Another day, another zoom call but this time, to catch up with one of my very good friends, Sarah Darling. Sarah is a true ‘honorary British country artist’ – what we call on Country Hits Radio a #CountryHitsBrit; having married a Brit and spent so much time here, even recording her last album over here.
Over in Nashville, Sarah has also been one of the strongest artists on social media in this lockdown. Live streams, insta lives for baking and even prayer sessions with Jenn Bostic. But perhaps most significantly for her fans, teasing that new music is coming.
Last time I was in Nashville, we went out for food to The Social Club. Sat a couple seats away from Jon Pardi, with good wine being served, Sarah told me about her plans and dreams for the new album. A few months later on, we recorded this episode of No Chords But The Truth podcast and you’ll hear how that’s progressed with Zoom co-writes, a new producer team and socially distanced recording in Nashville.
Needless to say, I am excited. We also chat about the Grand Ole Opry and the sheer amount of times Sarah has graced that stage!
Sarah absolutely stunned the room at The British Country Music Festival at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool last year. She was the first headliner on that first night of the first ever TBCMF and I got to introduce her to the stage.
This podcast, albeit recorded in lockdown, is not about the lows and effects of the pandemic. Every conversation I ever have with Sarah leaves me feeling inspired. I’m sure it will inspire you too. It’s out right now on the No Chords But The Truth podcast alongside other episodes with Megan O’Neill, Twinnie and more British country artists.
Hey, this is Matt Spracklen (@mattspracklen). Thanks for listening to this. I think you’re going to enjoy it. Welcome to a new episode of No Chords But The Truth Podcast in association with the British Country Music Festival (@TBCMF). This is a podcast where I speak to primarily British country artists, but in this episode, you’re going to hear from my favourite honoury, British artist, Sarah Darling (@_SarahDarling). The last time I saw Sarah was at a bar in Nashville just a week or so before the lockdown so it was great to catch up with everything she’s been up to these past couple of months, and have a bit of a deeper dive into the background of Sarah’s music and her passions. It’s always fun. It’s always a pleasure. Remember to subscribe for future episodes No Chords but The Truth Podcasts, but for now, here is Sarah Darling.
Sarah Darling – how’s it going?
So good. I mean, in quarantine terms, I should say.
Yeah, right. Well, I was going to say, where in the world are you in and how are you surviving the lockdown?
I’m in Nashville. It is a particularly gloomy day, but it’s been beautiful. I think the sunshine has really been helping the survival of quarantine at the moment. Don’t you feel that? Because it’s been beautiful in the UK, right?
Yeah. I was thinking this earlier on, if it had been raining all the time and it’s just miserable, it’s just, it’ll make it so much worse, but you can get out even the sun coming through the windows, it just makes everything better, don’t it?
Exactly. Exactly. So I’m surviving, I’m doing a lot of cooking, which has been fun. So I’m making bread at the moment and doing all kinds of crazy things.
Cool. Yeah. We’re definitely going to get to talk about that. I’m going to ask you about your baking.
Cool. Yeah, definitely.
How has it been as an artist in these weird times? It’s a conversation I’ve had with many artists, but everyone’s different. Everyone deals with different things. And so… as someone who’s used to playing loads of shows, used to recording loads, what have been the benefits and what have been the hardest things in these current times?
It’s such a great topic right now. I have so many thoughts on it. I’ll start with the most recent thoughts about it. As time’s gone on, I’ve been really reflective because last year was such an awesome year of travel for me. I spent most of my time in the UK and I played some amazing shows and I just have a lot of compassion for artists who were in the middle of an album cycle or have never toured, they never had the opportunity to tour.
I’ve been able to go tour my own shows and experience all that and for it to just kind of have the rug pulled, I definitely feel really grateful. So today I’m kind of going through this grateful mode.
I think when it first started, my brain kind of went into overdrive and I’m like, okay. So I’m sort of this, the creativity was swirling like crazy and could be a good thing, could be a bad thing if that makes sense so you put a lot of pressure on yourself to keep things going and what I ended up finding was okay.
