As Sarah Jaffe recalls, it all started with the 110-degree heat she was sweltering through two summers ago in her native Texas.
"I just wanted a small solution — my hair's the consistency of hay, and I was tired of dealing with it," says the 26-year-old troubadour. So she decided on something cool, both literally and figuratively; she boldly instructed her stylist to shave only one side of her head. A month later, she says with a chuckle, "I went back in and said 'Take off the other, and the back, too.' I just wanted short hair, something that I could easily tour with that I didn't have to fix. And that's exactly what she gave me."
Jaffe's startling new 'do—– which she gelled into bushy tufts — fell somewhere between a Wishnik and the Plasmatics' Wendy O. Williams. And it stood as a metaphor for the guitarist's long-stifled curiosity: Having grown up in a strict Baptist household, she lived a sheltered existence that's only now beginning to truly blossom, via her adventurous new sophomore set The Body Wins.
"I wanted to do something that I'd never done before," she says. "If I can change only one small thing, it makes me feel better about doing everything else."
You can catch Jaffe's look — and her music — in the video for "Glorified High" — a loop-rhythmed techno-punker from Body that's as far from her folksy Suburban Nature album debut as a bob haircut is from a burr. Instead of hogging the spotlight, Jaffe sings a few lines then points to an 11-year-old breakdancer she discovered on YouTube, Emily Huffman, and lets her elastic-limbed antics steal the show. The rest of the album pushes the envelope even further, in experiments like the metal/hip-hop "Talk," an eerily Gothic "Hooray for Love," the Cocteau Twins-ish "When You Rest," and the funereal processionals "Fangs" and "The Way Sound Leaves a Room." All of it is held together by Jaffe's warm, smoky warble.
"I'm tired of not taking risks," explains Jaffe. "There are times — personally, and also in music — when I don't want to do certain things, or I'm afraid to try a new instrument. But now I'm coming to a point where I just don't want to be that way. People are either going to like my songs or they're not, so what's so scary about that?"
So she shelved her guitar and bought a pawn shop bass and drum kit, neither of which she knew how to play. The first day Jaffe started fumbling around with them, she penned an entire song, "Sucker for Your Marketing." When she hit a creative brick wall, producer John Congleton asked her to send him every snippet she'd recorded for the past two years, even music she found embarrassing.
"There was this one 30-second demo of me playing the drums and singing a chorus a cappella, just to see if I could sing and play drums at the same time, and John said, 'There's something cool here'," she says of what would become "Glorified High."
Where Jaffe will go from the artistic plateau of Body is anyone's guess. Personally, she has no idea. "It all goes along with taking risks," she says. "I've never been sorry for any chance that I've taken, and any time I've second-guessed myself, it's turned out poorly. So I just follow things through now, and why not? What's the worst that could happen?"