I was lying in bed texting my friend Maggie. We’d gone to an overpriced liberal arts college together that had left us both with unresolved emotional trauma and questionable haircuts that we were still growing out.
Since graduation, we lived on different coasts and kept our friendship alive with sporadic phone calls from parking lots and grocery stores and strings of texts when particularly poignant moments of growth happened in our lives. Moving. Jobs. Art. Queerness. Sobriety. Family. Learning to be soft. Realizing that you’re actually happy to be single. Taking yourself for a hike just to enjoy the view.
Much like my phone calls with Maggie, sarah m.’s new EP Highway 9 is the sound of trying and transforming. It’s planting and blooming. Noticing and releasing. Holding space and letting go. It’s riding the subway by yourself in a new city but knowing where you’re going because you remembered to check the map or felt brave enough to ask a stranger for help.
The first track, “y’don’t spit in the wind,” leads with vocals. It’s the call-to-adventure in the hero’s journey. It’s the plane taking off. It’s the sound of the door slamming behind you as you set out to go for a run to clear your head, only to end up walking to the gas station to buy a Snickers.
A rescue party with one lamp glowin’ /
The Moon she's shinin’ but all she's showin’ is you
This song is the moment you start to recognize the patterns in your life — the things you can change, held up against the things you can’t — like a serenity prayer being read as you contemplate texting that girl who was always mean to you in high school.
“It’s the sound of the door slamming behind you as you set out to go for a run to clear your head, only to end up walking to the gas station to buy a Snickers.”
Next up: “it might explain but it’s no excuse,” a song of reflection and accountability, doing the hard stuff, looking at the painful parts — with a stable guitar leading you through the woods.
I've spent so much time hidin’ /
it's the skins I put on over the one /
that I’ve got that convince control /
Where there is none
It’s looking at your closet, full of clothes that you don’t remember picking up from the dollar rack of Second Mile, wondering how they all got there and how you still have nothing to fucking wear. It’s making a note of all the spots on the chessboard, thinking about how every piece got where it did, and what the next steps are.
I can be more than I was told to be /
I’ve spent so much time learnin’
Finally, the homeward stretch, the first night back in your own bed but the last song of this EP — is “a blue sky over the Sinclair,” a song about accepting love, finding a place of belonging, and recocking the need to be free and independent with the desire to be seen and held.
I thought distance made a heart grow stronger /
cheers to the road that brings me home to you
It’s romantic but not romanticized. Affection with accountability. Yes, you are coming home, but once you get there, there will be even more work to be done. Therapy? Hard conversations about boundaries? A massive closet cleanout? Cheers to the road that brings me home to you, cheers to your Saturn return and making the changes that are in your control.
“In just three songs, you feel their growing pains. You’re on the road with them, looking for a place to eat dinner and charge your phone.”
The accompanying video album begins with trees and skies, moving quickly and slowly, like watching from the backseat of your parent’s moving car, driving to the lake or your grandma’s house. It then blends into a school gym, with pets and plants and friendship and card games. A bucket of water. Shots of Sarah ROCKIN’ (sitting in a chair and playing an acoustic guitar barefoot) and a group dance situation, like the not-scary and just aesthetically pleasing parts of Midsommar.
Through it all, it’s clear that Sarah has an immeasurable ability to tell stories. In just three songs, you feel their growing pains. You’re on the road with them, looking for a place to eat dinner and charge your phone. Thinking about calling your mom just to hear her voice, but wondering if it will be more trouble than it’s worth. Wondering if you have an answer to “So, how have you been?” or “Why haven’t you called?”
Highway 9 is hope that the past isn’t gone — it’s just evolved into the present. It’s mastering how to be on your own, and finally learning how to cut your hair, (that you’ve been trying to grow out) by just trimming the dead ends and not chopping off big locks. It’s hoping that if you do something drastic and impulsive enough — you’ll finally know what you look like. It’s the feeling of wearing a sweater that actually fits, of making coffee with the good beans, of being a little bit older, and knowing how to honor and take care of yourself — but still remembering to be tender and wild and still holding space. Holding space for great love.
Griffin Wynne is a non-binary writer and artist and genderless cowgirl currently drinking plain seltzer. They use they/them pronouns and enjoy camping, reading, used clothes, and documentaries about cults. Follow them on Instagram or Twitter or email them about your favorite Dixie Chicks song: firstname.lastname@example.org.