One would likely find it hard to believe, when bearing witness to the shimmering expansiveness of soundscapes captured in Sarah Kinsley’s Ascension EP, that this is a project entirely created by the 23-year-old in her NYC apartment recording studio. The breakout singer, songwriter, and producer seems to have cracked a code when it comes to translating intimate themes of doubt and longing into ethereal alt-pop. Her work transmits deep, inner feelings into lush productions, toeing the line between introspective and dreamlike. A vocal powerhouse next to evocative storyteller, Sarah Kinsley is a name to watch in the singer-songwriter sphere, notably post enjoying virality with her 2021 release, “The King.” Fresh off a SXSW Sydney performance, Sarah spoke to EnVi via email about her musical upbringing, the intricacies of her creative process, and opening for Mitski.           

Becoming “The King”

Music was always around in Sarah’s home — a “defining part” of growing up. “I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t playing in the house or my brother and I weren’t practicing our instruments,” she shared. Throughout her childhood, she performed classical music in youth orchestras, moving onto eventually studying music theory at Columbia University. However, the path of professional musicianship didn’t make itself clear to her from the start. “I always secretly hoped [music] would be a greater part of my life — let alone a career — but just never knew it could be, or expected it to be possible.” 

Nowadays, putting out four EPs within the span of five years, performing at renowned festivals such as Lollapalooza and Governor’s Ball, and touring as a supportive act alongside indie pop sensation Gus Dapperton are undeniably proving younger Sarah wrong. The first taste of the future came in early 2021, when the musician posted a TikTok which showcased the production process for her song “Over + Under.” It featured her recording organic percussive sounds using her home surroundings, and was ironically tagged “Women don’t produce music.” Overnight, she had thousands invested in her work. A few months later, and upon the release of her second EP, entered “The King;” a euphoric ode to youthful love which captured hearts all over the world, quickly ranking up huge numbers on streaming platforms.  

There is no slowing down for the up-and-coming star. In early October this year, it was revealed that Sarah will be opening for indie phenomenon Mitski at one of her Nashville shows in April, as part of the North American tour for her 2023 record The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We. “I was in a tour van when I got the news and I just absolutely lost my mind,” she said of her reaction to the announcement, which was followed up with a tearful Instagram post and an ecstatic TikTok. 


what is this life 🥹😭 thank you mitski thank you universe this is such a dream tickets go on general sale this friday Oct 6 at 10 AM local time

♬ My Love Mine All Mine – Mitski

Confidently Ascending

When asked about her tour experience and its impact on her perspective regarding her music, Sarah emphasized the fascination in observing the different ways songs come alive during live shows. “It’s a strong testament to the fact that the music is capable of changing in really immediate ways — reminds me that the possibilities for experimentation are endless.” Similarly, she describes her relationship to music as ever-shifting. Still figuring out her sound in singularity, the multi-instrumentalist attributes her progressively more open-minded approach to writing and producing to getting older. Her newfound comfort in that sense of freedom is naturally evident. “Some days [music] is an escape, other days it bleeds into everything I do that it feels more ubiquitous,” she acknowledged.   

Photo courtesy of Julia Khoroshilov

Ascension is where Sarah’s artistic maturity truly shines. On the five-track project, one moment she is channeling Kate Bush’s pixie-like vocal presence and the whimsy of Cocteau Twins against exhilarating dream pop sonic tapestries; the other she disarms with stripped-back, resonant delivery of her poetry, which more than validates the placements of her name next to the aforementioned Mitski — known for a unique sense of melody and striking lyricism. Sarah recognizes Ascension as the final chapter of “a sort of trilogy,” referring to previous EPs The King (2021) and Cypress (2022), which see her racing forward and reuniting with her younger self, post the high of visibility. Here, the “troubling complexity” and fleeting nature of time — a recurring lyrical topic and predicament she is “always thinking about” — is thematically palpable, yet embraced; “Ascension was a piece of solace to that question — whether or not I understand how things happen, how time escapes us; that memory still exists and I can hold onto what I choose to remember throughout the passage of time.” 

“I was a child for a minute / Buckled up in pearls and hair,” opens up the EP, with the musician recalling youthful carefreeness while “stuck inside the second decade.” In the music video for Ascension’s first single “Oh No Darling!” — the chorus of which also possesses her current favorite lines from the project — Sarah is an arcade game character breaking free from a coin-op machine found in the middle of the dark woods. Stealing the coat of the unfortunate player-turned-her-placeholder, she attempts running away only to be compelled back to try her own luck at the game. Tying into the choice of visuals, the song revels in subtle ‘80s influences, its restless bassline adorned with colorful synths and a dramatic slide guitar solo.  

In parallel, “Black Horse” builds up tension equivalent to speeding through empty fields. ‘80s-inspired drums and synths illustrate an atmosphere that encapsulates nostalgia and melancholy; The words “are we still too young?” reverberate in all dimensions, while visuals alternate between neon lights and crisp nature landscapes. In the title song, clad in cinematic piano, Sarah croons stream of consciousness-style, about wanting to cling to a memory which resembles a dream. “Ascension”’s final minute gives way to blooming strings, offering the shortest track and “heart” of the EP the mysterious feel of an interlude.

A familiar thread finds itself intertwined with “Lovegod,” where the metaphorical reference of “mountain” calls back to The King’s “I’m Not A Mountain.” In the latest, over a romantic arrangement of propulsive piano and orchestral strings, Sarah pleads for a personified resolution to her self-imposed worries, as she dances with a flamboyant, monster-looking creature in place of a lover. The body of work closes with “Sliver Of Time;” a sober appreciation of a short-lived, joyful memory accompanied by pompous drum hits and reverie-inducing, layered harmonies. It was the last version of the song to be created, as Sarah revealed, letting us in on a fun secret; “One of the first was this really alternative rock song with hints of sounding a little country. I hope it never sees the light of day, personally!”  

Transcending Bounds

Her creative process may be considered unorthodox in more ways than one. In an era where producers are able to access a sample library of incredible size and variety, Sarah opts for recording her very own sounds, rendering her music, by definition, unique. Additionally, contrary to typical systems of setting text to a melody, or writing to an existing beat, her visions tend to appear in one piece, full-fledged and unfragmented. “For me, the writing is never separate from the music — they are one and the same. Composition comes to me in the form of lyrics; lyrics arrive in my head as melodies already. It’s very hard to separate the two. I usually just sit in silence until I feel an urge to speak or write something down.”

Letting the music speak for itself, Sarah isn’t bound by pre-determined visual or narrative molds either. “Music transcends bounds,” she declared. “If I think of a specific place or scene or feeling, that, to me, is already placing limits on what the music could sound like. I often find that once the song is finished do these thoughts of where the music could be placed enter.” 

Sarah Kinsley’s rich and intricate, yet introvertly crafted productions bridge a line between classical training and pop sensibility. Having come a long way from her first viral moment in just a couple of years, she continues to build her evolving artistic identity while carving her individual path in the industry. In November, Sarah will be headlining two homecoming shows at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Her of-the-moment plans involve more experimenting with synths and strings. As for the distant future, she had to say; “[It] holds lots of new music. That’s all I know for sure!”

Keep up with Sarah Kinsley on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and YouTube. You can listen to her music on all streaming platforms. 

Interested in learning about up-and-coming talent in music? Check out our most recent interview with Izzy Savides here