Sometimes taking a chance leads to completely unanticipated opportunities. Such was the case for vocalist Sarah-Jane (Pugh) Scott ’10 who was about to receive her degree as a professional music major, with no set plan in mind for her career. She met fellow prospective graduate Cecil Remmler ’10 on a Monday five days before their Berklee commencement ceremonies, and they spent several whirlwind days together before he returned to his native Germany. Scott took a chance and followed her heart.
“I had never been to Europe, so I decided I’d go and visit Cecil,” she says. “It was really spontaneous. I ended up finding work and staying there.” Fast forward a few years, and Scott is now a rising performer, recording artist, and TV personality in Germany. (She adopted the last name Scott as her artist moniker when she found Germans struggled to properly pronounce her Welsh surname, Pugh.)
After arriving in Berlin, Scott cobbled together an income by teaching dance lessons to children, waitressing, and playing gigs. “Basically I was taking whatever I could find and worked on my music on the side while I figured out what direction I wanted to go in,” she says. “I was learning German by watching TV, reading books, and talking to people on the street. As an American woman speaking German, I would get a reaction to my accent—something I’d never experienced before. Then I got the idea that I should sing in German, it seemed like it could be an interesting performance angle.”
Scott learned that there was a precedent, and American singers such as Johnny Cash, Peggy March, Connie Francis, and others had tremendous success across Deutschland singing their songs in German during the 1950s and 1960s. Scott tuned into the popular German style known as schlager, or hit music. “Schlager is to German music what country music is in America,” Scott says. “Country songs tell the stories of the everyday lives and struggles of Americans, and it’s similar for schlager. The melodies derive from traditional German melodies. Like every music genre, it is becoming more modern and dance-oriented, but the melodies are not what you’d hear in American pop music.”
Scott began playing old German schlager songs for friends accompanying herself on her ukulele. (She’s played the diminutive four-string instrument since she was 10.) “I didn’t really understand what I was singing, but it made people smile and that was fun for me,” she says. (Scott has since become fluent in German.)
“It wasn’t a big change for me to come to this style. At Berklee, I’d jumped from style to style. I loved singing jazz, but I never felt deeply connected to jazz or pop. I’m mainly a performer, so when I found schlager and started singing in German, everything clicked for me.”
When she was ready to put herself out there, she had a ready-made team in the wings. Cecil Remmler had majored in film scoring and electronic production and design at Berklee, and by 2011, was working in Berlin with established producers Pompetzki and NZA cowriting songs and producing music for artists as well as films, TV, and advertising. His father, Stephan Remmler, has been a celebrity musician in Germany since recording the 1982 monster hit “Da, Da, Da,”with his band Trio. It sold 13 million copies.
At Scott’s first show in a big venue in Frankfurt, a German record executive was in the audience. “He wanted to talk to me afterwards,” she recalls. “I didn’t end up signing with him, but it started a fire in me.” Soon afterward, Scott began writing and recording songs with team Remmler, and signed with Sony Records in 2015. Her first album, Ich schau dir in die Augen (I Look You in the Eyes) yielded her debut single, “Hallo, Hallo.” Her sophomore album, So Viel (So Much), was released in 2017, followed by numerous TV appearances and a tour.
“I did a three-month arena tour all over Europe,” Scott says. “The show featured the biggest schlager artists performing onstage together. I also sang my own songs. We sold more than 110,000 tickets and it was one of the biggest tours in Germany for 2017. We had a crew of 60 and fireworks. I’d never experienced anything like it in my life! It was so much fun.”
In Germany as elsewhere, an artist’s relationship to the fans is important and Scott has noted her fan’s habits. “They buy CDs, records, and downloads, but Spotify doesn’t stream schlager,” she says. “I get lots of fan posts and people sending me physical letters. I send back autograph cards—which are a big thing here. There has been a surge in ukulele sales here too. People send me videos of themselves playing my songs on the ukulele they got for Christmas. I hope I’m part of the reason for the ukulele’s popularity.”
As an American, Scott brings a different perspective to a uniquely German musical style, and has caught the attention of many Germans. In 2018, she will work harder to reach her full potential as an artist. In addition to concerts and recording, she is looking for more cohosting opportunities on television.
“Sometimes it’s great to start with a career plan, but sometimes plans don’t work out the way you want,” she reflects. “People can be afraid to follow their gut feeling or be spontaneous, but those things are really important. I’ve always been one to follow my gut, be flexible, and [stay] open to new things. If someone told me seven years ago that I would have this career in Germany, I would have thought that was crazy. I didn’t know then what I was going to do, but now, I’m very happy with how things are going.”