“My Hands Are On Fire”: An Album Rooted in Self-Discovery and Resilience

>>Sally Louise’s newly-established career as an independent folk singer and songwriter begins with an album about ends. The end of toxic relationships, the end of unfulfilling jobs, the end of debilitating standards of perfection, and the end of a life that no longer serves her. “My Hands Are On Fire,” released on May 14th, 2021, is reflective of the past year, a year defined by momentous life changes and mandatory adaptation for many, including Sally Louise.

Photo by Olivia Edvalson

In 2019, Sally migrated from her hometown in Oregon to Rochester, New York to pursue her decade-long dream of becoming an opera singer at The University of Rochester’s famed Eastman School of Music. In 2020, after just one year into her master’s degree, she made the decision to call it quits. The incomprehensible pressure and equally baffling price tag of the industry were too much. “In opera, you’ve got to really love to struggle,” she explained, “It’s so incredibly competitive, incredibly expensive, and run by a much older generation that has very picky standards. After a while, I felt like my education was trying to fit me into what an artist should be, rather than who I actually was.”

When looking back upon her years spent living within the confines of the opera industry’s rigid ideals, she realized “I don’t want to pay money to feel like shit anymore. I want to make music because I love it and because it means something to me.” This realization was one of the driving forces behind her album. After a decade of obsessive dedication coinciding with a time in life that is usually ascribed to self-discovery, Sally was left with the daunting task of redefining both her self-identity and goals.

Sally Louise states boldly that “the mantra of this year has been ‘nobody cares.’” Upon the first impression, this claim sounds vaguely disparaging, but Sally has found solace in the notion that others aren’t concerned with her ranking in relation to the standards by which she created to evaluate herself. Perfectionism can lead many artists to feel that a song is never finished, but Sally believes that “sometimes, the most complete version of a song is just you, your guitar, and your voice.”

“I feel like it's been a learning experience for me, to let go of the perfectionist standpoint, because there is a point when something feels complete.”

This thought process lends itself to other aspects of producing music as well. “I think it’s a big struggle for artists,” she says. “Artists will put deadlines on themselves, and while it’s important to do that, they’ll make it so important that it destroys them.” Sally’s awareness of the futility of self-inflicted pressure is liberating. “No one cares, therefore, you can do whatever you want,” she says, “and the people who do care will show up.”

As it turns out, quite a few people care. Sally Louise has managed to build a fanbase on Instagram of nearly 1,000 in the midst of a global pandemic. “To say you can't build a fan base virtually is bullshit,” she says. “You totally can, and if anything, it means a little bit more to know that someone came looking.”

Sally’s poetic verses documenting the time between the decided end of one chapter of her life, and the beginning of another resonate with many fans. “I think in so many ways, people can relate to the collective trauma and isolated feeling of the pandemic, but this is about an abusive relationship. This is about figuring out what I am doing with my life. I just gave up on this dream that I've been pursuing for 10 years. What am I doing now? And then figuring out how to balance this new artistic identity.”

Photo by: Olivia Edvalson | Album Design: Alison Coté

The title track of Sally Louise’s album “My Hands Are On Fire” was the first song written for the album, but was aptly placed as the final track. Perhaps the most meaningful lyric, “I leave your game, I am no pawn,” is emblematic of the album as a whole. “I am not beholden to anyone's ‘shoulds,’” Sally elaborated. “This ten-year-long contract with opera that I've been signing myself to is over. This abusive relationship that I kept justifying is over. All these shitty jobs that I felt like I had to do because I couldn't be a full-time artist, which was a self-limiting belief, are over. ‘I leave your game, I am no pawn,’ like, I am not going to be played anymore. I am my own person. And that's why it was important for me to finish it like that. And then it all fell into place after that.”

Other notable tracks on the album include “I Won’t Call Your Bluff” and “Never Be The Same Again.” The song “I Won’t Call Your Bluff” is a 1950s inspired doo-wop ballad. Sally’s friend and drummer on the album, Chris Palace, says that the song paints a picture of someone going to their first high school dance, and their date leaving them to spend the evening with someone else. “It’s about being in a relationship that you know is going to end, inevitably,” Sally explains, “and you know that you’re not being treated well, but you’re not ready to let go either.”

The track “Never Be The Same Again” was written as a sister song to “Honey, Hold On,” which was released as a single two months prior. “Never Be The Same Again” is the most stripped-down track on the album, featuring only an acoustic guitar accompanied by Sally’s visceral lyrics which conclude the end to the stories told throughout. “It was the last song to be written,” she says. “I didn't intend to write another song for the album, but it just happened. It was one of those weird songs that flowed out of me and I knew I had to put it on the album. For me, that's the most authentic and raw track.”

Although the months of hard work and arduous introspection that Sally Louise devoted to her album are evident, she is still shocked by the community’s enthusiastic response. “ I can't believe I've found a community during such an isolated time,” she says, “That speaks volumes about Rochester.” Sally intends to stay in Rochester for the foreseeable future and has already begun to conceptualize what will be her sophomore album.

Sally Louise’s new album “My Hands Are On Fire” is available to listen to on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Music, and is available for digital download and purchase on Bandcamp.

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Photo by: Olivia Edvalson