Interview: Sarah Darling talks Christmas, UK fan base, new music and more

By Bryony Jewell

American singer-songwriter and dreamer Sarah Darling has seen her share of country music success. Having released several albums including Every Monday Morning in 2009 and Angels & Devils in 2011 she is certainly no newcomer to the genre.

Her biggest hit ‘Home to Me’ has over a million streams on Spotify alone and lead to opening performances for big names such as Carrie Underwood and Kacey Musgraves.

She’s also no stranger to the Grand Ole Opry stage. Since debuting in 2011, Darling has made over 80 appearances on the historic stage which many of the greats have sang on.

It is her unique style and approach to country music which makes her powerful voice stand out amongst others. On most recent album Dream Country (2017) Darling plays with the ethereal and uses spaces as inspiration for her songs. It’s whimsical, dainty and simply beautiful to listen too.

We got the chance to talk with Sarah Darling before her London performance, here’s what she told us about her music, being a country artist and developing her sound over the years:

How are you finding London so far?

It’s been wonderful few days. I arrived and went straight to Guilford to play with Ward Thomas so it’s been very much on the go since I arrived.

I actually opened for them last year, last fall. And we became friends over the course of the year and they knew I was playing tonight so they were like “you should come open for us!”

It was such a treat to see them again. We debuted a song that we wrote when they were in Nashville as well.

What did the audience think of that?

They loved it! To the point where some where like, “is anyone recording that?!”, it certainly left everyone wanting more which was good.

Do you have plans to record that soon, with them?

Do you know what it’s funny, we have it in such a beginning stage and it’s sort of in the stage where we don’t know.

And thats kind of the exciting part because even for us, we’re on stage and we thought let’s see what we can we do with this. It’s a very spontaneous process. But I have a good feeling about it for sure.

So tonight your playing at St Pancras Old Church – can you tell me a bit about what the show will be like and what we can expect?

What’s really exciting about this show is that it’s really the first headline show that I’ve done in London. I’ve released a Christmas album called Winter Wonderland and I released it a few weeks ago, so tonight’s going to be an intimate performance but there is going to be a full band so we’ll have bass and a violin.

I think people who’ve heard Dream Country will really get to hear it in its full form tonight which is really exciting, but also get to hear the Christmas music, so it’s kind of a blend of Christmas and Dream Country and then I’m sprinkling in a few new ones that’ll be wonderful to play full band and it’s even exciting for me because i haven’t heard them full band very often.

It’s fun. It’s going to be a very beautiful night and a lot of the musicians are friends of mine.

What made you want to record a Christmas album?

I love Christmas music. It’s kind of a fun process, so two years ago I worked with a gentleman called Steve Gibson, and Steve is the musical director at the Grand Ole Opry and he approached me and said “let’s go do some Christmas songs” so we recorded those together and then this year I was thinking you know what “I’m going to record four more” and then make an album.

So I recorded four more songs with another producer and basically all the people I love played and worked on it. I picked the songs I’ve always loved since I was a kid.

Probably the standout’s River. Joni Mitchell has always been one of my favourites and Santa Baby has been everybody’s click favourite because it’s kind of a jazzy sultry version which is a classic way of interpreting it.

What is it like playing the Opry?

It’s incredible, magic is the best way to describe it. When you step on stage that feeling never goes away, a little bit of butterflies, of standing side stage.

And then they call your name and your walking across stage you just know that so many greats have played there. It’s an honour.

And I think I’ve learnt so much from watching other artists at the Grand Ole Opry. You see some of the classic country artists who have performed shows for years and you can soak up all their knowledge. It’s magic, and it never fades away; I still get nervous!

Your new album Dream Country has been out since the beginning of 2017. How would you describe the sound?

Dream Country is … that’s such a good question, and I love it because I think the reason that I wanted to make Dream Country was that I’ve always had this sort of ethereal view on country music so the subjects that I like to write about are the wide open spaces and the mountains and I’m inspired by places or even the stars in the sky.

I wanted to create an album that was country mixed with that visual, and having a very visual cinematic experience for the listener and I don’t really know of anyone else who has done that before.

And people who know me well say that pretty much fits me perfectly and I think it was my chance to be me fully which felt really great to make music from start to finish and know that your stamp was on it.

All the songs are quite personal, I always tell people that Dream Country was self therapeutic in a way the songs were very positive and keep going, keep pressing in your dream, which a lot of people say has been really good for them as well. And i always tell them it was good for me too, i needed to hear that as well! It’s always a duel purpose.

