As she continues to promote her album Freedom, which was released last month, Sarah Simmons’ fan-base is growing exponentially -- and rightly so. A powerhouse of a vocal talent and a former contestant on The Voice, she already has performance plans lined up through to summer next year and kindly agreed to this interview to talk new music, songwriting inspiration and her thoughts on social media.
Sarah began her email featuring her interview answers with a lovely comment and apology which I’ve decided to share:
Hi guys, I just want to say thank you PopWrapped for asking me these questions. Seriously, I really enjoyed answering these. I haven't had some of these questions asked before, and it was really interesting and awesome! Sorry it is just getting to YOU, I've been on tour. Thank you so much!
Here’s the full interview.
PopWrapped: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a performer? Was there an album you listened to or concert you attended that made you think 'that's what I want to do?'
Sarah Simmons: When I was about 5-6 years old, my Grandmother introduced me to Etta James and Patsy Cline. We would watch old flicks like An Affair To Remember or even movies like Mr. Holland’s Opus that were filled with amazing music. At the same time, my Dad got me into Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, and Led Zeppelin. So I was fortunate enough to be around a lot of different sounds. I realized I wanted to sing as a child and had dreams of wanting to make being a musician a career.
PW: Which bands and artists influenced you growing up, and how have those influences changed over time?
SS: Wow, great question. Well, I still love Etta James, Led Zeppelin and Son House. I still listen to all of the people that influenced me, but I actually started getting into film music when I was around 12 years old. At that age, I got my first Pearl Jam album and fell in love with Eddie Vedder from the start and I’m very inspired by his solo albums and soundtracks for some films like Into The Wild. The first time I saw Gladiator and heard Lisa Gerrard sing over Hans Zimmer’s composing, I knew I wanted to sing for film and TV. That is a big inspiration for me, and I’m actually pursuing that, and you will all see some of that this year!
PW: Is there a band or artist you might say you sound similar to?
SS: I’ve been compared to Nancy Wilson of Heart, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, Jake Smith of The White Buffalo and Sarah McLachlan. Composers that I work with have told me that I sound like either Patsy Cline or Lisa Gerrard. I personally have huge influences from film music and modern day composers. Overall, I am really striving for my own sound which evolves over time though my experiences.
PW: What made you decide to audition for The Voice?
SS: My close friend Sean Reeder told me about The Voice, and I had actually never heard of it because I didn’t have cable at the time and was attending school. When he told me about it, I laughed and didn’t think about it again until a couple months later. We went to Visible Music College in Memphis, TN, where the President of our school is co-founder and use to be the lead guitarist of the band Skillet, and his name is Ken Steorts. Our school was in Billboard Magazine and The Voice asked Ken Steorts if he had anyone that he recommended for an audition, and he gave them my name. All of my teachers encouraged me to try out! My close friend Sean passed away right around when he asked me, and I felt that I should follow through, so I did and was on the show for about eight and a half months. It was a blessing.
PW: Do you have any favorite memories from your time on the show?
SS: Oh gosh, yes! I made life-long friends. One of the girls, Agina Alvarez, is actually going to be one of my bridesmaids at my wedding! I also got very close with my sister and friend Judith Hill! Also, the hair and makeup department people were amazing, and I still keep in contact with mostly everybody. Just performing in front of so many people was so much fun. I actually get less nervous when I perform in front of thousands than when I perform in front of a small audience.
PW: What advice would you give to anyone thinking of auditioning for the show or one similar?
SS: My number one piece of advice for someone trying out is to first know that your time on the show is an experience and also a great stepping stone! Also, for those that don’t get in now, they should know that SO many musicians/artists that try out are mostly all incredible and that you still are even if you don’t make it through. Your journey is still important because it will help others in the music industry and your audience.
PW: You've just released the video for your track "Staring At The Sun." Is there a story behind it?
SS: Yes, it is about the depiction of loss and what we do with it. My close friend Sean Reeder, who I talked about earlier, is who I wrote this song for. I was driving across country from LA to Birmingham, AL, and, in the middle of nowhere Arizona, almost to New Mexico, I pulled over and got on top of my car in the middle of the desert and wrote this song. I felt Sean’s spirit visit me after two years had passed and wrote it on top of my car. Also, my family has Iroquois in us, so I have always felt very close to my family background with spirituality as well as with God.
PW: The video stars Wes Studi. How did it come about that you got him involved?
