With the rising stock of country music in the UK at the moment, we caught up with Sasha McVeigh ahead of her recent excellent show at Night and Day Cafe to discuss what she’s up to, why country music is enjoying such a resurgence and how her debut album is going.
Why Country music? What appeals about it so much to you?
Well, my Dad was always really heavily into country music. There’s a story which I always tell everybody, and I have some video footage of it too. When I was a kid, he used to dance with me around our coffee table to Country Music Television, when that used to get broadcast over here, and he has all these cassette tapes, and I actually found them all the other day, of Willie Nelson, Cat Stevens, a lot of the country stuff and I guess it got engrained in my brain. When I started writing songs, when I was 12, I really got back into the genre and rediscovered it. I love the story telling aspect of it – that’s what I love about it the most.
Who are your main inspirations?
I love Willie Nelson, I love Dolly Parton, I’m a huge Elvis Presley fan (I’ve loved him since I was 7 and am a little bit obsessed). I love the Zac Brown Band too, they’re probably my favourite modern country act. I love artists who write their own songs – that’s what I do so I really appreciate that of other musicians.
Country music isn’t exactly a mainstream choice for a lot of teenagers growing up. How did your friends react to it?
They thought it was a bit weird (laughs). I got picked on a lot at school for my liking of Elvis. But I didn’t let it get to me because I’ve always been one of those people who was quite individual. It was always difficult growing up as I did get picked on a lot, but my attitude was that I couldn’t force myself to be interested in rap or r&b – those genres are great and that’s fine if that’s what you’re interested in, but country, rock n roll and the folk Americana sound that’s always what it lacked. There was no point in me trying to be something that I’m not.
When you left school you passed up the opportunity to go to University.
Yeah, it was kind of a weird crazy time. My parents always knew that music was what I wanted to pursue and what I wanted to do and I had this deal with my Mum and Dad that if I achieved the world at sixth form and high school that they would support me with my music. I didn’t quite imagine that they would sell everything and go all in with me to do that, which when I talk about it sounds crazy, and I keep saying ‘thank you so much for supporting me’ but it kind of sounds redundant now because there aren’t enough words to express. It just made me realise how much they believed in me. It was something which really pushed me forwards. They’re both pensioneers so it’s not like we’re in the realms of being able to move to London or just drive anywhere to do tours and stuff, we’ve had to fund all of this ourselves. But I think that kind of adds to the story and I want other artists and people, not just in music, but in general to realise that it is possible to pursue what you love. You don’t have to have money and connections – it does make it a lot easier! But you don’t have to, you just have to have that passion and that drive and believe in yourself and get a really good support group around you.
You’re working on your album at the moment. Is that being self funded?
I’m not with a label. The whole album is funded through Kickstarter [the campaign has now launched and can be viewed here]. Everything so far has been self funded. We’ve had help from friends and other family members who’ve got on board, not necessarily financially but just lending a helping hand. For example, last year on my 2013 tourmy brother came over to the US to help with some of the driving, which was interesting!! But yeah, everything so far has been done by ourselves.
There seem to be quite a few British country groups and individuals heading over to America at the moment – yourself, the likes of Ward Thomas, the Shires – how are you being received over there?
I love performing in the US, but at first it was a little daunting because Country music is definitely considered to be an American genre. I know country originated here in the UK with Celtic music, but unfortunately we for some reason dropped it from the mainstream in the early 2000s, whereas it continued to boom and thrive over there. I was certainly worried they would be thinking “What’s this British girl doing, trying to sing country” but in the same way they opened their arms to Keith Urban, they seemed to open their arms to me and it was amazing. I’ve had huge support from fans in America, which I feel so blessed to have, that’s how come I was able to do the tours which led to me performing at these huge music festivals, like the one I did in the summer, Country Jam USA – it’s the biggest country festival in the midwest US. I was even asked to sing the National Anthem which was probably the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever had to do because it’s such an honour to be asked to do that, especially being British. Plus, there were approximately 40,000 people in the audience that day! I think the thing is, country music is such a universal genre that as long as you’re real with the audience then they’ll invest in you as an artist.
