Sabrina Chap Explores Queer Heartache in Latest Album

Part radio musical, part queer soundtrack, Sabrina Chap’s “Postcards from the Rearview Mirror” is a powerful examination of lust, obsession and the queer coming-of-age experience.

Sabrina Chap Explores Queer Heartache in Latest Album
“Postcards from the Rearview Mirror” is Brooklyn-based Sabrina Chap’s third full-length album. (SabrinaChap.com)

The genre of records that capture the story of two lovers who run away from their hometown in search of liberation is well-established—but Sabrina Chap’s third album stands out from the rest. In “Postcards from the Rearview Mirror,” the Brooklyn-based songwriter explores queer heartache through a cinematic structure that combines vivid monologues and theatrical sounds to create an immersive listening experience.  

Postcards from the Rearview Mirror” tells the heartbreaking story of two queer teenagers who escape their violent homes and travel cross-country to Hollywood where at first, everything feels like a dream. But their lives soon begin to unravel as one begins to fall for a more superficial love.

The album opens with a “postcard,” in which the narrator writes to her mother about the journey. Although these postcards, which serve as interludes, are meant for someone else, it feels as though the narrator is writing to the listeners—allowing them to catch a glimpse of not only the journey, but the vulnerability and the struggles the two teens face throughout. It’s a deft and intimate touch, and a mark of the originality that defines this album.

The album’s vulnerability is highly intentional—Chap decided to switch from playing the songs on piano to electric guitar, because it provided a much more raw sound.

“I’m primarily a pianist, and usually perform more in burlesque/cirkus shows,” Chap said. “My previous two albums were full of ragtime tunes and orchestral instruments that earned comparisons to Cole Porter and Tom Lehrer. However, as I was getting booked into more burlesque shows, I needed to write songs that fit those stages: comedic songs about sex. Pretty soon, every time I sat down at the piano, it turned into a joke. I needed to switch instruments so I could get back to writing from a more vulnerable place. This album is based off electric guitar, so sonically it’s completely different. Simply, ‘Postcards’ is more vulnerable and raw than anything I’ve put out there.”

Sabrina Chap Explores Queer Heartache in Latest Album
(Sabrina Chap / Facebook)

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Chap described this album, with its radio musical style, as the perfect quarantine listen—and after diving into it, I can see the comparisons. Her intricate weaving of vivid details with her unique sound allows the album to feel like a theatrical film rather than just an album.  

This is particularly evident in the track “Different Sun”—Chap perfectly paints a vivid picture of the discomfort of being in a foreign place, just trying to find your way. She illuminates lost dreams, faded experiences and missed opportunities. It’s as if the listener is right there on the journey with the narrator.

It was a natural choice to go for more theatrical sounds, Chap says. Telling stories through song is one of her strengths: She was once commissioned to write a musical for New York theater company. She wanted this album to have a similar sound, to allow the audience to imagine a musical in their minds.

“‘Postcards’ is a really abstract telling of queer heartbreak, where each listener can fill in their experiences to the story,” Chap said.  “I like the privacy of that—that it’s more that I’m whispering the story into people’s ears at night rather than producing a glitzy stage musical, where I define what each of the characters looks like. I wanted to trust people’s imaginations.”

The album was entirely recorded in Chap’s Brooklyn bedroom—an intimate touch that perfectly fits the atmosphere of teenage love and heartbreak. When another instrumentalist would come in, Chap says, they would either sit on her bed or try to find a space for them to record.  

“It was great in terms of working with instrumentalists one on one, but by myself—it was hell. In a studio, you have a limited time to record,” Chap said. “But in your bedroom, you can do a thousand takes, and still not be satisfied. Still, I wanted to keep it a bedroom project. I wanted my fingerprints on it because it’s about these two young teens. I needed it to be something I made in my bedroom and not some expensive studio.”

Chap also took the opportunity to collaborate with various queer artists, who helped bring this album to life. Throughout the process, they allowed her to steer away from the pop song template and bring a more raw feel to the album.

“I worked with a few stellar queer artists on this album,” Chap said.  “Ava Mendoza came one day to add a guitar solo to the track, ‘Drive.’ She’s one of the best guitarists out there right now, and it was an honor when she said yes to being on my album. Somer Bingham is another incredible queer musician, who mixed the entire album, and Jenny Newman was the incredible graphic designer for the cover (she created the legendary posters for the UK’s Traumfrau parties). In each case, there simply was an immediate comfort level, because they knew the story I was trying to tell.”

Chap says she is constantly inspired by other queer artists. Her admiration stems from when she ran an event at the Bureau of General Services—Queer Division in New York with fellow artist Ariel Federow.  The event, “Deadline: Works-in-Progress from Cutting-Edge Queer Artists,” offered queer performance artists opportunities to workshop new ideas and the audience to provide feedback on their material.  

“The exploration and freedom to create your own artistic world separate from the heteronormative world we live in is thrilling and infinite,” Chap said. “For years, I’ve been steeped in queer art, and my fellow queer artists all have their own singular vision and voice, which has been hugely inspiring in my own work. I think it’s why I felt confident enough to release something so experimental.”

The album did not come without its roadblocks, given the current state of the world—and Chap faced her own personal obstacles throughout the final stages of the album.

“The final touches on mixing and mastering were pretty impossible for me to do because I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster ever since the pandemic hit,” Chap said. “From making sure I was safe in my Brooklyn apartment, to having to fight for the rights for my brother, who lives in a long-term residence for developmentally disabled adults in Illinois, to creating an alternative protest movement called, ‘Audio Protest’, in support of the #BLM marches, and then getting sick myself, it took me months to finalize even a single track.”

Chap reveals she has written a few more songs while in quarantine, but most of her energy throughout this time is focused on her activism work and trying to keep herself sane. When it comes to being an artist, Chap says she often finds herself split between her artistic work and her activism work.  

“In all of my work, I’m trying to connect people. I’ve lectured in colleges for the past 10 years on mental health, and then told the dirtiest jokes on-stage next to women walking on glass,” Chap says. “Creating groups of people connected in their difference allows me to then step forward and create from my difference. Simply, my mental health advocacy and feminism allows me to stand in my truth long enough to create from it.”

This album shows the cracks in this seemingly indestructible queer love before it ultimately shatters. Chap paints a picture of this gorgeous demise with her vivid lyrics, capturing the highs and lows and everyday struggles of love, with added pressure and more to lose. Chap says as she began to string the songs together, it was clear what this record was going to entail.

“Queer heartbreak is so much more subtle and unnameable when you’re not out. When your love is not seen as valid by the world you live in, it’s harder to express heartbreak,” Chap said. “So you tend to internalize the pain. It’s private and secret, like a deep paper cut. There is something insular about the pain of the main character, who has fallen deeply in love with the woman she escapes with, yet never names.”

“Postcards from the Rearview Mirror” was officially released October 15.  

For a preview, check out the video for “Hate Becomes You,” directed by Anna Hovhannessian:

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About

Michael Herrera is a contributor at Ms. Magazine. He studied at California State University, Northridge and has a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism as well as a minor in creative writing.