It’s been three years since Poesy, (aka Sarah Botehlo) caught Canada’s attention with her performances on the CTV series The Launch, but she’s been very busy since then.
Glass Box Confessional, a four-song EP, on the Scooter Braun/Scott Borchetta label Big Machine Records, was released in 2019, and its first single, “Soldier of Love,” debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes All Genres chart, and broke into the Billboard Top 40. (Unfortunately, her deal with them was soon scuppered in the wake of COVID-19.) Next was a single, “Diamonds,” which garnered more than 340,000 views on YouTube, and caught the attention of acclaimed U.K. producer Stephen Lipson (Annie Lennox, Grace Jones, Billie Eilish) and New York-based management company Artist for Artist.
For the last several months, Lipson’s been virtually producing her debut album (release date TBD) via Skype and Zoom meetings due to the pandemic. “It’s definitely weird to make a record like this,” says Poesy. “I would have preferred to get to go to England, and not have to wake up at 5:00 a.m. to take his calls, but I’m really grateful for the opportunity.”
On the phone from her home in Toronto, where the Hamilton native moved four years ago, after graduating from London, Ontario’s Western University, Poesy sounds upbeat and enthusiastic about where she finds herself now in her career. Big things are about to happen. The day after our interview, she was set to shoot a video for “Steel Hearts,” a song commissioned as the opening anthem for the Canada Games XXVIII (that have been re-scheduled for August 2022), and she was really looking forward to it.
The opportunity to write the song came about in a way that has Poesy in stitches as she tries to recount it. On a visit to her parents’ home, she learned that Mom had bragged about her singing to the neighbours’ kids, and had promised them a performance on Sarah’s next visit. “I was like, ‘Mom, why did you invite these people over? I just want to chill,’” she says. Turns out the kids brought their parents, and the dad happened to be on a committee planning the Games. Within days, she was invited to write and perform the opening song.
“I find it way easier to talk about my emotions now”
An incredible honour, no doubt; but also, for a woman who describes herself as “not athletic in any way shape, or form,” a great challenge: “How do I represent the feelings that these people are going to be going through, when I skipped gym class?”
Poesy wrote “Steel Hearts” (the title of which she acknowledges is a tip of the hat to her birthplace) with Dajaun Martineau, who’s worked with Kathleen Edwards, Lydia Ainsworth, and Moist, among others. He’s a longtime friend, who’s co-written and is recording the new album with her as well.
Poesy had never considered music as a possible career, although she says, “I think, in a way, I was always a songwriter, because I grew up watching way too much Disney, and thought you were supposed to sing about everything you did. I used to just sing about making a sandwich. I was probably the most annoying kid ever!”
Things changed once she went to Western. The young Poesy started making friends with a number of musicians, and ended up winning a talent contest with a prize of some studio time. That hooked her, and she began writing for herself. Then another contest came along – The Launch – and that sent her off on another tangent.
“After The Launch, it was a way different experience,” she explains. “Before that, I had always written alone in my bedroom, and it was very intimidating when I started my first session going into the studio… I think being a songwriter has helped me a lot as a person, because I used to be very, very closed off, and I find it way easier to talk about my emotions now. I think that the last four years, doing co-write after co-write after co-write has made me a way more outgoing person.”
So, where did the pseudonym “Poesy” come from? And how to pronounce it? Two syllables (like the flower), or three (as any Google search will tell you)? “I stayed up one night when I was at Western, because I wanted to have a stage name, and I wouldn’t let myself go to bed until I came up with one,” she says. “I was reading The Defense of Poesy [also known as An Apology for Poetry, written by the Elizabethan poet Philip Sidney and published, after his death, in 1595] for school, and the whole point of it was [that] we should teach people through art, because then they can learn something, but they can also enjoy themselves. I just really liked that, and it kinda stuck.” And the pronunciation? “It’s ‘POE-zee,’ cause it’s cuter.” There you have it.