Interview: Sarah Davidson Discusses Upcoming EP, New Reality Show
After nearly a decade of struggle, singer-songwriter Sarah Davidson is coming into her own.
Davidson is best known to many for her marriage to top Nashville songwriter Dallas Davidson, whose extensive catalog of hits includes Trace Adkins‘ ‘Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,’ the Brad Paisley and Keith Urban duet ‘Start a Band’ and Luke Bryan‘s ‘That’s My Kind of Night,’ among many others. But she is an artist in her own right, and she is about to find her own spotlight.
She is preparing to release her recording debut, and in a unique tie-in, she will also feature her music on a new reality series, ‘Private Lives of Nashville Wives,’ that will debut on TNT on Monday (Feb. 24).
Davidson is one of the breakout characters on the show, for which she recorded the theme song. Each episode will feature her music, and a new single will be released exclusively to iTunes at the end of each broadcast.
She will release her self-titled debut EP on March 25. The five-song release, recorded with producer Brian Kolb (Jerrod Niemann) and Dino Paredes, encompasses all of the life experiences Davidson has had since leaving her native Georgia for Nashville.
The Boot caught up with Davidson recently for a wide-ranging conversation about her music, the upcoming show, and the hard realities of Nashville’s music business.
Your bio says you came to Nashville to study at Belmont. Does that give you a big leg up on a career in Nashville?
Honestly, the reason I went to Belmont — I just wanted to move to Nashville and start writing songs and getting plugged into the music business. I was gonna go get me a record deal [Laughs], and it was all gonna happen. And my parents were like, “Sarah, you’re gonna have to be a bartender if you go up there, and we ain’t letting you be a bartender.” So they encouraged me to go to school, and so I thought, ‘What’s the closest thing that I can get plugged in to the business right away?’
Belmont was a great opportunity in that sense, because they offer internships, and you do get plugged in if you are assertive and really want that. You can get plugged in pretty easily. I immediately got an internship at the front desk at a record label on Music Row, so that was kind of my plan, was to get an internship at a label, get my feel that way. I knew that Trisha Yearwood went to Belmont, and that Julie Roberts worked the front desk when she was at Belmont. So that was my plan.
Did that plan work out?
It did in a sense. The label that I worked at, I got my first publishing and record deal there, and it ended up not being the best situation. It just wasn’t a right match for me. It takes so long for people to be successful here. In a general sense, they say it’s a 10-year town. There’s definitely people that come into town and have immediate success, but I think there’s something to say about people that come and kind of learn how it works.
And you also have to learn how hard you’re going to have to work. I think a lot of people come to Nashville, and they’re a big fish in a little pond in their hometown, and then they get here, and it’s like, ‘Everybody’s going to think I’m the greatest thing ever.’ Well, they don’t. You’re just like everybody else.
There’s 50,000 other blond singers that sing as good as me, and probably write great stuff as well, and so I kind of realized that I’m going to have to put in the work, and be willing to bust my ass for as long as it takes, even if it takes me 10 years. To be willing to put that work in, because it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a life decision. I decided I wanted to live a life of making music and writing music, and whether that’s to the masses, or whether that’s just here in Nashville to this community — I made that decision, and really, once I made that decision is when everything started really happening for me.
"No person sitting behind a desk at any label, or any A&R person, or anybody can tell me who I am and who I am not."
How did that lead to the deal that you have now?
I had a deal for a year, and that ended up falling apart. They didn’t pick up my option. So I continued to write, and then I went over to EMI and I wrote there for three years. And then EMI became Sony, and then I transferred over to Sony. And then I’ve just recently gotten out of that deal.
I made an EP about three years ago when I was at EMI, and they were helping me get a deal. I showcased, and I didn’t get a record deal, and that was kinda my second time around, and I was like, ‘Well, maybe this isn’t going to happen for me. Maybe this isn’t what I’m supposed to do.’ I had that moment of doubt, and I really just had this epiphany that, this is my life, and nobody — no person sitting behind a desk at any label, or any A&R person, or anybody can tell me who I am and who I am not. I know that all I’ve ever wanted to do was write music and sing music.
So I buckled my damn shoes up, and I was like, ‘Let’s get this party started! This is happening, ya’ll, whether you like it or not.’ I put a band together and went to William Morris, and I said, ‘I’ve got my band, and I’ve got this music that I’ve been writing, and I know people identify with it, because everyone I play it before, they dig it.’
I know that there’s people out there that dig on this music, females in country music. I rented a van every weekend, and me and my band went out every weekend, and William Morris booked me basically wherever they could. I would make $500 at a venue that was no bigger than the size of my bedroom, and I learned a lot. I realized that so many of the artists that are successful today are the artists that are out there really, really busting their asses and working hard. It doesn’t come easy. It’s never handed to you.
I was glad to be working. I was glad for the opportunities William Morris gave me to be in these bars, winning people over fan by fan, handing out EPs and just giving them away to anyone I could.
When I was doing that, and still basically looking for a deal, was when this opportunity for the TV show came along, and they were looking for women in Nashville who were tied to the music business. On one hand I had this great life, because I was married to a successful songwriter, but at the same time I was really busting my ass and trying to make a name for myself.
So I was like, “If ya’ll want to come out and show what I’m doing on the road, and show me in a van with my band when we’re out here working the road, then come on.” This is a story that I don’t mind telling. I didn’t want to be a part of telling a story of Nashville is this or Nashville is that. I wanted to tell, this is what it’s like for a struggling artist.
