Singer-songwriter Sara Kays is on the road opening for the first half of artist Max Schiender (popularly known as MAX)’s North American tour. She opened the first night of the tour at the Santa Ana Observatory on Oct. 17.
Kays is exceptionally open and direct about her day-to-day experiences with everything from love and friendship, to body image and mental health. She uses her music to grapple with life, and her fans have found it easy to do the same.
“Meeting people that relate to stuff that I’m sometimes super scared to talk about in my music, meeting people who it resonates with, makes me feel okay about it. It makes me feel like I’m seen too,” Kays said in an interview with the New University.
She had just gotten off stage minutes earlier after performing an eight-song set for the crowded Constellation Room at the Santa Ana Observatory. Dozens of fans patiently lined up to meet her at the merch stand.
“I’ve been listening to Sara for years, ever since ‘Remember That Night?’ came out [in 2020],” one fan in line said, “I honestly came to see her tonight. MAX is great, but Sara’s my girl!”
Earlier on stage Kays, cozy in a dark green and purple flannel button down and her signature sage green knit beanie, opened her set with “Backseat Rider,” immediately followed by “When You Look At Me.” The third song on her set, “Home for the Summer,” is Kays second most listened to song to date, currently at almost 33 million listens on Spotify.
Home for Kays is Carmel, Indiana, where she was born and raised. She later moved to Nashville to attend Middle Tennessee State University. Three years ago, while she was still in college, Kays’ goal was to be able to make a full time living off of music.
“Now that I’m doing that, I’m trying to figure out if there is a greater goal than that and the goal to reach people that relate to what I’m talking about,” Kays said. “Obviously, it would be amazing to play big venues in the future and do bigger things but I would say I’ve reached the biggest goal of mine since I was a kid.”
She continued her set with her latest release, “Watching TV” which was released on Aug. 19. Afterwards, Kays invited the audience to sing along to the fifth song on her set.“It’s about bugs,” Kays said to the audience, strumming the chords to “Fireflies” on her brown ukulele.
While most audience members were familiar with Kays’ music, many were introduced to her gentle, emotional sound for the first time.
“I didn’t know what to expect with this crowd,” Kays said, “but they seemed super engaged, which is really nice, and I’m stoked for the rest of [the tour]. MAX DM’ed me and was like ‘I love your music!’ and I thought that was so awesome so I responded to him and a few days later he asked if I would open for him on tour. I said ‘absolutely, yes!’”
She followed “Fireflies” with “Chosen Last,” — another song from her 2020 album, “Camera Shy,” which also includes “Home for the Summer.” Kays has amassed almost 2 million followers on TikTok since the pandemic began. She’s gained a lot of popularity through the social platform, and often posts snippets of songs throughout her writing process, sharing the journey with her fans.
“I kind of came up during COVID, that’s when I started gaining an audience,” Kays said. “I would talk to people through DMs and see the online interactions, but just finally being able to see people in person has been amazing.”
The penultimate song of her set was her ballad on body issues, “Smaller Than This.” She told the audience this song was “probably the most direct [she’s] ever been about this,” and her lyrics about always wishing for a smaller body prove her right.
Kays closed the set with her most listened to song, “Remember That Night.” A viral hit, the song has amassed over 240 million listens on Spotify since its release in 2020.
“Usually I start with lyrics or a concept and go from there with the music side of things, but I love to know what I’m talking about or writing about beforehand,” Kays said. “My favorite part is probably writing the songs, when I hit a part where I’m like ‘Woah! That just came together and wrapped up everything,’ it feels so cool. I think that’s still my favorite part, but having played shows and stuff recently that’s kind of a close second. I enjoy it!”
During the headline act, Kays returned to the stage to perform “Butterflies” with MAX — lending her melodious voice to another song about bugs.
Kays said that she feels fulfilled by her work, and is grateful to be able to take the stage again and sing to the people her music is for.
Dhanika Pineda is the Editor-In-Chief for the 2022-2023 school year. She can be reached at email@example.com