Catching up with Sara Henya

The Philly fantasy-pop harpist recently released new music

Sara Henya
Philly-based Sara Henya discovered the harp at age 16 and hasn’t put it down since. | Image: Laura Geositz

By Eugene Zenyatta

Sara Henya is a singer-songwriter and harpist based in Philadelphia. Her music can best be described as fantasy-pop, combining the fun of pop music and the ethereal sound of the harp.

She incorporates imaginative, fairy-like visuals that allow her audience to interact with her otherworldly character. Her melodic and complex artistry echoes the complex nature of her lived experiences with Tourette Syndrome, using music to transport into the enchanted sceneries detailed in her many tattoos. 

Henya’s debut EP, “Small World Alchemy,” released two years ago, received widespread radio play on folk and alternative programs such as “Out of the Woods,” “Power Folk,” “Womenspace,” and Radio 104.5’s “Live at 5.” As well as touring music venues around the East Coast, she has created a large and dedicated following, which is especially seen at science-fiction conventions like Balticon and Arisia. Recently, fans have enjoyed her livestream shows. 

This summer, Henya released her first single of the year, “Circle.” On Nov. 20, she released her highly anticipated follow-up single, “Pancakes.” She is inspired by artists such as Joanna Newsom, Grimes, Hannah Diamond, and Sara Barielles. Her debut album is available now on all platforms.

Sara Henya recently released her latest single, ‘Pancakes.’ | Image: Laura Geositz

PW recently caught up to Henya to talk about her new music and how she came up with the fantasy-pop style of music.

Let’s go back to the beginning. When and how did you first become interested in music? 

I’ve been singing as long as I can remember, and my mom’s side of the family is very musical. She started to teach me piano when I was really young, and I took various instrument lessons throughout my childhood, ranging from trombone to piano to classical singing. I found the harp at age 16 and haven’t put it down since.

You grew up in the science fiction and fantasy community and have developed a strong following at science fiction conventions. What attracted you to this community, and why do you think so many science fiction fans are also fans of your music?

Of course I love science fiction and fantasy conventions for the pop-culture aspect, but they are also incredibly open-minded people. At conventions you can wear whatever you want, take on whatever name you want, and be your true self without fear of judgment. I think science fiction and fantasy fans are excited to see someone combining their favorite things in a new way. They might not know what I’ll do next, but they know that they’ll see themselves in it.

Your music has been described as “fantasy-pop,” which combines the fun of pop music with the ethereal sound of the harp. How did you come up with that combination? 

Honestly, I just make the kind of music that I want to listen to. I tried for a long while to be a serious folk musician, but I love listening to pop music. I just needed to be brave enough to make something that I liked, without trying to pander to anyone in particular.

I think science fiction and fantasy fans are excited to see someone combining their favorite things in a new way. They might not know what I’ll do next, but they know that they’ll see themselves in it.

– Sara Henya

2020 has been a challenge in so many ways, but, this summer, you released your single, “Circle.” Your follow-up single, “Pancakes,” came out Nov. 20. Did the pandemic impact the production of these singles or otherwise affect your career? How have you spent your downtime?

The pandemic definitely ruined the summer tour I had planned. Actually, I was planning on putting out another folk album, but with my downtime, I started recording pop songs and had an epiphany. It took me a while to find producers to work with remotely, but I’ve built a team I feel really good about. “Pancakes,” and the upcoming music I’m producing, have so much energy to them.

You’ve performed extensively in Philadelphia and the surrounding area. What’s the Philly music scene like? Is it generally supportive of artists such as yourself? Are you a fan of any local artists?

Philly has such a huge DIY music scene that really helped me get off the ground. Over the years, I’ve played shows with and received great advice from people like Jesse Gimbel and Lia Menaker. Pre-COVID, I also had a great time at a Miss Cantaloupe show, another fairy group like myself.

What are the best ways for your fans to keep up-to-date with you and your music?

My Instagram is really where you want to be. You can get updates about my music, but I also post my digital collage art of myself in other-worldly places. Next, you definitely want to subscribe to my YouTube channel to see the music video for “Pancakes.” I also play live-stream shows on my Facebook.