Do you think that you have a favourite song on the album?

I love Where Cowboys Ride, which is one of my all time favourites. It’s so hard to choose, but yeah probably Cowboys and then Halley’s and Montmartre are probably close seconds.

I’ve seen the video for Montmartre and I was wondering did you write that in Paris?

I didn’t write it in Paris, but my husband who is British, when we first met we started dating it was long distance but when we first had our very first “dates” we went to Paris.

We stayed in Montmartre and that became a really magical place for me, so I wrote it with a very good friend of mine Jen Bostic. I was telling her the story and we ended up writing it, this amazing love song, after the fact, which is funny that you can write a song so visually in another place, about another place.

Have you collaborated with many people whilst making the album?

Yes I worked with quite a few. Rebecca Powell is somebody I worked with and Rebecca actually works quite a bit with Ward Thomas. Believe it or not that was a funny connection that we didn’t really realise until later and I was like “oh you write with her too!”

Shian Medders we wrote with and of couse Jen Bostic was a co-writer on some tunes as well. But what’s really sweet is that most of the people I wrote with are really good friends of mine.

Sometimes people don’t have the story where they wrote that song and most of my friends in Nashville they do tend to write songs, which is just part of being in Nashville I think, but yeah you can write songs with lots of different people but it’s fun to write with your friends because you write more personal, more in depth songs.

Your sound has changed quite a lot since your first album you released? Why do you think that has happened and have you noticed yourself evolving over the years?

Yes definitely, I think this can be part of a lot of peoples story. When I was a young artist and I moved to Nashville i got signed to a label – which was wonderful – and I had this experience of recording music and working with a very large team for years.

I released two records that way and in that process I’d always been writing. And a lot of those songs do kind of have a Dream Country hint, so I think it was always there which is kind of funny to think back now.

But I think in that process there is a lot of pressure to make music that sounds a certain way like “this is what works on radio and this is how it should be” and when you have a lot of people it gets very muffled easily. In that process I did some of the greatest things that I’ve done in country music but I think also leaving that situation was really good because when I left the label, Dream Country was what I set out to do.

To make something that was so truly me, which is also really scary, because you don’t know A – if people are going to like it, or B- am i just crazy, “did I just leave an amazing situation?”.

But I think being yourself is the greatest thing, the greatest gift you can give, especially to your fans beaus people know when you’re being authentic. So I look at that as a long journey to get to Dream Country but everybody was important in that process and I had to learn things for myself but I got there in the end I think.

What do you think about UK country music and how the genre is growing in popularity here?

It makes me so excited. I’ve been coming here for a few years now, played C2C a few times now, and I think it has completely grown in a way that it’s new and exciting and that’s what I love about it.

I think thats the difference. Back in the states we’ve had country music for a long time, but it’s so fun to see the fans get very very excited abut the concerts and music because it all feels new.

You’re back in March to headline Union Chapel? What can you tell me about that?

This show is sort of my first major headline show of 2018 with new music, full band and I’m really excited. This is my tour, I might add some more dates. I’ve got five more dates in the pipeline that I’ve not announced yet but those are coming very soon.. probably end of December.

They should be all across the UK, a real variety.

And it’s all based around a new single that’s coming out. I’ve been working with a producer, Mark Bright, in Nashville. and he’s actually produced all of Carrie Underwood’s albums.

I got the chance to work with him on some tracks so we’re sort of starting the next album together.

Are you writing new music at the moment?

I am always writing new music. I am a perpetual songwriter. I have a lot of new songs that I’m excited about.

Is there a song that you wish you had written?

One of my favourite country songs of all time is The House That Built Me I just love that song. It’s just so good. And maybe the second one, Burning House by Cam, I love that.

What was your highlight of 2017?

I look back and one of the greatest memories of this year was my Night in Nashville tour which I went on with Michael Logan and Jen Bostic.

The three of us were basically in a little car travelling around England for a month and then we also went to Switzerland and we also went to Scotland. I look at that whole experience, going to castles and playing places I’ve never been to before the all time coolest highlight of the year. It was amazing.

It sounds like you spend quite some time in the UK now?

I do and I love being here. It’s a big part of my life now, and part of my story as well, being married to an English man. I think it’s sweet that I also get to play music here and be in a place which is special to my husband as well.

Looking to next year, what do you think the biggest highlight will be?

There is a song I’m releasing next year which I’ve always wanted to release so i think it’s going to feel so good to just let this one out into the world. It’s an older song, I really believe in it. So i think that’ll be great.

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