I love to cook, and I love my fans, so it’s not the same thing to go live, and it’s not that one-on-one human connection that we have at a show and I miss that so much like that rush, but it’s so great that I’m able to do these lives and see people and how appreciative the fans are. They’re so grateful for just anything that’s music related right now.
So what I would say, it’s all coming in waves, Matt. It’s like one day, I’m fine and the next day I’m like, “Oh my God, what am I doing with my life?”
Are you writing as well?
Yes, I am, sporadically. So, I’ve been writing some Zoom co-writes here and there, which has been really cool.
I was going to say, how does that work because presumably a lot of the things you write about are experiences you’re having, places you’re going, people you meet, and stories that come from that, but when there’s not much going on, how are you drawing that inspiration? Are you like really deep digging deep?
I’m definitely digging deep. I mean, it’s so interesting. Just the subject matter that I’m thinking about, it’s actually very much on COVID-19 related. I’m like, I don’t want to think about what we’re going through at the moment, which is interesting. It’s sort of escapism, I guess, but I find that Zoom writing either works immediately or it doesn’t and then if you almost give yourself the grace to say, “Hey, we can do this in a couple of days.” So I wrote this really amazing song with an artist named Mindy Smith. I don’t know if you know Mindy but you would love her. You would love her music, but her and I wrote a great song in two hours, just like on two different days, write at noon and we ended up writing a really cool song. So yeah, the subject matters are completely different than what I’ve been writing in the past.
Are you finding you’re getting more time to listen to more music as well?
Are you? because you know what’s weird? I literally, as I say that, then I’m like, “Do you know what? I’m actually not listening to as much music,” because maybe … when I’m walking around the house, I’m listening to a podcast probably and YouTube videos and stuff, but I’m actually listening to less music. I put an album on this morning and I was like, “This is the first time I’ve put an album for ages because if I’m not travelling about ….yes, weird, isn’t it?
Yeah. That is weird. I do think I can kind of agree with that. I’m only listening to it when I go out for a walk and I’m not listening to anything new, I’m listening to my comforts. Maybe that’s it. It’s like I was thinking with podcasts, too, they’re so comforting. Subliminally, maybe we’re just kind of like, “Oh, whatever is comfortable and feels good.” So, but yeah, I was actually thinking about this morning. I’m like, “I want to listen to all my old songs,” which was really funny because I hadn’t done that yet in quarantine and just go through music that I’ve written over the last year and a half. I was planning on making a record or recording soon before we got shut down.
What was that place we were hanging out in, in Nashville?
Oh, Pinewood Social.
Oh yeah. That was nice. That’s seems like a long time ago, but it also doesn’t seem that long ago, but was that end of March? End of February?
Wait. Yeah, it was right before all this happened. You were here and I’m so grateful. We had such a great chat and … Well, I think I was drinking French 75’s maybe. Yeah, it was really good.
Didn’t Jon Pardi walk out and you say, “Oh, that was Jon Pardi.” I was like, “I didn’t know that was him.”
Yeah, the hat. He has a certain look, it gave it away, for sure.
Sitting With These Songs Longer Now
And we talked a little bit then about this music so you broach it there. You’ve got a new music ready. You’re planning. You were telling me about maybe working with a new producer, a couple of producers you’re looking forward to working with and how would this was coming towards a new album, maybe a slightly different sound, some more progressive. Has that sort of developed anymore or? …
Yeah, so it’s so funny because I remember us having that conversation, right, and it was literally a couple of weeks later and then we’re sort of in a standstill. All of those things are still happening. I’m really excited because I have a couple of producers. There is sort of a producer team. I’m not really sure how they want me to announce it yet, but what I would say is one is a girl and she’s an amazing songwriter in Nashville and recording…I kind of, I loved that process of recording ‘Wonderland’ in the UK because it was such an adventure, but I am going to record this one here.
I don’t think I have much choice anymore, but it’s been interesting because I’ve been sitting with these songs longer now. I’ve been thinking about them more, the ones that I was just getting ready to record and I think that’s a good thing. Sometimes you rush into music and I don’t have that luxury right now. I’m really thinking about it and I also think about visually, like how it’s a big sort of package and what it looks like and what it feels like and what are the colours. I think about all those things before I go in and record. So I’m very a visual, audio visual type person, but yeah, it’s all coming together in my head, which is good.
