Interview: Sandra Mae Lux

Could you share the story behind your latest song and what inspired its creation?

I have always loved performing cover songs; it’s a way to connect to an audience with something that is already familiar to them. The true joy comes from putting your own authentic spin on that cover, and sharing your spirit through that unique lens.

When I first heard the song “Flowers” by Miley Cyrus on the radio last summer, I had to stop everything and completely listen. The songwriting is so brilliant that it totally inspired me to create a stripped back jazz version of it. This sultry Norah Jones-meets-Sade cover, backed by piano, acoustic bass and minimal percussion, makes for a seductive and intimate exploration of this epic song about empowerment after loss. Have a listen here:

How do you approach the process of songwriting, and are there any specific themes or emotions you tend to explore in your music?

My writing partner and I have been writing for years together, and he’s mostly the lyric side, while I’m more on the music side (think Bernie Taupin / Elton John, Carol King / Gerry Goffin, or Greenfield / Sedaka). However, we both influence each other’s work. Generally I’ll come to Alan with an “emotion dump,” or an idea for a song, and he’ll write notes down (kind of like a therapist haha) and then he’ll make sense of it and create lyrics. Sometimes a great stray line will just fall out randomly, either from him or myself, and that becomes the basis of a new song. We have tons of stray lines written on post-it notes scattered all over our flat – we’ve got a lot more songs to write! But then sometimes I’ll get a little lick or melody line in my head and we’ll go from there – but most of the time it’s lyrics first, then melody.
After we’ve finished finalizing the shape of the lyrics, I’ll then sit at the piano (or guitar) and let the lyrics guide where the melody/harmonies/arrangement/groove wants to go. The song will tell you what it wants to do; all you have to do is get out of its way!
We tend to write “grown-up” songs. The themes I/we seem to explore often are the assumptions that are made about traditional relationships. Does marriage really mean “‘till death do us part?” Should one always struggle through stoically in a relationship that isn’t working, or do some relationships have a natural “sell-by date” that should be observed to save both people a lot of pain? We also tend to explore themes about hope, joy, and following that path you’re meant to be on. Recently we’ve explored the topic of bullying, and the depression and the anxiety it so often leads to. Songwriting can be such a therapeutic and cathartic experience!

As an indie musician, how do you navigate the balance between creative freedom and commercial appeal?

If you want to truly be successful as any musician (independent or otherwise), you must stay true to your voice and to your vision. What’s most important is that you stick with your intuitive and authentic expression of your music, and realize it as truthfully as you possibly can. I think people are tired of the generic. I think people crave to connect with others on a more personal level. So if you’re not being truthful to yourself or your music, your audience is going to pick up on that.
Remember, “commercial appeal” is something that is decided on by the Big Three record companies, and they never actually know what’s going to be a hit. It’s just luck and a numbers game. So, you might as well write, record and perform music that actually means something to you!

What do you find most challenging about being an independent artist in today’s music industry?

The most challenging thing about being an artist (especially an independent one) is just trying to survive and make more art.
The music industry has never been more rigged against independent musicians as it is now.
It takes me three “day jobs” in order for me to pursue music, which makes it almost impossible to find the time to do what I’m meant to do – which is to write, record and perform great music. If you want there to be more music, and more variation of music, buy artists’ music. Not stream, it pays nothing to artists. Actually buy it. And if you want to make even more of an impact, consider supporting an artist either directly, or on Patreon.
This makes it possible for artists to continue doing what they’re meant to do, and making the world a more beautiful and worthwhile place to live in for everyone. I have so much music inside of me, so many more songs just dying to get out into the world, but the financial reality is that this can’t happen on a regular basis.

Can you talk about your experiences collaborating with other artists or musicians? How does it influence your creative process?

I mainly write with just my writing partner, and it’s been one of the most artistically fulfilling experiences of my life.
It’s so special when you find someone to collaborate with, and make something that is better than what either one would have created on your own.
We both gently push each other outside of our regular patterns, and explore different ways of doing things. We make each other better writers, better musicians, and better people.
I truly believe that the best songs are written by writing duos (and never more than three or four people). We’ve built this collaborative relationship from total respect, trust, love and patience for each other, and I feel like it shows in the music we create.

What role does technology and social media play in promoting your music and connecting with your audience?

Personally, I haven’t found social media a great way to promote my music. Social media is so fickle, and platforms can change the algorithm at their whim and all of a sudden your posts don’t get any views or likes. What I’ve found most effective in promoting my music is a good old-fashioned email list. You can’t guarantee that the algorithm is going to have your post show up in all of your friend’s and family’s feeds, but an email directly sent to their inbox is almost always going to be seen.

Are there any particular artists or genres that have had a significant impact on your musical style?

I was very lucky that a lot of my parent’s friends and family members had fantastic taste in music, and big record collections! So all of that soul, jazz, funk, R&B and classical music that was playing in the house when I was growing up absolutely influenced and inspires me to this day. Artists like Etta James, Otis Redding, US3, Amy Winehouse, Stevie Wonder, The Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Donny Hathaway, Diana Krall, D’Angelo, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra have all greatly influenced me. And as a sax player, I was very inspired by the playing of Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderly, and Paul Desmond.
Of course hearing all these incredible records from an early age makes that music just seeps into your soul! All artists I think, including me, are influenced and inspired by what they hear, and what music calls to them. All these phenomenal artists called to me, so that’s why my music sounds the way that it does.

Indie musicians often have a close relationship with their fanbase. How do you engage with your fans and build a dedicated community around your music?

Again – a good old fashioned email list! And when I get replies, I always make sure to sit down and email back every single person with a thoughtful and grateful reply.
On that note, feel free to drop a line and I’ll add you to my email list too!

Could you describe a memorable live performance experience or tour that has had a lasting impact on you and your music?

After finishing writing the album “Happily Ever Now” it was time to finally rehearse these babies with a live band. That in itself was a fabulous experience – it was like watching these songs come to life right in front of your eyes (and ears)!
What was even more special was when I performed the songs live at a lovely venue in central London, and the audience was mostly my friends, family and people who meant a lot to me. To have all of those special people in one room, singing along and dancing to these songs I’d written so lovingly with my writing partner was a truly a magical experience.

In an era of streaming platforms, how do you feel about the changing landscape of music consumption and its impact on independent musicians?

It is an utter tragedy. The streaming platforms are definitely biassed toward artists signed to a large label, and against independent artists. This is because the Big Three record companies have huge financial stakes in the DSPs, so it’s not in their interest to promote artists who are not signed to the Big Three.
Between the rise of AI in music, streaming services not paying artists, record inflation, staggering financial inequality and a massive cost of living crisis, it’s almost impossible to make a living as an artist right now. Even the costs of gigging and touring is economically prohibitive.
Like most independent musicians, I work a few day jobs to be able to pay for rent, food, etc and also to pay for things like production and mastering costs, and other musicians to play on tracks. Working day jobs really makes it much more difficult to allow creativity and inspiration to happen.

Composers and artists like Mozart and Beethoven were financially resourced through direct patronage. Maybe it’s time to look at that system again.