Sarah Borges didn't hone her onstage skills fronting a band. It was something she picked up in a decidedly less rocking atmosphere.
"I did a lot of musical theater in school," says Borges, who was a musical-theater major at Emerson College. "I got the performing element out of the way earlier, in terms of learning how to act good and sing loud."
Eventually, Borges combined her performing experience with her exposure to her parents' classic-rock record collection and her love of Boston's indie-rock scene, and formed her own band.
"Bands like Throwing Muses and Buffalo Tom were huge, and then I got into bands like X, which were more on the punk side but still shared a common element with me," she says. "I was in an indie-rock band for seven years — I started when I was 17 — and it intersected with this band for the first year, and then I quit that to focus on what we're doing full time."
"This band" is the Broken Singles, which she started putting together in 2004. Beginning with drummer Rob Dulaney and eventually adding bassist/comic and musical foil Binky, and guitarist/fiancé Lyle Brewer, Borges moved the Broken Singles from side project to full-fledged band. Her first album, 2005's Silver City, was attributed solely to Borges, since she hadn't yet solidified the group or fully defined their sound. That album earned Borges comparisons to plaintive country/roots-rocker Maria McKee and hinted at the country/indie-rock hybrid that was evolving. The follow-up, 2007's Diamonds in the Dark, was the first album under the band name. It was slightly more energetic; the volume went up even more on last year's swaggering The Stars Are Out.
"We've always had this problem of being a band that appeals to people in too many different ways," says Borges. "People are always asking us, 'Are you a country band or a rock band? What the heck is it?' And this sounds so cliché, but we're a band from Boston. We're all of those things. We're the sum of what our record collection looks like. With The Stars Are Out, we tried to focus on one thing a little bit more, which was kind of foreign. We tried to make things more cohesive. And the record is half covers and half originals, and part of that was because we were trying to learn how to write songs in just one vein."
The first two albums' stylistic diversity was attractive to critics, but as the Broken Singles evolved as a live group, they found it was hard to back down from their adrenalized intensity to compensate for the slower moments.
"I have a special place in my heart for Silver City; it has a lot of slow songs on it," says Borges. "Live, once you get going, you don't want to strip the whole thing down to play a slow song. We started Diamonds in the Dark to have an eye toward that a little bit more, and The Stars Are Out, as well: to really think about what we like to do live and what the audience likes to do."
Taking that philosophy to its natural conclusion, the band recorded a two-night stand in Boston over New Year's weekend for a live album. The release, tentatively slated for March, will not be part of Borges' Sugar Hill deal but is being financed by fan donations (see sarahborges.com for details) and will be available only at shows and through the website.
"My friend Ray Jeffrey, who I've known my whole life — he has a studio in my hometown — came up and recorded the whole thing, and we had basically everyone we know in town come and hang out," says Borges. "We're going to cull the best of the two nights and put that into the CD. We tried to do everything that we typically do live. There are a couple of new songs not on any record thus far, so they might end up there, and maybe an odd cover or two that aren't on a record that we like to play live. But there are a lot of the songs that we know people like, and it's kind of spread out over all three records."
In the middle of their January tour, Borges and the Singles will also be filming a show in Michigan for a DVD that will hopefully drop around the same time as the live CD. The band's live recording has been fueled by the sort of fan comments fielded by artists ever since Les Paul channeled electricity into wood and wire.
"We've heard from our fans that while they love our records, they haven't been able to capture the live sound," says Borges. "It's pretty exciting. It's also very stressful, but it's worth the complete freedom."