I can’t wait to hear it because you’ve told me a little bit about the way that it’s moving and hearing that. Touching on …touching on the UK though, so you recorded Wonderland here in the UK and played the British Country Music festival, the first one ever last year. How was that?
Yes. Oh, so good.
What was so great with that?
Yeah, and we got to hang out, which was great. That was so cool and that was in Blackpool, correct?
Blackpool, I had never been there and I just loved the … Yeah, the whole spirit was beautiful and I’m excited to see the growth of country music because, in my mind, I think after this is all over, all the country fans in the UK are going to be so amped up to go to a festival. It’s going to be so much fun to be part of those first few shows that we get to play.
A Deeper Appreciation
I know. It’s crazy. It’s crazy. And maybe for those who don’t know as much about the background and your connection with the UK, how is that? Because you are very fondly looked at as sort of almost the British artist in a way, but only due to the time you spent here and your connections. So maybe talk about that. But I mean, I play you on the Country Hits Brits Show because you are like an adopted country hits Brit to me.
I love that. I do feel adopted and thank you, you’re so sweet for supporting me and it kind of started … I’m married to an Englishman, so when I started coming over to the UK, it was really for holidays and to just come visit and I never thought I’d ever play a show in the UK. It was never even on my radar and then I had an opportunity to play C2C and it was maybe six years ago. I can’t believe I’m saying that now, six years ago and they said yes.
One of the first ones then was that?
Yeah, it was pretty early on and so I was in the big entrance stage and I just fell in love with the whole experience and then I said to myself, “I’m going to keep coming back twice a year.” So I started building that and then the connection, the fans in the UK – they’re so different than anywhere in the world and people always want me to explain that, but it’s just, there’s like an appreciation for just music and maybe I feel that with my own personal music, there’s a deeper appreciation and artists we live for that, we love that, to feel loved and appreciated.
It’s a different sort of connection, I guess.
It is. It is, definitely.
I think you feel that even just traveling as a human, not as in someone who’s going to perform to people, but you connect with different places in different ways and different people have their own way of living and that comes through in the way you meet them. It’s how friendships are formed, I guess, as well. It must be amazing as an artist to come to a country for the first time to play and have that connection because that stayed the whole time. Whenever you play here, it’s just, wow.
I love hearing that. I’m a big believer of that. When I’m up on stage and I feel that love coming from the audience, it’s like an amazing … I describe it as like light kind of just bouncing around the room. It’s you can feel it, I can feel it, the audience feels it and I just know that …..I just have to keep having it in my life. It’s like this beautiful, beautiful thing that has evolved into me being an adopted Brit, which is hilarious.
It’s A Connection But Not A True Connection
Yeah, that’s the deal. That’s the deal. So coming back to the social media side of things, you have got this amazing connection with your fans. You’ve got a brilliantly loyal fan base and it’s grown over time and I mean, ‘Wonderland’ was such an amazing album. Social media has been great for you, especially with all, like you say, 2019 was an incredible year for your travel as in the festivals you played and stuff. So the social media is such an interesting side of things and I’ve always loved to talk about it and how it affects an artist and how they do it. The amount of times they feel they have to post, do they post, do they go live? Do they respond to everybody? All these sort of things. We see the good bits on social media, but what are the bad bits? What are the hard bits? What do you struggle with? Or do you have no struggles at all?
I definitely have struggles with social media…and thank you because I think I love social media for that direct connection that I can have with my fans. There’s always a dark side for sure and that might just come when … It’s just social media can be a light on insecurity.
All of a sudden some people don’t think, “Oh yeah, they’re artists, they don’t have insecurities. They feel fine. They’re posting these glamorous pictures.” But actually I think that we all have insecurities, every single human being and so I think it puts a glow on insecurity, social media.
As well as when you’re just not feeling it. I mean, there have been days in quarantine I’ve been super emotional and had a live set up and I didn’t want to go live and then I did and I was so glad that I did because I was able to … I felt better. That’s the one thing in quarantine – my fans are actually making me feel better there. It’s sort of like you’re my friends. I need you.
