Sacha Sacket, with his square jaw and piercing, blue eyes, is a dead ringer for a young Dennis Hopper. In his rich baritone voice, he sings of unrequited love, sex, addiction, breaking out of closets and the search for meaning, forgiveness and salvation.
Accompanied by sweeping piano arrangements, the sense of yearning in Sacket’s music is palpable. This openly gay singer-songwriter channeled his classical training and a lifetime of experiences into “Shadowed,” his second full-length album. Sacket, a Los Angeles native, will play three shows in New York City next week.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t have any friends because everyone thought I was gay and called me a girl,” said Sacket in a phone interview from L.A. “It was my very difficult experience growing up which led me to play piano, the only way I could express myself. My music is about my music, not about being gay, but a big part of it was about empowerment, strength, of understanding yourself instead of running away from your problems and the pain in your life. You have to fight through it.”
The album kicks off with “Prodigal,” a track with a soaring sound, as wide and lush as Sacket’s description of the setting—during a beautiful rainstorm, he suddenly realized he didn’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations. Writing “Prodigal” was what spurred the creation of the rest of the album. Sacket said he had written about 100 songs—not very good songs, by his own account—when “Prodigal” came to him.
“It just hit me like lightening,” said Sacket. “The song comes from the need to make my parents proud of me as people, not by default and from my need to be an artist. I think a lot of things in this industry keep you down, tell you to go away, be quiet, and I was battling with a lot of that, and this was the beginning of believing in myself again.”
It may seem ironic, therefore, that one of the strongest tracks on “Shadowed” is “Sweet Suicide.”
Sacket sings, “You’re sweet suicide to my life, saving you every time I catch your half-life, wish I could compete with your perfect goodbye, the sweat of your thousand tries, the threat of the same blue sky.”
He sings with a haunting lull that evokes early Tori Amos. But Sacket doesn’t glorify suicide; instead, it is a tale of surrounding himself with people in depression, and his own tendency to act as the savior, the “one who always had the good advice, who could fix your problem for you. It became a problem because I never really dealt with myself,” said Sacket. “It is about somebody who was suicidal, but my own suicide was always about always putting my energy into other people and not myself.”
In that way, “Shadowed” seems as much a music therapy project as anything. In “Cockatoo,” a song that catches and starts, and gets darker and deeper by the level, Sacket sings, “I will say what you want me to say, I will perform, I will follow your rules, just don’t leave me alone.”
He calls the relationship that inspired that track, “a farce; a lie,” saying that often we mistake love for need.
“I let myself be controlled and be censored because I was worried I wouldn’t say the right thing, not be cool enough, or whatever,” he said. “As for my love, I just wasn’t good at picking them. I had to write the album to get out of this cycle, and the key was to stop fixing everything around me and start focusing on myself, including the person I was dating.”
In “I Just Can’t,” Sacket is out for blood.
“That was after I’d left, and he was coming back and there was just no way,” said Sacket, of that failed relationship. “I didn’t know I could be that angry, that furious; it was a new level for me. I had this New-Agey ideal in my head that I could forgive and love everyone, but I really hit this place where I said I can’t forgive this one.”
Sacket revisits this theme in “Stuck in the Sunset,” a song about falling “deeply in love in two nights and I wasn’t going to be kept around.”
That’s not to say that love has forsaken Sacket. In “Paris in September,” Sacket tells of a first date that went so well, he couldn’t bear the eventual disappointment. So he took a cheap flight to Paris, where the date “just sort of showed up. I had a second date with him in front of the Eiffel Tower. It’s cliché, but how can you not fall in love?”
Sacket’s sound has been compared to a lot of piano-playing, singer/songwriters from Amos, Elton John and Sarah McLachlan to John Mayer, Coldplay, and, he admitted, “even Yanni—and I almost killed myself.” His influences include Radiohead, Bjork, Nirvana, early Smashing Pumpkins and Hole. And like these artists, pain and love figures heavily in his subject matter.
“It’s in a lot of the songs I write, because I am in love with unrequited love,” Sacket acknowledged. “Gay people grow up with all these crushes that nothing will ever come of, and suddenly there it was, very real, and I was the one running away. ‘Paris in September’ is basically saying I am scared to death, but here is something keeping me with you, and I can’t leave, it’s just too perfect.”
Sacket, who balances his increasing radio play with live shows on the café and coffeehouse circuit, has made a point of reaching out to high school and college queer groups.
“I want to be a guiding light in a way,” he said. “I don’t need them to follow me, but I want them to know it’s not end of the world if people are treating you like crap, if you have nothing, which is what I had. You can be a healthy person, be happy, and fulfill yourself. My music’s about finding that place.”
He placed the title track, “Shadowed,” at the end of the album, and said it was the hardest to write.
“‘Shadowed’ is about growing up with addiction, with someone that has a problem—that was what set the pattern for all the songs,” said Sacket. “But it didn’t feel like an opener. The song is an opus, not a catchy song, not a quick song; it takes its time and bleeds around you.”
At the end of “Shadowed,” Sacket sings of the realization that he doesn’t need to be the white knight, out to save everyone else.