It wasn’t long ago — those first two normal months of 2020 — that musician Sara Kendall decided to leave Ridgewood, Queens, behind for Austin, Texas. She had a new, soundtrack-inspired, cinematic pop album under belt that was a stark departure from her more subdued earlier work. She even had a new name — Llynks — to go with the music. She made her move just in time, considering what was coming.
It would be five months before Kendall released Become the Root on July 10, because COVID-19 would change the industry comprehensively. So even though the timeline doesn’t support the tried-and-true, cause-and-effect narrative of “new city, new name, new sound,” COVID-19’s preternatural ability to alter our perception of time cultivates a sense that all of these changes in Kendall’s life are intertwined.
Kendall has had a 20s with a bit of tumult. New York City isn’t a cheap or easy place to live, and she hustled constantly to make it work. She doesn’t think of herself as a model, but she did some sizable gigs to pay the bills. Around that time she was also working as a caterer. She lived in a couple neighborhoods — Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and Ridgewood, Queens, which resembles neighboring Bushwick, Brooklyn, much more so than the rest of Queens. She was trying things on to see if they fit. Somewhere in there she recorded slow-burning, hypnotic songs under her own name with The Eyes of My Mother composer Ariel Loh. (Vanyaland referred to single “Fantasies” as a “phantom play of broken emotions and delayed regret.”) Later, she wrote more pop-oriented numbers. Nevertheless, she was looking to do something more expansive. The songs didn’t quite fit exactly what she sought.
“The Sara Kendall stuff — I was still trying to find my sound. I was all over the place,” Kendall says.
Before she left, she managed to get into Sweet Rains Studios with Justin Mathews and commit Become the Root to finality after two or three years of writing. The album has techno and industrial elements with a few brushstrokes of cross-genre 1980s influences — all of that blended with a bit of the avant-pop of artists like SOPHIE or Charli XCX. References to the aesthetic of Vangelis’ eminent Blade Runner score are certainly there. With Kendall’s vocals in the mix, the songs have a distinct opening-credits or closing-credits air. It’s a fitting New York album for her to have made before embarking on her new path. It’s as expansive as she desired, while maintaining the noteworthy intimacy of her earlier work.
“It’s very visual [music]. I definitely had intended to get a much bigger cinematic sound that was cyber-punky and industrial almost,” Kendall said. “I wanted to keep it under that pop umbrella, but still make it different and unique enough. My goal is for it to be placed in films or TV. That’s one of my dreams.”
For “Aching For Me” from Become The Root, “I envision a boss battle, or Harrison Ford getting the replicants,” Kendall says. “Just something really intense and just severe and immediate.”
“I feel pretty influenced by the Spyro [the Dragon] soundtrack,” she says. “I played Spyro all the time — the first one for [PlayStation]. That’s definitely stuck with me. It just has. Not something I can control, because it’s just been ingrained in me since day one.”
Kendall and Mathews took the album from a collection of vocal-piano demos to 10 fully realized songs in four months. Kendall went Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and “we really just went for it,” she says. Because she’d already written the songs, it was easy to just quickly build on the foundations, she added.
Fast forward to today, and Kendall regards her new album with a great sense of pride. The huge, off-kilter, and sometimes experimental work, paired with catchy hooks and her fantastic vocals, is where she wanted to go with Llynks.
“I just feel so much more certain of exactly what I want to do… I’m aware that this stuff is kind of left of center, and I like that,” Kendall says. “I’ve never tried to set out to make a charting song. I feel what’s more important is what you have to say.”
Become the Root is available now to stream via your favorite platforms.