But those insecurities, I guess, are inward because people don’t necessarily see those.
But we’re friends, I’m not just saying this, but you’re one of the nicest people I know, let alone one of the nicest people in music. So do those insecurities bring out a bad streak in you? People don’t get to see is that bad to ask?
For sure. I’m glad you did. Yes, it does. On my level of … It’s so good to admit that you’re human and I do…. I consider every time I get to go do something, a gift to be able to connect with people and just say, “Hey, we’re all here.” I’m a lover. I am definitely like on the archetype. I’m a lover archetype….but yeah, I think that when the insecurities pop out, it’s mostly bad to myself, which is interesting.
Most people don’t ever see that side. It’s mostly like, it’s what I sort of like beat up myself, which I think a lot of people can relate to and so I go quite inward and then say, “Oh, I’m going to beat myself. I’m not doing enough.” Or, “That wasn’t great,” and sort of have these little self-conversations though.
It’s interesting because no one wants to jump on social and say how bad everything is or how much they’re struggling, because then you just feel like you’re searching for some sort of, I don’t know, comments, “Oh, you’ll find your meaning,” it’s seeking attention. You don’t want to feel that way. It’s a trap.
It is a trap and also, everyone is going through something different each day so they might read a comment and not get how you were feeling when you wrote that. It is a connection, but it’s not a true connection like you and I….I can see your face and I can see your eyes and we have this podcast going. I know you are happy and you just don’t know how people are really feeling.
Before we jumped on, I was on Instagram and I saw it comes up with these clips on the search thing on the explore part of Instagram and I’m a big Nirvana fan and I saw this clip of Kurt Cobain smashing his guitar up on the stage and I just want to tweet it, same way, when your laptop isn’t working or whatever, you just drop your drink and this you just felt you’re just going to smash everything.
Oh, no kidding and it’s okay, I have felt that way in this quarantine process a couple of times….although I don’t have any guitars to smash so (laughs)
Yeah. You don’t necessarily have to smash them up. When did you start learning guitar? When did you start writing music?
I started…. oh gosh…..guitar, it was later in life. So for me, I started writing poetry as a kid. Never really understood that that was what I was doing, that I was writing, beginning parts of writing music.
So as a kid, I’d write a lot on little post-it notes. My Mom would find them around the house and then when I moved to Nashville, I fell in love with a musician songwriter and we had a very tumultuous relationship, but he was a great songwriter and I just learned a lot from him. Wrote all my early heartbreak songs about him, so he’s kind of the reason why I started writing songs. It’s a bit Taylor Swift, but …
I was just going to say you’re not the first one to …
Yeah, I totally Taylor Swifted!
Because you come from quite a musical background, don’t you? We were talking a bit about the sort of gospel links as well at some point.
Yeah. So I have gospel music on my grandfather’s side, and my Dad was a drummer in a band, sort of a garage traveling band so I have a lot of music in my family anyway, and a lot of country gospel roots already.
And so what made it country? What sort of artists inspired you? Who did you want to be?
Funny enough, Shania, Shania Twain. I mean ’90s female country, it just, it was like this amazing to be a little girl dreamer, watching ’90s female country. It was the best. Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood, I wanted to be all of them so that was why, but I just I loved Shania Twain.
I thought she was very innovative and she wore leopard print and she wore red lipstick. She was great and also, as I’ve gotten older, just the story-telling aspect is just so beautiful. It’s just I love country music for that reason.
Out Of Body Experience
You played some big shows. You’ve played The Opry? You’ve played The Opry.
Yes. I’ve played The Opry 90 sometimes now, 96…..
Yes. Honestly saying, it’s crazy.
That’s me saying that you played Opry. Yeah, you played it 96 times. I didn’t know you played it that many times.
Since I think it’s been 2012, that’s when I debut.
That’s cool. That’s cool. It’s an amazing place. You played there with Brad Paisley once?
I did, I did. We actually sang ‘Whiskey Lullaby’ on The Opry stage. It was sort of an out of body experience, probably one of my favourite musical experiences ever.
It was so cool. It was just cool.
How did that come about?
