Sarah Tudzin leads her band Illuminati Hotties in a performance at Ottobar in Baltimore on Oct. 21, 2022. (Photo by Casey Vock)
When a fireball young professional has worn numerous hats in the recording studio and worked with respected artists and producers across different musical styles, they’re well prepared to take the stage with confidence and purpose, should they ever decide to give it a shot.
But as anyone who’s read about Sarah Tudzin knows, the LA native and Berklee College of Music grad had brought so much music to life with others before launching her own self-produced project — only to later navigate significant challenges, in thoughtfully resentful fashion, to essentially reclaim the hard work she’d done and the brand she’d built as Illuminati Hotties.
Riding the acclaim of the band’s anticipated second full-length album, Let Me Do One More, and with the drama surrounding her previous record contract in the past, this energetic and thrilling visionary is no doubt still emotionally motivated from the experiences of the past few years as she tours with her squad all over the country and into Canada.
Within the confines of a packed Ottobar in Baltimore on Oct. 21, it was so evident why people of all ages have become hooked on her refreshing voice and the broad context of the Illuminati Hotties catalogue.
Listen to Illuminati Hotties 2021 studio album, Let Me Do One More, released on Tudzin’s Snack Snack Shacks label:
Out of the gate, in-your-face tunes like “Joni: LA’s No. 1 Health Goth” and “Knead” packed a wallop in the form of hammering chords but the sweetest vocalizations from Tudzin, who fronts this band like a seasoned vet and demonstrates expert control over her heart-melting pitch.
In an unforgettable showcase of its luscious power, Sarah’s voice illuminated with delicacy and a healing cadence in delivering “Threatening Each Other re: Capitalism,” and these same qualities could be heard in different songs throughout the night, including “uvvp,” a track that featured Big Thief’s Buck Meek on the recorded version.
But as she declared in her courageous 2020 mixtape — cheekily titled Free I.H: This Is Not the One You’ve Been Waiting For — Illuminati Hotties are “committed to keeping you happy, hydrated, and most of all having a great time,” and tracks like the “Pool Hopping” and the nutty “MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA” show not just the magnitude of her compositional skills, but a sense of humor rooted in pragmatism and accomplished through a mastery of sound.
And while this hilarious human has successfully branded this music as “tenderpunk” and herself as its “pioneer,” categorizing it all might momentarily overlook all she’s done in her career that likely informed the contrast in her sound and the perspective in her lyrics.
Watch the official music video for Illuminati Hotties’ single “Pool Hopping” via the band’s YouTube channel:
If you’d not heard of her name before Illuminati Hotties burst onto the scene with Kiss Yr Frenemies in 2018, you’d unquestionably heard music Sarah had a hand in over the course of the past decade as a producer, mixer and audio engineer. She cut her teeth as a production assistant to Chris Coady at the famed Sunset Sound Studios and has worked closely with globally recognized musicians like Barbara Streisand and Lady Gaga. Additionally, Sarah’s worked with a long list of indie acts like Amen Dunes, !!!, Weyes Blood and Porches, to name a few.
Snazzy in a pair of white overalls and expeditious in manner, the determined Tudzin wielded her Fender, screamed at the top of her lungs, and sang from the bottom of her heart in striving to create a meaningful connection with a dynamic Ottobar audience, many of whom had never seen her before in person.
It’s the emotional response and the ensuing bond through art that Tudzin herself seems to genuinely respect and desire, and in interviews she’s expressed a level-headedness and frank understanding of the larger forces at play in the world. Well aware that those who are struggling aren’t necessarily prioritizing the arts, it made those early pandemic years perhaps more difficult for her considering how much promise Illuminati Hotties had shown before them.
But by focusing on what was actually in her purview and what matters most—her music and her control of it—Tudzin has positioned herself and her band on a similar upward trajectory it had been prior to 2020, if not an even sharper one. Fittingly, Sarah partnered with LA’s Hopeless Records to formed her own record label, Snack Shack Tracks, for the introduction the second IH album, putting another pot on the stove for this abounding figure.
Listen FREE I.H: This Is Not the One You’ve Been Waiting For, the Illuminati Hotties mixtape leaked early in sparking controversy, but released in earnest in 2020:
Supported by bass player Zach Bilson, guitarist Sapphire Jewell and drummer Ryan Fyffe, Tudzin gave the Charm City all it could handle last Friday night, at times stepping out over the audience with just the microphone to amplify the room, her tongue flinging in any direction as she let loose in perhaps the ideal Baltimore venue for such a presentation.
Sarah’s back story alone — a tale of overcoming obstacles both external and internal — is enough to earn the respect of those who understand the struggles faced by up-and-coming artists or anyone diligently trying to make their way.
However, once you’ve seen her perform these songs live, and heard the passion and real context with which she’s colored them, it becomes impossible not to follow her progress and root for her wherever she goes.