Sundance Head Interview: ‘The Voice’ Winner ‘Takes Pride in Being Different’
Some artists who win televised singing competitions such as The Voice or American Idol struggle to transition into the "real world" of the music industry after their onscreen victories. Sundance Head, who was a semi-finalist on Idol's sixth season and won Season 11 of The Voice in 2016, is not one of those artists.
"For me, it was a very easy transition, because I'm a lifer as far as playing live goes," Head explains to The Boot. "I was able to come off the show and do 300 dates the next year, touring, because we were already touring. A lot of other winners, they have to figure out what to do, get a band together and build a team, but we already had that. So we were able to go out and tour, and that's how I've been spending the last two years, is just touring and trying to build a fanbase out on the road."
However, putting out an album hasn't come quite as easy. It took until late January for the Texas country soul singer to release a new record, Stained Glass and Neon.
"I wanted to release a record as soon as possible after winning The Voice, but, you know, that ain't the way it worked out," Head admits. "When I won, I was contracted to Republic New York, which is a hip-hop label. They didn't know how to handle a country artist, and they couldn't find a Nashville partner."
All the while, it was important to Head not to release music simply for the sake of releasing music. Even more than he wanted to stay relevant, he wanted his songs to mean something; "I wanted to make sure that it was something that the fans would believe, and that had integrity," he adds.
After a tumultuous period that led him through three major-label deals but no new music, an exasperated Head finally caught an important musical break when he met Dean Dillon, the acclaimed songwriter behind hits such as "Easy Come, Easy Go" and "Tennessee Whiskey." Dillon was getting ready to retire from the business, but once he heard Head sing, the music industry veteran was hooked -- so hooked, in fact, that he launched his own record company, Wildcatter Records, and signed the up-and-coming performer.
"Hey said, 'Hey man, I really wanna make a record on you, and I'm gonna go get the money to build a label and then sign you to it,'" Head recalls. "People tell you things all the time, and it never comes to fruition, so I'm like, 'Sure.' But he did it! And it went really fast."
According to Head, after Dillon got involved, Stained Glass and Neon went to a different level: "He was able to go out in Nashville and find some of the best songwriters in town to give us cuts that they normally wouldn't do on an artist's first album, because of who he was and who he knew," Head shares.
"It's your basic beautiful country record," Head says of Stained Glass and Neon. "It's a really heartfelt song field. It's a vocally driven album, which I think is missing, and I was glad to be a part of bringing that back to country music. None of the country music machine is on this record."
Head's had a complicated relationship with that "country music machine" over the years. Before Stained Glass and Neon was on the horizon, he'd found success on Texas country radio, far away from the hit-making factories of Nashville's Music Row; however, when Head came to Music City and began to sift through the crush of artists and songwriters who all come to town to make it big, he found kindred spirits (such as Dillon), who ultimately brought his record and his songs to new heights. Then in 2019, Head embarked on a radio tour, in an attempt to bridge the gap between his Texas radio hits and the success he hopes to find nationwide.
"As much as I would love to sit here and say I never want to be part of the machine, because I would consider our music to be 100-percent real and emotionally attached, you have to be a part of both," he muses. "That's the hard part, trying to figure out how to connect with your real fans and how to not sell out. Which is very difficult."
"I don't know, I take pride in being different."
Because, of course, everybody needs to sell out just a little bit. If artists didn't advertise and promote themselves, no one would ever hear the music; the "true fans" that Head hopes to reach would never even realize he exists.
"So ironic, right?" Head says, shaking his head. "I'm thankful I've had the opportunity to come to Nashville and be embraced. But I really think if I had come any earlier, it wouldn't have been the right time for me. I believe in timing. It's taken my whole life to get to this point right here, to Nashville, to this interview with you here today."
Head ultimately hopes to find commercial success, but like anyone else, he has his lines to draw in the sand. "Like, do we want a snap track? No we don't," he adds with a laugh. "And then you might not ever be played on the radio because you don't have a single with a snap track.
"But, I don't know, I take pride in being different," Head concludes. "I'd rather sell a million copies to fans than 5 million copies to bots."
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