By Michelle Trauring
At this time last year, Sara Hartman was 19 years old, settling into her new apartment in Berlin and thinking about her former life in Sag Harbor.
It wasn’t a decision she made lightly, to drain her savings and buy a one-way ticket, she recalled during a recent interview. But she was chasing her passion, she would often remind herself when she felt frightened and completely alone.
The musician’s debut single, “Monster Lead Me Home,” is an ode to her cross-continental journey and her fear. And it is the spark that ignited her career.
Last weekend marked the final show of Ms. Hartman’s first-ever headlining tour of Europe. Last month, she was sharing a stage with the X Ambassadors during their U.S. tour, and the month before that, she was opening for Ellie Goulding.
“Those are the stages that you play on in your dreams,” Ms. Hartman said via email from her tour van, her location somewhere between Prague and Berlin. “To be honest, when I got the call that I would be opening for her, I thought it was a joke.”
Ms. Hartman hasn’t lost her humility, despite her breakout success that many locals predicted years ago. Creative from a young age, Ms. Hartman latched onto music at 11 years old, when she received a drum set for Christmas.
She was hooked.
“Music can move the air in a room,” she said. “It can make you laugh and make you cry, but most of all it brings people together. I feel like such a hippie saying it, but you know, sometimes the hippies are right.”
On a similar note, it was Ms. Hartman being in the right place at the right time that brought her to Berlin. After playing a gig in Sag Harbor the summer after her first year of college, a man approached her and told her about a producer in Berlin named Toby Kuhn.
He thought they would make a great team. As it turns out, he was right.
“I had an opportunity to follow my dream. It was far from easy, but I couldn’t say no,” she said. “It immediately clicked. I was feeling all the feelings moving to Berlin and put it all directly into the music. Toby created this electronic-acoustic, organic yet modern world around my emotional little songs, and I think we made something really special.”
The four tracks on her EP, “Satellite,” have surpassed 20 million streams combined on Spotify. The title track was one of the first songs Ms. Hartman wrote for the album, she said, and the moment she and Mr. Kuhn looked at each other and said, “I think we’re onto something.”
Her cover of Jamie xx’s “Stranger in a Room” and “Two Feet Off the Ground”— “It’s about the hung-over walk home in the morning after a great night out. I’m old enough to drink in Germany!” she said—round out the EP with “Monster Lead Me Home,” the song that started it all, and even got a shout-out from actress Chloë Grace Moretz.
“That was so cool!” Ms. Hartman said. “Well, after I tired myself out from excited dancing, I kind of wanted to get a t shirt or a hat that says ‘Chloë Moretz digs my song!’ But then I thought maybe not.”
She couldn’t help but feel slightly star-struck around Ellie Goulding, too, she admitted.
“The whole tour still kind of feels like a dream, but I was able to do my first headline tour in Europe because of playing on those stages,” she said. “We only got to chat a few times because she is Ellie flipping Goulding and very busy, but she was super nice. I have so, so, so much respect for Ellie. It was such an amazing opportunity.”
After the X Ambassadors tour and before her own, Ms. Hartman found herself in Sag Harbor for a couple of days. She caught up with old friends and left feeling inspired, though she doesn’t have much time to write on the road.
But for future songs, she has jotted down stories of the people she’s met, or the stranger she saw on the street, and the words she wants to say to everyone back home—though she now considers Berlin home, too.
“I was really scared and I was really lonely for a long time,” she said of her initial move. “To have gone through that time and to now have people in Prague screaming the words to ‘Satellite’ back at me means so much. It’s been an incredible journey and I am beyond grateful to everyone who has helped me along the way, but it’s far from over.”
Come September, her full-length album will drop and she said she has some “big things brewing for the fall.” The musician will be back on the East End for the winter holidays, she said, if not sooner for a Stephen Talkhouse gig this summer, though “planning anything in my life right now is relatively futile,” she said.
Since leaving the Hamptons, she said she reflects on her childhood there, but has never regretted her departure. It was only after she left that she realized how surreal the East End can be.
“I mean, I worked at the kite store and Usher came in to play with the puppets,” she said. “I love the Hamptons and, this may be a bit harsh—I’ve been hanging out with Germans too much—but it is very easy when you are there to believe it is the whole world and, in my humble opinion, that makes it a place that is not ideal for finding yourself as a young adult, or at least it wasn’t ideal for me.
“I can assure you that the Hamptons is not the whole world. There is so much to explore and discover out there. It was really hard to leave, but now when I come home, seeing the ocean makes me happy cry.”
For more information about Sara Hartman, visit sara-hartman.com.