What was it like hitting the road in the US? Were there any particularly memorable experiences?
Ooh, there’s been a few. This has happened twice now, but last year was probably the scariest because we’d never experienced it before. When we were on the road to Kansas to perform at Country Stampede we had about 20 miles of driving left to do in our little rental car and there was a tornado warning. This noise suddenly came on the radio and we were like ‘Oh my God, what is that?’ and messages came across with tornado warnings for some of the counties. Of course in America they have lots of different counties in the same area and we didn’t know which county we were in and were thinking ‘are we going to see a twister coming at the car?’, but fortunately it really was just a warning and everything was fine. Another time we were in Dallas and apparently we hadn’t signed the rental contract correctly so a Dallas rental recovery company was ringing us – they were going to pick the car up from us, but again, thankfully it was all sorted out! There’s lots of mad things like that. Also great stories like running into artists like Jerrod Niemann and Charlie Worsham at some of the festivals out there. They were all very genuine people. Plus, I get to travel to some wonderful places, I’ve seen 34 of the 50 states now. The US is such an amazing country, it’s so diverse and I’m really passionate about Native American history and culture, so I’m in my element when we go to places like Arizona and New Mexico where you can see the ancient pueblo ruins, as well as North and South Dakota and of course Virginia. Americans always say they wish they had as much history as we do here in Britain, but to me, their history is incredibly interesting and they do have a lot of it, just in a different way. As you can probably tell, I just love travelling, that’s definitely a huge bonus to what I do!
Why do you think that country is starting to grow in popularity again in the UK?
I think people are just starting to take more notice. In the US there’s been a definite change in how the genre sounds. There’s been growth of ‘Bro-Country’ with artists like Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan. Also you’ve got artists like Brantley Gilbert who are branching off more into the country rock sound and Kacey Musgraves who’s talking about modern issues in her songs. It’s bringing a younger audience to the genre and also it’s meaning country is able to compete more with Pop music, which is probably why there has been this growth of popularity in the UK. Also, here at home, you’ve got sites like UKCountryMusic.net and all these different blogs and websites which are giving it their all and pushing the genre; BBC2 is starting to take more of an interest, which is fantastic, thanks to Bob Harris’ country show. I think people are just looking for the stories, there are other types of music which are great to dance to but when you’ve broken up with a guy or something’s gone wrong in your life, you can’t really turn on EDM or some other pop stuff and get what you can get out of country music. All of those factors I think have created this surge, the haters are starting to realise there’s something to be had with the genre!
Are all the songs for your album written now?
Well, that’s actually being decided at the moment. I have a big selection of songs to choose from, all of which I’ve written myself except for one song, ‘Crooked Road’ that I actually wrote with a guy, Chris Armstrong, from my hometown – that was also my very first co-write. I’m a bit protective and personal with my songwriting, but he persuaded me to co-write and it turned out so well! That experience made me want to perhaps really try out co-writing with different songwriters, so while I’m in Nashville in November, that’s what I’m planning on doing. Who knows, maybe some of those songs will end up on the album. Some songs are definite’s for being included, like ‘Two Ships’ which is planned to be my first single, and a track called ‘Mr Brown Eyes’ which is a fan favourite. But, we’ll have to wait and see on the others!
What’s the lure of recording in Nashville?
I’ve done some recording in the UK when I was about 15/16. One thing is the financial side of things. To get a really good studio here, which understands the country genre I’ll probably have to spend a lot of money, whereas the producer I use in Nashville, and I used for my EP, is very reasonable, understands my music completely and of course you’re in Music City, the home of country music, if you want a steel guitar player on your record, there’s probably a guy who lives down the street, rather than going to London and having to call up somebody in Leeds for example, it definitely makes life a lot easier. That’s also where I started my journey, in Nashville. It’s where I went in 2012 when I finished my studies and decided to do this, so it’s quite nice to round it off and finish it there.
What’s the creative process?
