Feature Stories

Sarah Jaffe and S1 Describe How They Make Their Own Rules in the Dividends

There are only two members in the Dividends, but they just happen to be two of the biggest names in North Texas music. Larry D. Griffin Jr., known as Symbolyc One or S1 has worked with names as big as Madonna and won a Grammy with Kanye West. Sarah Jaffe is one of the area's most accomplished songwriters, and has possibly its most beautiful voice. And the first time they worked together, they won a Grammy. 

Now they're preparing to release their first album together, but they're keeping it simple. Called Far From Away Volume 1, it hints at what promises to be a huge pile of songs from the Dividends. “Some of these songs are three or four years old,” S1 says. “We’re just getting to the point where we just need to start putting out this stuff we are sitting on.”

Even if this album is prone to come with high expectations for Dallas music fans, it still manages to surprise. Volume 1 sees S1 stepping out as a composer, not just a producer. Album opener “Miles” starts with horns that are haunting enough to get your attention, like the main theme from the score blasting with the opening credits of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. But there’s also a beat so simple it makes you think of one of the earliest arcade video games, Pong.

It’s deceptively simple, underscoring how easy this game is for S1, and he plays with the tempo enough to make it sound, at times, like the music is in slow-motion. In comes a riffing piano and Jaffe’s angelic voice. S1 keeps tossing that beat through her verse as playful as Thelonious Monk interacting with other musicians.

Jaffe does what she has always done: Giving compelling delivery as a vocalist, conveying a great deal of emotion and putting the importance on lyrics over everything. Lyrically, Jaffe brings everything into focus by communicating effectively in the simplest ways possible. “People,” for instance, uses a plainspoken, yet socially relevant message for a chorus: “People loving people, that’s the way it should be.”

Jaffe met S1 four years ago when the Cannabinoids, of whom S1 is a member, were remixing one of Jaffe's songs. Soon after, he contacted Jaffe about collaborating. “There is just something about the texture of her voice,” S1 says. “It just resonated. As soon as you hear it, it pulls you in. It’s just incredible.”

He quickly sent her two songs, one of which was called “Bad Guy.” “The words just came out,” Jaffe says. “Then we went into the studio to record them professionally. Six months later, we found out it landed on the Eminem record [The Marshall Mathers LP 2]. We signed papers, but had no idea it would be the first track until the album came out.”

“For that to be on his album was confirmation,” S1 says. The pair would later share in the Grammy honors for Marshall Mathers, which won Best Rap Album in 2015. “We had to keep this going.” He kept sending Jaffe music and she sang what the music made her see. After a year, the two decided to make it a project; they had already started creating an archive.

“Writing and recording are my favorite parts of the process,” Jaffe says. She was happy to write for another artist and also explore new genres. “I had always been a big hip-hop fan, but just happened to make a different type of music. I never knew how to get my foot in that world and S1 opened the door.”

“Once I started writing these tracks for S1, it unlocked this writer’s block I had been experiencing,” Jaffe continues. “In my own creativity and artistry, I had been struggling to figure out who I was and what made me the happiest. Finding that confidence and creativity unlocked everything and writing became fun again. My own music outside of the Dividends evolved immensely. I just let a song be whatever it is, however I want to write it.”

“We really have no limitations,” S1 says. “Usually when I’m working on certain things it needs to sound like this or be like that. But Sarah and I just do whatever we feel; however it comes out is how it’s supposed to be. Without those walls up, we just create whatever there is in that moment. Whatever we do is going to determine the direction we are going. It’s usually the opposite way.”

When asked about the sound of the new record, you can almost hear the sound of Jaffe’s eyes rolling before she explains that she has no interest in classifying this collaboration or her own body of work. Fair enough. Discussions about how she is straying from Americana or indie pop have already been had.

But the music S1 provides for the Dividends also defies classification. It may involve several different types of hip-hop, but this is a producer firing on all cylinders, showing his chops from collaborating with artists from several genres. There is plenty of R&B, jazz, electronic, rock and definitely pop. If you had to describe the sounds of the Dividends, "sophisticated pop" would probably be the easiest way.

Even with a strong album and potential hit singles like “Sign Off,” which is teased in the video trailer for the album, the Dividends have no expectations or plans after their album release show at Trees tonight, other than to continue working together.

“We’re just going to put out these groups of songs with a name that doesn’t really inhibit us in any way,” Jaffe says. “We’re just having fun. We can release whatever we want, when we want.”

The Dividends perform with Sam Lao and DJ Sober at 8 p.m. Friday, June 24, at Trees, 2709 Elm St., treesdallas.com, $10 to $16.
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Jeremy Hallock