I went on a reality show called Rising Star and Brad Paisley was a judge on Rising Star so when I left the show, he’s like, “Why don’t you come play The Opry with me?” and he just invited me to come sing with him on Opry. It was really sweet and it was the best treat to be able to … everybody’s always sad when they leave a reality show. In hindsight, I’m so glad that I did not win that show (laughs) but yeah, it was beautiful and he’s such a good guy.
He’s great. So I’m going to start to round things up and who knows when we’re all going to be able to hang out again and go to shows and all that good stuff, but what have you got planned? What can you plan coming up?
So as far as planning goes, I actually spoke to my producer last week and he was saying that they’re starting to make socially distanced recordings in Nashville. They’re trying some things. So that’s really promising.
I think as far as shows are concerned, I have nothing on the books, which is really sad to announce that, but we’re all in the … all of the artists, we’re all in this together. No one is exempt.
Is it a good … No, not a good time, but is it an okay time to have no shows planned because the emphasis is on the new music? So when that comes out, that is when actually you’re going to…hopefully by that time, it could line perfectly for you.
Exactly. I’m looking at it, and earlier in the podcast, that’s what I kind of meant about I feel grateful because I’m in that part of the season where I’m creating new music and then I’ll go out and tour sometime whenever we can but for me, that’s sort of the goal is I’m looking at mid-July of trying a social distance recording so this should be very interesting and that means musicians wearing masks and being in separate places and no lunch breaks and all that.
Presumably not while you’re singing?
No masks, yeah. of course, yeah. I can’t wear a mask and all that, but vocal booths, isolation booths, that’s what they’re there for.
Yeah. Yeah. It’s a weird thing. We had the same thing with the radio, even using the stuff like around the mic, how close you want to get to it. It’s going to be weird because even when we’re allowed to do things, I don’t know if I’m going to want to.
It will be weird for all of us as we get back to normal and it’s so funny, those words, the new normal, and yeah…. I think whatever has happened has changed everything forever and my hope is that we all come out of this better people and just more passionate about our dreams and care more about what we’re doing.
Yeah. Are you playing much of the new music on your live streams?
I am, actually. I’m sort of trying out lots of things. I mean, I’m doing even a lot of covers. So I did a Kate Bush cover the other day, which was fun.
Shania Twain. I’ve got a new single out on Campfire Sessions so that’s been fun…and that project, I never intended it going this long, but I think in quarantine it’s been so great to just release covers that have influenced me over my life, so these are artists that have inspired me to do country music.
It’s gone deep, isn’t it? And like, again, maybe in another world, you wouldn’t have had that space to bring all of that out as much as you have on those Campfire Sessions. It’s been a brilliant project. You got many more?
Thank you. No, and it’s very true. I probably wouldn’t have been going this long on it, but everyone seems to like it so I’ve got some more coming.
Good. Good. Well, I’m going to round up in a sec, but I do want to talk about something you hinted on right at the beginning of the chat, and that is your baking.
Because it’s brilliant. It is so good. I know live streaming your music is amazing and some people do it too much, some people don’t do it enough and some people have got the balance just right, but there’s going to be a point where we’re going to need to switch it up, but you’ve already been doing that. These live baking sessions have been amazing.
Thank you so much. For me, baking, cooking… I’m more of a baker than a cook. It’s quite therapeutic for me, so I thought “Everybody’s going live musically and I’m doing that too but let’s change it up a bit.” I had this idea to do baking live, which at first was super nerve-wracking because I’m like, “What if it all goes wrong and then it’s live?” But what I found is that it doesn’t matter because we’re just having a good time and people find it highly entertaining, me like showing what I’m making in the camera.
I’m not a professional cook but you will have some good laughs….but it’s mostly sweets and I change it up so we’ve done cream puffs … what else? I’ve made like pop tarts…. So I made pop tarts and this week we’re making a vegan dessert and I’m kind of trying to include everybody and so my fans, they bake with me and then they’ll send in pictures which is so cute. So I have some people who’ve been doing it every week since quarantine started, which actually they’ve said like, “It’s brought me so much joy” so that’s awesome.
We need a chocolate one. We need something fully chocolate?
Okay. So really chocolatey, like a volcano molten chocolate cake?
Only chocolate. Whatever is in it is chocolate.