The way I song-write is a little odd! Some people can just go in and write songs off the top of their head, even if they have just a small idea like they saw someone on the bus, they can just write about that. Or perhaps they can just decided to write a fast song – I can’t do that. All of my songs have to be written from true life experiences, which can be great or it can be a burden because it depends whether something has happened, whether that bit of inspiration pops up. I tend to write my best songs in the shower and when I’m sleeping – that 2am moment when you’re lying in bed and your mind won’t go to sleep, that’s when songs come to me, usually music and lyrics at the same time. I’ll have a hook in my mind and use my guitar and keyboard to write the song and it will either take ten minutes or a couple of months, it just depends.
One of the tracks which is going to be on the album is called ‘Still a Little Girl Inside’ and that’s about not really wanting to grow up and all the emotions which come with the different stages of life. I started writing it when I finished high school and it was one of those which I wanted to shelve and come back to when I’d finished college – I wanted to get that rounded opinion. I think it turned out quite well, so I’m really excited for that one to be on the album as it hasn’t been previously recorded and no-one will have heard it unless they’ve come to one of my live shows.
Then in terms of the creative process of recording, I like to be really hands on. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so Greg (the producer) always has to reign me in as you can’t always be a complete perfectionist with recording – it has to be kind of natural. With the song ‘Mr Brown Eyes’ that I mentioned earlier, there’s a great story which goes along with that one and when I did a rough recording (so I’d have something to listen back to), I did it in one take and there were all sorts of giggles in my voice. When we were discussing this album Greg said he thought we should just use that vocal as it was so natural because I was thinking about the story so the vocal was full of inflections and it was very real. But going back to the recording process, I like to be there for the whole project. I like to be there when the musicians record and all that, not just to make sure it all sounds how I imagined it to be, but also because you can learn so much from them. One of the things I mentioned in my Kickstarter campaign was that with the album being recorded in Nashville, there is a chance all the musicians parts and the mixing won’t get finished before I have to go home. If that happens, it’s not a big deal, I’ll be a little disappointed but I have full faith in Greg. He knows who I am as an artist and how I want the songs to sound, and he can always send me the tracks as it’s moving along to keep me updated. I’ve already warned him to be expecting lots of emails from me if it doesn’t get finished before I come back!!
How’s the current tour going?
Yes, it’s very exciting. This tour is kind of me getting my feet in the water and without much time as I’m going back to Nashville to do the recording. I really just wanted to get my footing here in the UK, having not really done that many shows in the UK previously becaome of the committments I had in America. So far it’s been really really cool. I did one gig in the Culpepper Club in Essex, which is primarily a country venue so it was a country music fan audience, which was awesome. It’s always great to do those shows because you get to see that there are lots of other country music fans. Last night I did a gig in Nottingham at the Rescue Rooms – there was this one guy in the audience and as I did a Jake Owen song to close out the set, he was singing along to all the words. I was like ‘oh you’re a Jake Owen fan’ and he said ‘I love country music’. I love that – when you’re in a venue which is not country at all with an audience you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be interested in country and there’s a country fan. It just goes to show that we are here in the UK. The Country 2 Country Music Festival is great for that – it allows people to congregate and meet there for the same thing.
Any final words for the audience, your fans or potential kickstarted contributors.
Have a listen to my music – that’s where you can hear the most about me and get to know me as an artist. I like to think there’s something in there for everybody and it means the world to me when someone says they’ve been able to relate to my songs. One thing I’d say to non-country fans is please don’t write off country before you’ve listened to lots of different modern artists, for example my music has overtones of folk and I’ve been told by a couple of people at different shows “I didn’t think I liked country music, but I love what you do!” and they’ve listened to other country artists and found they actually like country! With regards to my Kickstarter, take a look at it and read all about the album and what I’m planning. As I said, everything so far has been self-funded, we’ve sold whatever we can, and this is really the only way to get this album recorded. I want to use this Kickstarter to prove it’s possible to follow your dreams as long as you have support from people. It’ll be amazing to be able to say my album was possible because I had the support of friends, family, fans and even total strangers. It’ll be a group endeavor and proof that regular people can reach for the stars!
Sasha McVeigh’s kickstarter campaign can be found here.
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