Neighbors: Profiles of our community
What does a singer-songwriter do when she suddenly has time on her hands during a global pandemic?
Record an album.
That’s how Haiku resident Sara Jelley used her COVID-19 downtime. After months of writing and recording, she released her first full-length album, “Holes,” last week. The 11-track acoustic guitar folk-pop album is a musical milestone for Jelley, who started penning songs at the age of 14 in her hometown of Fort Collins, Colo.
If her name or voice sound familiar, you’ve likely seen her on stage at one of Maui’s performing arts venues. Jelley made her local theatrical debut four years ago in Maui OnStage’s production of “Guys and Dolls.” Her breakout performance came a few months later when she played everyone’s favorite practically perfect nanny in Maui OnStage’s production of “Mary Poppins.” Since then, she’s racked up more theater credits and has shown off her vocal chops at live music events, including the ZepMaui festival, an annual tribute to Led Zeppelin.
Equal parts powerful and soulful, Jelley’s voice has drawn comparisons to fellow singer-songwriters Joni Mitchell, Sara Bareilles and Jewel. (And anyone who can belt out “A Spoonful of Sugar” and Led Zeppelin’s “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” is impressively versatile.)
In 2016, Jelley released a five-track EP titled “Lay Down Easy.” (For the musically uninitiated, an EP is an album that has more songs than a single, but doesn’t qualify as a full-length album.) Two of the five tracks, “Stay Right Here” and the titular “Lay Down Easy,” were re-recorded for “Holes,” which features nine other original, meaning-laden songs.
“All of my songs are about transformation in some way: lessons learned, relationships realized and ended, and other people’s stories that turned into mine,” she said. “The thread throughout the album is staying with my emotions, not resisting or trying to fix them and getting to the other side instead of running away, no matter how big or small the challenge.”
Jelley teamed up with recording engineer David Stoller Whitney to produce “Holes” at The Root Cellar Studio in Kula. The acoustic guitar and tenor ukulele you hear on the album? That’s Jelley, who has been playing guitar since she was 14; she taught herself to play the ukulele six years ago. “Holes” also includes accompaniment by Los Angeles-based cellist Michelle Packman and local musicians Henry Arroyo (trombone), Sal Godinez (keyboards and piano) and Marcus Johnson (bass).
As for the album’s title, Jelley explained, “(It) centers around the process of trying to fill emotional holes with external things that don’t necessarily fit: people, ideas, jobs, etc. These songs begin to address this by going into the black ‘hole’ inside of ourselves instead of around it. We never know how much our lives can change on the other side of a feeling until we sit with it and go through it.”
“Holes” is now available for digital download at https://found.ee/holeslp. To learn more about Jelley and her music, visit www.SaraJelleyMusic.com.
* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at email@example.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.