They were willing to do that, and then about the same time, I partnered with this management company and label, Suretone, and they really saw the opportunity in everything I had going on, and knew I was a hard worker, and knew that the music was there, first and foremost. That’s the most important thing to me, is the music. I’m a songwriter and a singer, and that’s where my heart is, and that’s where my heart will always be.
They saw that, and they recognized that I had something to say as an artist. So we did that deal, and it’s been great. They’ve given me so much creative control over pretty much everything, and it’s really just the ultimate situation for me. I’m like, “How the hell did I end up here? This is really cool.” [Laughs.]
Did you have any trepidation about taking part in the show, as far as, sometimes those types of shows don’t exactly show people at their best. You can make anybody look bad if you want to.
Yeah, I agree, and I did. I had a lot of apprehension, and I was very, very nervous. But I saw it as an opportunity, almost like I would a radio tour. I have this music, here’s this outlet. It is a risk, but I’m responsible. What do I have to lose — never getting my music out there? Never letting anyone see the music that I make, and hear that music?
It was a risk that I was willing to take, because I first of all felt really comfortable with the production company. I trusted Doug Ross, the head of Evolution, and I truly believed that when it came to my story and the story of my music, that we were all on the same page. At the end of the day, I was really in control of what I put out there. I made sure that I wasn’t, “Oh, come with me, I’m getting my nails done today.” That’s not what I’m about. I’m about writing music and performing music, and so that’s what I put out there.
The trailer for the show hints at all types of interpersonal conflict, but it doesn’t look like you’re a big part of that.
I’m not. First of all, I’m really not that type of person. I feel like when you’re making a show, I think the women were very aware that they’re making a show, and you can either sit there with your mouth shut, like you usually would, or you can engage. They’re responsible for whatever they want to represent, and whatever they’re trying to put out there, but me personally, in my personal life, I’m not about that. I’m more about love and forgiveness, and looking beyond people’s shortcomings. So I’m not really the type of person to engage in that in everyday life, anyway.
"What do I have to lose — never getting my music out there? Never letting anyone see the music that I make, and hear that music?"
I knew that, beyond that, I made a decision that I’m not going to engage, because I’m representing me as an artist, and this is not who I am. So I’m going to be exactly who I am as an artist, and as Sarah Davidson, and stand for what I stand for. And I feel like I did that, for the most part. I’m sure there’s going to be things that probably will be difficult to watch, but I reserved myself from those situations, for sure.
Have you seen any of the show yet? Are you happy with whatever you have seen of it?
Yeah, I saw the first episode, and I was really happy. They licensed, I believe 10 total of my songs, and there were three live performances in the first episode, which I was really excited about, because it just confirms that it is about my story and the music. It was what they said it was going to be, so I was pretty happy.
You actually have a unique promotional scenario for your music with the show. Tell me about that.
As my songs air, they are going to release the singles. I think there’s a couple of songs each episode, so they’ll release whatever song they choose.
That’s a great opportunity to get your songs in front of a lot more people.
I know, and that honestly is why I did it. This is a huge opportunity, and if it works out then I’ll at least be able to release some stuff. Everything has kinda come the way I envisioned it in my mind, thus far. I feel really weird; it’s crazy that it’s all happened like this, but I feel really blessed and grateful.
What other activities are coming up around the release of the EP?
We’re headed to New York to promote it, and I will be performing at CRS. And then the release of the show, and from there I’ll be hitting radio stations and doing call-ins, doing a radio tour. I’m just really excited. More than anything, I just want to go to radio and try to get my songs on the radio. That’s what’s really important to me, and what’s exciting for me. I’m not a reality star, and I don’t want to be that. I want to make music and perform it for people, so to have a single — they’re going to release a single that they’re going to promote at radio. It’s called ‘Drink You Up,’ and that is just massive for me, because that’s all I’ve ever dreamed of, is to be able to go in front of these radio people and show them what I can do.
Also, my management and William Morris are working on some tour dates in March and April. Hopefully, getting some supporting tour slots would be amazing. Obviously I’ll continue to write. I write about three days a week; writing is part of who I am, more than anything else. I kind of have to do it, it’s like my therapy. So I’ll be writing for my full-length album that hopefully we’ll go in and record in not too long a time. Maybe six to eight months. I’ve already written a bunch for that.
Is there anything else that you want to say before we wrap up?
The one thing that has always been really important to me is making music, and whether that’s success on a mass level, or success on a smaller scale, I will continue to write and perform music. This is the life that I’ve chosen to live, and I respect this community in Nashville, this community of songwriters. I love this town so much, and what my heart was, too, in going on the show, was trying to shed a little bit of light on that, and all the other artists that are just like me that are out there struggling, and can’t get their songs played on the radio right now. Just kind of being a voice for them.
And also, showing a message of hard work to younger people. I feel like so many times, with all of these reality shows — the Kardashians, and what is it, ‘Rich Kids Beverly Hills’ or whatever the hell that is [laughs], it’s this entitlement message that we’re giving to kids, and it’s like, ‘Well, you should be handed this, you should be handed that.’
I want to tell the story of a young girl from Georgia that really had a dream in her heart, and chasing after that and being told no, and getting the door slammed in my face, but believing that what is in my heart, and what my destiny is, will not be determined by these outside voices. I know who I am, and I’m willing to put in the work to make my dreams and my destiny happen. I’m excited about being able to tell that story.