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Sarah Dooley, BC '11, names Michael Cera and Regina Spektor as artistic influences.

Sarah Dooley, BC '11, is hard to pin down. After making her name as a YouTube comedian in her freshman year of college, she was swiftly noticed by the New York Times, and fame beckoned.

Six years later, she's an up-and-coming musician, and garnering even more hype for her debut single, "Peonies." Its colorful and striking video has garnered over 1,000 views.

In an interview with Spectator, Dooley reveals the secrets behind her accidental success, the mysteries of the outer boroughs, and the true meaning of looking "vintage."

Noah Jackson: How did Barnard shape you as an artist and musician?
Sarah Dooley: It really fostered an environment that supported and gave me confidence and helped me meet the right people. Everyone I met had some talent I wanted to abuse. There were just so many collaborators, and Erin Byrne was one of them. She produced pretty much every show I was in in school, so she's been with me every step of the way. When I wanted to pursue music, she was all on board, and since then we've been figuring out life together.

NJ: You first gained exposure in your freshman year with your web show, "And Sarah." What prompted you to start filming?
SD: Michael Cera had a web series called "Clark and Michael," which I watched obsessively. Over winter break I went home and was so bored and frustrated creatively, and that show inspired so many ideas and characters, including the character of Sarah. I wrote about three episodes in a night. I got back to school and talked to my friend Rachel, who I knew was interested in filmmaking, and we were like, "Screw it, let's do it."

NJ: Apart from Michael Cera, who else has influenced your work?
SD: In terms of music, Regina Spektor. Otherwise, I'd say Woody Allen. My parents are huge fans so I grew up watching his movies, reading his short stories, and listening to stand-up. His sensibility became really ingrained in me. Steve Martin was pretty influential too. I guess comedic people were really huge in my life.

NJ: You were written up in the New York Times while you were still at Barnard. What was it like to become suddenly known?
SD: It was incredible. At that point I was so happy that what I was doing was getting through to people and making them laugh. It was all kinds of mind-blowing. After college I had to start looking for a job before I could pursue anything I wanted to do, which took a while. I was just zeroing in on what I wanted to focus on, which just happened to be music. Fortunately, opportunities just came my way. My friend Matt Starr, who was still a senior after I graduated, was studying music production. He approached me because, for his thesis, he wanted to produce a few songs of mine on Columbia's amazing equipment, so I obviously said yes. That turned into the whole summer, and we just recorded the entire album, so that became my primary focus.

NJ: Was it hard to move from Morningside Heights to Queens?
SD: Queens is exactly the same as the Upper West Side except everyone is old and Greek. The difference is, everyone is kooky out there. My landlady is a caricature of a Queens landlady. Her first name is Calypso, and her last name has more x's than vowels. It's almost cartoonish, but it's definitely not the bubble of Barnard.

NJ: You moved in 2011, and you recently released the video for your debut single, "Peonies." What happened in the interim?
SD: I recorded most of the album while we were talking about making the video for "Peonies," then in the middle of recording we shot the video. It took a while—these things take so much longer than you think. I just can't wait for the album to come out.

NJ: What was it like making the video?
SD: I'd used Kickstarter two summers ago when I wanted to fund a play for a festival, and it worked like gangbusters, so we knew we could rely on it. The video has this vintage feel, with the pictures of old movie stars and my old school style, but I'm not afraid of being pigeonholed. With a music video you get a free pass, because each song and each video has a distinct feel. Even so, there is that fear that I'll be seen as just another Zooey Deschanel wearing a dress and pouring tea.

Making the set was like magic. It was like I summoned a genie and said, "Hey! Build me a set!" and—boom—it was there. I had absolutely nothing to do with it. The crew who worked on the video were so amazingly talented. I was blown away at every step. They went into this cultural center in Bushwick and transformed it, wall-to-wall. The director, Conor Byrne, has a brain full of odd, wonderful props and colors. I worked with him before on another film and knew his aesthetic, so I expected something colorful and great, but nothing like how it turned out.

NJ: What's next for Sarah Dooley?
SD: My album "Stupid Things" is out in the spring, and my primary goal is to get everyone to listen to it. Right now, I'm just trying to play as much as possible around New York City and conjure up a following here. Once I have an album to give out to people, I'd love to tour. I'd have a Spice Girls bus, because I'm obviously Baby Spice.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

arts@columbiaspectator.com | @ColumbiaSpec

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