The Boot caught up with a beaming Sarah at a recording studio on Nashville's Music Row, where she excitedly told us stories behind some of the many standout songs on her new album. The newly-engaged singer also gushed to us about her fiancé's romantic proposal, along with her scrapped plans to elope. Plus, we hear how a rock 'n roll legend influenced Sarah to pursue her country dreams.
Clear up some rumors for us ... You've had a record deal for six years, so there's a lot of speculation as to why your debut album is just now coming out. Why the wait?
When I found out that the second single "died," as we like to say, I was heartbroken. They weren't going to release the record, and I was pissed! So I put out 'Almost My Record' [a CD with seven songs], and wanted everyone to know: this is not my record. I just didn't feel like I could stand behind a product where my partners wanted to go further and further before they put it out. That's not a good message about this product. So I created a track that I really loved, and my manager at the time didn't think that I liked it, for some reason. He went to the label and said, "I know when an artist isn't excited about a song." So the record label didn't have that taste in their mouth, since he's saying that I wasn't excited about it.
I was just tired after putting energy into that. I needed to get my bearings straight. All the signs were pointing for me not to be an artist. I thought, "Maybe I should just be a songwriter?" The first song I got cut got nominated for Song of the Year [Keith Urban's 'Stupid Boy'], so maybe that's a sign! But it doesn't make sense to me to just be a songwriter and not an artist ... I need to be both.
So I started from the ground up, got a new manager who has been pounding the message in, and all of a sudden it's all working. There's a bunch of synergy. And when it all boils down to it, I don't think the world was ready for my record at that point. And regardless of whether the world is ready now, I'm ready to put it out there and see what happens!
'Outside My Window' is the current single that's doing so well for you. What's the story behind its lyrics?
It's just a bunch of nonsense, to be honest! With four songwriters in the room with four strong personalities -- me, Victoria Shaw, Mark Hudson, Gary Burr -- it was a trainwreck to begin with! I go, "Let's write a song about this bird who just keeps banging into the living room window! What's wrong with this bird? What's it thinking?" That's where it began, and we began thinking, "What if you see this outside your window? Maybe you see that outside your window?" No matter what you see, you still need stars when you're wishing at night, a best friend to set you right ... Through the ups and downs, that's the only thing that's gotten me through is loving myself and taking care of myself.
Is it safe to assume 'American Daughters' is the most autobiographical song on the album?
Well, that's just the most bullet-point autobiographical song! Rather than write a song about my first apartment or a song about how I got married too young and a song about moving to town in my boots, it's about all those things. The deeper meaning is that we are all born of this country, and the country's history is a part of us. We all have an opportunity to do whatever we want.
'Space' is another song with a real-life story behind it, and a great kiss-off song at that. Have you ever gotten confronted for airing an ex's dirty laundry in your songwriting?
I was in the relationship when I wrote 'Space' -- we hadn't broken up yet. He's a musician, so he understands that I've gotta write songs! I don't think he took offense, but I do think it was eye-opening to him. And then I really did move out, so "there's your space!"
That's what songs are for -- to make sense out of situations and to make a piece of art from it. Art imitates life.
Did you have any hesitation putting 'Stupid Boy' on your own CD, given that Keith Urban had such a big hit with it first?
No, and the only way I wouldn't perform that song is if I were doing a show with him. I opened for him in Phoenix, and I didn't perform it, because that's his song. It's very much my song, too, and one of my favorite songs that I've ever written. I'm proud of how different my version is, and I wanted people to know my side of it. It has a different message coming from a girl.
'For Real' has a sweet message. Is it about your fiancé?
I wrote 'For Real' in the very beginning [of the relationship]. We were gonna run off and get married immediately, but I'm so glad we didn't do that! We contemplated doing it within the first six months, and I wrote that song at that time. But then all these dark shadows started appearing, as they do in relationships. You start seeing beyond what you thought that person is and you start seeing who the person really is ... and can you deal with that? So we went through that and came out stronger than we were in the beginning. So that song rings more true now than it did when I actually wrote it.
Were you surprised when he proposed?
It was a surprise. I knew he'd gotten the ring, so I just knew if this guy is going to ask me to marry him, I'm going to know like a half hour before ... I'm just going to be able to tell, because he's so transparent. But he totally surprised me! He put it in an Advent calendar, where the candy goes, counting down to Christmas. I was so shocked when I found it, all I could do was just look at it and go, "Oh my God! Oh my God!" And then I started crying.
He thought of that on his own, and he's so not romantic. But he's gotten more thoughtful and sensitive ... That's what meant so much, because he doesn't care about the Advent tree. That's my thing. He's so sweet ... and very hot! [laughs]
What lessons will you take from your first marriage going into your new marriage?
First of all, I have a way better sense of my self. That's what I did wrong. If I'd had a better sense of myself back then, I don't think I would've gotten married. I don't think he and I were right for each other. And the other thing that I've brought to this relationship that I didn't have in that one was that we have very calm discussions. I was so used to having these volatile, bad relationships ... and I felt like I was bringing that into his [my fiancé's] life. But he really taught me to calm down, and I learned how to express myself without being so emotional. It's good to be angry sometimes, but you need to walk away and clear your head before you discuss it. I've learned that now.
A lot of people have coined you "country music's Stevie Nicks." I know she is a huge influence of yours, and you actually got to meet her several years ago! Do you remember your conversation?
Yes -- every single word of it! I'll never forget it; I couldn't believe it was happening. She was so supportive and sweet. She said, "If you were meant to do this, you will make it happen." I was thinking, "Alright, now I have to move to Nashville!"
What do you think of all the criticism of her performance with Taylor Swift on the Grammys?
Honestly, I just wish she would've waited so that I could've performed with her! [laughs] Because I can sing the heck out of 'Rhiannon'! But I have to commend Taylor for having the courage to perform such a legendary song. That takes some serious guts.
You're on tour with Martina McBride and Trace Adkins right now. What are your favorite songs to see them perform live?
My favorite Martina song of all time is 'Independence Day.' But the other night, she sang 'Love's the Only House,' and it got stuck in my head for five days! And my favorite Trace song is probably 'You're Gonna Miss This,' and I cry every time I hear it. When he performed it on the CMAs, Heidi Newfield was sitting in front of me, and her mother had just passed away. My mom and I were both crying, because we were both at the CMAs together. I wasn't even nominated, it was just that we could be there together. Heidi turned around saw us crying, and she started crying, too, and we were all holding hands.
What can fans expect from your own live show?
I like to entertain, energize and provoke thought. I want it to be an experience ... and I want you to have fun!