It was great to get the chance to interview the Texan artist via Zoom a few days before the album release and I must emphasise the fact that although it was 9am in Nashville ( generally not the best time of day for many musicians!) she had gone to the trouble of putting make-up on ……well, I actually have only her word for that as she couldn’t get the video link to work at her end but hey, I believe you 100% Sunny! Glad to know I’m not the only one who struggles with this modern technology!
It was such a fun, relaxed yet still very informative chat which I hope you enjoy reading!
LH Thank for your time….I’m sure an album launch week is always super busy! I always start by asking my Zoom interviewees where they are while were chatting… to paint a picture like any great country song does!
SS I’m in Nashville, we are travelling back to Austin tomorrow to tape a TV thing for The Texas Music Scene and then going out on tour!
LH Before we get to talking about your new album, can we rewind a few weeks to your recent trip to the UK where you played a couple of festivals (joining Marty Stuart on stage at Long Road Festival which must have been incredible) and your headline London show. What are your overwhelming thoughts and memories of that visit?
SS Joining Marty on stage was amazing! His whole band is so good.And I absolutely love y’all’s food, I could eat fish and chips every day if it wouldn’t make me fat…the crispier the better! And the smashed peas…
LH Mushy peas!
SS Ha yeah!!
LH And after some downtime in Europe you have hit the ground running since returning home it seems! You’ve played Americanafest in Nashville this week and have just made your incredible 60th Opry appearance… congratulations… is stepping into that circle still a very special experience?
SS You are so prepared…yes my 60th!
LH You don’t look old enough for that… was the first one when you were in the womb or something?
SS Oh please I’m probably old enough to make my 600th Opry appearance! But yes it still makes me as nervous hell every time I do it!
LH It’s been a long 5 year wait for us all for a follow up to 2017’s “Provoked” , I guess the pandemic played its part in that but there were other factors too weren’t there not least the fact that Jeff Saenz who mixed the album being in a horrendous accident?
SS Yes, he was our engineer on our first round in the studio, and he was going to start mixing on June 8th or something and he got electrocuted on June 1st. He ultimately ended up losing both his hands, and one of his arms up to the elbow. So that was definitely an eye opener, Jeff and his partner are two of the most inspiring people I have ever met, watching them go through something like that put everything into perspective.
LH Wow, I wasn’t aware of the extent of his injuries. So sorry to hear about that.
LH I have yet to hear the album in full, so I’m flying by the seat of my pants with this interview based on what i’ve read about it and the few tracks I’ve heard... how would you describe it sonically compared to your previous releases?
SS There’s definitely some different stuff. I was raised in two different houses, my Mom’s and my Dad’s, and my Mom’s was really, really country and my Dad’s was more like Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and stuff like that. So I have two totally different kinds of influences but only ever shown the Country side. I did branch out a little bit on this one and bring a couple of my other influences into the songs and the production especially. I hope people like it, but I didn’t make it with the in mind I just made it because that’s what I really wanted to do.
LH I think if artists are honest about what’s going on in their heart it comes across in their music.
SS I think so too.
LH You just touched on the production, and you choose to use a different producer for each album… does the tone of the album you’re looking to create dictate who you approach, and why was fellow Texan Paul Cauthen your choice this time around?
SS Yes it absolutely does! With my next record I’m going to do something completely different so I’m going to pick someone completely different. Frankly I think the artist should be the only creative one, I don’t think management or record labels or anyone should choose how your record’s gonna go except you. When I was choosing the producer for this record I was struggling with a battle of the wills, trying to explain that it really anyone’s choice but mine. There were a lot of people with opinions and I just needed to get the record moving because at the point it had already been 3 years without a record and now it’s been over 5! Finally the one we agreed on was Paul so I was like ” cool!” let’s do it! And it ended up being perfect, he brought in Beau who is just really, really incredible .
LH And of course you are all native Texans, does that help at all in the cohesiveness of the music?
SS Ha it probably helps with an attitude problem!! I’m totally kidding….no we are all very strong willed but i did really enjoy making it in Dallas, I’ve never made a record there and I hope to make my next record at Modern Electric too. It absolutely immediately felt like we were supposed to be there.
LH As happens these days of course there’s some tracks which have been released already, plus you’ve been playing a few others live …what feedback are you getting , and in particular are they resonating with people who have gone through break ups too ( I know you second divorce in 2019 provided inspiration for at least some of the songs) ?
SS Yeah ultimately I think you find the older you get you tend to gravitate towards people who have been through the same things as you. And I’ve made a lot of friends out of people I really didn’t know that well out of some of the songs. Fans who have turned into friends and made me feel I have a solidarity, that I’m not alone . It’s nice to know that someone else has been through what I’ve been through…I was feeling ” Oh God, I’ve got divorced twice by the age of 40″!!
LH One of the tracks released already is the title track… one of just two outside cuts on the album. Can you talk me through how you first got to hear it and why it resonated so much with you that you felt compelled to record it?
