Sara Curtin Borrows From D’Angelo On Her New Song, ‘Summer’

By Valerie Paschall

As one half of D.C. folk-pop duo The Sweater Set, Sara Curtin crafts often precious, always intricate tunes that rely on banjo, ukelele or accordion to carry the melody. But “Summer,” a song Curtin wrote as a solo artist, is a slow and sultry guitar-driven ballad that shares more with Sade or Sharon Van Etten than D.C.’s long folk tradition.

Not that “Summer” is Curtin’s first outing with an electric guitar—she plugged in on her debut solo EP, Fly Her and Keep Her—but the stylistic shift is remarkable. To craft the slow and steady rhythms in this song, she called in help from drummer Ian Chang (of Son Lux and Landlady) and bassist Spencer Zahn (of Empress Of), then threw tambourine and synthesized drum beats to the mix.

Curtin’s velvety croon is unmistakable, but she chose a different way to exercise that instrument on this song. “With singers on the radio constantly trying to sing higher and higher and out-belt each other, I decided to take it in the opposite direction,” the musician says. “It was kind of like, ‘Hey…how low can I sing?'”

Her foray into darker and deeper melodies seemed like an opportunity to explore a moody vibe in the song’s video: She teamed up with hip-hop fusion belly dancer Ebony Qualls (who also shows up in a new video from Nu:Tone) and shot the visual amid the shadows and bare walls of director Paul Abowd’s Columbia Heights apartment. The close-ups of both Curtin’s guitar and Qualls’ smooth movements recall the “Untitled” video from D’Angelo—whom Curtin also cites as an influence for this song.

“D’Angelo has a beautiful way of continuously building an arrangement without giving the listener that moment of complete satisfaction,” Curtin says. “That’s how I wanted to build this song.”

The only thing typically summery in the “Summer” music video are the sparklers that Qualls and Curtin hold. They’re shot in slow motion, suggesting a love that’s bright and exciting, but ultimately short-lived.

Sara Curtin performs Nov. 5 at “You, Me, Them, Everybody Live” at Wonderland Ballroom.