves so.many.things! My brother used to tease me about not knowing the pressures of having a 9-5 job…and I always thought, “Yeah, but, being an artist is an all hours job!”

Work is a weird word to me. Because the way I work is less about what I’m doing and more about who I’m being. Being an artist requires someone to show up in the fullness of who they are. Sitting down at a computer and sending off 900 emails can only get me so far. If I’m not tending to my mental, emotional, and spiritual health/growth, I won’t be able to write and create authentic content to send in those emails! So my additional work is having a spiritual practice. Be it prayer, journaling, working out, and meditating (basically, any way I can connect to God and align with who I really am). It’s something that I’m constantly trying to be more dedicated to. There are seasons of life where having a spiritual practice feels effortless and makes building a website, Instagram feed, and social media presence feel exciting, and then there are periods of time where it falls to the wayside and I’m more susceptible to getting consumed by comparison and society’s constant pressure to “grind” and “hustle.”

I don’t like to work from a place of fear – and usually I can’t. Nothing flows. I work best when I’m taking care of myself and healing the belief systems that stifle my creativity.

Q: Creatives can struggle with a work-life balance, because regimented office hours can be near to nonexistent. How do you know when you need to take a break, and what is your routine to recharge?

Life experience IS the inspiration for art. If I sit down to write and draw blanks, it’s usually a good indication that my life balance is off. Like I said above, if I’m too consumed with the hustle and grind of making a career happen, I can’t create.

My routine to recharge is different all the time. Sometimes the experience that I’m craving is spending more time alone, at home, watching movies and reading books, and ordering copious amounts of Thai takeout. Anndddd sometimes I need to get out of the house and get drunk and make mistakes. Like I said above, I believe that it all belongs. I’m not recommending people go out and get drunk and rob a bank or anything…but I do think that allowing yourself to get out and live the full spectrum of life without attaching a bunch of shame and guilt to it can be the best way to spark inspiration and recharge your batteries.

Q: In your video for “Justify (I hope ur f**ed up),” you play a female who processes and acts on a betrayal. Turning the tables, what’s the worst thing you ever did to someone when you were in a relationship? Were you sorry for it?

I betrayed someone. Woof – that’s hard to write. I was in a long-distance relationship for three years, and it started to become extremely apparent that our lives were never going to exist in the same place. There were some other things that surrounded the relationship that weren’t so ideal either. After two years of long distance with this boyfriend, I found myself in the middle of a lawsuit. Long story short, I was conned by someone in L.A. that I thought had my best interests at heart and was going to help me build my career. I suffered massive financial loss, was manipulated to believe my family and my friends were toxic, and eventually became unbelievably depressed. I was in desperate need of comfort and emotional support. I expected my boyfriend to be the one to give it to me – which I now understand was a TALL order.

I moved to Nashville because I no longer felt safe in L.A. I met someone here who made me feel seen, and I developed feelings for him. I came clean to my boyfriend, because I have zero ability to keep secrets, and my guilt complex was as strong as the evil force in the underworld on Stranger Things. I was devastated by my actions. It took me a long time to forgive myself and to have compassion for a girl (me) who was doing the best she could with what she knew at the time. That boyfriend and I have since mended a lot of the hurt, and actually have a really great friendship. He knows my heart.

Q: …how about your most compassionate act?

My friends always joke that I can make them feel better about pretty much anything, because I probably have a story that’s far more embarrassing or f*cked up. Wow, I’m really making myself seem like a treat! All this to say, I empathize with a lot of people and can find compassion for them, because I’ve been forced to give it to myself. I can’t remember a specific act of compassion, but I have a constant desire to hold a space for people to feel safe and understood.

Q: Finally, what are two truths and a lie?

1. I peed my pants once while making out with someone.
2. I was on Star Search when I was nine and thought I was headed straight for stardom.
3. I was almost expelled from preschool because I kneed my teacher head-first into a wall while she was bent over, putting papers in our cubbies.

Photo by Jessica Leigh Palardy
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- Lisa Cleary