SS My former manager Arthur gave me that song right on the back of my divorce and he said ” I think I’ve found something you can relate to ” and I hadn’t even got through a verse and a chorus and I was like ” I don’t care who wrote this, who sung this, can you save it for me ‘cos this is my life!”. And he was like ” I thought so!” . It was pretty heavy when I heard that. And then I found out 3 people that I know wrote it, I was ecstatic about that!
LH And of course you’ve got the legendary Vince Gill joining you on the album version, did you immediately hear the song as a duet or was that something that came at a later stage in the recording process?
SS No I didn’t hear that initially, but after we recorded it we were listening to the playback and I was like ” you know what would be kinda cool, a guy” and the only guy I would even consider to go with would be Vince. And I very humbly asked him if he’d be interested and he was like “Hell yeah!” . I literally cried when I heard him do his part, it was exactly what I wanted.
LH Lets mention the arrangements on the album …is that something you had an immediate idea about when writing the songs and laying down the demos, did they change much when you were in the studio, how did that side of things evolve?
SS Each song is different. I feel like each song finds what it’s supposed to do. That’s the good thing about working with Paul, Beau and Jeff, they are all artists as well . I feel that’s going to be my ” go to” from now on, working with an artist producer because they’re not doing it thinking “Oh this is going to make a load of money!” they’re doing it because ” This is going to be badass, let’s do it like this!” . And I feel that really tempers the end sound, doing it for the art of it, and that’s really why I do my job!
LH Back to the songs, not all are recent writes are they, you also delved into your back catalogue and “Some Day You’ll Call My Name” is a re-working of one you co-wrote with a favourite of mine Brennen Leigh about 10 years ago I understand?
SS Probably more like 15 or 18 years ago! But we re-wrote it during covid. Initially we wrote it about the Opry and how I wanted to be a member, and then when i was listening to songs during covid I called Brennen and said ” Dude, I think we need to re-do this, tighten it up and make it sound more like a relationship “. So we did it over Zoom!
LH I love how songs can take little twists during their life and relate to different things…
SS I do too!
LH Looking at the track listing, the album which is described in the press release I received as a ” loosely conceptual album ” about loss and healing starts with a really empowering belter “Tie Me Up” which I heard in London, and the closer is called ” Still Here” which sounds to me like another with a very positive message… was it important to you that the album both starts and finishes with tracks that focus on you moving on?
SS Not really, I just really go with what the vibe will be like tempo wise and how it flows. I guess it’s a loosely conceptual album about my second divorce, but I write about what I’m going through and music heals in my opinion. I’m a fan of music as well.
LH Of the tracks that are still to be unveiled which are you most excited to hear fan’s reactions to?
SS I’m most excited ( and nervous!) to hear the reaction to ” All I Don’t Need “ because it is absolutely 100% like nothing I have ever done. I’m really proud of it but also slightly nervous…well not exactly nervous because it is what it is, but I told someone it’s like sending your kid off to kindergarten and hoping they make friends and nobody beats them up!
LH On personal note, I’m looking forward to hearing what you and Caitlyn Smith have cooked up on “Want You To Miss Me”...
SS Oh my God I love her so much! She’s so amazing!
LH There’s so many great female artists around right now it seems… a good time for them, they seem to be rising to the top again…
SS I definitely feel a shift. I feel like women are getting more of a chance now. Honestly, I know your taste, exactly the same taste as me in music (Brandy Clark, Erin Enderlin) and the songwriters are the ones I gravitate towards. It just happens that the majority of the music I’ve personally purchased in the last couple of years is by women. Not because I relate more to them or anything, just because I think their songs are damn good. I feel like there are definitely a lot of women making an impact right now.
LH And more female artists are moving into the production side of things these days it seem, is that something you’re interested in?
SS It’s something I’d like to do, I did ultimately have a lot of say in every record I ever made, I just don’t necessarily get written credit for it but I’m very involved and opinionated!
LH And looking forwards it’s a crazy busy couple of months for you out on the road promoting the release of course… as much as I’m sure you love touring (especially as we no longer take it for granted!) what do you miss there most when you’re away from home for extended periods?
SS My dog!! Little Doug…he’s seriously too damn cute, I can’t stand it!
LH Ha I guessed that would be your answer! Do you FaceTime him?
SS Every day! And he actually looks at the camera which may sound stupid but if you’re a dog person you’d understand!
LH Well thanks again for your time today, have a great time out on the road and in the words of your Erin Enderlin co-write “Poet’s Prayer”, “may your beds be soft, coffee hot and strong”….
SS That is so sweet! Thank you so much
LH And will you be coming come back to see us over here for a full blown headline tour before too long?
SS Hell I hope so! That would be ideal for me, I just love being in Europe it’s so fulfilling.
LH Fingers crossed then! Give Doug a hug and enjoy the rest of your day!