Flourless chocolate cake.
Yeah I’ll be waiting for that. What’s your favourite thing to cook? What’s your favourite thing to eat? Because I know what it’s like being over in Nashville. So many good places to go out and eat and people go out a lot and stuff but even before lockdown, do you love to cook home cook food?
I do love to home cook. I also, I love like eating out, especially in Nashville because we have some great places like Pinewood Social that I took you. I think it’s a great place to have food. This is so funny because it’s not anything fancy but my favourite thing ever is actually just making a cheese board and drinking lots of wine.
Sounds good to me.
Because it’s pretty simple, like and baguette, like bread, bread and butter. It’s like the best thing.
Bread, cheese, ham.
Bread and cheese, I could live off that for a while.
I love it. Even if it’s just like sliced bread, just chop it up, a bit of cheese, butter, crisps, ham.
Ham. Yeah, exactly.
It’s very continental. It’s very French.
I know. I know. I think I am very like ….what do they call them? The Francophile or something like that. Yeah.
I can you see you living in like a chateau in the French mountains.
I love this forecast, maybe this is where I’m going to end up Matt. I’m going to live in a little Chateau, a little castle, and have wine and cheese every day. Rose.
Sounds good. Sounds good. You like a Rosé?
Oh yeah. I’m a big Rosé drinker.
Wow. There you go. Well, we’ll make that happen. Here on No Chords But The Truth.
I love it.
Oh, it’s been so good to catch up with you.
It’s been so good to catch up with you too and thanks so much for having me and stay safe and yeah…listen to some new music.
I will, I’ll let you know. Oh, who was that? Just as I left Nashville …you said check out that artist….who was it because I went and listened to it. It was brilliant, but I’ve already forgotten who it was.
Oh goodness. I’m trying to remember but I have been listening to, is it Ingrid Andress?
I think she’s cool.
Yeah. I love that album. So that’s probably my top listen at the moment.
Your top listen is Ingrid Andress and what about UK artists? Who are you excited about here?
So do I.
… single. It’s beautiful. It’s called ‘Over My Body’, I believe.
Over Your Body, yeah.
Over Your Body. It’s beautiful and I love those guys. Tara and I actually were in Thailand on separate trips and we saw each other in Thailand right before lockdown. So they’re great friends of mine, really excited for them, too.
All right. Good. Well, we’ll catch up again soon.
Sounds good, Matt. Take care.
Thanks for listening to this episode of No Chords But The Truth in association with The British Country Music Festival. We would love it if you subscribe to make sure you never miss an episode and extra love if you’d give us a lovely five-star rating. You can even review the podcast and leave a comment with who you would like to see on. You can find me on social media @mattspracklen. See you next time.
Matt Spracklen is a radio and television presenter as well as a reputable music blogger. Matt currently hosts his own show on Bauer Media’s Country Hits Radio and having studied music in Nashville, he is seen as one of the UK’s leading authorities on all things country and Americana. He is known for championing British artists and continues to provide a platform on his radio show not just for headliners, but also emerging talent. He was a judge on BBC One’s All Together Now, he is the main presenter for the main stage at The British Country Music Festival and is in demand as a host for corporate events and music awards shows. Matt is an avid blogger and social media guru and has a considerable social media following, ensuring he is on most PR companies VIP lists for key music industry events. @mattspracklen
Sarah Bishop is a well respected radio producer who has worked with names including Edith Bowman and Arielle Free. She is currently the producer of The Frank Skinner Show on Absolute Radio as well as The Times’ podcast Walking the Dog. Sarah also works closely with high profile talent on television programmes such as the award-winning sitcom Catastrophe and award shows including The BAFTAs, The Brit Awards and MTV’s Europe Music Awards. @sarahbishop92
The British Country Music Festival We are delighted to bring you No Chords But The Truth and we would like to thank all the talented artists who will be contributing to the show. When we first discussed the podcast with Matt and Sarah, it was clear that we all shared the same passion to provide a voice and platform for UK home grown country & Americana artists and songwriters. Please follow, subscribe, review, comment, fill in those little stars and join our community. Thanks for listening. Martin & Marina @TBCMF #NCBTT
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