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When her major US record deal came to an end, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Sarah Darling used it to her benefit and has recorded with her third album 'Dream Country', which is being released on her own label Be Darling Records, what is being seen by both critics and fans to be both the best album of her career.
'Dream Country' pulls off the twin trick of being both cinematic and sweeping in sound yet understated and subtle in tone. Including a sparse, string-tinged cover of the Smiths 'Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want' as well as several Darling originals, it is an evocative, haunting record which combines together elements of country, Americana, jazz and pop.
Pennyblackmusic took the opportunity to put some questions to Sarah Darling about 'Dream Country'.
PB: For many artists the end of a long term major record deal is understandably a major cause for concern, but you seem to have thrived on it and have made what many are heralding rightly as being the album of your career with ‘Dream Country’. There are benefits to being on both major labels and doing things independently, but do you think doing things on your own works better for you?
SD: I remember having this wave of fear roll over me when I went from having a team to no team at all. There are benefits to both sides I think. I can tell you that I’ve never been as creative in all of my life than these past couple years. There’s something to having complete creative control that brings out something special and has fulfilled my heart. 'Dream Country' is an honest reflection of who I am, and I don’t think this would have ever been released otherwise. I always keep the door open if the right team to come along, but right now I’m having the time of my life!
PB: You have done two doses of reality show TV with ‘The Entertainer’ in 2003 and ‘Rising Star’ in 2014. ‘X-Factor’ music shows often get a lot of criticism, none more so than by former contestants, yet you were prepared to participate in them twice, albeit eleven years apart. In what ways do you think being on these shows benefited you?
SD: Honestly, I don’t think either one fitted me! There is something about these shows that seems enticing at the time. I’m the type of person that isn’t afraid to try something. The best part of doing them was the people I met and the life experience. It’s all part of my journey, but I wouldn’t do one again! Who knows, maybe in eleven years I will change my mind.
PB: ‘Dream Country’ has a wonderfully understated and subtle feel. Its themes are epic and it involves a lot of instruments at points, yet each instrument has its place and you never drown or overkill things. Were the arrangements something you worked particularly hard on this record?
SD: I really wanted a lot of space in the album and specifically kept it open.I think that some tracks these days have too much going on! The idea was to take people on a journey with a cinematic feel. The subjects are really dreamy and romantic, and this was my first album really experimenting with strings as well.
PB: ‘Montmartre’ is your love letter to Paris. What is the appeal to you of that city?
SD: I’ve loved Paris ever since I was a little girl. My now husband James took me there five years ago when we started dating. Of course, I fell in love with him and everything about the city. I specifically was charmed by Montmartre. The magic of Paris I always dreamed about was in that place.
PB: Your cover of ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’ is stunning. It remains both true to the original and yet does something completely different. What was the appeal to you of that song and as someone who is often seen as a country singer to cover that song? Do you know if Morrissey or Marr have heard your version?
SD: Thank you so much for your sweet words. This song says everything I’ve ever wanted to say really. I think being in the music business and and wanting this dream for so long, the lyrics captured my heart. I don’t think Morrissey or Marr have heard it yet! It always makes me nervous to cover songs. I wanted the emotion to come through more than anything.
PB: You have described ‘Halley’s Comet’ as being the “most personal” song on the album. In what way is it more personal than, say, ‘Montmartre’ or ‘Stargazer’, which is about not being afraid to go and to find the strength to move forward?
SD: 'Halley’s Comet' was the first song I wrote after parting ways with my record label. I feel like it’s extra personal for me, because it was that moment of wondering what happens next. We are all trying to find our place to shine in the universe, and I was searching for a way.
You did pick the other personal tracks as well. 'Stargazer' melts my heart everytime, and I always finish my show with this one.
PB: The new video for ‘Halley’s Comet’ is lovely. Why did you decide for it to be animated? How involved were you in its making?
SD: My inspiration comes at very random times, but I was out jogging one day and this vision of an anime big eyed dreamer popped into my head. I wanted to tell the story of a dreamer. I teamed up with Magnetic Dreams in Nashville to create the characters and story from the ground up. It’s a piece of magic in my eyes.
PB: On the subject of ‘Halley’s Comet’, the CD comes with an inlay of a large map of the galaxy on which are listed hundreds of names. Some such as Morrissey and Kacey Musgrave are well known, but many more are more obscure. Who are these people?
SD: This was my way of saying thank you to everyone who has been part of my journey. I thought this would be an amazing to put everyone as stars in sky. It’s past and present, good and ugly! Truthfully I have so many people who have gotten me to this place in my life and I’m grateful.
PB: You also run two companies, Durango Boots, in which you have launched your own line of boots, and Sweet Darling Patisserie in which you manufacture French macarons. What kind of boots are they? How easy or how difficult has it been running these when your singing career is so busy?
SD: I’ve always had a passion for cooking and fashion. A few years back, I got the chance to design cowboy boots with Durango Boots. They can still be found online!
The other passion I have is baking French Macarons. I started a company called Sweet Darling three years ago and it’s been flourishing ever since. It’s basically my love story of Paris being brought to Nashville. I try and balance my life as much as possible, and baking is quite theraputic! I can’t ever sit still.
PB: You toured the UK last October with Ward Thomas. How did you enjoy that? Will you be over here again this year?
SD: I adored touring with Ward Thomas. They are lovely girls and very talented. It was amazing to have the chance to open for sold out crowds and make some new fans. It really opened a lot of doors for me.
PB: What other plans do you have for this year?
SD: Well let’s just say I will be back in England several times this year!Not to mention I have an album to promote. I plan on doing some touring this year and going to places I’ve never been.
PB: Thank you.
'Dream Country' will be released on February 10th.
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John Clarkson speaks to Nashville-based singer-songwriter Sarah Darling about her third album 'Dream Country', which, released independently after her major record deal finished, is being heralded as the best album of her career
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