SS: Well, it was a God thing. My friend Chimney knows Wes and connected me with his agent. I have been a HUGE fan of Wes Studi since I was a kid and saw Dances With Wolves, Last Of The Mohicans, and SO many more. Even recently when he was the father in Avatar! He is truly a legendary actor that I believe is underestimated for the amazing roles he has played for many, many years! It was such an honor to have him be a part of the video!
PW: The track is from your album Freedom. Without giving too much away, what can you tell me about it?
SS: I wrote and co-wrote most of the songs on the album except for one! There are 12 songs on the album, and they all have to do with a journey of releasing oneself from things, places, and people that aren’t healthy for you. It is about pain, happiness, joy, and reality of life.
PW: Do you have a favorite track on the collection, and, if so, which is it and why?
SS: It is hard to say because all of the songs have helped me through so much and continue to do so as we play them on tour. I would have to say “War In My Mind” is my favorite track. It is the first song I wrote for the album and just talks about the reality of the circles we make in our minds every single day and just finding a peace with that.
PW: Who or what most influences your song-writing?
SS: WOW, so many have influenced me in my writing -- from Eddie Vedder to Bob Dylan to Bonnie Raitt. I started writing poetry when I was 12 years old and then started writing my lyrics at 13! I loved Robert Frost poems and would read his poems over and over again. My friends have even inspired me in my writing process. My bass player, Clayton Markley, is actually one of my best friends for so many years, and he is an AMAZING writer. A group of us friends went through a lot together, and Clay always inspired my writing and really helped me understand forms and going outside the form of writing and taking risks!
PW: How easy or hard do you find the songwriting process? Can it depend on the subject matter?
SS: I think the songwriting process usually comes naturally to me. It has been that way for me most of the time I've been writing -- unless it’s for writing a song for a film or TV show and needs to address certain subject matter, which I have been doing. Sometimes, it’s the melody that comes first, but, a lot of times, for me, I do the writing first and then add a melody -- I think both, though, are just as important as one another.
PW: In your opinion, which is the greatest song ever written and why?
SS: Gosh, that is such a hard question. There are SO many. I will always love “Carry On” by Crosby Stills Nash and Young! That will always be a song that I will love forever. Right now I love London Grammar and Aurora. I am so inspired by those ladies and if you haven’t listened to them, please do, you will not regret it!
PW: What are your upcoming tour and performance plans?
SS: We just opened up for the band The White Buffalo. They sang most all of the songs for the hit TV Show Sons Of Anarchy. They encouraged us so much, it was such an amazing experience. We are on tour now all the way up to next August 2017. You can check out all the upcoming shows and tour dates on the website.
PW: Of the shows you've played to date, could you pick a favorite, and, if so, which is it and why?
SS: I would have to say our show opening up for The White Buffalo in Salt Lake City at The State Room. That was an incredible show. Also playing at Neumos in Seattle, WA was euphoric. So many greats had played there, including Nirvana and Pearl Jam.
PW: How much attention do you pay to what critics say, and what's the nicest thing someone's said about you and your music?
SS: Thankfully the critics are usually really sweet, but, if there was ever a negative comment, I would just forget it because it is just an opinion. I think it’s always important for musicians to realize not everyone will like you and or your music and just to accept that even just as people. The nicest thing ... whew. I am so grateful for all the comments. I can’t remember a specific time, but just, in general, whenever anyone has kind words to say about the music or how they relate, that completely humbles me.
PW: What are your thoughts on social media? To what extent has it helped your career, and would you agree it’s necessary for bands and artists today?
SS: Social media is most vital for bands and artists today. Sadly, it is not how it use to be where you would just hear about the band word of mouth or shows ... it is really social media that runs the industry today, in my opinion.
PW: What else does the rest of the year have in store for you?
SS: My band and I will be on tour this fall 2016, spring and summer 2017 until August. We will record our second album next fall, and I have also been working with composers for music in film! We are so excited about it all. The road is already our friend.
PW: Finally then, what's your ultimate ambition as an artist? What would you like your lasting legacy to be?
SS: Well of course, I would love to make a living at what I love to do, but I know the ultimate goal or ambition for me is to reach people. The only thing that matters at the end of the day is “did I make the day of the person standing in front of me better, did I relate to the ones around me?” That is my goal as an artist. My legacy ... to be remembered as a good woman.
You can check out the video for "Staring At The Sun" below, and, for more information on Sarah Simmons, visit her website, give her page a like on Facebook or follow her on Twitter. Her album Freedom is available now on itunes.